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Directing and Acting Flavors of Happiness

Ha s anyone ever said to you. You need to be  happier. If they did it likely made you mad.

It’s redicualous to thinsk that we can throw a switch be mire happy. We can and often fake it. we’re saying hi to peoiple in a party and up comes someone were not happy to see. We don’t want to cause a scene or undue attention on the situation so we smile and say hi. We flip the switch but the greeting lacks authenticity and  its’ felt by the person and the astute observer. Hell, if the surprise is abrubt enough everyone will withness and awkward encounter.

But we need to fake it. If you’re an actor you do. and if your a director your not doing the faking but you are responsible for the result.

A fake encounter often feels fake because it’s out of place. The tone and all the little facil muscles don’t align with the words being said. It might be srtrained or it might be overthe top and not martching the greetings before or after.

It’s hard to easily put our finger on what oragnincally happens when sometheing feels and sounds authentic.  But, one of it’s character ristics is it’s flavor.

Happiness comes in many forms and each form adds flavor to the spoken word.

Some of the se flaovers are:

Joy, serenity, excitement, giddy

And these flavors have subtle differences that can only come in the moment and from an authentic exchange.

Creating Successful Actor & Director Relationships


For a “film’s world” to be believable, each character must engage in truthful relationships, conflicts and conquests. These must be “so truthful” that they create a desire in the audience to know what the character will do next.

The audience must believe that the choices the main characters have made are plausible and within the context of the scene.

The industry way of saying this is the director’s “story objective” and the character’s “scene objectives” are aligned.

When the actor and the director are in harmony and agree on “what the character wants” and “why they want it,” the performance and the “film’s world” become magically authentic.

If you want your audience to accept the films premise, care about the plot, suspend disbelief and further invest into your main character’s journey this authentic “buy in” is essential.

soft low key woman lakeThe Actor’s Primary Job

The actor’s job is to make specific choices about “what their character wants” and how they will actively pursue the outcome.

Once these choices are defined, the actor’s next step is to fully immerse themselves in the character’s situation.  This should be done so fully that they forget about the logic and are now reacting “truthfully” to the moment as the character.

The more fully the actor “lives in the moment” the more truthful the interaction becomes.

This abandoning of the logic process presents a problem for actors who like to self direct.

You see, the more “moment to moment” the actor is working, the more blind “the character” becomes to the big picture and evaluating their performance.

They can’t see the forest through the trees. And that’s the way it should be, actors shouldn’t direct themselves.

The actor must prepare by making specific choices.

But, once on-set the actor must surrender this intellectual understanding of the scene to the director.

It’s the director who is responsible for the big picture and making sure the audience is traveling from scene to scene along the film’s invisible story arc, not the actor.

The director is there to guide and support the actor as they throw themselves fully into the scene objective, precisely the way their character would do in a “real” situation.

This kind of work requires the actor to become very vulnerable. They must trust that the director is watching the character’s level of intensity, how the actor’s choices flavor the scene and if these choices serve the story in an authentic way.

Acting this way takes courage and trust!

crew-set8.tiffThe Directors Primary Job

The director’s primary job is to see the big picture and to make sure that each performance builds a “relationship dynamic” that moves the story forward.

By managing relationships within the scene, the director can work with the actors to create and release tension. When it’s done well, the performance is authentic and the audience becomes fully engaged. They will want to know what will happen next.

While many actors may understand and have opinions about the “big picture” including future scene’s and relationships. Managing this is not the job of the actor and will get in the way of moment to moment work.

The actor’s job is to deliver truthful moments. The director and the editor’s job is to pick the best and stitch these moments into a seamless world that quite literally takes on a life of their own.


This work is done in three stages and in two ways.


In Preproduction – Separately 

It’s important for both the director and the actor to read, make notes and interpret the screenplay from their own point of view. There are many script analysis methods that can be used at this stage. But, the end result must be an understanding of “who the character is”, “what the character wants,” “what they are doing to get what they want”. These questions must be answered for the entire film, each scene and each scene-event.

