Friday, August 5, 2011

Directing Fact #1 - YOU are not making a movie.

I come from twenty years of productions that for all intents and purposes have been a one-man show. I have many times marveled at the credits on television documentaries, wondering why in the world they would need that many people. More often than not, I choose to not list credits at the end of my own productions because I am embarrassed that I only have three or four names total. While this can and has worked for me in documentary, promo, training and commercial productions, it does not work on a film set.

Preparing for my first film, I found myself often making a mental note of something I would need to be sure to take care of on a particular day of the shoot. They were all very simple things that would not take any time or effort at all. But somewhere along the way, I started to realize how fast they were adding up. There would be no way for me to oversee all of these little things by myself. So I began passing them off, which now unnerved my production manager and assistant directer since these were things they had not heard about previously. I finally got my list down to just one task the night before shooting began and one task on the morning of Day 1.

The first task was putting together the sound cart for our audio guys. Most of the equipment was mine or stuff I had borrowed, and I already had a plan for how to rig it up as a cart. I estimated about two hours to put it together. I was a little off. By the time we had rigged it all together, labeled everything, proved microphones, set up recording templates and gathered all the accessories that might be needed, I got a total of fifteen minutes of sleep.

The task the next morning was much easier. I had agreed to pull the trailer with our movie car to the set. This would not be a problem since I was driving my SUV to the set anyway. Call time was at 8 am, but at 8:45 I was still waiting alongside the Interstate for a police officer to show up. With a flat tire on the trailer, my plan was to simply unload the movie car and drive it the last 30 miles to the set where it would be needed soon. I could not do that, however, without a police escort since my movie car was a very convincing police cruiser. While I really could not afford to be a couple of hours late to the set, I figured it was a better option than being arrested for impersonating a police officer. After permissions and escorts from two counties, I finally drove onto the set in the police car.

No one noticed, of course, because they were already busy shooting the first scene (as I had instructed them by phone). Looking around, I suddenly realized two things. First, this was way bigger than me. My first AD and Director of Photography had things humming and probably would have had a decent scene in the can whether I showed up or not. It was humbling, but it also gave me a great sense of respect for what we were undertaking. My second realization, however, was that I would not see my own vision for my film on-screen if I was also a PA, grip, sound guy, production manager and driver.

A film is like a ship at sea. A lot of people and processes are in place to make it move and maneuver. The captain may be running the show, but his only real job is to hire a good crew and then make sure the boat is always pointed in the right direction. If he has to run up and down the ship taking care of things, no matter how important or how simple, he will be distracted and the results could be disastrous. As a director, after you have found great actors and a great crew in pre-production, you should be focused on only two things--getting the coverage you will need in the edit room, and getting the performance you want from your actors. Everything else is a distraction that someone else should be handling. It is not easy to make this happen on a small budget project, but I believe it is the key to having a great, cohesive end-product that you will be happy with.