Film Directing Tips

by Peter D Marshall

1. Shooting in Slow Motion
2. Shooting Comedy Scenes
3. Page Count vs Camera Set-ups
4. Use Your Hand as a Foot for a Great Hit!
5. Screen Direction in a Fight Sequence
6. Work Expands with the Time Allotted
7. The “Walk and Talk” Scene
8. Learn to Balance Your Scenes
9. Character Objectives
10. Advice on Making Short Films
11. Communicating with the Crew
12. A Quote from Frank Capra
13. Dealing with Actors who Change the Dialogue
14. The Director and 1st AD Relationship
15. Directing for an Audience
16. Actors Should “Do” Rather than “Say”
17. Developing Small Character Roles
18. Understanding the Business of Film
19. When to Use a Second Camera
20. Night Shooting
21. Working with Visual Effects
22. Blocking a Scene Tips
23. Why Study History of Film?
24. Why Study Film Theory?
25. Is There an Actual Definition of Making a Movie?
26. The 5 Steps to Creating to Scene Transitions
27. What are the Steps to Become a Director?
28. The 4 Steps to be Successful in the Film and TV Business
29. Want to Know What it’s Like to be a Television Director?
30. The Eight Phases of Making a Film

1 – Shooting in Slow Motion – Peter D. Marshall

You know those wonderful scenes where the actor is walking in slo-mo and his long coat is blowing dramatically in the wind. (Think of Nick Cage in Face Off when he gets out of the car at the airport.

A trick to get the coat to billow like that is to have your costume designer either purchase a coat made of light-weight material, or they can creatively rip the lining out of the coat. This lightens up the material so it will move easier in the wind. And by the way – 60fps and 90fps are good frame rates for the effect.

2 – Shooting Comedy Scenes – Peter D. Marshall

Nothing can kill a comedy scene quicker than the lack of pace. The pace of comedy needs to be faster than drama – but not so frantic that there is no time for reactions. And never over rehearse a comedy scene – use rehearsals to block out actor movement, then turn on the camera and see what happens!

3 – Page Count vs Camera Set-Ups – Peter D. Marshall

When you look at the 1st AD’s call sheet and see all those scenes and pages you have to shoot each day, remember: it’s not the page count that matters as much as the number of set-ups (shots) you
have each day.

4 – Use Your Hand as the Foot for a Great Hit!- Peter D. Marshall

Want to get a great CU of Person B getting hit in the face/head by Person A’s foot?

Take the shoe, sock and pant leg of Person A and dress it on the stunt coordinator’s hand and arm.(re: fit the pant over the arm, put the sock and shoe on the hand). You can then move the camera in close and use the stunt coordinator to swing at Person B’s head right beside the camera. You get a great looking shot and you have more control of the “kick.” I’ve used this technique several times in fight sequences and it looks great on camera.

5 – Screen Direction in an Fight Sequence- Peter D. Marshall

Which way an actor looks, or which side of the camera he exits or enters, is called Screen Direction (the “180 degree rule”). Maintaining proper screen direction is one of the jobs of the Script Supervisor and is very important to the uninterrupted flow of your story. But should the screen direction rule always be “obeyed?”

During fight scenes, “crossing the axis” adds a dramatic sense of confusion to the action – where punches and gunshots come from odd angles and characters enter and exit unexpectedly. And when
you add slow-motion, dutch tilts, hand-held cameras and jump-cutting techniques, you can create a ballet-like scene that is stylistic and dynamic.

6 – Work Expands with the Time Allotted – Peter D. Marshall

In a TV Series, you should know what scenes you want to spend extra time on (more coverage or more time with the actors) and which scenes you will shoot quickly (to make up for the longer
scenes). Give the 1st AD this information so he can help you out in the schedule.

Remember, if you are shooting a low-budget movie or a TV Series, it’s “Gone with the Wind” in the morning and “Duke’s of Hazzard” in the afternoon!

7 – The “Walk and Talk” Scene – Peter D. Marshall

Two actors have to walk from Point-A (a hallway) and finish their dialogue when they reach Point-B (an elevator or a door). A quick way of deciding where they must begin (in the hallway) is to have
them start walking FROM Point-B to Point-A. Where they stop (finish their lines) is where you can start them for the scene.

8 – Learn to Balance Your Scenes – Peter D. Marshall

Every script will have scenes that are not necessary; scenes that have nothing going on; or scenes that are only for character development. But if they haven’t been omitted, (by the producers or writers) you still have to shoot them. The trick here is to not spend a lot of time on these scenes – just shoot them fast and get onto the next one.

9 – Character Objectives – Peter D. Marshall

Actors and Directors have to come up with as many objectives for a character as possible. A character’s objective should be something that will engage the other characters in a scene; it should create it’s own obstacles; and it should be something the actor can believe in and commit to.

But there is one important rule to remember when choosing objectives for a character. An actor can only play ONE objective in a scene! Always ask yourself “What is the character’s need in this scene?” and then make sure the actor plays that objective!

10 – Advice on Making Short Films – Peter D. Marshall

My name is Luciano Bresdem, I am from Brazil and I have made some short films. I would like to share some directing tips that I have learned.

For me, the most important part for a director is knowing the script: structure, characters, space, plot,… You should know the material that you have in your hands. Second thing: You should know what you want to say with this film – if you don’t know what you want to say, you will lose the control over the material, actors, and crew. And the last thing: You should find the ways to say what you want to say. Discipline and organization are important here. Make a list, in detail, with every aspect of the production (Performance, Location, Direction of Photographic, Sound,…) and remember that “there’s no unimportant decisions in filmmaking”.

11 – Communicating to the Crew – Peter D. Marshall

An experienced director should be able to talk to key personnel in their own terms.