Yury & JH Prep

In Preproduction – Together

 Once they’ve worked on their own, the actor and director should come together and discuss their individual interpretations. The director should listen closely to the actors ideas, asking the actor about the choices her character is making and why. This should include character objectives, the situation and any backstory elements that will effect her character’s arc.

Olga & JH Prep

This is the time for the director to explain the big picture and to highlight how this character contributes to the overall story matrix.

You’re on solid ground if the objectives and choices the actor is making both support and are aligned with the directors vision. If not, it’s time to uncover the problem and examine character choices, backstory and “what if” scenarios.

On-Set – Together 

BigE-Yury & Olga tag

Once you’re on-set it’s time for the director to do everything possible to help the actor stay in character. This includes addressing them by their character name. On-set is where the preparation work pays off – big time.

When both the actor and the director are in agreement on what the character wants, the director is empowered to guide the character with clear and concise active verb direction.

Or, the director can guide the character into performance by using an “as if” analogy.

Once the director has some insight into the actors process they are more capable of helping the actor create an atmosphere and building blocks of an authentic and powerful performance.

This is especially helpful when working with untrained actors.

Directing Children & Non-Actors

WS Chatham - 5

Does the Thought of Directing Children & Non-Actors Keep You Awake at Night?

It doesn’t need to.

In this post I’m going to show you what to look for in an untrained actor, as well as how you can use three proven techniques while directing children & non-actors in truly believable performances.

You will see a big difference in your performances if you adopt even one of these techniques. They work – I promise!

Even if you don’t need these techniques right now. Someday you will. So, bookmark this page and share it with your friends. The info is gold and not because I wrote it, but because others before me have passed it down.

I was inspired to write this post in response to a question from Bogna, a Digital Film Farm email subscriber.

Here’s Bogna’s question .

” In my upcoming movie, I need to use a child actress for a short role. My own daughter can play it, she is 5 yrs old, I plan to invite the adult actors she will be playing with over, so she can get used to them. But I don’t really know how to prepare her to play a very sick, tired child so it won’t look too theatrical.”

So, the bottom line issue here is, “I don’t really know how to prepare her to play a very sick, tired child so it won’t look too theatrical.”

The “too theatrical” is the scary part.

These performances tend to be “too big”, “over-the-top” and indicating attitude instead of anchored in truth. The words and gestures may resemble truth but the inflection and specifics aren’t authentic. The audience picks up on this inauthenticity and they stop believing.

The audience comes to a movie with a “Willing Suspension of Disbelief.” If there are too many inauthentic moments the viewer becomes increasingly less willing to suspend disbelief. Ultimately they just can’t stay with your story.

The directors job is to make sure everything is believable.

Inauthentic performances can be fixed in one of at least three ways.

  1. Cast for Authenticity
  2. Focus on Creating Real Situations
  3. Let Good Coverage Save the Day

The common denominator is they take “acting” out of the equation. By acting I mean, “to portray a character in a situation very different from themselves and in a world very different from the world they live in.”

This is what professionally trained actors are trained to do. They have tools that help them discover and embrace character traits while truthfully portray them in imaginary situations very different from who they are. That’s what they do. Some do it exceptionally well and have a wide “acting range.” Others, not so much.

So when you’re directing children & non-actors you will need to provide some of these tools and you must understand most untrained actors have no range.

This brings me to the first technique.

CU man1

#1 Cast for Authenticity 

This is a kind of a “no-brainer” but it’s worth noting.

Look for a person who already embodies the character traits you’re looking for. The right person doesn’t need to have an “acting-range”, they already own the character traits. They only need to be themselves. These people might not even consider themselves an actors and might need some coaxing but if you take it slow you might find some magic.

Finding these people takes looking past acting resumes and instead looking at characteristics and backgrounds. Look beyond casting sessions and go where these “characters” live and hangout.  Consider posting casting notice for non-actors and describe the types you’re looking for.

Or, consider hand picking them from small crowds.

Really, I’ve done this. Some directors actually specialize in finding new talent this way. As they say, “good filmmaking is 90% casting.”

