I dream for a living.
       - Steven Spielberg

Principles of Directing

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The film director’s primary task is to interpret the screenplay and translate it visually. He is the creative mind that chooses the aesthetical and technical specifications to be implemented in his vision. To succeed in this mission, he is involved from the early stages of pre-production all the way to the final phase of post.

François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973) is perhaps the movie that best romanticizes the job and life of a director on and outside of the set during a film production. Their amazements and frustrations are subject matters featured in Truffaut’s Academy Award-winning film.

Even though directors must oversee the several stages of production, during principal photography, everything could get exponentially hectic. Their personal lives – family, friends, and affairs – are shoved aside to pave way for the film production. Weekends and holidays too. Everything revolves around the production schedule. At daytime, they shoot. At night, they rewrite the script. During breaks, they rehearse. Lights, costumes, décor, props, camera, actors are all supervised by the director, who’s often multitasking and micromanaging all of those. Directing movies requires extensive command of the craft. It takes decades to master and centuries to forget.

 

Traits of a Director

The director must be a tyrant and a democrat, a dreamer and a realist, a rebel and a loyalist. He has to give orders and follow them. He has to demand and obey. He has to be the most snobbish and most sociable person on set. He is the manager, the judge, the president. A friend. He is all of those and much more.

During a film production, the director assumes very many roles. Besides mastering the production process and storytelling techniques, he has to be aware of cultural and political issues that surround his movie. He has to be sensible of possible implications that any elements in his picture may cause.

Well-rounded, the director must know, for instance, that the color red means danger and emergency in America, whereas in China it connotes courage, loyalty, honor, success, fortune, fertility, and happiness.

In the exceptional example of Psycho (1960), Alfred Hitchcock foresaw the encroaching revolution of the 1960s and took advantage of it. Being entrepreneurial, he purchased the rights to the novel of same title and even bought copies to obscure the ending. Hitchcock was so sure that the picture would be a hit that he even deferred his director’s salary in order to get some support by the studios. By noticing the approaching revolution, he knew he could have Janet Leigh in her underwear in the bedroom and naked in the shower. The picture became the highest grossing film of Hitchcock's career, a box office triumph, earning $11,200,000.

 

Training

The essential training to be a film director usually begins at a very early age, watching movies. Aside from the very first ones, all great filmmakers were once kids enamored with moving pictures. Not just a hobby but a full-time love affair. As the kids grew up, they refined their vision and hearing to scrutinize the components inherent to the movies they watched. They observed camerawork, editing, acting, score… everything.

The next step would be actual hands on a film camera and shooting. Decades ago, making short movies with friends and learning the necessary skills by trial and error were considered a valuable method to become a filmmaker. But times have changed. The competition is much bigger now, and digital has ruined many youngsters.

With a generation that grows up watching YouTube, the discernment between good and awful is shattered by a criterion that values number of hits over technical excellence. Shaky cameras, trite stories, squeaky voices, and porch lighting are among the many problems caused by the preponderance of digital cameras.

Nowadays, attending a film school is a wise option to become a filmmaker. There, students will have keen insight on all the levels of production and the many professionals involved to make a movie, plus the chance to make friends that share the same passion. Networking.

 

Related readings:

Lessons on Screenwriting:

Lessons on Cinamatography:

 

 

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