These directors share filmmaking tips worth hearing.
No matter how small or large the scale, directing your first feature can be a daunting task. Not only is everyone looking to you to lead the ship, but you will be making decisions along the way that will affect those supporting your vision. Here's advice from seven helmers with attention-worthy films released in 2018 to get you started.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Director Marielle Heller: I’m a big believer in getting the script to a good place before you start filming. I like to comb through every detail so that there are no surprises. But I think no matter how much pre-production you have and the amount of rehearsals you do before filming, you’ll still feel a certain amount of anxiety. It happens from all sides: your crew, your actors, etc. For a director, it’s realizing that the actors are going to be directed and they are going to trust you and listen to your ideas. For an actor, its “oh phew, she knows what she wants… she’s going to direct well…”.
Once you get over that idea, that’s when the good stuff happens. I pride myself on making a set that’s calm and I create a sacred space around the actors. We have private rehearsals before we shoot a scene and I try to give them a lot of space for their process because I know [as an actor myself] what that it’s like and what it entails. Once the actors feel like they're in good hands, you can start exploring different roads of creativity.
Director Karyn Kusama: I've been doing this for a long time, almost 20 years. I still feel like I have some shred of relevance in this industry and I’m truly thankful for it. Longevity takes a bunch of qualities. Stamina is one of them–just the ability to keep working on something.
Keep pushing projects along that you truly feel engaged by while maintaining an interest in the outside world. A story you may have not thought about could land in your lap that obsesses you or keeps you up a night. It could become the next thing you have to do.
Also, stay focused on your work. Ask yourself: what hasn’t been told yet, what hasn’t been seen yet? Then find ways to move into those corners that are less explored. This is a noisy world and there’s so much pressure to have momentary hits into the culture with social media or the news...ultimately it’s all meaningless. Great artists go for years and years before they make the next piece of great art. In the end, it’s not how much you produce but the quality of what you do produce.
Leave No Trace
Director Debra Granik: For me, since I tend to work with actors who haven’t been discovered yet, getting the right financing for an indie film is a hard nut to crack. The industry tends to glue the same formula of big IP and franchise films to smaller films. It takes a very special and cutting-edge group of investors to recognize the robust audience indie films can bring. No matter how hard it may seem, don’t give up on looking for the right group. They’re out there. We found ours in Canada.
Mary Queen of Scots
Director Josie Rourke: When you’re permitted to work on a large scale for the first time (like I did on this film), one thing about my process that helped was thinking out loud and talking out loud during the pre-production process. It comes from my background as an artistic director in theatre.
Part of my identity is working with writers and being able to take scripts through drafts. It’s something I’m intensely familiar with and why Working Title and Focus Features trusted me to direct my first feature. Through meetings with screenwriters Beau Willimon and John Guy, the producers and the cast, we were able to have healthy discussions about discovering character and story and constantly test and check ourselves before we started production. Use that time as a way to develop the story you want to tell.
On the Basis of Sex
Director Mimi Leder: When developing the script, it’s important to not overlook the details of a character. With Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her work changed the landscape of women’s rights and equal opportunity under the law. It was important to show her fight against the system, who those people were and how they acted. It was those small details that made the story realistic and honest. Research everything. It will help map your script
Director Chloé Zhao: This is the time, more than ever, that taking a risk is your best bet to be successful. Back in 2008, when I was trying to raise money for my first film, it was difficult. The whole industry was struggling with what they wanted in a coming of age story. I remember other opportunities coming along to do something that was more industry friendly at the time but I passed on them. Now, they are asking to show them something different. I don’t think any filmmaker should be afraid of the story they want to tell. I think we really need different voices and different stories. Try to find yours.
What They Had
Director Elizabeth Chomko: Don’t be afraid to collaborate with your actors to further develop a character. I wrote What They Had from a very personal place inspired by my family. Bridget is a character loosely based on my own experience so I struggled with her. At our first meeting, Hilary [Swank] and I connected and shared a deep understanding of the story. We cultivated the narrative together and pushed each other to be brave and to push the character and story further.
And don’t feel you’re not qualified or capable of directing. It took a really long time for me to trust myself and open myself up to the notion that I was qualified, that I was capable and had a voice that was worth hearing. Don't wait around for someone to tell you you matter. Believe in yourself and then work your ass off. Then work even harder and be able to do it backwards.