The right person can lead to an amazingly authentic performance.

Once you find this individual it’s time to employ a combination of the other two techniques.

#2 Focus on Creating Real Situationspsa 2 shot2

Let’s go back to Bogna’s question about working with her daughter play a role where she’s sick. This is not a stretch and within her range – right?  The issue is her daughter might think she needs to “act.” She doesn’t.

The good thing about kids is they have active imaginations and they’re usually coachable.

Now let’s assume her daughter is coachable and not a lead character. In this case you don’t need a believable performance. Think about that for a minute. It sounds absurd, but it’s true. What you need are “believable moments.” With the right coverage you can create in the edit room.

The Biggest Mistake you can make, is to ask a non-actor to ACT! 

Especially children, their ability to role play comes naturally. Many a child has given Oscar worthy “sick performance” when it was time to go to school – right?  But, ask them to ”ACT” sick for the camera and they become theatrical. They indicate overt stereotypical,overly dramatic expressions of being sick that kills the scene’s authenticity.

Here’s the trick.

When working with a non-actor, don’t make a big deal about it. The key is to keep it simple, fun and informal.

Make it a game.

Here’s a game you might play with a child who needs to play sick.

  • Ask her to sit and imagine she doesn’t feel well. Ask her to just imagine and not to change her posture for effect. 
  • Ask her to describe her symptoms.
  • Ask her about her stomach, her head, her arms etc.
  • Ask her about her breathing. Is it deep or shallow? Fast or slow?  
  • Ask her what kind of a sickness she has. Or better yet, you guess what she has and she can tell you if you’re right.

Don’t give her any feedback on what she’s doing with her body or voice. All feedback at this stage will likely take her out of her imagination.

Leigh gaged2You don’t want her thinking. You want her feeling.” 

As she’s playing the game notice how her body looks. Has she taken on any of the symptoms without even realizing it. She probably has. 

Once she’s done this, take a turn yourself. Go through the same steps, try not to indicate a symptom but instead describe them. Notice your body. You will likely begin to feel something and when that happens surrender to the feeling. Don’t think – just feel. 

Let your daughter (child actor) guess what sickness you have. 

Do this until the game becomes familiar and comfortable for the child. Then, maybe switch it up and try the exercise with an emotion instead of a sickness. Pick mad, sad, excited, happy or scared. Pick something appropriate for a particular scene and repeat the game.

Using these techniques will keep it fun and it will help you guide her once onset.  If you’re working with an adult, you might make it less of a game and more of a exploration.

Don’t call it emotional prep. It’s just exploration. For some “emotional prep” will weird them out and become counter productive.

Just explore!

Together you can discuss the unfolding situation and explore how the character they are playing might feel. Ask them about their character’s situation and the consequence of their actions or failure to act. Once they get in touch with the consequence and connect with the emotion of the situation, have them describe how they feel. Ask them to use their own words. Remember and even write down what they say.  You can use their words to help re-anchor them when it’s time for them to go on-camera.

Once you’ve done this a few times you might want to record it on your phone camera. Take this slow. Keep in mind, bringing in a camera to early may turn this into a performance instead of a game. If the child or non-actor slips into trying to act for the camera they will have a difficult time going back to feeling and imagining.

For a non-actor “performing’ can be like falling into a rut. Once you’re in it, it’s hard to get out. Better to never create the rut.  

If you’re diggin this post you’ll love my free “60 minute Directing Actors Mini Course”

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Ok, Lets go back to Bogna’s daughter. It’s shoot day and time to go on camera for real. The extra excitement usually brings up a little fear. This is good. Children like all of us will retreat to what’s safe when scared.

Use it. Channel the extra energy into something physical.

You might want to have a sofa or a comfortable chair and a blanket near by. Let her cuddle up with the blanket, observe and get acclimated to the environment from a safe place. The blanket will bring her comfort when she’s fearful. This also creates the proper environment.

Quietly, begin the game. 

Once she’s snuggled in her blanket whisper in her ear, “how do you feel honey?” Say this while you feel her head.

