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Directors' responsibilities on set

This subject has been discussed in at least three recent threads (and in all three, it's gotten at least a little contentious). In two of the threads, it was at least a little off-topic, and the third thread was nothing more than a childish way for somebody to say "gotcha".

Nevertheless, I'm thinking it's worthy of discussion. Especially since the opinions I've seen seem to vary so greatly. So, let's have a serious discussion about just what it is that a director is supposed to do. And when you can -- be specific.

I'm curious to hear other people's opinions and experiences first, so for now I'll only comment that I'm not surprised that I'm hearing such different opinions. And I kinda feel like variation in approaches is exactly how it should be.

So, what exactly do you think a director is supposed to do? Or, if you don't think you can say that a director should do this or that, what do you do? And you don't have to be a director to take part -- non-directors should also feel free to comment on what they observe directors doing.

In my opinion, there is no right or wrong in this thread, so I hope anyone interested, no matter your level of experience (or lack thereof) feels free to comment.
 
It's defined by the contract, written or implied, for the job on each show.

Since there are a lot of writer/producer/editor/directors out there, the job functions get muddled with the other titles and responsibilities.

Directing for the stage is one thing, directing for television entirely different, and directing for an indie film as a writer/director/producer is very very different than directing on a Hollywood feature.
 
From my experience directing student and amateur films, the director on an indie level has a major part in literally everything. All my films have come from my own scripts so I have a vision early on in how I want the finished product to look. I don't have the option of just hiring crew who are skilled in a trade i.e. lighting or audio right now, so I'm learning and taking responsibility for all of it.

For my most recent couple of films, I've worked with a friend who is learning to be a DP. He's pretty good at it, but I'm learning that at this level, I can't just delegate all cinematography responsibilities to him; I have to oversee everything in order to make sure the shots are going to look the way I want them to. It's hard to find the balance between looking over someone's shoulder all the time and letting them have free reign and just assuming they won't screw up. Directing indies is definitely more difficult than directing in Hollywood, because as indie directors, we have to take on a lot more tasks, instead of worrying simply about the acting and overall look of the film (production design, lighting, etc), we have to take on a lot more tasks.

But that's just my opinion. Perhaps my outlook will change as I work on films more often in the future.
 
I'll take a crack at this, with the caveat that I don't know anything for certain.

Normally I work on my own stuff as writer/director/producer. I view my job as director as the person who decides how the story will be told. So I acquaint myself with the characters and the story very deeply. As such I involve myself with the casting. I have final say on who plays what part. I also want to believe the story I'm telling. This is what I consciously think I'm doing. In reality, I don't have a choice but to do all these things and more as no one else will do it.

Next week, I'll be directing my first short that I did not write or produce.
I involved myself in casting and chose the main character.
In terms of the story, I didn't quite agree with the story. So I changed it quite a bit. I explained to the writer/producer why I wanted it changed. I was able to convince him (although I suspect not completely) that my way of telling it would be more powerful.
There is a scene for which we need these boxes. The producer wanted to use about 50. I convinced him to purchase 2000 of them.
I also convinced him to hold two rehearsals before the shoot, which has been scheduled.
I just spoke to the main character regarding wardrobe. We will finalize wardrobe during rehearsals.
I also sat the writer/producer and the dp down and went through every scene and every cut. Where we didn't agree, we debated until we agreed upon the correct shot. Generally I prevailed, because I had already thought out the scenes before the arguments began.

So I guess what I'm saying is that the director kind of has to do a little bit of everything. You don't have to do everything, but you have to make sure that everything is the way you want it to be. If it isn't completely to your liking, either you have to get somebody to do it the way you want it to be done, or you have to do it yourself.

We'll see how it goes this weekend.

Best,
Aveek

Edit: One thing I just realized I forgot to add. I did mention to the producer that I'd like for him to get a real audio guy. We asked someone we knew and he wanted $350 per day. So the producer decided that we'll just use my sound gear and not pay for a sound guy. I don't quite agree with this, but I see his point. I guess I'll try to get a cheaper audio guy before the shoot.
 
