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Nov 252015

how to become a film director

I’ve got a lot of experience working on film sets, sitting next to directors, being paid to watch their every move (as is the job of a Script Supervisor). This is not a definite guide on how to become a film direct but more of a list of tips and advice from what I have learnt. You might want to read my post 5 Routes to Film Directing. So here are some tips from me to make you a better director, 5 things every director should know before they work on a film set:

1. Fully understand what your crew members job roles are

There may be 10 crew members on set or there may be hundreds. I have worked with directors on big and small film sets who still don’t know what the difference is between the Best Boy and the Grip. Do you know what a Script Supervisor does on set? Wise up, You can read up on all of the job roles in cinema here.  When you’ve worked on a few film sets you’ll be able to guess what someone’s job role is just by looking at them.

2.  Learn to know how long each scene will realistically take to film

how to become a film director

Inexperienced directors always underestimate shooting time. One rule is that ‘On average 4 pages of a script are shot per day’. Big Hollywood film sets can shoot as little as 2 shots a day. Expecting to shoot any more than 4 pages a day is possible but it must be planned; and the director must always understand how long each scene will take to film.

This all comes with experience. An exception to the 4 pages a day rule may be when shooting a montage. Also some experienced directors who know their craft can shoot much more and often without scripts e.g -Kelly Reichardt, Harmony Korine. I asked Hollywood DOP Oliver Stapleton (The Cider House Rules) ‘How many set-ups per day are average’ a few years ago here is his answer.

3.  You must communicate story time before filming begins

How to become a film director

Many, many times have I worked with directors who think everyone who reads their script has the same vision they do. We all have our own imaginations, like when a novel is read every reader has a different version of the story in their minds. Scripts should help the reader understand the important details within the script that everyone should know. One important element within a script that is always overlooked by directors is story time.

You might like to read – How I found work in the film industry 

On one set I was working on make-up and costume all presumed that the story within the script took place over 2 weeks. At the start of the film the main character was badly beaten up. On the second story day make-up covered the actor in bruises and cuts to match his fight from the previous day. When the actor walked on to set the director stood up and started to scream ‘Why have you put bruises on him the fight was 2 months ago!’ the director accused makeup of making a mistake. When in fact it was the director’s fault for not stating ‘2 months later’ in the script.

Directors must talk to all heads of department about the story time of their film before filming. Whether it’s hours between scenes, or that days have passed make sure everyone has the same vision of story time as you do. Understand story time and your script supervisor, make-up team, costume and art dept will all love you.

4. Know how much your cast and crew are being paid

how to become a film director

There is a big issue with pay within the film industry. There is one rule ‘If I’m being paid your being paid’. Ignorant directors are the worst. Many directors I’ve worked with have no idea how much everyone is being paid to work for them. Some directors see it as none of their business, if you’re the boss you should know how much your cast and crew are being paid.

I believe regardless if it is the producer in charge of all the money, the director should know since they are the captain of the ship. Film sets tend to work better and harder if there is money involved. Easier said than done but at the least make sure there is good food in everyone’s belly. Know how to run your ship, you can’t push too hard if people aren’t being paid, they could leave you stranded.

5. We’re all here to help you

how to become a film director

New directors make many mistakes. That is fine, your learn more from your mistakes than your successes. A mistake I made, that all inexperienced directors make is the paranoid belief that everyone is trying to stop you from making your film. New directors are nervous, excited and very enthusiastic. That is great energy! Although try to understand-If people don’t want to work an extra 3 hours after a 12 hour shift it is nothing personal.

Producers are not stopping your vision by not letting you buy that expensive prop you suddenly had to have. Let cinematographers have that precious shot they want even if it’s not in your vision and probably won’t make it in the edit, give it a chance. Listen to your script supervisor even if you’re running out of time to shoot at the end of the day, it might save your entire scene in the editing room.

How to become a film director – don’t lie to your team rumors spread fast on film sets, the rumors are always worse than the real issue. Listen to your 1st AD. Listen to your actors. Thank the runners, ask them what they aspire to do in the film industry one day.Relax. We’re all here to make your life easier. Knowledge comes with experience. In time you’ll think you know everything, you’ll glide through film sets with a smile, what is there to worry about, you own this place.