Keep checking in with her over the next ten minutes.

With a little luck she’ll slip right into the game and the rest of the crew will say “poor little thing, she really doesn’t feel well.” That’s when you know you’ve nailed it. You’ve faked out the crew and that means you’ll convince the audience. 

Great job!

You’re on your way to creating a believable scene.

  • You’ve cast a non-actor who isn’t going to be asked to “act” outside their “range”
  • You’ve worked with them to explore the scene’s situation, real consequences and connected emotions.
  • You’ve taken your time to make this fun and unthreatening.

If you rush a non-actor and expect them to “get it” like a trained actor, you’re asking for trouble.

Now it’s time to let the camera and the edit do the work. Shooting the right coverage is essential when directing children & non-actors.

A good actor can carry a scene in a single shot if needed, but a non-actor almost always needs the edit room magic to sustain a truthful performance. And truth is all that matters. If the audience doesn’t believe that what they’re watching is authentic the entire scene is sunk. If numerous scenes lack truth, your audience will loose their ability to suspend disbelief and your movie will bomb.

So lets look at the third technique.

#3 Let Good Coverage Save the DayRocky chair 1

Don’t make your non-actor carry the heavy load. Off load some of the work to your production team and other cast members. Use movie magic!

Here are some possibilities:

  • Let the art department create the atmosphere. A bunch of used tissue, a blanket, a thermometer in the mouth and the right make-up can make an expressionless face look sick.
  • Use empathetic reaction shots from the stronger cast members.
  • Error on the side of too little rather performance rather then on too much. It’s an amazing what an expressionless face can become when edited into the right sequence of shots.
  • Shoot the majority of the scene from another’s point of view
  • Shoot over her shoulder. This keeps her in the shot, but relies on the other actor and juxtaposition and editing to sell the moment.
  • Shoot a wide shot and let the environment speak. 
  • Shoot an extreme close shot (eyes only).
  • Shoot close up shots of things that are part of her (sick) world.
  • Shoot her reaction shots as expressionless. Have her actively looking at something or thinking about something. No acting! 
  • Minimize lines and consider getting them off camera as a voice over. She may be more comfortable doing her lines with the camera off ? This also affords you the opportunity to manipulate the way she sounds. She could slightly plug her nose with some tissues and use other tricks to make her sound weak and tired. 

“Free 60 Minute Directing Actors Mini Course” 

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Movie magic is about knowing how to create the illusion of truth by putting separate pieces together and making them look like one event. This is a craft with proven techniques developed by the masters before us. This means we have a lot of pre-existing tools at out disposal. Starting from scratch and ignoring proven methods that have developed over many years wastes both time and energy. Don’t do it. Learn, practice and build upon these methods.

If you’d like to learn more of these proven techniques I invite you to become a subscriber by clicking here.

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Happy Filmmaking!

Are You Over or Under Directing Actors ?

ADK -Steve Directs Rnd

Why are do new film directors tend to fall into either over or under directing actors ?


Some of this likely comes from on-set nerves because most new film directors don’t yet know how to use pre-production to discover what kind of guidance an actor needs.

Where do you fall on the “over or under directing actors spectrum?”  

If I’m not careful I tend to swing toward over directing. I know this, so I work at being clear and concise.

In the video below I share a lively clip from an on-camera acting workshop. We hear from an actor talk about how she became self conscious when working with a director who didn’t know how to give feedback. I promise listening to her will make think twice before going into a shoot unprepared.

But before you watch the video I suggest you read this quick post.

If you’re new to directing film and video I’m confident you’ll pick up some good advice and if you’re a veteran shooter who stumbles when it comes to directing performance, I have a feeling you might find a new way of approaching the process.

In a nut shell, good directing is a result of:

  • Understanding the most important story points of the scene.
  • Knowing specifically what each of your character’s want in the scene you’re shooting
  • Knowing what the unfolding information and action means to each of the characters individually and as a group.
  • Being aware of how each character feels about the other characters in the scene at any particular moment.
  • Understanding how past events influence the present scene and each character’s objective.
  • Knowing how the events in this scene will effect future scenes.

