Directing, a Human’s Guide.

Everyone I’ve met who wants to work in entertainment fancies themselves a director at some level. When I was at San Jose State for animation, everyone was great when everyone was an animator, but dear God did that fall apart when there was a hierarchy. As just one example, this group had one or two students struggling for control of the direction of a project… and they weren’t even a part of story! That was a huge facet that SJSU doesn’t even cover! Taking film classes, students were basically the same.

In all honesty I prefer editing. Telling the story with the pieces I’ve got laying in front of me. That’s what I like to do, and not having a million things to do and control a bunch of people trying to direct people in ways they might not want to go under a time crunch. Directing isn’t particularly my bag, but this is what I learned about the subject through life.

I began coaching high school boys basketball at 20. That was an experience. My grandfather coached basketball for longer than I’ve been alive and I learned from him. He was my coach, and I assisted him for a few years before he had gotten sick. I continued to coach for a few years after that and then I moved to San Jose. So I know a few things about getting a group of people who don’t want to listen to you to listen to you. Basketball as a team sport also has a lot of similarities to working on set. The director knows the film like the coach knows the plays, and it’s up to him to teach the plays to the players, and come game time hope he’s prepared them enough to work with the tools he’s provided. I worked my ass off outside of practice and games to get better, to try to lead from the front. To never leave anyone out, regardless of their skill level because if they’ve come out, that’s more than anyone else is doing for you, so you had better be grateful to them.

Next, there are no “strings”. “A” squad, and “B” squad is stupid. If at any point in time you have two camera crews I think it’d be best if you sent some of your most trusted and smart people to the “B” crew so you know they won’t screw something up while they’re out. Mixing your lineup is important so you can cover your weaknesses with strengths and have two cohesive units instead of two very unbalanced teams. It takes time to figure out what a person’s strengths and weaknesses are, and what they are happy doing, but gathering a team of people to work on a film is exactly the same as assembling a dream team isn’t it? But you can’t always have a dream team, and you have to work with what you’re given. Instead of lamenting on how your first round draft pick is actually terrible, you could see that as a challenge to fit him or her into your lineup and make them better. Or quit. Either one.

Just kidding. You can quit after you’re dead. I’m pretty sure my grandfather never actually said that to me but I’m also pretty sure it was strongly implied. I always hated people who lead from the rear. Pushing people forward without ever seeing them work. I always try to work the most when I’m on a set. I expect myself to be perfect and for others to try as best they can. Except for my wife. She too has to be perfect when we’re working. In pre-production I won’t say I worked tirelessly, because I was damn tired, but I worked extremely hard, and it’s still a learning experience for me. The most recent project I worked on it became very obvious to me that I needed to work with my cast and crew quite a bit more before production time so I wouldn’t need to be scrambling around all the time trying to talk to everyone while I was burning daylight.

Was I freaking out on set? Yes. Horribly. Not because I thought my movie was going to suck, I knew that it would, but because I was afraid I wouldn’t give them a good time, and a fun movie to watch at the end. Which I didn’t. Yet. I swear it’s coming guys! In any case I worked hard not to freak out at anyone on set, or let it seep out of my pores, eyes and ears because it was my fault. I knew it because I hadn’t given them the time they needed to prepare for my vision. I needed to work with people that needed help before shooting started, and I definitely did not let go of enough nor delegate responsibilities well. That is something I struggled with, but am more comfortable with now because of the people I’ve worked with, and feel like I can trust.

I read two books so far that have helped me understand directing: Notes on Directing, and the Art of War. The Art of War is great for help when you’re dealing with a bunch of people who you need to follow you. Basically treat your crew right, feed them, and reward them accordingly. It touches on points like not leading from the rear, and in many ways if you don’t take what the book says literally you can virtually apply it to any situation you come up to. Notes on Directing is a book about theater directing, but is much like the Art of War in that there are just quick notes that have profound impact on what it means to direct.

All in all what directing is to me is being the lead collaborator. Not the boss or general, but the person with the vision that all these other more knowledgeable people come to help me create. Surrounding myself with passionate, intelligent people, that I can lean on, (rather heavily), to help me create something that was once inside my mind to something real that other people can see and hopefully enjoy is what directing is to me.

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