December 1, 2017

'Change Your Socks' and More of Ava DuVernay's Advice for a First-Time Filmmaker

Whatever stage you're at, some good old-fashioned, down-to-earth advice is always helpful.

In the high-wire act of directing movies we often forget some of the basic things that help the machine run, and it's the director's job to see that it does, as director Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th) points out from a recent tweet:

  1. Know your crew members by name. They are the lifeblood of your film.
  2. Remember that actors and crew are grown-ups. Treat them with all the same grown folks respect. No one is better than anyone else just because they're in front of a camera. 
  3. Change your socks at lunch, makes you feel like a new woman.
  4. Don't let your actors watch playback. Your job is to watch the actors so that they don't watch themselves. Their job is to portray real life.
  5. Never tell an actor it was good when it wasn't.
  6. Never line read an actor.
  7. Never block without an actor if you can help it.
  8. When blocking, have a plan in mind before you begin if you can.
  9. Be prepared for hundreds of questions per day. You are now Question Answerer in Chief.
  10. Don't be afraid to say you don't know the answer. You don't have to know all the answers to everything. More than half of people's job is to help you find the answers.
  11. Hydrate throughout the day.
  12. Laugh and keep a warm atmosphere. We're making movies not splitting the atom.
  13. Remind yourself why you're telling this story every morning on the way to set. Why it's important to you. Every morning.
  14. Knock it out of the fucking park.

This list exemplifies the subjectivity and sensitivity of a director's job: on one hand, keeping pragmatism in mind and staying down-to-earth, and on another being stringent and ruthless with your vision. Not surprisingly, hydration and respecting others go hand in hand when making movies. #5 and #12 hit home as important takeaways here and, from personal experience, I can attest to #3 (for any gender).

Turns out, Twitter is a surprisingly good place to find advice from successful directors. Along with DuVernay, Steven Soderbergh and Guillermo del Toro offer words of wisdom on the regular. Who are your favorite industry tweeters? Let us know in the comments.       

Your Comment

2 Comments

All great advice!
Thanks for sharing!

December 1, 2017 at 1:33PM

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Dylan Sunshine Saliba
Cinematographer
114

Number 4 is complete bollox. It isn't an actors job to portray real life. It depends on the project. In a narrative film actors rarely portray 'real life'. That's why it's cinema. It's a heightened version of something similar to life/reality. Close enough for us to relate to as human beings but, not so close that is doesn't allow us to escape to another place. With regard to line readings: it's fine if it gets the result you are looking for. Directing is about managing people. And a good manager treats everyone as an individual. Take the time to get to know the people you're working with and work it out from there. I hate lists of rules that say, 'never do this' and 'never do that'. Bullshit.

December 2, 2017 at 10:13AM

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John Stockton
Film maker, Editor, Photographer.
200