The Director: Crash Course Film Production #7

The Director: Crash Course Film Production #7

So, I have a script to work off of, to tell
you about directing. But what do you think we should do in this
video? Should I show you what a director does? Should I explain everything a director does? Should I try to get you to guess what a director
does? People often assume that the director has
all the answers, but directors ask a lot of questions. According to American Playwright and Filmmaker
David Mamet, directors only have two main questions to ask themselves: What do I tell
the actors? And where do I put the camera? And that’s a cheeky way of encompassing
a lot of what the director should do. But maybe a better way of looking at it is
that the director has a strong sense of where the answers are buried, and their job is to
steer their team to where they can uncover those answers. That might sound a little foofy, but it’s
the clearest way I can describe what the job of a director is. A director must use everything at their disposal
to clearly communicate to their actors, their crew, and ultimately to us, the audience. [Intro Music Plays] A director’s job is to bring their vision
to life in the film. So, a common misunderstanding is that the
actors are just like puppets, illustrating the director’s ideas. An actor’s job is to bring a character to
life. And we need actors to think real thoughts
and feel real feelings to make the film relatable. A good actor gives a director options, by
making informed choices about how a character would act in the various situations that the
script puts them in. We’ve talked about the language of the camera,
and how the way in which shots are framed can help convey a story. But the camera’s most important job is to
read the characters’ thoughts. For that to happen, actors have to be vulnerable,
and think as the character. This is incredibly demanding work, so it’s
up to the director to ensure that the actors have a safe space to explore their characters
and take risks. And the actor relies on the director to steer
them in the right direction. I joked earlier about having you guess what
I would say in this video. That’s because forcing an actor into a position
where they’re unsure about how to act in a scene is one way to ruin their performance. If an actor feels like they need to direct
themselves in a scene, they won’t risk losing themselves in the world of the film,
and it’ll feel fake. To give an actor the confidence they need
to inhabit a character, a director must give clear, actionable directions. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say we’re working on a scene
about a breakup. A clear, actionable direction could be, “Since
your character has been blind-sighted by this breakup, you want to keep the other person
from leaving the room so you can get answers.” The actor receiving this direction now knows
that their character has just learned that they were wrong about the other character,
and they have a goal of keeping the other person there. They know where they’re coming from and
where they’re trying to go. Now, no matter what happens in the scene,
this actor can feel confident in their decisions if they’re working toward keeping the other
person in the room. On the flip side of that, an unclear or non-actionable
direction in that breakup scene could be, “You wish this wasn’t happening and it
reminds you of when your parents got divorced.” How do you act “wishing” or “being reminded”
of something? That’s way too vague. But if the director knew what they wanted,
they could tell the actor something like, “You see this person as the father who left
you when you were 10 and, just like then, you’ll do anything to keep them here.” So now this is a more actable note, because
our actor understands the power dynamic of this relationship and knows that they’re
using the same tools a 10-year-old would. And, most importantly, the actor now has a
goal: “Keep the other person from leaving.” So the director has a plan for how they’d
like the scene to go, and the actors will add their own interpretations to that, and
the hope is that they uncover the best possible scene. It is possible for a director to get the scene
they envision without allowing the actors to do their work, but this doesn’t build
trust or create the conditions for a better film than the director is capable of imagining. This is something author, and directing instructor
Judith Weston calls result-oriented directing, and it’s a common mistake of new directors
who are focused on the surface-level aspects of acting instead of the true work that goes
into it. Instead of working with the actors to unpack
what the line means and what the purpose of the scene is, a director will focus on outward
emoting and try to control how an actor does things. You may have heard directions like, “On
that line, laugh.” or “When you see her, you start to cry.” This tells the actor nothing about what their
character is actually thinking and feeling. A director might think they’re helping the
actor by telling them how they should say the line or where they should put emphasis
in the line, but this is called a line reading, and it limits the actor to just mimicking
the director rather than communicating what the character is feeling. A result-oriented direction will usually give
the director what they think they want in that moment, but at a pretty high cost. These directors are only paying attention
to what the characters look like outwardly instead of what’s going on in their minds. And when you’re working with a good actor
who’s thinking real thoughts, the camera — and therefore the audience — can pick
up on those thoughts. The result will be a deeper, more nuanced
performance than when the actor is just pantomiming what the director tells them to do. It’s important to remember that filmmaking
is collaborative by design, and while the director is the creative leader, insisting
the film turn out exactly like the director imagines it will severely limit the film. Result-oriented directing can also break trust
that’s been built between director and actor. After all, if a director can’t trust an
actor to experiment and discover what’s needed from a scene, then why should the actor
trust the director? The detrimental short-cut of line readings
can be avoided by making time for rehearsal. And rehearsal is a great way for the director
and actors to build trust. Some directors, like Sydney Lumet, are subtle
about it. Lumet would tell each person where to sit
at the first read through of a script. This made it clear to the actors that he had
a plan and was confident in his choices. Directors like Mike Leigh, are more overt
about building trust in rehearsal. Leigh purposely works with actors who are
willing to explore themes and ideas before they even have a script. They work through proposed scenes together,
and then Leigh develops a script around what they’ve uncovered together in the rehearsal
process. By the time the cameras are rolling, the actors
have been living and growing as these characters, that they know how to approach every scene. From rehearsal to the final cut, a director’s
job always includes guiding the actors in their roles and shaping those performances,
but the director also works with every creative department on a film. That’s what Mamet calls “where to put
the camera,” but it involves much more than that. Just like with the actors, the director has
to deeply understand the other departments so they can communicate clearly with everyone. During pre-production, the director coaches
the location scouts on what the film needs in its setting. They work with the Production Designer, set
decorators, and props department to build the world and orchestrate everything in the
mise en scene. And before the actors even get to set, the
director needs to understand the film’s characters to communicate their personalities
and struggles to the costume designer. Both before and during filming, the director
works with the Hair and MakeUp and special effects departments to perfect the details
of the storytelling. And yes, the director decides where to put
the camera. There are an infinite number of ways to make
a shot look cool or beautiful, but there is usually one best way to shoot a scene when
you remember that every shot should be motivated by what the scene is trying to convey. What’s motivating the camera placement and
movement can be practical — like, if you need to show someone driving, we need to see
who it is, and also see that they’re in a car. But how the director decides to use the camera
can also help us understand something about the character or the themes of the film more
deeply. Starting in pre-production, the director and
cinematographer work together to design the shot list. They’ll usually work with a storyboard artist
to illustrate what the shots will look like and work off of the storyboards as a reference. They can do this before the locations are
nailed down, and it’s possible to work on it even before the actors are cast, because
what determines how a film is shot is that blueprint we talked about before: the script. Just like every line of dialogue, every shot
should convey new information to the audience. We should be able to watch a film with the
sound off and still be able to intuit what’s going on in the film. We should be able to know things like who
our protagonist is, what they want, what’s standing in their way, and how they feel. Once we know what to tell the actors and where
to set the camera, there’s still one huge job for the director left: Post production. Just like with all the other creative leads,
the director needs to communicate the story with the editor and composers in order to
tell the best version of the story. The editing process introduces the final layer
of discovery for the director. The director is the guiding force in uncovering
the answers right up until the final cut. What the best version of the story is, depends
on the director and the film. While a director leads their team in unlocking
that best version, they’re also the decision makers. They’re holding the whole film in their
heads, and actors, cinematographers, designers, editors, and composers all give the director
options they think are the right answers for this film. Then the director chooses which are the best. Depending on the size of the production, the
director might not be the one calling action or cut, but the director is always the one
who says, “Yes, that’s what I want.” Today we explored the director’s role as
a leader and creative guide for everyone else working on the film. We learned the director must have a strong
vision and be able to communicate it clearly. And we talked about how one of the director’s
most important jobs is creating the safe space for the rest of their team to do their creative
work. One of those people is the cinematographer,
who we’ll talk about next time. Crash Course Film Production is produced in
association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check
out a playlist of their latest amazing shows, like Eons, PBS Infinite Series, and PBS Space
Time. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these nice people and our
amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe.


