Monday, November 21, 2011

So You Want to Make a Movie - Good Directions

You’ve caught the bug, and you’ve decided to make a movie. But where do you start? The good news is today there are fewer barriers to overcome in order to produce a film. Thanks to digital filmmaking, the costs have dropped dramatically. In reality, practically anybody can become a filmmaker. There is no shortage of books, videos, and online resources to help get you started. No one article can answer all of your questions or take you through the entire process; however, I want to offer you 20 key steps that will at least steer you in the right direction. Think of these steps as the big picture or the 30,000 foot view.

Step 17 - Good Directions

If you are going to give “good directions”, you must know the script inside and out. Do you know the point of each scene? Do you understand the motivation for each action from your characters? Do you know the main emotional moment of each scene and where it leads to the next scene? Remember, your movie is being shot out of order. This can be disorienting, especially for inexperienced actors. Never direct an actor through what you want in results. Tell your actors what the character wants to achieve in the scene. Describe the action that needs to occur in order to achieve the result you are looking for in each scene. For example, don’t tell the actor to be angrier, upset, sadder, or happier. Give them the motivation and the reason why they are expressing the needed emotion.

Good directors give psychological motivation. Every direction should be geared toward giving the actor information about the scene so that your actor can achieve and experience the emotional moment of the character. That means that you need to understand the character. What does the character want, why does the character want it and from whom? Where did the character come from, and where is he/she in the present moment? It is essential for the director, to understand human nature and what people want and need from each other. If you can do that, you are on the road to becoming a good director.

The production set can be an overwhelming, scary and chaotic place because there are lots of people moving around with lights and equipment and all other sorts of distractions. As a result, good directors need to provide a safe place to work so their actors can be creative and feel secure. Providing the right kind of encouragement is absolutely a necessity to achieve the results you are looking for. Allow the personalities of your actors to bleed into the character. Let them enjoy the discovery of finding the character on their own because it’s more fun for you and the actor and will lead to believable and credible characters.

Your actors will always want more takes. The key to staying on schedule is to say no. When you have two good takes that you feel comfortable with move on. The reality is the performance will probably not be any better at the 7th or 8th takes versus the third or fourth takes. The only thing you are going to achieve is wasting time and money as well as exhausting your cast and crew. If you gave good direction, you will have to trust the results.

What does a typical production day look like? In one word—exhausting. Your production manager will create call sheets that tell cast and crew where to be and at what time. Your days will probably start around 6 a.m. and finish up around 9 p.m. In a typical three-week shoot, the first week will have a few bumps as cast and crew try to get into a rhythm. For the first couple of days, start out with something simple to build confidence. Your second week will be the most productive. I suggest that’s when you shoot your most complex and difficult scenes in terms of setups. By the third week, your cast and crew are just trying to survive to get to the end. Nerves are a little bit fried. So you might have to hold a few hands. Never the less, this is the week to shoot the more complex emotional scenes because the actors can access the emotions more readily due to stress and weariness of the production process. By now your actors should be able to relate to their characters

The sweetest words you are going to hear are “it’s a wrap”. That’s when your entire 100 page script has been shot and is in the can. That’s a total of somewhere between 75 to 90 scenes. There’s one final suggestion that might come in handy. Build into your schedule at least one day for pick-ups and reshoots. This allows your crew time to go out and shoot some B-roll and additional coverage shots.

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