Notes on Directing

Get the camera out of the way of the scene.

Lose all the amateurs gimmicks and just let the camera “observe” the action, then use camera movement to convey energy, movement, emotional motion and tension.

Dolly Shots or tracking shots (originally called Cabiria movements, which I think sounds cooler) have their place.  Crane shots have their place.   Every type of shot has its place and its purpose, and there is no faster way to prove to an audience you have no idea what you are doing than to use specific shots randomly, without justification.

I know this cuts cross-wise with the hour’s fad of jarring hand-held and seizure-inducing camera work – but trust me, it is lame and inexcusable.

The best way to direct is to hire great actors.  If you have an actor that is riveting, commanding and dramatically compelling – from wailing over the death of a loved one to a still contemplation – you will (or at least should) realize that moviemaking is not about the camerawork, it’s about the dramatic telling of a story.   Now everybody get this:  your movie is ultimately only as good as your performances.   Everything else serves the performance.

Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bruce Lee – just turn the camera on and let it go. 

A tactical and wise use of camera movement announces a tactical and wise mind.   Be discerning.

I love complex and stylized shots, but I don’t seek to employ them randomly or constantly.  They have their place.

Even thought I can be meticulous in framing my shots, I love options so I get lots of coverage:  establishing shots, interior masters, 3-shots, 2-shots, close-ups, extreme close-ups – I try to get them all so I have an abundance of editing choices should my original storyboard not hold up in post-production.

I have also noticed that famous directors who started out as art directors in advertising and commercials have a disproportionate affection for extreme close-ups – and I am no different.   I am a staunch defender of the truth that a story happens on the macro level and the micro level.

Going back to framing your shots…

You know, quite frequently there is only one way to properly frame a shot.  I know that sounds elitist, but I cannot tell you how many times I will go to check a frame and the camera man has just set the tripod up and aimed the camera at the action.  This casual indifference to the setting of the action is a constant threat to a well composed frame.

Are you using the natural geometry present in the set?  Are lines (vertical, horizontal, diagonal) engaged in the scene?   Are present visual partitions (natural or forced) utilized?  What about dominant objects, the play of light, the play of shadows, color, texture, angle, tilt, or grain?

If you don’t know how to frame your shot then go study the great painters.  They had it down.

Lastly, and this is the most important part of being a director:  if people will not or cannot do the jobs expected of them — namely, fulfilling your vision for your film — fire them.

Life, work and romance are delicate enterprises that simply have no partnership with the active or passive-aggressive weaknesses of the inferior, the insecure, the uninspired, the insipid, the intimidated or the envious.

Surround yourself with people who want to shine together in the 49th octave of vibration.

Actually, this is my last point:  practice, practice and practice some more.  Watch movies — watch them for dramatic value, then angles, then lighting, then dialog, then sound.  Over and over and over and over.

Your visual hunger should be insatiable. All media is fair for study:  advertising, painting, cartoons, animations, films, televisions, photographs.  Then take what you know and get behind a camera and stay there for a while.

You should be a quantum sponge absorbing everything you encounter, evaluating it and discarding the trash.   

The proof of desire is pursuit.

David Jetre
Writer | Producer | Director | Designer
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~ by David Jetre on November 22, 2008.

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