Why did the director cross the road? To get a different perspective.
I once went to a job interview. The dimly lit panel asked the usual series of questions; What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Are you capable of taking the blame for something I do wrong and giving me credit for things I had nothing to do with? You know. They got to one question I had been hoping for. “Tell us about your most challenging job.” I proceeded to tell them about a movie I directed and the nightmare of having mother nature almost ruin an outdoor scene. However, I noticed that as soon as I said “directed a movie” their eyes sort of went into a relaxed state. I think their brains were using their eyes as surfboards as they traveled to the beaches portrayed as screen savers on their computers. It was then I realized that the general public will never understand or appreciate the work that goes into a movie.
Directors are present long before the cast and still around long after the cast has forgotten their lines (well, that’s an exaggeration.) If they are independent, then they are often the same ones who have written the script and participated in casting and…crew-ing? Why isn’t that word? If “casting” is assembling a cast, shouldn’t “crew-ing” be assembling a crew? I digress. Directors have to continue to think about every aspect of a movie; the camera shots, interpreting the writing, knowing all the characters, etc. Any decent director who takes their work seriously has acquired some skills that others have not.
Organizing is most certainly towards the top. A good indie director is often the one designing a schedule, telling everyone where they need to be and when on set, deciding the order that scenes will be shot, delegating tasks to crew and more. Once the project begins, it is non-stop adjustment for illness, technical difficulties, and weather that requires re-organizing all the plans. This leads to another attribute; problem-solving.
In the example above, I brought up mother nature’s interference in an outdoor shoot. The entire movie took place in the fall. However, because I live in Oklahoma, the sky decided it was a good time to poop out a few inches of snow. None of the other outdoor scenes had been shot in the snow. It’s important to make good use of time because the longer a movie takes the more hurdles you risk having. Instead of rescheduling (noting that we had no idea how long the snow would exist), we interwove a dream sequence into the scene. It worked out alright since one character was prone to having prophetic-type dreams. This is problem-solving at its finest.
Communication is key to getting what you want on camera. You not only have to know technical jargon, you have to be versed in talking to various personalities. One actor may be eager to please, while another comes onset to simply prove what all they know. While it would be nice to pull a Hitchcock and slap the latter, that would be ineffective and waste time. No, you have to know how to communicate in a way that tells your actors what you need from them without getting caught up in ego, insecurity, etc. You have to be able to tell crew clearly what they should be doing so you get a shot in as few takes as possible.
Yes, being a director is a great way to improve new skills and highlight some you may already have. They are required to juggle everyone’s schedules and needs, while steadily progressing to a final product in a limited amount of time. They must remain on their toes for problems that arise…and they WILL arise. They do so with less gratitude or attention than actors (though admittedly more than crew) and can spend up to 15 hours a day on their feet. Yet if you walk into any average job interview, mentioning your experience directing a movie can come across as if you eat Play-Do for a living.
Hug a director…better yet…give them a job.