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
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
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
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
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.