In Which I Learn About Directing

It’s strange to think that only a few weeks ago I was writing about Thanksgiving and now Christmas is around the corner. I’m not going to talk about Christmas.  Christmas is being talked about by far too many people right now anyway. But I feel, because of the holiday and the new year, this strange urge to purge myself of negativity, to walk away from old fears and start anew.

This summer I directed 15 episodes of a web series called Grimm’s Reaper, which will  be premiering on January 2nd (more to come on that). I learned a lot about directing actors, about directing in general, about seeing one’s  vision come to life.

Here are some things I learned about myself:

*I am far too cooperative. I listen to everyone’s ideas and I often start to question my own in light of them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen, because you should. It’s part of what makes a good director better. But when you begin to let other ideas eclipse your own, there’s a problem.

*I didn’t have a clear enough idea of what I wanted. Sometimes, letting the director of photography tell you how best to block your actors is okay, because he knows where the best light is, where the best angles are, etc. But you have to be the one to make the final decision, and I didn’t do that nearly enough.

*I was indecisive, and this made my actors realize that they were the ones in control. Now, I am not talking badly about actors because I am one, but we are not supposed to be in control. We compromise the integrity of a film when we get too much control, and I gave my actors too much control.

Here are some things I learned about directing in general:

*You have to learn how to make it seem like you are giving everyone what they want, even when you aren’t, to get what *you* need. Remember, as the director, you *are* the most important person on set, so you have to find a way to make your vision come to life, no matter what it takes. The reason I say you have to make it seem like you are giving everyone else what they want, is because when you are not  paying actors, you cannot afford to be aggressive or mean. You have to be nice. You have to be caring. And you have to give them what they want to get what you want.

*Some actors don’t like to play characters with ugly personalities – they want to be the funny one, they want to be the one that everyone loves. Not all actors can be this person – some have to be the villain, some have to be the coward, and you as the director had better make sure you have an actor who is willing to do this before you get on set, because working with an actor who doesn’t want to play their character is one of the more difficult things you will ever do.

*You have to know how to talk to your actors. You cannot say “Be Happy” or “Be Sad” and expect them to give you what you need. You need to give them something that can help lead them to those emotions – you need to give your actors an ultimate goal and an action. As your director I may tell you to try and “shame” your co-actor,  but then I’ll ask you why you are trying to do that – what does your character gain from shaming someone else? These are the questions your actor must be asking himself before you can make any progress.

So how does one who is like me – indecisive, too cooperative, and too vague – get on set and have confidence? It’s difficult, and I’ll be honest, my confidence left the building towards the middle of the process. But I understand a lot of things about myself that I never would have learned had I not gone into this process. And we emerged from our insane shooting schedule with a product that I feel is quite beautiful and inspiring for other independent filmmakers. Please check out the Grimm’s Reaper blog for more information on the show and we’ll show you the awesome product we come out with.

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