Truth is the basis from which all good directing comes from!

It’s the director’s job to help the actor adjust a performance in a way that is more truthful and simultaneously serves the story best.

Determining and then communicating “what about a performance you want the actor to adjust” is almost impossible until you understand what’s really at stake for everyone. As directors we must understand the characters inner world and all the dynamics of the event before we can evaluate the truthfulness of the performance.

This is done in pre-production.

If you have no insights or opinions on what the character is experiencing or why, you probably haven’t done your home work and you’ll likely be under directing actors.

If you have insights and opinions and don’t share them, you’re definitely under directing actors.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic.  Get my free “Directing Actors Mini-Course” Enroll now by clicking the button below.

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Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it might seem in the beginning.

Most of us go through this process when we describe the way a friend, a relative or an ex-lover behaved during an event.

If we know them well we might speculate on:

  • Why they did or said, what they did.
  •  How their past events may have influenced their present actions.
  •  How the present event  may effect future events and relationships with those involved and with others.

That’s very similar to what we’re doing when we’re preparing top direct a performance. The difference is that as directors we tend to stay objective and disconnected from the personal drama. We’re talking about “make believe characters, so we don’t take it personally.

In real life we’re evaluating the actions and speculating on the motivations and feelings of people we know – “real people.”

There’s an important clue here.

It’s easier to become empathetic when were discussing real people whose backstories and tendencies we know. It’s emotional, and were tapping into an empathetic part of ourself.

We get more personally involved!

When we’re directing, were on-set and surrounded by lots of people, asking lots of questions. We’re processing a lot of logistics. So, it’s hard to engage the empathic part of ourselves. Our logic-brain is overpowering our empathetic-heart. This makes it easy to fall into the trap of either over or under directing actors.

That’s the problem!

The “logic-brain” is a difficult place from which to guide and actor into a truthful performance.  Or even recognize and acknowledge a truthful take when it happens.

If we are to distinguish between an actor “indicating an emotion” from “experiencing the emotion” our brain and our heart must come together as one.

My advice to new film directors. 

Take your time in pre-production and use your brain to process the scenes dynamics including:

  • what kind of life events your character has been through
  • what they need now, what they want most and
  • what makes them mad, happy and sad to name a few.

Get to know your characters the way you know your family, your friends and the people you work with. Work through the scenes and identify the beats. Determine what these beats mean to these characters and write your observations down.

These are your cliff notes. Take them to the shoot.

And most important, briefly revisit them before you direct each scene. Use these notes to anchor yourself empathetically at that particular point in the story and then deal with each characters emotional narrative. Take a break form the production logistics and enter their world the same way you would if it were happening to people you truly care about.

Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to guide the performance toward truth!


Without this knowledge and the emotional reset you’ll become lost in the logistics of production. You’ll call action and then cut, but you’ll have no idea of what really happened in between. And like so many before you, you’ll either babble nonsense about the performance and say “give me another take with a little more emotion” or you just simply ask for another take and hope you’re getting what you need.

This is lazy directing and it’s how we find ourselves over and under directing.

You don’t need to do it perfect, but you must put in the effort to find the truth!

Indicating is for Amateurs 🙂

The clip below is an excerpt from a workshop. If you’d like to into more depth on”over and under directing actors”  I’ve got a 60 Minute Mini-Course available for free. Just click the enroll now button below.

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Directing Actors for Film Roles – Are You Under Or Over Directing? from John Holser on Vimeo.

Here’s the Transcript

Olga: I also had experience with a director who was not only under directing , there was nothing at all. It was action, roll, it was like one, two takes, and then move to the next scene. I, as an actor, felt a little bit, started feeling lost and I’m not sure, and a little self conscious because there was no feedback whatsoever, as I was doing the scene, afterwards you’re like, “Oh I could do something else,” but I couldn’t even feel that I could approach the director with those ideas because it as complete white-wall. I felt like there was no communication between what the idea was for the full shoot, for the full feel for the full scene, and I had to basically invent it on the spot and hope it going to go well.

