Just What Does A Movie Director Do?
by Ric Pantale
“The director is God.”
—Erich von Stroheim
Before we start, please understand all directors work differently. Each has his own touch and creative vision. But there are basics that should be considered.
Edward Dmytryk, an Academy Award-winning director, liked to set up the next day’s shooting directly after he had the present days footage in the can. He felt this saved valuable time and gave the actors more familiarity with their roles.
Howard Hawks, liked buddy themes, and loved using overlapping dialogue between actors to convey a better sense of realism.
Alfred Hitchcock liked to build suspense by letting the audience in on a event, before the actors on screen knew it themselves.
A director is the main creative force of a film. He’s the head of any production unit. He must have the ability of a master story teller, using the combined talents of the many creative and technical artists assigned to assist him.
His main job includes, casting, editing a script and giving confidence and advice to the actors.
In addition, he must work closely with his lighting designer—and above all, his cinematographer, to sat up and compose scenes that will best convey to his future audience the concept of the story he’s trying to tell.
It should be noted that, in most cases the cinematographer and cameraman have two different jobs. Besides being the creative force, the director has to know all aspects of filmmaking.
Working with so many people on the set requires the director to remain calm and rational under pressure, because in reality, anything that can go wrong making a picture, usually does. The director also has to know what and when to delegate jobs to other professionals to help make his load a little lighter. An assistant director (usually known well and trusted by the director), handles a lot of the chores on any given set.
The film you see on the screen came together in three main parts:
• Post Production
Pre-production: This is an exciting time because the director gets a chance to meet most of the people who will work on the film. If he didn’t write the script, the director gets a screenplay from an agent or other source. Sometimes, the screenplay was adapted from a novel, play, etc. Then the director is contacted by a production company and contracts are drawn up.
Before meeting the crew, the director has all the actors he chose meet around a table to familiarize themselves with the script. This is called a reading. During this process, they read through from beginning to end. Suggestions are made, ideas are changed. It’s all good. Script-reading can go on for weeks.
Production: This is the time when everyone comes together to start making movie history. Production can last, (depending on time and budget constraints) ten days, to more than a year.
Post production: The very important polishing up and putting together of endless little snippets of time captured digitally or on film. The film is edited for best possible viewing, dubbing is added, and finally the music. The director has a hand in all of these processes.
The greatest reward for a director is to work with the actors and crew to actually create something that is the culmination of much hard work. Unless the director is a superstar (like Steven Spielberg) the usual fee he charges is 10 percent of the film’s gross earnings.
An important thing to remember, if you are hoping to become a director, is that today, as never before in history, the field is wide open to women as well as men. Anyone can learn to direct if they have the heart and desire. It is an occupation that is as rewarding as anything you can imagine.
Ric Pantale writer and director, is an independent film maker.