April 8, 2015

15 Tips on Becoming a Better Director

Many of the positions in film production are rather straightforward, but directing isn't one of them.

As an indie director, you wear many hats and divide your time between so many duties. You're part DP, producer, production manager, peace-maker, lunch decider, therapist, priest, and so much more. So, when people ask, "What exactly does a director do," I think the perfect response would be, "Everything." This doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence for those who are just starting out -- maybe stepping foot on their first set thinking, "Okay, I'm the director -- what the f*** do I f***ing do?"

Well, there is plenty of enigmatic advice out there from some of the best directors working today -- Quentin Tarantino says that Terry Gilliam once told him that being a director means being good at hiring talented people, and Kevin Smith says that it's all about being able to answer questions. However, if you're looking for more practical advice, this video provides 15 tips that will put you on the right track:

  1. Clear Direction
  2. Don't Always Stick to the Script
  3. Study Other Styles to Learn Yours
  4. Take Your Time and Be Efficient
  5. Find a Clear Way to Communicate Your Goal
  6. Friends Can Make Your Life Easier
  7. Viewfinders Are Super Helpful On Set
  8. Spend Your Time Wisely
  9. Avoid Fights On Set
  10. Stay Hydrated
  11. Don't Worry About Gear
  12. Respect and Take Care of Your Team
  13. Actors Need Motivations, Not Just Marks
  14. Respect Your Actor's Process
  15. Get It Done and Move On

One of the main issues I've seen working on sets with amateur directors is one that the video seems to address over and over again: take care of your team. Be the big brother. Be the mama bear. This means making sure they're happy, fed, and getting along. You could be the most creative, groundbreaking, super duper Oscar-worthy director in the history of the universe, but if you don't know how to be a leader and rally your team to work together and be creative and be excited about the work they're doing on-set, it'll show in your film -- and it's not pretty. (I promise.) Tension shows up on-screen, believe it or not, so it's imperative to not only express your creative vision for your project, but to express your respect and appreciation to your cast and crew. (Get lovey dovey -- it's good for you.)

What tips do you have for new directors? Feel free to share them down in the comments!      

Your Comment

20 Comments

When I fisrt read the headline it looked like "15 Tips on Becoming a Bitter Director".

April 8, 2015 at 7:34PM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1204

First! Sheesh!

April 8, 2015 at 7:35PM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1204

THANK YOU for sharing this. So helpful.

April 8, 2015 at 8:06PM

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David Michaels
Writer-Director
81

#3 will blow you away!

April 8, 2015 at 11:45PM

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Brooks Reynolds
Director/DOP
573

Number 1: Find a good AD.

April 9, 2015 at 2:57AM

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Paul Watt
Cam Op
8

I would add: "Listen to other people on set". Sometime others have good ideas, or sometime you are wrong and other people are willing to correct you. Keep your mind open to suggestion coming from others, altough final decision is yours. It can save your time, save your team self estime, save your own image as director, and maybe even save your film :-)

April 9, 2015 at 6:49AM

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Luis Parmentier
Animator of a cinema workshop / club
67

I think it was Spielberg who said the thing about 'Wear comfy shoes' - it sounds like a glib line but actually he's not kidding. Personal comfort is easy to overlook, especially on a skeleton/zip-budget crew where you're just overjoyed that anyone's turned up. So be good to yourself - wear stuff you feel relaxed in, have a supply of whatever food/drink helps you chill out, set up a playlist of your favourite tunes for the drive home.

Don't know if it'll make you a better director, but you'll be a happier one.

April 9, 2015 at 9:40AM

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Jon Mills
Filmmaker
837

I'll throw a few cents in from what I've learned thus far:

1. "Blocking" is an art most directors neglect. It's one thing to know where your camera goes, but moving your actors around it (or vice versa) is crucial, especially when you got a team waiting and watching you explain your vision. Rehearsals, previsuals (in any form) and even dummy rehearsals with stand-ins can be a great start. Set the frame work and let your actors do their thing -- they'll likely change it for the better.
2. Get in a habit of giving the actors time to prepare before saying action. I made the mistake of rushing "ACTION!" to save on time and squeeze in more setups. Bad, bad, bad idea. You end up jilting your actors and require another take, so you're really getting less setups in the end.
3. When all else fails, ask yourself one question for every aspect of your job, "Am I buying this sh*t?"

