If you’re interested in movies, you probably hear the Director’s name thrown around a lot more than any other crew members besides the cast. You know he or she is one of the most important people involved, but do you know what a film director actually does?
The Creative Lead
Conceptually, the Director’s role is to lead the creative and technical vision of the film. Practically speaking, this means assembling the key creative crew (such as the Director of Photography, Art Director, Editor, Production Designer, etc) and working closely with them to guide them towards a clear look, feel, and style which supports the story and screenplay.
Creatively, this means that the director has to have a plan and an established understanding of the story to be able to communicate these things effectively. He or she should have an idea of how to ensure that everything is cohesive and is working together to tell the story.
This could be as specific as colour use in a shot – for example Director M. Night Shyamalan has spoken about only having certain characters and objects use the colour red throughout his film “The Sixth Sense” as a particular use of symbolism. Alternately, this creative vision could be as broad as something like “this scene’s environment needs to look like a planet which is uninhabitable” – which could be open to interpretation by the Production Designer and Art Department team. Every director is different in terms of how much specific input they give each department, but they all need to make sure that they keep everyone on a similar wavelength.
Aside from being the master of the overall creative look and feel of the film, the director is also in charge of directing the performance of the actors. And let’s face it, if the movie looks fantastic and is technically sound, it’s all for naught if the acting is terrible.
The director is usually very involved in the casting process, and works very closely with the actors for a long time before the shoot. Everything from rehearsing lines, discussing character backgrounds and motivations, blocking movement, and improvising scenarios is covered, and probably is the majority of the director’s time spent. This is because it’s of the utmost importance that the actors are prepared and comfortable with the director when shoot time comes – an actor who feels comfortable enough to be vulnerable to act will usually do a better job than someone who’s coming in with no intimate knowledge of the character, story, or director’s style. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but actors who can do that are few and far between.
No matter how big the production is, be it Indie or Hollywood blockbuster, the Director is on the show from beginning to end, and his or her specific responsibilities change from phase to phase. For example, during pre-production, they’re working closely with the writers and storyboard artists to really figure out the film from a story perspective. They’re also working with the Art Department to establish the visual feel and specific environments or objects that need to be made. They’re actively rehearsing and talking with the actors, and if there are stunts or dancing, they’re reviewing any choreography that’s being developed.
During production, they’re mostly focussed on the actors and performance, but they’re also working very closely with the Cinematographer and Art Department to ensure that the lighting and shot composition is still conveying the look and feel that they’re going for with the story.
In post-production, they’re working very closely with the Editor and VFX teams (if applicable) to help guide all the pieces into place. This could mean setting up multiple test-screenings to get objective audience feedback, and long nights in the edit room going back and forth on a particular performance. At this point they’re usually also working closely with the Producer and marketing teams in working out how to sell the film successfully and hopefully make everyone a bit of money.
While different directors will have different degrees of involvement in any particular area, in the end, the Director is the lynchpin of the moviemaking process. He or she needs to be clear, firm, and a strong leader who is able to delegate effectively and communicate ideas.