Watch: Famed Director & Film Educator Alexander Mackendrick Offers a Lesson on Directing

How does a director work? How does he start his preparations? What is the director listening for when actors read their lines? These questions and many more tumble around the mind of an aspiring director begging to be answered. As luck would have it, highly respected director turned film teacher at CalArts, Alexander Mackendrick, addresses some of these questions in an imperfect 43-minute collection of footage from his 6-hour video series on filmmaking, A Director Prepares. Click below to learn a thing or two about the craft of directing.

Mackendrick directed films such as The Man in the White Suit, Sweet Smell of Success, and The LadykillersAfter becoming unsatisfied with the studio system, he settled down at CalArts as the dean of the film school, where he taught film theory until his death in 1993.

Despite being a director, the dean of a film school, and a film educator, Mackendrick ironically says:

Film writing and directing cannot be taught, only learned, and each man or woman has to learn it through his or her own system of self-education. One of the dilemmas is that many students -- not all -- feel that there is some secret set of rules to follow, and if you follow them you get it right, and they get angry with you because you won’t give them the rules. Well, there are no rules. There never  were and there never will be, because each circumstance is different and each director works entirely differently.

Knowing this, it makes perfect sense why the A Director Prepares project was abandoned by Mackendrick. According to The Sticking Place, he didn't finish the series, because he felt it lacked "coherence as an educational exercise," and the material of which was better learned actively, with a hands-on approach, by students.

But, there are some great things to learn from A Director Prepares, or what was edited together of it anyway. There's a script of the project available here for you to peruse, as well. Check out the video below:

If you want to save yourself years of film school, you should consider studying some material from Alexander Mackendrick. Cinephilia and Beyond has made it easy for you by compiling a list of handouts and literature, aggregated from The Sticking Place.

Also, check out his book On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Directorwhich has been praised by great directors, screenwriters, and theorists, like Martin Scorsese, David Mamet, and David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson respectively. It's essential reading for those wanting to learn about directing.

What do you think? What burning questions do you have about directing? What are your favorite materials to learn about directing?


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Your Comment


The Sweet Smell of Success is soooo gooood....

August 10, 2013 at 2:38PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

You voted '-1'.
Micah Van Hove

Without question, being on sets and working, no matter the position, with good directors is the best method in my opinion. Our professional is like water ... it flows and that has it's basic processes ... but does not offer it's taste until you drink from the well ... so to speak.

August 10, 2013 at 3:45PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Stop. What you said makes absolutely no sense, none.

August 11, 2013 at 7:37PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Sure it makes perfect sense, he has stated that you see the Director, working (water) but you don't know what its like until you do it yourself (taste the water)

August 19, 2013 at 7:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


McKendrick's 'On Film-Making' is absolutely, hands down the best book I have read about filmmaking. I learnt more from that book than my entire film degree course. Sidney Lumet's 'Making Movies' runs it a close second. Both are extremely practical guides from masters of their craft.

August 12, 2013 at 2:18AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Jonathan Ley