Ex.
1. Actor's performance? A.I.B.T.S.?
2. Set dressing. A.I.B.T.S.?
3. Blocking. A.I.B.T.S.?
4. Lighting/Camera. A.I.B.T.S.?
etc...

If you ain't buyin' that sh*t, neither will your audience.

April 9, 2015 at 10:09AM

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Garbage tips.

April 9, 2015 at 10:10AM

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Darren Orange
Director/Producer
141

What an idiot you are.

April 10, 2015 at 8:14PM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
493

Garbage because they're wrong, garbage because they're simplistic, or garbage for some other reason? Please enlighten us, o wise and learned master.

By the way, a two-word post... smug does NOT fit you, you're too tall.

April 10, 2015 at 8:19PM

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Just conjecture on my part, but it could be because none of these tips are really about the art of directing for the screen. They're about being a better boss. You could follow all these tips and still produce lousy work - you'll just be easier to work for.

April 12, 2015 at 11:33PM

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Stu Willis
Write. Direct. Post.
74

Let me guess...

1. Obfuscate
2. Wing it
3. Ignore the work of the masters
4. Rush and spin your wheels
5. See #1
6. Friends and allies are overrated
7. Eye patches are classier, especially when worn over both eyes
8. Dawdle
9. Are you ready to rumble?
10. Don't take a leak all day
11. It's a rental and it's insured, fuck it
12. Who, the little people?
13. Actors need hugs, and I don't hug
14. Process? Just read the damned lines you poser
15. See #8

April 15, 2015 at 9:02PM

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Great read thanks for sharing

April 9, 2015 at 1:08PM

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Kyle Lamar
Director Producer DP
1139

Also never try to please anybody.

April 10, 2015 at 8:15PM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
493

Thanks for the tips. My pet peeve on set is when the extras are not treated well. I think they can make or break a production by providing the film with realistic improvisations. So I'm hoping to remind myself and others to treat extras with respect, and make sure they have water/soda/snacks (include this in your budget).

April 10, 2015 at 9:54PM, Edited April 10, 9:54PM

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Dori L
74

My mother said the same thing. She has been an extra on several sets and said only one director actually came into the greenroom to talk to them. She said that giving the extras direction, more than where to stand or look, would get better results.

I think remembering that extras are actors too is a good idea.

April 10, 2015 at 11:56PM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
445

Other than the tips that they everybody has already thrown out, I have one that's more about being on set than a director: wear appropriate clothing. Look at the weather and dress to keep comfortable in it. It's not a walk to the grocery store where you can under dress and you'll be fine, no. It's usually a long haul and that creeping cold wind that you're feeling will beat the crap out of you on a 12 hour day! Whether it's rain, snow, heat or something in between, keep in mind that whatever you wear has to suit you til the end.

April 11, 2015 at 1:20AM

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Facundo Rodrigo Campos
Wearer of Multiple Hats
342

As a cinematographer I see directors spending too much time doing the opposite of number 11. Granted, most of these directors are first or second time directors that are used to being their own cinematographer, grip, AD; but it's really painful to watch. When you've hired a cinematographer and a key grip, that allows you to focus more on the actors: so do it! When an actor is constantly asking the cinematographer for direction because the director won't, there's a problem.

April 15, 2015 at 8:35AM

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Craig Inzana
Producer / Director
81

Motivation not Modivation. Mis-spelling on video subtitle

April 16, 2015 at 10:27PM

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July 14, 2015 at 4:13AM

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selvam
74

lay all your cards on the table with your crew during prep, so they know what might be thrown at them on shoot day. Work with your 1st AD, DP and Line Producer during the tech scout to develop a solid plan, but be ready (and flexible) for it to change when the big-name actor walks on the set and makes a suggestion (or wants to go home early lol).......also, don't be afraid to solicit advice from your 1st and your DP in the heat of battle. Experienced crew members have been there more than you, most likely, and can get you thru some of the pressure moments. In other words, don't take it all on your shoulders...you're a team. Many a shoot have the 1st and/or DP pulled my butt outta the fire. Other than that, remember why you got in the business....it's fun. Have fun. It took me a long time to realize that and laugh a little. I try to set a fun atmosphere. Collaborative. Honestly, things don't move any faster when you yell and everybody's just more on edge. It's a fail. Good luk!

August 25, 2015 at 11:30AM

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