 November 25, 2015  3 Responses »
Nov 232015

color theory in film

I would love to make a film and focus on every shot with obsessive detail.

I find indie filmmakers have so much to focus on (often the director taking on multiple roles) that there is no time to put the effort into every shot. The basics of color theory in film for cinematography was something I first read about many years ago in this fantastic book If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling which looks at many scenes within films to show how color has been used to enhance every shot.

I will be using this book as reference for the examples used below. Color Theory technique for cinematography, color can used as a technique to bring more layers into a story. Different shades of color can provoke different responses and emotions within humans.

Although noted in the book filmmakers should avoid using color theory in film purely as an abstract notion . Some colors can be planned to be placed into films prior to weeks of pre-production, other time colors are chosen to be introduced into a film on the day by gut feeling. I have referenced 6 main studio films as examples of their use of color below.

1. Red American Beauty

americna beauty color theory

Red is like visual caffeine, it can give power, create desire- lust and love. The colours of red, white and blue are used throughout American Beauty. The family is portrayed as the traditional happy American suburban family, complete with white picket fence. Then there are the dark red petals that surround Angela in Lester’s hyper-delusional lust filled fantasies. American Beauty has a color pallet of red, white and blue throughout. I have created a Pinterest board of the use of red in cinema here.

2. Yellow Dick Tracy

color theory in cinema

Yellow is the colour of caution, it brings power, energy and anxiety. Dick Tracy wears a bright yellow coat and hat, the screen becomes energised whenever Tracy enters. The color is brash, daring, it is the color of obsession (according to scientists the colour a person sees first and forgets the least ) , there is a reason poisonous reptiles have yellow skin. Tracy is the obsessive detective caught up in his case . Yellow being a perfectly symbolic color for Taxi Driver’s obsessive Travis Bickle.

3. Blue Shawshank Redemption

shawshank color theory in cinema

Blue can be a tranquil pond or a soft blanket of sadness.  Throughout Shawshank the film is surrounded by the color of blue. A smog of grey blue surrounds the film. Shawshank is a film of sadness, and is this emotion that cinematographer Roger Deakins wanted the audience to feel throughout the film. That we are amongst the prisons. When Andy escapes the prison he finds his friend Red on an island, with vibrant green land – the first time vivid colours have been used throughout the film.

4. Orange The Godfather

the godfather color theory in film

Orange is the welcoming color, warm sunsets and Halloween pumpkins .  In the opening scene of The Godfather the Don’s office is lit with an amber and orange light. The film is lit romantically with pastel orange shades. Throughout the film the orange shades turn more red as more is revealed within the crime underworld. Not to mention the use of physical orange props used throughout the Godfather movies.

5. Green Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

color theory in film

Green can signal health, danger or decay. It is the colour of fresh vegetables and spoiled meat. In Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Jen and her master Li Mu Bai are about to have a fight in a green vibrant bamboo forest. The fight is non-violent Jen’s master is afraid that Jen is turning evil, he chases her through the forest, she disappears diving into a green lake.

The oppositional nature of green plays a significant part in the story. The sword’s name is Green Destiny, and the villain’s name is Jade Fox. Li Mu Bai’s concern that Jen can become a poison dragon is his primary motivation in wanting to teach her

6. Purple Chicago

color theory in cinema

Purple the colour of mystery, the paranormal and death. In Chicago purple is used to show both death and delusion. Roxy stands on stage she looks out into the crowd purple light covers her and the piano player. Roxy is imagining that she is a famous singer, the story is about the glamorization of criminals. Purple is consistent throughout the deaths that take place in the film.

I enjoy using color in my films, I feel that by putting a color gel on a light a film could be made to stand out against the majority of indie films being created. The masters use color theory in film as a deliberate device in their films, every little detail is helping to tell the story.


Link to a great book on color theory in cinema,  Article What’s with all the Oranges in the Godfather? , Lots of good reads on cinematography and color theory in film Stephen Murphy DOP Documents,

 November 23, 2015  2 Responses »