Let's set the record straight on some common misconceptions about what it takes to make a film.
Filmmaking is a kind of a mysterious, clandestine world (if for no other reason than that it's difficult to break in at higher levels), which makes it the perfect breeding ground for myths.
And that's super fun and interesting, but the problem with myths in filmmaking is that they could potentially have a negative impact on aspiring creatives entering the field, stymie their success, or even deter them from jumping in altogether.
In this video, Indy Mogul's Ted Sim goes over 10 big filmmaking myths with director Mike Pecci to determine which ones are true, plausible, or just flat out false, hopefully giving you a better idea of what making films at a professional level is all about (and what it's absolutely not about).
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat—dealing in absolutes is silly. Any time you hear words like "always", "never", "everyone", or "nobody" you're most likely going to find that statement problematic. A lot of these myths are made false because of that. For example, is there really only one way to become a director? Absolutely not. Does your film have to get into Sundance to be successful? Not even close. (Getting into a prestigious festival doesn't guarantee anything anyway!)
So, while most of these myths tend to lean more on the false end of the spectrum, Pecci and Sim offer some great insight into each of their grey areas—like, no, a director doesn't have to know how to do everyone's job on set, but there are a lot of benefits if they do.
At any rate, let's quickly run through each myth.
"A director should know how to do everyone's job on set."
No, it's not a requirement for you as a director to know how to build sets, design costumes, light scenes, or run electrical. However, in the wise words of Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson in Dazed and Confused, "it would be a lot cooler if you did." It not only makes you useful in all areas of production but it also gives you a better understanding of what your cast and crew are required to do, the stress they're under, and how long their work takes.
"Most of the budget goes to camera and lighting."
Lol. Raise your hand if you've spent more on pizza and bottled water than your camera package.
"An indie film has to go to Sundance in order to 'make it.'"
There is no one way to "make it," so don't stress out or give up if your feature or short doesn't get into a big film festival. It's nice, sure, and getting in gives you the chance to meet fellow filmmakers...and yeah, you might be one of the lucky ones to get discovered, but screening at film festivals isn't the only path toward cinematic success.
"The only way to become a director is to start as a PA."
Ask a handful of aspiring filmmakers what their plans are once they graduate film school or start pursuing their film career in earnest. Most of them are going to say, "I'm gonna find a PA gig." While working as a PA is a great way to get yourself on a professional set, it's definitely not the only path toward directing at higher levels. You can write, edit, or assist in other ways. You can start small with videography, short films, or low-level commercials and work your way up.
"Cinematographers make bad directors."
"Directors have the power to change the framing whenever they want."
Well, the director is the director, so...yes, they can do what they want. But, this isn't necessarily a license to be an annoying micromanaging director. Pecci gives a great tip: instead of getting specific on shot sizes, angles, and lenses, it's better to explain to your DP the visual "language" you want to communicate in the shot or scene and then let them decide how to achieve it. Obviously, if you've got a really particular idea for a shot, then, by all means, let them know what you want. However, specificity might cut your DP off at the knees and not allow them to explore all of the visual possibilities with you.
"You can make a living on directing alone."
Let's just all heave a big collective sigh with this one.
"DPs and crew members should never talk actors."
It depends. Are you working on set with an A-list actor? Are you trying to talk to actors while they're in character? Are you shirking your duties so you can chat up the lead? Then, yeah, you shouldn't be talking to the actors. However, if you're working on a small production where things are casual and it's lunchtime and everyone's hanging out sharing stories from past projects, then sure, chat them up. Pecci nails it when he advises crew members to read the room and let actors make the first move.
"Directors only rehearse one day before shooting."
Sometimes, yes, this is true. You might need to work out a few kinks in some choreography or blocking the day before, but for more complicated shots, you might need more time. However, rehearsals are optional and they're not every filmmaker's cup o' tea. If ad-libbing and improv is a part of your project (usually if you're working on a comedy), then rehearsals aren't necessary for most scenes. Same goes for scenes with heavy drama...you don't want your actors to give the best performance of their careers during an unrecorded rehearsal.
"Assistant directors aren't necessary to make a film."
Okay, this depends on what kind of production you're working on. If you're working with a skeleton crew, then you better hope that an assistant director isn't necessary, because ya ain't got one, jack. However, if you can afford to hire an AD, do it. It's money very well spent because while they take care of all of the logistics and coordination of the production, you can focus on scenes, performances, and the story.
BONUS: "Directors are geniuses."
"I don't know. What do you think?"