John : That’s horrible. That’s going to be … I classify those as, not always as backyard filming, sometimes filmmakers who have done it beyond that are still like that. There’s two interesting things I want to point out of what Olga said there. She felt self conscious, so our job is to, if nothing else, a director’s job is to encourage you, that you’re going. This is the guide. In my email, I said my job is not to manufacture or create your performance, but to help guide you. She had no idea, you guys are looking, and if you’re all new to this, and I’ll get to this at the end, you can ask the director certain questions unless they’re so behind schedule or they’re so nervous that they’re just not going to give it to you, and then all you can do is what Olga did, is just do your best.

The other thing I wanted to point out is that Olga wanted to explore. She wanted an opportunity to explore because you find, in the environment, when you own the environment, when you’re there working against the other actors that things start to come up. My thinking is, from a director point of view, if it feels right, do it. That’s me, and I would rather go, “Eh, you know what, I felt good, but that’s not the direction that I want this story to go in,” but I love the idea that the actor has an opportunity to explore something new, and is staying in the moment, and working off of whatever happens. If you only have two takes, that can be a little difficult, but there’s no just one way to do it.

David Fincher does thirty-five takes, some people think that’s crazy, there are other directors, we’ve heard stories. Burt Reynolds was one of the stories, and there’s some other top actors who are like … New Film Directors shake in their boots because it’s like they’re going to give you a take, that’s it. You better have your camera people ready. I once heard a story, and I think this was Burt Reynolds, it’s like, “All right, let’s do another one,” and he said, “What do you want?”

“Well, I want to do another take.”

“What do you want? If you want to give me a specific direction and change something, I’ll do another take for you. If you just want to do another take, just to see something else, no. I gave you a good performance. Give me a specific direction and I’ll take it.”




Direct Film Actors – 5 Amazing Tips

Do you know how to Direct Film Actors?



Confessions of a Frustrated Film Actor

In this video-post I’ll share five amazing tips on how to direct film actors. But before I do I think you’ll get some great “don’t-do insights” by watching the video of a frustrated actor sharing an experience about a director who doesn’t know how to direct. Ouch – Don’t make that mistake!

You’ll appreciate the tips more if you watch the video first. 
Here’s what we’ll cover:
  • Who decides character development, backstory and scene objectives?
  • Does the actor and the director need to agree on all the choices?
  • When and how do you discuss this?

Hope you like 🙂

Confessions of a Frustrated Film Actor – Give me direction, please! from John Holser on Vimeo.

So, now that you know how not to direct film actors. Here are five things that will help you achieve amazing results.

  • All decisions and direction should be on the characters super-objective. “What drives this character?”
  • Talk about the character in an informal relaxed way prior to shooting.
  • Don’t cram your ideas down the actors throat – Listen, Learn and Explore!
  • Once you agree on what the character wants in the scene, give specific active-verb direction if needed.

Once your on-set your mind is filled with ideas, problems and sometimes doubt. The doubt usually comes from not doing your pre-production work.

So, take the notes you made in pre-production and watch for a truthful performance that aligns with what the character wants. This is his or her objective. You talked about this in that relaxed conversation you had and maybe again in rehearsal – remember?

If the performance is truthful then you’ve got it. Don’t do any more takes move on.

If it’s not truthful or not aligned with the objective it’s time to give some specific direction. Refer back to your notes – you’ll know what to say.

If you learned anything about how to direct film actors in this post you’ll like what I share in my emails. Stay in touch and sign up here. 

Here’s the actual transcript of the video.


Yeah, I had a director, and he was so vague. I don’t think he had a clear vision.

If you just give me the whole scenario, how you see it, I can make it work. I can work with people. I can create this thing. If it’s blank, I can go in a direction that’s completely wrong and waste a lot of time. Then they are like, “I don’t like that.”

