Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Tip #51: Directing - The art of communication

By Dan Parkes (Director)

Directing is primarily about efficient communication so that the all-important overall vision (as discussed in the previous blog) can be achieved. There are three main aspects to this:

1. Communication style

There are 5 different types of directors (other than of course those who specialise in features, TV, theatre etc) and thus five different working methods (these are basic generalisations and the examples only guides as most directors frequently reinvent themselves):
  • The Actor Director. This director works very closely with the cast, is good at developing solid characters, works well with ensembles, and leaves the technical aspects of filmmaking in the hands of his crew. These directors often come from a theatre background or were/are actors themselves (example: Mike Leigh).
  • The Story Director. This director is propelled by narrative, is a storyteller and often works very closely on the script. Some of these directors may have started as writers. (example: Chris Nolan)
  • The Auteur Director. Often described as having 'complete artistic control of the film' and also used for directors who are also writers, cinematographers and composers on their films. Their work can sometimes called 'passion-pieces'. (example: Alfred Hitchcock)
  • The Visual director. A director whose primary concern is the look of the film. Often a lot of emphasis on the technology and special effects to achieve it, with story and acting taking secondary roles (example: James Cameron)
  • Franchise director. A director who is called in to direct an already established franchise (book, cartoon, film) and often ends up having little control over the look and feel due to certain branding guidelines and audience expectations (example: Chris Columbus)
It is important for everyone including the director himself to recognise what type of director he is, as this will assist with effective communication, levels of expectation and personal areas for improvement (for the director that is!).

2. Communicating with cast/crew

Effectively communicating the overall vision to cast and crew can sometimes be no easy task and in recent times storyboarding and computer pre-visualisation tools have certainly assisted with this. However, ultimately this comes down being able to describe in precise ways what the objectives are. I once attended a discussion with director Stephen Frears who made the interesting point that the secret to directing is to surround yourself with people who are very good at what they do and then find a way of being able to effectively communicate what you want with them. He used music as an example and said that he cannot write a note of music but can express himself well enough to the composer so that they know exactly what he wants.

3. Communicating with the audience

The director must not overlook the fact that they also communicate via the camera. In many ways the camera is like another character in the film, and so the framing, lens selection and camera movement can all dramatically affect our interpretation of what is happening. For example, the use of wide shots can create distance from the characters, while extreme closeups can feel quite intimate. Subjective or objective angles can also make a character look superior or inferior.

While communication is vital, a director also needs some basic on-set tools such as blocking, the use of 'takes' and eye-lines, which will be discussed in the next blog.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Tip #50: Have a director with a vision

By Dan Parkes (Director)

"What is the difference between God and a director? God doesn't direct".

That was a sarcastic comment made to me after a recent blog which mentined that in addition to directing I also sometimes DoP. Of course the inference being that directors believe themselves to be "God"! And with the symbols of directing often being the cap, the beard, the megaphone and the chair, this egomanical stereotype has also unfortunately been impressed into the general public's consciousness by several high profile directors so that their real role on set is lost to such clichés.

In reality a director has an extremely difficult and mostly less-than-glamourous job of being ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the film, and often working on multiple levels at once: helping actors create realistic portrayals while at the same time taking into consideration technical options and limitations, scheduling and budgetery contraints. He or she is a conduite of collective creativity, the one who hones this into a single unified vision. Their passion and subsequent direction of the production can sometimes be misinterpreted as 'ego' -especially if their vision does not agree with cast or crew who become disgruntled due to being overworked or their creative input being ignored, something which directors should be keenly aware to avoid.

When the word "director" is used in another setting -such as a company director, or directing traffic- few would attribute this purely to ego, but out of necessity of having someone who has a clear vision and helps unify everyone towards that objective. Rather than fighting with a director over the vision it is important that cast and crew realise the necessity of having a director in the first place and their responsibility to trust -rightly or wrongly -that they have a strong overall vision and hence in many respects the final say. Films -like some other aspects of life- are difficult to make by committee.

It is hence the manner in which a director goes about that process which can dictate their success in achieving a unified vision. It is absolutely vital to the production that they have a strong and clear vision of the film. They should be able to describe the look, feel and message of the film in detail before a frame of film has been shot. But then also be flexible enough to encourage cast and crew to have creative input, and try to include it as much as possible.

In the following blogs we are going to look at the different types of directing styles, the art of communicating with cast and crew, and some basic creative considerations such as blocking, eye-lines, crossing the line, and filming several takes of the same shot.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Tip #49: Get film and production stills

Having an onset photographer for at least one day of the shoot is not only a worthwhile investment, but with a bit of forethought can be extremely valuable. While you may think that any cast or crew member can take their own photographs at any time, there are some good reasons to have a dedicated photographer. They will (hopefully) know what they are doing and what to look for. And often the best shots will be when the cast and crew are too busy to be taking their own photographs!

All in all you want to make sure you have a photographer who can take decent images and understands what you need to get and their purpose. It often requires more standard framing rather than fancy or artistic flare. More importantly the resulting images need to be good enough for print, at a high resolution and professional standard for poster designs and other future multimedia applications.

These can be divided into four basic types of photographs:

1. Film stills
Film stills are photographs of the actual film, of the actors in character and costume, on location. You may well think that you can simply grab a film still from the actual completed film. But those 'frame grabs' are often never good enough quality -even at HD resolution- for what you will require for the poster or press kits. It is much better to have the photographer primed to shoot the actors either just before or after you have filmed the scene. The photographer we worked with, Bharat Ram (below), would also sometimes take the actors away when they are not required and pose them in a similar way to what he had seen us filming them, or ask them to get into character. He would also try lots of different poses unrelated to the film, but still in character, poses which could say for instance be used for the film poster.

2. Production stills
These are photographs of the cast and crew at work on location, of the equipment, of the sets, of the buildings and areas where we filmed. It is essentially a record of the behind-the-scenes process.

3. Mug shots
Head and shoulder shots of all cast and crew involved, useful for references, production notes and CVs etc.

4. Continuity shots
An additional useage is for continuity -if you need to check how a location looked or what costume an actor was wearing at a particular time, photographs can be a valuable and irrefutable source of information.