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As an indie director I would kind of sum it up as "A director is responsible for as much or as little as he/she would like to be responsible for."

A director could theoretically sit back and do nothing, trusting that each person in their department is doing their job and making good creative decisions, or the director could be actively involved in every department to make sure his/her vision is being realized.

I would say it's best to find the happy medium. I like to be actively involved in all departments, but also keep an open mind and trust that I've brought talented people on board who will come up with great ideas that I never thought of in the first place. That's why filmmaking is collaborative.
 

Alcove Audio

Business Member
indieBIZ
As someone who sits on the "outside," so to say, I have a somewhat different perspective.

From my point of view it is the directors job to communicate and inspire.

Regardless of whether the budget is $100 or $100 million the director (and the producer) must communicate her/his vision of the film. It starts off very simply, yet many fledgling directors, and even some accomplished ones, fail to communicate the meaning of the film. By the meaning of the film I mean the underlying premise. It can be as simple as "It's a romantic comedy" or "It's a slice of life" or something a little more complicated like "It's about the repercussions of decisions."

The director must inspire all involved to believe that s/he is in complete control, that s/he has the look, the sound and the mood firmly in mind. This again brings up communication; the director must be able to communicate to the cast and crew exactly how s/he sees, hears and feels the final product. Alfred Hitchcock always comes to mind in this context; supposedly Hitchcock had already seen the completed film in his mind, and now had to go through the (for him) hated part of going through all of the technical exercises that would bring his vision to the screen.

This brings us back to writing and shooting within the budget. No matter how talented the director is, and no matter how dedicated and talented the cast and crew, you are not going to pull off "Star Wars" or "Saving Private Ryan" on $1,000. So the director must also know the limits of his/her budget and talents.
 
So the director must also know the limits of his/her budget and talents.

Actually, this up here, I think, is a key test to whether someone is a good director or not. I don't know if this is a good test, but that is the test I usually set for myself. If I start knowing what the final film is going to look like and the closer it looks like what I imagined, the happier I am.
 
I think it depends greatly on a whole range of factors including the level and budget of a production, they type of person the Director is, and the format/type of production it is (ie a doco director will have slightly different responsibilities to a narrative director and an animation director).

I also think on a lower-budget and indie scale, there are a number of Directors who aren't exactly sure what the role of a Director is, or at least have a somewhat incorrect idea and therefore take on a lot more responsibility than they should. Sometimes that's better for the production, but sometimes (and in my experience on lower budget sets - often times) it is not.
 
The director must inspire all involved to believe that s/he is in complete control, that s/he has the look, the sound and the mood firmly in mind. This again brings up communication; the director must be able to communicate to the cast and crew exactly how s/he sees, hears and feels the final product.

Right on.

:yes:
 
In 20 years of working with professional film directors I can't ever remember having a discussion about the role of the director, although I've had plenty about how to fulfil that role to achieve the best film. The role of director just seems to be understood by everyone and needs no discussion.

So I find this thread and the others related to it to be a little weird. As a hobbyist I suppose it's entirely up to the individual what responsibilities they assume but as a professional or aspiring professional you have to, by definition, at least live up to and hopefully exceed basic professional expectation. This means creating a vision for the film and as Alcove stated "communicating and inspiring" the cast and crew to realise that vision in the finished product. Communicating and inspiring is a challenging skill to develop as is creating a vision in the first place and of course so is knowing how to realise that vision on a given budget.

G
 
The role of director just seems to be understood by everyone and needs no discussion.

So I find this thread and the others related to it to be a little weird.

Oh, it's a fine thread and not weird at all. Maybe it's obvious to most, but some people who have not worked in a professional environment definitely wonder about that.

