Alright everyone. Thoughts?
What makes the best directors? Their singularity of vision? Ability to communicate and collaborate?
Anything I can pick up from others to start practicing would be much appreciated!
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Communication skills. Without that, no part of their vision is going to come through.
Patience, grace, not being a dick.
The very first thing you do as a Director is an in depth story analysis so that you truly know & understand the role of each character. Your job is to make the Actors look good and the best way is to listen - listen very carefully. Refrain from telling the actors how to do their job, instead ask them to show you the best way. LISTEN!
To inspire not dictate.
Instincts for casting. If you cast the film properly you won't have to "direct" the talent very much. But if you miscast it, you will have a tough time getting the performance you need.
Famous example is Eric Stoltz in Back to the Future. He is a fantastic actor but it was the wrong tone for that character and nothing you can ask of Eric on the day as a director would change that very much. That's the kind of thing that is very hard to learn cause it's not teachable. It's instinctual.
Show dont tell. Focus on telling your story through the lens. Michael is right, if you cast your film properly 90% of your work is done. All good directors can tell if a director knows his craft by judging his opening shot. How much story can you tell without dialog.
The ability to communicate their vision to their actor/actors in a way that brings everyone together. If the actor/actors are having a hard time understanding the directors vision the chances of that director getting the shots he/she wants is slim. Which is usually followed by the cliche issues that arise on a film set.
Respecting your actors.
Mr. Wells also has a great point.
my kind of director
is an actor-director
Sticking to the vision but giving allowances for possible new outcomes while treating everyone like human beings.
And remember too: Treat every person on set as if s/he is the most important person on set. In reality, everyone is - it only takes one person to screw up the whole production.
As a two-time feature director and three shorts, one that qualified for the Oscars, I'm constantly learning. And, the producing end - 13 pictures - has helped me be a more efficient director. The three things you sighted are very important. And, they go hand-in-hand: singularity of vision, BUT also the ability to collaborate AND communicate. You should have a good idea of what you want - a strong idea, however NOT every scene is your key scene, not every scene is the homage to your favorite movie. Sometimes you have a simple scene or cutaway that just moves the story along. Be open to collaborating with your DP and your actors, especially when it's one of these scenes and a better idea may be out there. You will be surprised at the wonderful suggestions put forth. Trust the people you've hired to do their jobs and run their departments. Chances are they know what they are doing. In addition, you can not let the inmates run the asylum. By this, I mean it can't be a total free-for-all of ideas and pandemonium every scene. Don't subscribe to the "My Turn" School of Filmmaking: "My turn to be the director! My turn to do this!" You are still the director. Don't be afraid to say it - they will respect you for it. It's a fine line. Work closely with your lead producer to run a smooth and efficient set. Make sure you communicate with your actors - THIS is a problem I've witnessed in several young directors. Tell them when you like something, NOT ONLY when you are giving notes to correct. Make sure they know you appreciate their work. Even the Oscar-Winning actors I've worked with and the legendary ones, and other A-listers, always want feedback - positive, as well as negative. Call people by their first names. Build trust with them. AND< like it or not, learn to think like a producer in that the budget will dictate certain things. Don't hold out hope for the perfect location if you can't afford it. Be willing to work or block a scene to fit the location. Don't be the typical "film school" kid in terms of "I want what I want." It doesn't change the characters or a scene to move some blocking around to fit a different location. Don't reject ideas, simply because they're not yours, however, once you've made a decision, again, you are still the director. Let your First A.D. do his job to save your voice - you will need it. On all the features and one of the shorts I shot, I got sick and lost my voice - and I still enjoyed EVERY MINUTE OF IT! But, YOU call action and cut. You are the director - it's your right and privilege to do so. MOST OF ALL put the good of the picture first. In all that you do. If you don't shoot a movie a certain way, such as the crazy fast-paced jump-cuts from Domino, don't expect it to look like that in editing. You can do a lot in editing and improve your picture, but it can't all be done in editing. You still have to shoot the thing right. And, always remember, when you are on set - get what you need, you will never get that time back, BUT, be realistic again in letting the budget dictate things. Don't come up with an exorbitant shot-list filled "luxury shots," you will realistically never get to. BUT, do have a short-list ready. Last, but not least, always shoot on location like you're about to be kicked out at any moment, so you get what you need. Do NOT waste time. FADE OUT ...
I feel like the most important is to be good under pressure. A director who knows how to handle the long hours and stress of everything going wrong calmly and in a collected fashion will get the most out of their actors and crew.
A director that takes the stress of the job out on the people working for them will not get good results from anyone. Much less get anyone to want to work on another project with them again.