That means you should not only know the techniques of acting when talking to actors, but you should also understand lenses when talking to a camera operator and DOP, you should understand costumes when talking to the wardrobe department, you should understand the basics of hair and make-up….etc.

Does this make you a better director? Not necessarily. But it will help you to communicate your ideas and vision to the people that have to make it happen!

12 – A Quote from Frank Capra – Peter D. Marshall

Here is one of my favorite tips – and it comes in the form of a quote from the legendary director, Frank Capra.

“There are no rules in film making, only sins. And the cardinal sin is Dullness.”

13 – Dealing with Actors who Change Dialogue – Peter D. Marshall

When dealing with actors who want to improvise and change their dialogue, make sure they know what the intent of the scene is first. Once you and the actor both agree on the scene intent, they can go ahead and improvise their dialogue – and the objective of the scene will still be met.

14 – The Director and 1st AD Relationship – Peter D. Marshall

In Television – The 1st AD works WITH the Director FOR the Producer

In Features – The 1st AD works FOR the Director, WITH the Producer

15 – Directing for an Audience – Peter D. Marshall

As a director, it’s important to properly gauge the length of time the viewer needs to digest the information in a scene. (the greater audience involvement, the more successful the film)

Remember, an audience will accept as pertinent almost anything portrayed on the screen, even if it seems to make little sense. (If it’s there, it must be for reason.)

16 – Actors Should “Do” Rather than “Say” – Peter D. Marshall

When working on your script, and when shooting on the set, make sure you have the actors “do things” rather than “say things.”

17 – Developing Small Character Roles – Peter D. Marshall

Any character in a script that is worth keeping is worth developing. Allow the smaller roles to have offbeat remarks or unique bits of action to make them memorable.

18 – Understanding the Business of Film – Peter D. Marshall

Understanding the differences and similarities between both TV and Film is essential to a successful and productive career in the film business because of one word: POLITICS!

19 – When to Use a Second Camera – Peter D. Marshall

Shooting with a second camera is a must if you want to save time on the set.

1. Action Scenes – you should always use several cameras during Action and stunt scenes.

2. Dialogue Scenes – you will need to work closely with the DOP, and the soundman, about when to use the second camera, what it is covering and what lens to use.

3. Filming kids and animals – this will help you get the shot on the first or second take as both children and animals will never do the same thing twice.

20 – Night Shooting – Peter D. Marshall

Shooting at night takes more time than shooting in the day so make sure you are totally prepared. It is also helpful to know how to cheat your reverses – so you can spend less time lighting and more time shooting.

21 – Working with Visual Effects – Peter D. Marshall

Most film and TV programs today utilize some form of special visual FX (Green screen, motion control, computer screens etc.) Because of the complexity of these shots, make sure you work very closely with the Visual FX Supervisor to properly schedule all of the plate shots, reference shots and green screen shots.

22 – Blocking a Scene Tips – Peter D. Marshall

Having a shot list will help you during the blocking process. The shot list is like a map: it gives you a path to your destination but you don’t always have to follow it
1. let the actors show you what they want to do first, then, when you make a suggestion, it is based on something you have already seen
2. in Television, speed is essential, so try and block some scenes so that your action takes place in one direction (to avoid turning the camera around for reverses)

23 – Why study the history of film? – Wikipedia

“Films are cultural artifacts created by specific cultures, which reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them. Film is considered to be an important art form, a source of popular entertainment and a powerful method for educating, entertaining or indoctrinating citizens. The visual elements of cinema gives motion pictures a universal power of communication.”

24 – Why study film theory?  – Wikipedia

“As the new art form of the twentieth century, film immediately and continuously invited theoretical attempts to define its nature and function. Mostly as a result of film’s own inferiority complex as the youngest of the arts, the impetus for much of early film theory was to gain a degree of respectability.”

25 – Is there an actual definition of making a movie? – Peter D. Marshall

Here’s the one I like the best: “Making a movie (or documentary) is the art of visually telling a compelling story with believable characters.”

26 – The 5 Steps to Creating to Scene Transitions – Peter D. Marshall

Making a movie is not just about the scene you are filming now. As a director, you need to know these five steps to creating scene transitions:
1. The scenes that come before
2).The scenes that come after
3. The last shot of the scene before
4. The first shot of the next scene
5. The TRANSITIONS between all scenes

27 – What are the steps to become a director? – Peter D. Marshall

A director can come from a production background (AD, DOP, Editor) or from a creative background (Producer, Writer, Actor.) Or he could just be the producer’s brother-in-law! There are few rules when it comes to declaring yourself a director. Remember, everyone’s background and circumstances are unique. What may work for one person may not (and probably won’t) work for another.

28 – The 4 steps to be successful in the film and TV business – Peter D. Marshall

1. Understand the BUSINESS OF FILM!
2. Understand the POLITICS OF FILM!
3. Understand the DIFFERENCES between film and television
4. Know the POWER PLAYERS, and HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM!

29 – Want to know what it’s like to be a Television Director? – Peter D. Marshall

1. In TV, the Director is very much like a Guest Star (show up-work-leave)
2. The 1AD and the DOP run the set (they are the continuity on the show)
3. The Director works for the Producer…
4. The Producer works for the Production Company…
5. The Production Company gets money from the Network for the show.
6. It is the Producer who has the final say on casting, wardrobe, locations etc.
7. It is the Producer who gets the “final cut”
8. But of course you want to work as a TV Director – because there’s no life like it!

30 – The eight phases of making a film – Peter D. Marshall

1. Script Development
2. Financing
3. Pre-Production
4. Production
5. Post-Production
6. Advertising/Promotion
7. Distribution
8. Exhibition

Copyright (c) 2000-2012  Peter D. Marshall / All Rights Reserved

{ 313 comments… read them below or add one }