And then I wonder what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? Give me something. You have to give me a map. Otherwise we’ll waste time and energy going in different directions,

I’m going to end up in Albany, and he wants me in Troy (Albany and Troy are two cities on the Hudson River In New York State)

And then you have to get back to Troy, because that’s the other thing too. If I’m creating a character, I’m holding onto some things. Because I’m creating it.

Then I’ve got to erase it, and then come to you with something else, which is the thing. That’s what scary about it. To work to get it and then come back.

Yeah. Absolutely.

So I think what Michael was saying here is that he was going in one direction the director was going in another direction and the director didn’t know how to point Michael in the right direction. The direction that he wanted him to go.

The fact that they weren’t on the same page tells me that they didn’t sit down and talk about character development and story before they went on set.

Character development is the job of the actor. Talking about the character is something the director ad actor can do together.

As the director you want to sit down ahead of time to relax and talk about the character, their backstory and the choices that these characters are making in the scene.Because at that point you’re not starting from zero, you’ve already done the work. Now you’re just dialing it in on-set.

Do film directors need to know how to light?


I got this question “Do film directors need to know how to light?” came from from Mukul, a Digital Film Farm newsletter subscriber named  last week. It’s a great question and likely one many new and even experienced filmmakers have.

When I first read the question I thought the answer was straight forward and obvious, but it’s not. I almost fell into the trap of looking at it from a very limited perspective – mine. – Lets take a look.

Mukul writes,

I want to become a director. To what extent must a director know about lightning and about the other aspects of filmmaking like three-point lightning, techniques used in photography, about visual effects etc?

The answer that first came to mind was,

 N0,  The director’s job is to guide the story, not focus on technical lighting or other technical things.

But, instead of just giving him my knee jerk answer, I decided to put the question out to all my email subscribers. I’m glad I did because they helped me expand my perspective and see the bigger question.

My knee jerk answer was based on assumptions I’ll share in a bit. Here’s a few excerpts from the advice I got. I think will help us all.

Mike Camoin

It depends. Every director is different. Some hire extremely experienced and knowledgeable cinematographers such that they can focus on what interests them more, like directing actors. Some do a lot of prep mapping out each shot, still others do that once on set.

Right on Mike. It depends on what you mentioned and so much more. First and foremost everything the director does must serve the cinematic, emotional and narrative arch of the story within the genre of the film.

Daley Baker

I believe the director must know enough to communicate his or her vision to the departments in as concise a manner as possible. The director does not need to be an expert in all the different aspects, but the more one knows, the larger the tool set at your disposal. The director only needs to be an expert on the story he or she is trying to tell.

Daley brings us back to the directors core responsibility “the story.” Daley also mentions communicating in a concise manner.

This is huge!

Every production runs on “time” and anyone who’s shot a film know’s there’s never enough of it. Time is your most precious commodity. If you’re on-set and lack the language or knowledge to communicate your vision you’re wasting time. The more time you waste talking, the less time you have for shooting.

The more knowledgable you have, the more likely it will be that you’ll be able to work through many of  workflow and creative decisions in pre-production. Pre-production is the time discuss ideas and make plans.  Solve as many problems as possible before you arrive on set.

Doug Harrington

I feel that a director must know lighting, techniques, possible visual effects, etc. The director must have a vision about the production, how he wants it to look, what is possible – both in time and in budget… Without that knowledge, a director is flying blind..

So there you go three different perspectives and they all have merit.

Who’s right?

This brings me to my assumptions. When I said – NO!

The director’s job is to guide the story, not focus on technical lighting or other technical things. I assumed the director would be working with a skilled crew 0n a film project designed to be entertaining for the average indie film fan. Not a short film designed to be a learning experience.

That’s a problem.  If you’re new to filmmaking  you’re not going to make a great film. You may aspire to that level but getting there takes time. You need to practice and focus on limited disciplines in the beginning.

So, Do film directors need to know how to light?

Here’s my new answer.

