Every time I mention I don’t really want to be THE Director, people start losing their minds. “BUT WHY NOT?! Don’t you wanna be the boss?”
That’s exactly the point. There’s no desire deep inside of me to be the boss of anyone. As I mentioned on my Mentors post, I have a problem with authority and it would be hypocritical of me to want to tell others what to do.
The Director persona
Let’s see if we’re on the same page: when you think of the director’s role in the making of a film, what comes to mind? Is the director a genius who comes up with every single great idea you see on the screen; a person that single-handedly runs the film and has answers for every question during pre-production, production and post? Is the director a star? Do you fear them, or are you honored being in their presence? I think you can see where I’m going. When portrayed this way, it’s easy to notice how many expectations exist surround the figure of the director.
It makes me wonder why we encourage this archetype of director. While in film school I learned the director is “The King of the Film”. All the kids eager to sit on that throne. The word “king” to me sounds more like a tyrant than a fair ruler. Being told you’re the “king” and you have limitless power is more likely to bring out your best or your worst? Historically speaking, it’s been the worst. Tyrannical regimes benefit a select few while the majority labors away. And we learn this is the way things work.
Leader vs Boss
I don’t believe this is the way things should go. I believe this is how things have been so far: the Director is the Man in Charge. This is why I didn’t want to be a Director. I don’t wanna be telling everyone else what to do, I don’t wanna give orders, I don’t want to impose my way of thinking onto others. I don’t want the glory or the fame, I just want to make movies and movies are not made by one person. Groups of people make them. Large groups of people.
Groups don’t need bosses, they need leaders. People that inspire each other to go further, to think harder, to be more creative. People that won’t punish each other when things go wrong, but will share the blame, people that are more comfortable putting themselves at risk than putting others. I dream of a film set where impossible things come true and nobody gets hurt in the process; that the cast and crew will go home after shooting and think “that was an awesome day and I’m happy to be here again tomorrow”.
At Langara, I went into the directing stream. On the second semester my displeasure with what was expected of a director was at new heights. I just didn’t want to be that person. Being told I “had to” only made me more disappointed. It got to a point when I scheduled a meeting with Sara, our Advanced Directing instructor, to openly tell her about my directing crisis. What I heard from her played a big part on how I faced directing after the meeting and motivated me to write this post, months later, while continue to pursue being a director.
Collaboration is key. There’s simply no way one person has all the good ideas. As directors we need to be open to listening to our department heads, just like they must be open to listening to the folks under them. During the pre-production meetings for “Up & Away” there were plenty of questions I didn’t have an answer to, and each of those was a different problem.
Acknowledging I didn’t have a solution made more people rally up to fix the problems and work it out together. “Directing is asking questions” is a common sentence to hear when it comes to working with actors. For me it turned out asking questions has been the solution on every front. “How can we get this many people?”. “Can we really light flares under a covered area?”. “Do you feel safe building this structure?”. And, most of all, “can you guys give me a hand with this?”.
Ask questions and share the load
Asking questions makes the people around us think and ask other questions in return. It makes us all listen. Listening to our team and trusting their judgement will get the set running on its own. Also, how could we not trust our team, right? We picked them personally! Listening and thinking are underrated traits these days. There’s an urge for knowing all the answers from the get-go. There’s shame for asking questions in fear they are stupid. And there’s an unhealthy eagerness about being told what to do. It empties us from responsibility. If it goes wrong, “it was so-and-so that told me to do it”. It’s scary to be responsible for something because suddenly you have to care about it.
There are many advantages to this shared-responsibility style of directing but I’ll only mention one: when things go wrong – and they will -, instead of everyone looking up at us, “THE Directors”, to give them a solution, they’ll start solving the problem themselves because they know we trust them. The problem is this is still a very distant dream. I can count in one hand the number of sets I’ve been that people worked like this.
One of the obstacles in the way of a mindset change is education itself. Lots of aspiring directors want to be stars. They want to be the next Tarantino or Scorcese. They want to call the shots and school says “this is what you’re gonna be when you come here!”. Learning institutions should focus more on the process than the result, as hard as that might be.
Real world directing
Outside of school, it’s our job to not take all the credit if a film goes well. It fills me with joy when I tell people I didn’t have a clue of how we were doing certain scenes in “Up & Away” and my co-producers came up with brilliant solutions. Or when the sun was dipping behind a building and our gaffer saved the shot finding us some stray sunlight. Unfortunately you didn’t get to see the smile on everyone’s faces on set for these spontaneous efforts. These efforts that elevate the quality of the film. I saw them though. It’s a collective high and it outshines being the head of the project. If we make films people are happy to work on, I believe other people will be happy watching them too.
It was only after we finished and delivered “Up & Away”, after I got feedback from multiple people on the team about how production went, and after a few more long conversations with Sara I figured I want to be a director because I like working towards dreams. Don’t you?