Issue #168 – November 15, 2015
Filmmaking is an Artistic Lifestyle!)
Contrary to popular belief, filmmaking is not a job. It’s not really even a career. It’s an “Artistic Lifestyle!” And that means in order to work at your art, you will need to live and breath filmmaking every day.
As filmmakers you are also artists, and to be true artists, you will never have a “normal” job. To follow your art and your passion, you must be able to look at life differently.
Remember that any art is a reflection of society – and the role of the artist is to hold up a mirror to society and say “Look what I see!”
And that’s the most important task you are now doing with your lives: to share your vision of the human condition with the world!
I’ve been working professionally in the film and TV business for 40 years. During that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work on documentaries, commercials, music videos, TV shows, TV movies, Independent films and Hollywood features.
I’ve worked with dozens of good and not so good directors – as well as hundred’s of good and not so good actors.
I’ve read 100′s of film scripts before they were produced: some which were so bad I couldn’t get past the first 10 pages, to scripts that went on to win Academy Awards.
I’ve also had the opportunity to spend months at a time teaching and mentoring film students as they write, prep and shoot their own short films.
I believe these years I’ve spent in the business have given me a unique insight into finding the answer to the question: “Is there an outline or guide that film directors anywhere in the world can follow to help them make successful and compelling films?”
Well, I believe the answer is Yes!
And by the way, my definition of a good film is “the art of visually telling a compelling story with believable characters.”
In my opinion, most inexperienced, (or experienced but lazy) film directors spend the majority of their time figuring out how to shoot the film first (cool visual effects, creative angles and camera movement) before they understand what the story is about and know what the characters really want.
I believe this is not the best way to direct a good film!
Why? Because I strongly believe that to successfully direct a “visually compelling story with believable characters”, you need to follow this 7-step guide:
STEP 1: THE STUDY OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR
As a director, you need to be a “witness” to human behavior. You must get into the habit of observing people going about their daily lives, so you can find out what motivates people to take action.
•Why do we do things?
•What makes us the same?
•What makes us different?
Once you know what motivates a person to achieve their daily needs, you will have the knowledge to better understand the story you are telling, you will know how the characters in your script should interact with each other and you will also feel more confident helping your actors achieve believable performances.
STEP 2: STORY
The first and most important part of your job as a director, is to understand every detail about your story.
Understanding the story requires a lot of work because you need to dig deeper into the story by analyzing each individual scene in the script to find out what it is about, what works and what doesn’t.
Your script breakdown will be a never-ending process because every time you read the script, you will find something else you didn’t know about the story or the characters.
But as long as you know what the story is about, and where the story is going, you will be able to adjust to all the changes.
STEP 3: PERFORMANCE
On the set, actors want to work with directors who understand them so it’s incredibly important to create a good relationship with every actor on your film.
And what actors want more than anything else from this relationship with the director is TRUST!
Remember, to find the character they are playing, actors must surrender completely to feelings and impulses, and a good director understands an actor’s emotional vulnerability and creates a safe place for them to perform.
STEP 4: THE PRINCIPLES OF MONTAGE
One of the key traits of being a good director is to understand montage / editing. As a film director, understanding the principles of montage will help you:
•To create a more visual script
•To decide your camera placement
•To block your scenes
•To get better performances from actors
STEP 5: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE CAMERA
What I mean by the Psychology of the Camera are the visual meanings of shots and angles. In other words, where you put the camera can either enhance or detract the audience’s understanding of what the scene is really about, and what the characters are really feeling.
Audiences will assume that every shot or word of dialogue in your film is there to further the story idea, therefore, each shot you use should contribute to the story or the idea you are trying to convey.
Since viewer emotion is the ultimate goal of each scene, where you place the camera involves knowing what emotion you want the audience to experience at any given moment in the scene.
STEP 6: BASIC BLOCKING AND STAGING TECHNIQUES
Blocking is simply the relationship of the actors to the camera.
I suggest you start thinking of blocking as the choreography of a dance or ballet: all the elements on the set (actors, extras, vehicles, crew, equipment) should move in perfect harmony with each other.
When you first start directing, blocking a scene can be one of the hardest parts of your job. But like anything else in life, the more times you do it, the more comfortable you will become.
Remember that your blocking choices can either help or detract the audience’s understanding of what the scene is really about and what the characters are feeling.
STEP 7: TECHNICAL
By technical, I mean everything else it takes to make a movie! (Locations, Sound, Cinematography, Set Dressing, Props, Editing, Visual FX, Costumes, Stunts…)
I believe that without understanding the first 6 steps of this guide, you are setting yourself up for “filmmaker mediocrity” – which is writing unimaginative scripts with unbelievable characters that create boring and dull films.
From what I have witnessed over the past 40 years, I believe that if you follow this 7-step film directing guide, you will see how any director, even someone with very little experience, will have a better chance of creating a visually, compelling movie with believable characters.
And if you have a story that has Universal themes, and the passion to tell this story, you can make a movie, in your own language, and audiences around the world will watch it.
I would also like to share with you several additional pieces of advice on how to be successful in this business.
– You must have complete confidence in yourself, and faith in your talent and ability.
– You need to have a relentless focus on what is possible rather than what’s not possible.
– Never cease searching for your unique creative style and expression.
– Stay true to yourself because it will guide you to the right people and the right choices.
– Have the courage and tenacity to stick it out, no matter what happens”. No matter what anyone says. Remember: There are no rules in filmmaking. Only opinions! And your opinion is just as valid as someone else’s!
– And finally: never, ever lose your passion! Passion is perhaps the most important emotion you need, to have a long and fulfilling career in this business.
To be a great artist, you must have great passion and without passion, you will end up thinking about your career as just a job – not as an art.
QUOTE: “As a filmmaker, you are also an artist and you aren’t an artist because you’re good at it. You’re an artist because you can’t not be, because you are driven to it, and if you can stop and walk away from it, then you weren’t an artist to begin with.”
ActionCutPrint.com Peter D. Marshall
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