So you want to direct, huh? You want to direct a big project. A BIG visual effects-driven project like a "Fallout" or a "Red Sand." Leading a team of students over multiple semesters to make something AWESOME.
Cool. Only you're not ready. Oh, you think you are, I know. But you're not the first student to think that, and you won't be the last. But no matter how ready you think you are, you're not. Most people aren't ready for the responsibility of directing a project like this until they've done it once before. Kind of a Catch-22.
But don't worry. I've compiled this handy list to help you through the process, a list of what your classmates and I will expect from you when you undertake the insane task of directing one of these behemoth productions.
1. You will work harder than EVERYONE on your team. This is your number one guiding principle. If anyone on your team - including me - is working harder on your film than you are, you're doing it wrong. Period.
2. Preproduction begins and ends with YOU. You need to oversee everything. Your team is going to need guidance on every decision - casting, costumes, props, sets, locations, concept art. Everything. If you're the director then the film is your vision, not someone else's. No decision should be made without your thumbs-up.
3. Know your script. Whether you wrote the script or not, you need to know every scene, every line of dialogue, every character, and how they all fit into the whole of the film. Read that document and commit it to memory.
4. Get on the same page with your Director of Photography as soon as possible. You and your DP need to be a team. Spend time talking about the script, particularly the emotional beats and how to visualize them. Write a shot list. Storyboard if you can. Draw blocking diagrams. But whatever you do, plan MEANINGFUL coverage that conveys your vision of the story. Make sure your DP buys into your vision so that there are no arguments on set. Ever. And once you and your DP are on the same page, you can focus on your actors when on set, rather than fussing about lenses and f-stops and debating the framing of the shot.
5. Trust and respect your team. Assume they are all going to get their work done to your satisfaction. Give them approval when possible, guidance when needed, and supervision when requested. But never micromanage. If your team feels like you're a tyrant who is going to undermine their every decision, they will no longer buy into your vision and will lose their motivation and passion for the project.
6. Set the tone on your set. Be the first person on set in the morning and the last to leave at night. Make sure your cast and crew have eaten before you grab your lunch. Say "please" and "thank you." Get your own coffee. Sit if you must while the take is rolling, but in between takes when your team is on their feet moving equipment, show some solidarity by being on your feet too. No one is expecting you to grip, but an offer to help once in a while wouldn't hurt. These little gestures will mean a lot to your crew in the long run.
7. Make your day. Your producers have been struggling to schedule your actors around their other gigs and their day jobs. Your team is forgoing doing their homework for their other classes. Your professor is giving up time with his family to make sure your film gets shot. It's on you to respect that by making sure that you make your day, every day. That means getting the shots you need to tell your story. Remember that "meaningful coverage" back in #4? Shoot it, while simplifying and streamlining wherever possible, but without sacrificing your story. Combining two shots into a single moving setup that better conveys the moment? Genius. Losing vital close ups because you shot 10 takes of a master shot? Unforgivable. Finishing on time but not getting the material the film needs to be successful ultimately undermines the whole project and disrespects the efforts of all involved.
8. Watch dailies. Review the previous day's footage before your next shooting day. Assess what worked and what didn't. Compare notes with your DP. Don't HOPE you got it, KNOW you got it.
9. Let your editor find the story. Your intentions were one thing. What you actually got on film is sometimes another thing entirely. If you've chosen your editor well, now trust that person to save you from yourself by finding the best version of the story that is possible with the footage you shot. No matter how insistent you are about your vision, sometimes it's just not there in the footage. Actors don't deliver the goods. The focus puller missed their mark. Dialogue is superfluous. Your direction was wrong. It happens. Let that stuff go and let your editor work.
10. Do some of the heavy lifting during post. Roto sucks. Greenscreens sometimes don't key. Camera tracking fails. Help out. Pick up some tough shots to work on. Be there with your post team while they're struggling. Let them know you haven't thrown them to the wolves. Stand with them, and they'll stand by you and your film.
Remember these ten rules and you'll have a better chance of a smooth and successful project. Disregard these rules at your - and your project's - peril.
Still want to direct?