11 thoughts on “The Director: Crash Course Film Production #7”

  • "The actor is supposed to be safe space to explore the character". Well there is a bevy of cannonical directors that failed at doing just that… can you believe?

  • This was a great video with great insight, and I'm now subscribed. This is so exciting for me, I love directing. Some never take the challenge because they see it as difficult and tedious, but not me. Whether in class in film school or at home, I would be imagining stories and characters. When professors would asked who wants to be the director, I would always raise my hand. I already had a story, and characters. I also write my own scripts, do my own cinematography, and do my own editing. When you see yourself as an artist instead of a director doing a job, everything falls into place. The challenge becomes a joy, and the long hours, and many days are worth the reward. To see your imagination come to life. It feels like creating life. It's the purpose of bringing life to an idea, an expression. When you see it as an art, think as an artist, and have a story to tell that will connect with the audience. It is a great and enlightening journey that In the future I will share with the world in theaters around the world. The journey of a passionate filmmaker has no equal.

  • I could not agree more with the advice on working with actors and focusing the characters' goal in each scene. If you focus on the character goals, then you will generally get the performance you wanted, even if you didn't know you wanted it. This is true also for screenwriters. Another bit I would touch on is the interaction and relationship between the director, the AD and producers/production. Its a delicate balance of time, performance, and money and a good director will always attempt to balance these with a preference towards performance just as an AD has a preference towards time and a producer has a preference towards budget. They all work together trying to make it all happen but each has their own focuses to help ensure that there is the best performances while remaining on schedule and therefore within the budget.

    I also wholesomely agree that it is beneficial for a director to understand other departments. Ultimately you are the reason everything is happening, even if the producers like to get involved, and understanding the requests you make of your crew will help them to respect you and work harder to bring your vision to life. It will also help to prevent you from asking something of your crew that is unreasonable or would be a strain on your time/budget. If you still believe said idea is needed you at least have the ability to understand you are asking a lot and to ask with empathy.

  • Hello!! Do you also make fiction shortfilms ?? I have a a short film i would love to share with you ?; you could look for "PLANETA ZEME STONJAUS" on YouTube Or send me a message to give you the link, Thanks !!!

  • Once again, Crash Course does a better job of teaching me what I need to know than my college.
    Can I give you my $4k instead? XD

  • Robert Bresson says not so lol it depends on the director. James Cameron is another who would probably disagree lol

  • The Unknown~ says:

    This was really helpful. I'm currently doing my thesis. I was very unsure and unconfident in terms of what I needed to do, but this helped me a lot. I feel like I have a better understanding of what my goal wis with each department and how to lead everyone. Thank you.

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