  • If you’re making your first film and working with people who understand the tech better then you do. Let them do it and focus on the story and the actors.
  • If you’re making your first film and you’re shooting and directing, you need to understand enough about  lighting to achieve the result you’re looking for.
  • If you’re a writer/director and you want to build a career in the filmmaking industry, you need to learn the basics of lighting and special effects so you can efficiently communicate and ultimately realize your vision.
  • If you’re a editor/director interested in special effects, you need to learn about lighting and special effects.
  • If your a director who wants to make people laugh and cry, you need to focus on writing, directing actors and uncovering truth in your writing and the performances.

So I hate to say it again but it depends on:

  • What your long term aspirations are.
  • What kind of movies do you want to make.
  • Can you find a cinematographer and an editor willing to take on the tech work?

There is only so much time in a day, so my advice is start by learning to use a camera to tell a good story. Make films fast, make each one better then the last. If you make five films fast (2 – 3 days per 3 minute film) you’ll be on your way to knowing what you don’t know.

I can hear some of you screaming. “But they will be crap.” Yes, the production quality might be terrible, but thats ok.Everybody’s first films always suck. So do them fast and get them out of the way. This is how you’ll learn what you don’t know and you can build from there.

If you’re a new director you need to learn to use the camera to tell a story – that’s it !

If all this sounds like to much work then rethink being filmmaker – it’s not work when it’s what you love!

Do you have an opinion on the subject?

Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts. We all get better when we engage!

How Directors Work with a Film Crew

Dick xmas

By the time you get to the end of this post, you’ll come to appreciate how directing is similar to making gravy. It’s true! 🙂

One of the most important questions in filmmaking is: “Did you make your day?”

This is important because if you don’t make your day on a consistent basis, you won’t make your movie. You have a schedule that outlines a certain number of days for your shooting and this means that each day you have a certain number of scenes to shoot.

Making your day means you finished that day’s list of shots or you shot enough footage to cover the scenes for that day.

With this in mind, it’s easy to comprehend that when we’re on set we want to spend more time shooting and less time talking about what we’re going to shoot or how we’re going to shoot it.

In this post, I’m going to share some basic methods for empowering your crew so you can not only make your day but have enough time and resources to react to those magically found opportunities that arise when good people come together.

It’s all about finding more time! [click to continue…]

Three Legs of Film Directing – Camera Blocking

I like to look at film directing as having three major legs, each comprised of many skills sets.

In this post, I’m going to pickup where the last post left off and get into camera blocking.

If you haven’t read the last post it’s called “Three Legs of Film Directing – Performance”.

You might want to jump over now or at the end of this post. Click Here

Inside Circle 2.0

On the surface, film directing can be perceived to be as easy as shooting coverage of actors “acting” and editing these shots into a sequence that looks and sounds like a movie. [click to continue…]

Three Legs of Film Directing – Performance

In order to get good at directing, and for that matter any craft, it’s important to identify the individual skill-sets that make up the craft. Only then is it possible to focus on specific tasks and the most useful techniques.

There are too many dynamics involved to approach directing as a broad stroke “thing.” It only becomes a “thing” when we’ve learned to blend the separate skills-sets into a process.

I like to look at film directing as having three major legs, each comprised of many skills sets.

1. Directing Performance
2. Camera Blocking
3. Directing Story

At some point, a seasoned director must be capable of juggling all of these simultaneously. [click to continue…]

Film Editing Technique – Transition Match Cut

In this post I’m going to share a simple and powerful film editing technique that when combined with shot planning will help you navigate time travel, fantasy as well as allow your characters to smoothly transition from real life into a dream world.

It’s called a transition match cut, and it will  help you make your audience active story participants.

One way to look at editing is too see it as a way to arrange information into  question and answer patterns.

[bctt tweet=”Good storytelling is making people care about what will happen next.”]

And one way to do this is to get them to speculate. This happens on a subconscious level and should be leveraged throughout your film.

Satoshi Kon_1_600

Satoshi Kon, Paprika

Audience engagement can happen within a single shot. 

Our new scene starts with a medium-shot of a man sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich. The man looks up and becomes so startled that he drops his sandwich.

This a simple shot and it sets up the question – “What did he see?” [click to continue…]