This Video Essay Shows You Just How Important Good Directors Are

"You don't know what directing is until the sun is setting and you've got to get five shots and you're only going to get two." —David Fincher

What does a director do? Sure, we know the basics: cast the right actors, assist with performances, and work with the DP to figure out the look of the film. But, technical and logistical tasks aside, what does a director do artistically to turn words from a script into a dynamic and engaging piece of moving images?

In this video essay, Declan Taaffe talks about the many qualities and abilities of a good director, from knowing how to create emotion to understanding the often cryptic language of cinema.

We could go down the line of techniques and skills that are good to to have if you want to be a great director, but not all great directors have those techniques and skills—in fact, some of them break the rules and end up making the art form even more complex and diverse. I think there's really only one thing that all great filmmakers have in common: a philosophy.

It's so easy to make a bad movie. Many of us spend so much time and money trying to make it as good not bad as possible, acquiring new toys that'll make our cameras do cool things or weeding out imperfections in a performance until it becomes hard like an over-chewed piece of gum. But maybe that shouldn't be the focal point of your creative process.

What I see my favorite directors doing is recognizing and staying true to their artistic philosophy by making films that they care about rather than ones that will simply get funded. Maybe that's the heart of being a director: being moved by something and trying with great futility to recreate it to move others. Or maybe you just make films for yourself, because it's your only means of artistic expression.

Your artistic philosophy is the engine that pushes you forward and makes you grow as a filmmaker. It influences what you point your camera at, what appears to you when you look through your lens, and which cinematic words you use to explain what you see.     

Your Comment


Fantastic collection of great shots in this video, including several favs of mine...

But I have to laugh at seeing the photo of Speilberg at the top of the article because I think he's a brilliant director, especially when it comes to emotionally manipulating his audience, but he has this terrible habit of tacking on happy endings to many of his films which makes me want to gag.

One of the clearest examples is Speilberg's film "A.I." (2001), where he has the main character, the artificial boy "David", take a submarine to the bottom of the ocean to try and discover who the "Blue Angel" is, where he becomes trapped as both the boy and the sub are running out of power. This is where the film should have ended. With "David" frozen in the ice, dreaming of his "Blue Angel". But instead with have this crappy rescue by future aliens who bring "David" back to life in the future and everything is wonderful again. Barf !!!

Another film was "War of the Worlds" (2005), where the main character "Ray Ferrier" has survived the war with the aliens from Mars, the aliens have been beaten, and the last few scenes show "Ray" going back to his house in the city and we see that everything is ok, everybody survived, oh happy days are here again... Barf !!!

I would love it if Blu-ray versions of Speilberg movies offered a "no happy endings" cut of each of his movies, as I think I would love his films far more than I currently do if they could just leave out the horrible tacked on saccharine endings.

August 21, 2016 at 8:44PM, Edited August 21, 8:45PM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

AI's ending was Kubrick's idea, but he would've made it work. Spielberg can't reach his levels. The only filmmakers out there who even get close is PTA and Scorsese.

August 21, 2016 at 9:38PM

Henry Barnill
Director of Photography

Umm, AI's ending is not a tacked on happy ending. It's a depressingly bleak ending. It's supremely fatalistic. David gets to recreate a perfect day that is as artificial as he is, and then he dies. He doesn't live happily ever after. And he abandons Teddy. If he was imprinted with Monica, Teddy was equally imprinted with him.

Also, the ending is so Kubick it hurts. 2000 years in the future, humanity has caused it's own extinction via destroying their environment, and are succeeded by a race of super advanced AI. An AI that is searching for it's creator as David searched for his. But all that they find is an artificial link, and through which they create an artificial glimpse into that past. David is an artifact, an object, and our successors learn as much from him and his simulation as we learn about ancient hominids by looking at arrowheads and cave paintings.

It's way more nuanced than you give it credit for.

August 22, 2016 at 8:30AM


In Raiders Indie loses the ark to bureaucracy and a warehouse, In ET Elliot loses his new best friend, In Schindler's list... well we all know how that ended... In Jurassic park they lose the park and their respective careers... The character always loses his want but finds his need. Thats the heroes journey. Its not simply a tacked on happy ending and Spielberg does it artfully.

August 24, 2017 at 5:47AM

Matt Drummond

Yes, this post does show you 'How important Good Directors are' and as a freebie also teaches you that inspite of being a World Renowned Movie Director, you have to read "Comments" against you with a smile.

August 22, 2016 at 7:02AM

Arun Meegada
Moviemaker in the Making

I don't fully agree. While at the end of the day it's always the directors decision, this essay refers mainly to camera work. It's the DoPs task to translate the story into visuals, framing, lens- and angle choices to support the directors vision and not only to "light it to produce atmosphere". The director should have the capacity to mainly focus on characters, emotion, dialogue and staging. This essay highly underestimates the meaning of a greaet DoP. Some directors don't even think in pictures at all.

October 1, 2017 at 1:06PM


Very interesting post guys!

December 13, 2022 at 12:22AM

Alan Lee