Thursday, February 4, 2010

Direction, the Director and Directing

I have no idea how to direct other than what I have read in a book, albeit a good one.  Deep down inside I know I can do it, but I am not about to place a bet on it professionally.  I can only tell you how to hire a Director.

In my experience, experience matters.  If you are hoping to get investors, actors, distributors or the public interested in your project, hire an experienced Director.  If you are making a no-budget film on DV, direct it yourself and become an experienced director.  Ditto if you are coming out of film school; direct a student project.

What I look for in a Director is experience within the genre of the film I am making.  They also need to have a passion for the project.  I look for someone who is knowledgeable about financial concerns and can adapt under pressure to deliver the shots whether on time or on a contracted schedule.

Directors need to gain the trust of the cast.  Actors are artists at the core.  They get into their roles.  A Director should know how to guide them and encourage them.  A Director that connects with cast will bring out the best performance.

Directing is not just about bringing the performance out of the talent.  A good Director is a good technical person.  Someone who can visualize every shot and how each fits into a sequence, and the sequence into the whole.  The Director works with the Director of Photography or Cinematographer and camera team to establish the look of the film.  They work with the Set Designer and art department to build the environment to match the desired look.  He/she works with the Costume Designer and Prop Master to dress the people and sets appropriately.  And finally, the Director work with the Visual Effects Supervisor to deliver elements to the film that do not exist in reality.

It is invaluable to have a Director who does not have tunnel vision and can address issues of budget and schedule with the Line Producer or Unit Production Manager.  During the shoot, the Director must work with the Production Manager to make sure that their are sufficient resources to complete the project with the Director's overall vision in tact.  A Director that treats the production office as a "bunch of suits" only puts their own reputation and vision at risk.  Sometimes change is unavoidable.  Alternate courses must be chosen.  The best Directors understand this and find creative solutions which often work better than what was originally planned because they are based on ingenuity.

The Director must create and share their vision of the film with the Producer.  In this regard they are your partner in "delivering the goods".  Since the Director is usually brought on board in Development or Pre-Production and stays through delivery, you will spend a lot of time with each other.  It is important to build a solid relationship and foundation of trust and communication.

Most Directors are given a Director's Cut as part of their deal.  For many reasons, as a Producer, I will not always give Final Cut to a Director.

While a Director's Cut is not the Final Cut, it is the direction headed after the Editor delivers the Fist Assembly.  I usually consult with the Editor and Director about my wishes and vision prior to the Assembly,.  Once the Director delivers their cut, time is of the essence and so choosing a Director who is open to suggestions is important for me.  If there is a firm delivery date for the film, it is difficult to re-edit the film from scratch after the Director's Cut.  Having a relationship built on communication and trust greatly reduces the likelihood of unforeseen surprises.

After Picture is Locked, the film goes to Sound Design and Score.  The Picture is also Color Corrected.  The Director is usually involved throughout this process.

In the end, the film's success is usually attributed to the Director, and its failure to the Producer.  Choose your Director wisely.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My apology to professional screenwriters

Craig Weisz made a comment on my blog post (Casting) and asked if I had seen the article below by Josh Olsen:

I re-read my post (What's the story?) and realized that it came off like I was making writing sound easy.  I meant no disrespect.  In fact, I too am a screenwriter and I KNOW how difficult it is.

Writing a screenplay is hard.  It takes a lot of time and effort to get a first draft.  It takes numerous re-writes to get a draft worth sending out for professional consideration.  And from there, there are numerous re-writes and notes and re-writes.

When you submit a project to an agency it will most likely be read first by a reader who is typically a writer too.  Positive coverage is screenwriter gold.  The reader knows this.  They only forward the best of the best or ones they think has potential (which of course is subjective).

Most people cannot write.  Period.  I do think most of us have a story to tell.  If we are willing to put in the time, we can create something worthwhile.  It may never get made, but that is statistically the norm.

For writers, part of the process is therapeutic.  You dig deep into your soul and pull experiences, emotions and thoughts from the memory bank and use them in shaping your fiction.  Even if you shelve your script once you write it, the process will have set your mind free.

Anyone in the film business has been in the position Josh describes.  Try being the acquisitions executive stalked by a producer who promises "The Matrix" only to show you an unreleasable mess.  Or being the sales agent trying to help a friend get a project off the ground only to have to tell them that the market is not responding despite all their hard work in putting a package together.

It is tough, as Josh says, to get a professional to look at your work when they have their own projects to work on and need to look at projects for pay from  their reps.

It is important for writers to observe etiquette when asking someone to read their work.  If they don't then the person being asked is not obliged to do them any favors.  Can you imagine asking your lawyer to review a legal document for free?  Or your accountant's response to filing your taxes without compensation?

In my post on writing I mentioned there are script analysts that you can pay ($150 to $1000) to review your work.  You could even find an out of  work reader with agency experience and get coverage for $50 to $75.  They will be brutally honest.  They will also critique and guide you to issues you will need to work on.  Some will offer script doctoring services or continued reviews at reduced fees.  I cannot attest to the value of that since I have never gone further than an initial assessment, but these services are available.

Once you use such a service and re-write your script until you get positive feedback from several sources, then and only then is it worth approaching a professional for their valuable opinion.  And when they give it, you will hopefully get a fair shake and be invited to submit future work because you did not waste their time.

What I have learned from my own writing experience is that my taste in material has ultimately improved.  I am much more critical of what I read.  I am also much more appreciative of the writer and his/her craft.  If I gravitate to better material I will make better movies.  And that is the name of the game.

What I want to say in conclusion is this:  It is tough to be a writer.  It is even tougher to be a good writer.  Many good writers never see their work make it off the page.  As much as there are reasons not to read someone's work, there are good reasons to do so.  While the pros don't have to cave in and read a submission just because, we should encourage newcomers to the industry because our industry is changing.  Brilliance lurks just around the corner!