Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Note On Directors.

 I woke up this morning excited about this gig and the awesome crew that comes with it. I've known these guys for a while and they're great people, but I've never worked with them until now. And to top it off, the job came with a more than decent rate, so I was looking forward to both a fun day and good paycheck.

But now, it's almost fourteen hours into the day with a whole scene still to shoot, and I'm doing everything I can to refrain from repeatedly banging my head into the set wall.

The reason behind this extra long day? This director sucks.

A good director will know exactly what he (or she) wants and knows how to get it. He knows what shots will edit well together, and which ones are a waste of time. A bad director will shoot everything they can think of, whether it'll work or not. They'll cover a scene from a dozen different angles and plan to figure it all out in editing.* Meanwhile, the crew suffers as what could've been a twelve hour day is now turned into an endless one. I realized which kind of director this guy was early on when the first shot up was two seconds of a guy walking through a doorway... and we did eleven takes of it.

Around hour thirteen of this dragged on day, I started thinking about a low budget shoot I was on not too long ago. The pay sucked and the conditions were crappy, but the Director was fantastic. He knew exactly which shots he wanted and how to get them. He'd often combine multiple shots into one and rarely did he ever do more than three takes. And better yet, we'd move through the day so quickly that it wasn't uncommon for us to have already wrapped up the truck and be on the freeway by the time the twelfth hour hits. It seemed like nothing pleased him more than sending us home early.

What sold me on this guy as one of my favorite Directors to work with is that one day, on a rare occasion where we were actually inching towards that twelve hour mark, I witnessed this conversation he had with his A.D.:
Director: "What do we have left to shoot?"
A.D.: "We still have to shoot the coverage of five more people at the table."
Director: [Thinks for a bit.] "Fuck it. We'll just shoot Grandma saying her lines. I have enough footage of everyone else from the other shots we did to make it work. The next shot will be the martini."

Ten minutes later, we were wrapped.

If you were to compare the finished product between these two directors, the average person would probably say that they both did a good job. But the difference between them comes down to what the viewer doesn't see: how the directors work on set. They both achieved the product they wanted in the end, but one got it by knowing what he needed from the get-go and the other got it at the expense of their crew (and in turn, the Producer's money).

It was almost astonishing to see how differently these two directors worked, and what was even more surprising was the overall scale of the two productions. Judging by the production values, the director that's dragging on the day probably made more on this shoot than the other guy does all year.

Which goes to show that, once again, landing a job on a bigger show or getting a bigger job title doesn't necessarily mean that you know shit.

*A bad director is often saved in editing as a good editor is able to take footage, no matter how crappy, and turn it into something usable.


JD said...

The "By the book Director", where every scene in every project is shot with the same coverage, "just in case...". I've always wondered how someone, with such an obvious lack of vision and devoid of planning skills, manages to ascend the production ladder from DP to Director or even worse, Producer.

A.J. said...

JD - I often think that way of many DPs, Gaffers and Best Boys that I work with.

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