attitudeandsyndicate-deactivate ASKED:

I'm thinking about getting into Directing, do you have any tips for first-timers?

Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been getting around to answering my backlog of messages. Feels good to get back in the game!

First and foremost, the most basic tip I can give you is to prepare, prepare, prepare. You can never, in my opinion, prepare too much. Break down your script, create shot lists, create acting objectives for each scene, storyboard complex sequences in advance, and rehearse if you can. Some argue that preparation kills creative spontaneity, but I’m in the camp that it actually promotes spontaneity because you’ve covered the basics before you’ve even stepped in front of the camera. You are free to make adjustments based upon the moment, of what your actors and environment are giving you, of what your instinct is telling you (more on that later). But to go into a shoot unprepared means you’ll be spending valuable time figuring things out logistically rather than spending time with your actors and key crew. Prepare, prepare, prepare and you’ll be freeing yourself to really be in the moment.

Next tip. I think back to my first film and I think the best thing I learned was to get as much coverage as I could. For the uninitiated, “coverage” is collecting as much footage as possible of each scene, and this includes wides, angles, perspectives, close-ups and inserts. A good wide master-shot will ensure that you’ve filmed the scene in its entirety, and that in a worst-case scenario you’ll have the scene in its full for your edit.

But there’s a downside to master shots, which is that they tend to be flat, long and boring. Unless you incorporate interesting movement, layers of production design or choreographed action into your masters, they will tend to read almost flat. You’ll need to have close-ups and inserts to build narrative and interest. But as a fail safe, a master shot is a great insurance policy for a first time filmmaker.

My next tip is to manage your energy on set. Think of production as a battery. Each day you start at 100% and as the day presses on, people’s energy will drain. As a director you’re going to have to be at 100% all the time, but you have to be mindful that your crew and actors will be fading as the hours pass. Manage their energy wisely through scheduling and pragmatism. Rehearsals are great but avoid doing too many - actors will tend to put their energies into their first few rounds and you’ll want to preserve that raw power. Do a walkthrough at half-speed and if you’re shooting digital, you may even want to film your rehearsals. If it’s a complex sequence, then you’ll want to schedule a rehearsal before the camera shoots so that when you’re on set, you’ll be able to fine tune without expending too much time and energy. Avoid numerous takes on things like inserts - shoot them as a series instead.

The two things you’ll never have enough of are time and money. When you shoot, try to consolidate wherever you can without losing your inherent style or objective. If you can say two things in one shot and still keep it visually interesting (think of using a camera move or having your actors move in the frame as opposed to two shots), then you’re saving both time and money. Each setup costs you precious time, so be judicious with what you can do. Early in the shoot take note of your setup times and keep a mental log of what your shots will demand in terms of time and manpower. That long, single take with a steadicam will take time to light, choreograph and execute, so if you’ve allocated the same amount of time to it as you did for an insert of a man picking up a gun, then you’ll be in trouble, and you’ll fall behind. So either incorporate the man picking up the gun in your steadicam shot, or ditch the steadicam shot and do it as a series of shots under a similar lighting scheme. Know what is important and what can be sacrificed. Be precise but avoid being a perfectionist. As Michael Mann once put it, “a perfectionist is someone who cannot distinguish between what is important and what is unimportant.” Directors should be exacting in their overall vision, but they should have the wherewithal to know what is worth investing in and what can be consolidated or even excised. Those decisions will usually have to be made in the moment as you’re running out of time, you’re losing light, your talent is going into overtime, and a rainstorm is on the horizon. Believe me, it always happens, so be prepared for it.

Of course the very best tip I can give you is to listen to your instinct. Your collaborators will be bringing you thousands of decisions to be made each day, and you really have to go with what feels absolutely right to you. Being decisive is very different from being stubborn. You have a vision for your film, and every decision you make should be in service of that vision. If it doesn’t feel right - and you will know when it doesn’t feel right - then you have to act on it and devise an immediate solution to correct it. And if you don’t have an immediate solution, have the humility to ask your crew for their input. Your cast and crew are there to facilitate your vision - they are working with you, not against you - but it is your responsibility to steer them in the right direction to achieve the results you want. Hence the title of the job - director. Create a situation and environment where your collaborators are able to exercise their talents to the fullest as they bring your vision to life. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that is dependent upon your ability to stick to your convictions and provide directions to making those a reality.

These are just a few tips that I think can help out. There’s tons more tips but I really think these are the utmost important ones.

Storyboards and Influences: Tetsuo the Iron Man

I took a day off on Friday and picked up on my storyboarding. I draw all of my own storyboards, and typically in obscene detail, almost like a comic book. I learned the process on a trip to Japan when I had the opportunity to stop at the legendary Studio Ghibli, the brainchild of master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. I purchased a copy of the storyboards for Princess Mononoke and told myself that “this is how one plans a film.”

Sometimes I get flak for doing my storyboards in such detail, that I’m wasting valuable time. But I find that my drawing out the storyboard serves as valuable time to previsualize the shot in my head, that as I’m drawing, I jot down things like blocking diagrams, performance beats, and even lighting schemes. A lot of times I play out the film in my head as I draw, and it informs changes in the script. It may be a laborious process, but it is my process nonetheless.

I haven’t had the luxury of time for Lilith, and I can only spend so much time on each frame. As a visual representation of the type of time crunch I’m under, here’s a typical storyboard sequence from my film The Killing Moon:

And here’s some frames from the opening sequence of Lilith:

I’ll get more into the practical philosophy behind my storyboarding in another post, but I have to share a revelation of sorts that came to me while I was taking my day off. I was going through my movie collection to put together a list of movies to watch as references for Lilith, and I stumbled across one of my top five favorite films of all time, a film that, strangely, I’ve never once used as a reference because it is just so damn weird, so completely unique, and so utterly original that it could never be used as a reference for another film.

That movie, as the title of this post would indicate, is Shinya Tsukomoto’s Tetsuo the Iron Man. This was the first foreign film I had ever seen. Correction: the first foreign non-Indian / Bollywood film I had ever seen, as my my home was ripe with Indian cinema - more on that in future posts. At the end of the film I was hooked on cinema as the coolest art form ever - after all, who in their right mind could weave a power drill penis into a narrative: (clip is NSFW, btw)

Weird. Seriously. But I love it.

I still had no purpose for Tetsuo as a visual or narrative reference, but it did get me thinking about process. I thought for awhile how in the hell I would go about storyboarding a film like Tetsuo, and it dawned on me that there is so much that needs to be relegated for the moment.

The moment.That magical word that seems to pop up in every discussion of art, that nebulous concept of when several elements meet at a confluence of mental perceptiveness and kismet inspiration. You just can’t storyboard or plan out something like that on paper. I needed a film like Tetsuo to remind me of that. This is why the film is so very important to me - it speaks to me in many ways. An odd relationship, I know, and one that might categorize me as a total loon, but I’m just being honest.

I still continue to storyboard in obscene detail, but my spirit in doing so has shifted. My storyboarding is for practical and planning purpose, but not for emotional content. I am not a telepath or psychic, I can’t predict the future and commit it to paper. But what I can do is be as prepared as possible for any eventuality.

The moment is useless to us if we are not prepared to capture it!