This is a question I’ve been struggling with as of late. What does a director DO? When it comes to making movies, I really spend most of my time and effort into organizing (getting actors and crew on the same page, nabbing locations, talking with people, shmoozing, fundraising, etc— there’s so much to it, it can be kind of a nightmare sometimes). To me, that has been the bulk of making movies. If you can actually get a cast and crew and equipment in the same room, I feel like the hardest part is over. Especially shooting on a college campus when movie making is a second priority after academics.
But that’s not directing. To me, most of what I do is producing. Since this is such a big ordeal, I have the assistance of Jeremy Musher, a fellow Hampshire filmmaker, helping me with production (location scouting, calendar organizing, etc.) So we’ve got two producers on this film, but that leaves the question of what I do as a director.
Another possibility: The director’s job is to work with the actors. I love doing this, but I also had the worry that I don’t have tons of experience. Hampshire classes are rarely focused on directing actors, since narrative filmmaking isn’t necessarily Hampshire’s thing. (I’m struggling with that as well— an essay for later.) I have a good sense of how I want my characters to be, but to assist me in communicating that message to my actors, I have Michail Charalampidis, another Hampshire student, helping me with communicating with actors. Michail also has experience in working in theater, a craft that seems more focused on the art of directing actors. So I’m secure in that department, but am I weakening the role of director?
What about actually using the camera and framing shots? This is rarely the director’s job. I’ve worked with a cinematographer before on my last movie, No Direction, and having someone else work on the image has been a really powerful way to make beautiful images that also convey what they should. I’m often wrapped up in the logistics and what needs to be portrayed, it’s easy to forget that film is an art form, and making compelling images is invaluable. So I’ve got Edwin Cabrera, a UMass film student, as my director of photography, setting up and framing shots while operating the camera, and Laura Burke, a Hampshire studio art student, helping with compositions, lighting, makeup, hair, costumes, and set decoration.
I had this worry right before we started shooting. “Crap, I have all my bases covered in areas I feel like I’m not as strong… so what will I, the director, be DOING?” Lately, this is what I’ve been realizing:
A director often needs to step back from the entire process. A director can’t be constantly preoccupied with what shot needs to be done next, continuity, lighting, etc. These are things that the crew should be handling. The director’s job, as I see it, is to take a step back and see the BIG PICTURE. The biggest picture possible. The director should constantly be asking WHAT and WHY, and the crew should be doing the HOW. The director should have a vision. WHAT are we shooting? WHAT is it contributing to the film as a whole? WHY is it this way? Then the director communicates this to the crew, and the crew figues out how to make that vision possible.
I realized this before we started shooting, but I’m still slowly figuring out how to actually render this somewhat abstract idea. This last weekend’s shoot, an awkward scene in a kitschy diner, I put most of my effort into the big picture— which actually comes down to the smaller details. The camera setups were simple, the actors had already rehearsed, and the natural lighting of the diner was almost enough on its own. So, as a director, my job was to render this scene as a REAL diner. That’s what this scene needed. We had the diner all to ourselves, but I didn’t want it to look that way. The diner had to be empty, but not unrealistically so. So, as a director, I added details. A man in the background eating pie and drinking coffee. A stressed out waitress paces the background. Adding a slightly longer pause in the dialog to stretch out that uncomfortable moment. The scene comes off really well— the forces courtesy of the waitress matches the tacky outdated decorations of the diner, and Perrin, the lead, is awkwardly modern and out of place.
Editing the footage later, I was really happy with the results. The tiny details are what makes the scene feel real. The clearer my head is, and the more prepared my cast and crew are before the shoot, the more I can focus on what the scene is, why it’s in the movie, and how I can best use my crew to make it happen.
Ideally, South Oasis is a collaborative piece of filmmaking, but a sort of communist approach to filmmaking is impossible. We can’t ALL be completely equal on the film set, unfortunately. It takes a director to remain somewhat detached from the hands-on aspect, and an awesome crew that totally understands the director’s goal to make it happen. I refuse to put “A Benjamin Ausmith” film anywhere on this movie. I’m the writer, director, editor, and one of the producers of this, and it’s my vision, but calling it my movie would be a slap in the face to the fantastic people who are making it possible. I don’t always know what’s best for the camera placement, for my actor’s delivery, for the lighting, but with a crew of people who understands each of their roles in extreme detail, South Oasis becomes an unstoppable force where anything is possible.
Any other filmmakers out there have a different take on this?