Moving from Film & Video-maker to Director

– Posted in: Growing Professionally and Staying Creatively Inspired


Why has my decision to move from film & video-maker to director been the best move I could have made?

  • I’m more creative.
  • I’m more confident.
  • I’m having more fun,
  • making more money
  • and creating better art.

So, what’s the difference?

In a nut shell,  I was trying to be superman filmmaker instead of focusing on being the best director I could be. 

I like cinematography and lighting.  As a result of studying with some great photographers and cinematographers, I’ve become good at it. I spent years writing and producing television commercials and corporate videos. I’ve worked hard, made decent money and most of the time enjoyed the process. The main problem was, I was trying to do everything myself and I thought by hiring a team of professionals I would loose control and price myself out of the work I was getting. I thought I could do it better, faster and cheaper by being a writer, director, shooter, producer, editor.

I was wrong. 

I wanted to compete on price. This made me a commodity and allowed my clients to dictate my price, the creative direction and ultimately my career. I was spreading myself too thin, I was shortcutting the creative process and my films and videos were suffering because of it.

That changed when I realized my work wasn’t getting any better.

During my career I’ve spent time working as a gaffer and a grip on larger projects, it was here that I watched and learned from the people who were doing better work then I was. That was a hard, but important realization. At first I thought their work was better because they were getting bigger budgets. That illusion ended when I got a bigger budget and didn’t see a big difference. I was disappointed. My clients have always been happy with my work, but I wasn’t.

The bigger, more creative jobs were alluding me.

What finally sunk into my hard head was that they worked with a team. The cinematographer, producer, gaffer, grip, the entire cast and crew were there to support the directors vision and make it better by adding their expertise. Sometimes this was a different camera angle, or the ability to shoot more camera setups and get more coverage. The team was isolating the director from logistical problems that didn’t concern him. A director’s job is to focus on story, style and performance. That’s a full time job and takes a lot of focus and skill.

Realization #1 – I was setting myself up for failure.

By attempting to keep costs down I took on the role of director, cinematographer and producer and editor. I though if I worked worked hard enough I could do great work.

Realization #2 – I wasn’t as good a director as I thought – ouch!

I was good at managing a shoot and directing actors, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. That is until I began to intentionally study directing as a craft. I began to learn and appreciate that documenting action and dialogue isn’t directing. I realized I needed to set myself up for success, stack the deck in my favor.

For me this means:

  • letting go and empowering others
  • spending extra time in the previsualization process
  • motivating every shot for narrative and emotional logic
  • doing a directors script analysis
  • working with clients and team mates that respect me as a director
  • recognizing that value weighed against expense is the only way to gage how “expensive” something is

This hasn’t been an easy transition. 

At times it’s been frightening!

I live in a small market. I have a mortgage and all the bills that come with being middle age.

If I’m not careful I forget that my expertise is valuable and find myself slipping into a “lack” mindset.

I’d like to end by sharing this wonderful video that explores the craft of directing by looking at the work of David Fincher. In this video Tony Zhou points out that it’s not so much what Fincher does, but what he doesn’t do. Fincher doesn’t do unmotivated camera moves or unmotivated close ups. Watching videos like this help us learn and remember that directing is documenting action and dialogue it’s deciding what to frame in and what to frame out. Simple to say,but hard to do when your shooting possibilities are endless. The commentary and video editing were done by the talented Tony Zhou.

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