In a professional setting, where there is a person for every position, you can't really delegate enough. Because if the person you delegate to, does not do their job, they will be fired, and will be unable to make their mortgage and car payments and children's karate club payments. So they will do their jobs, and it's therefore a good idea to delegate.

In an indie film setting, people have said to me "Aveek, you are not delegating. you should take care of your own department and let me worry about lighting. You should learn to delegate. you should learn this. And you should learn that. and you should learn what a dick you sound like that when you try to restrict my every artistic impulse. And between you and me, you should also learn that a lot of people actually think you are a dick."

When I delegate, they spend two hours getting the backlight right so that someone's hair has the right highlight. Which is cool, if I have 5 days and 10k to spend. But since I don't, I don't delegate. I delegate minimally. I say things like "We're going to shoot with two cameras, so we're going to light from one side."

"But, then we can't do the backlight properly because then the hair light will be in view"
"I don't care about the backlight"
"But then it's not going to look as good as I can make it look"
"That's okay with me."
"You should learn to delegate"
"No... I want that scene wrapped before lunch. So we can move to that other scene we should now discuss"

I know it sounds terrible, but I've had discussions which made me think like people become focused on one scene, and they don't see that the whole thing will be unfinished if we don't get moving. So that scene might be great for someone's reel, but it doesn't do anything for the director if he or she can't tell the whole story.

I'm rambling now. I'm just saying it's a good thread for me as it sat me down and made me think about what my role is. It also made me feel that I don't really care what other people think my role should be. My role to me is whatever it takes to tell the story the way I want to. If it means I can spend money and hire a casting director, I will. If I don't have money and I have to do the casting myself, as I don't trust anybody else not getting paid to do the job properly, then I'll do it myself. I don't think it really matters.

So the indie director / producer, needs to be able to do everything and anything that it takes to get the job done. That's why so many of us directors know how to edit and title, because the directors who don't, usually find it harder to finish low budget projects as there are not many people who will edit for free.

I'm rambling. I need to get away from this computer. It's early, but I'm tired and sleepy.

cheers :)
 

Alcove Audio

Business Member
indieBIZ
When I delegate, they spend two hours getting the backlight right so that someone's hair has the right highlight. Which is cool, if I have 5 days and 10k to spend.

But that means that you have not fulfilled your obligation of clear, concise communication. Which is one of the main reasons I harp so much on thorough preproduction. You and all your department heads should have had several preproduction meetings where you let your DP know that you do not have the time nor the budget for such detailed lighting schemes. So the situation was your fault; you failed to communicate.
 
But that means that you have not fulfilled your obligation of clear, concise communication. Which is one of the main reasons I harp so much on thorough preproduction. You and all your department heads should have had several preproduction meetings where you let your DP know that you do not have the time nor the budget for such detailed lighting schemes. So the situation was your fault; you failed to communicate.

You're absolutely correct. That's why in preProduction, and I do go through preproduction with key members, I tell the DP where my camera is going to be at what time, and for what shots, and to plan for the lighting accordingly. My shoots generally wrap within an hour before or after the specified time. I've worked on shoots where people say we'll wrap by 7pm, and then they wrap at 2 am. If I say 7pm, I'm usually wrapped by 8.

Sometimes though, the DP will still tell me, "look, we're kind of setup, but I'd like to do such and such because of this or that reason," I say go ahead if we have time or if it seems reasonable, or if it makes things significantly better. On one occasion, we tried to light something a certain way, and after 45 minutes, they were still going at it, and I just said, if we don't have it, we don't have it, but we need to go ahead with the shot now. The DP of course was disappointed, but I could see the trial and error going on for another 45 minutes.

I'm very flexible. Most of the time, if somebody has a good idea, I'll adopt it immediately. I'm not married to any idea. But whatever I do on set works towards finishing the shoot completely. That is the fundamental goal at this point in my life, given my circumstances. All other considerations are incidental. One day when I work with a real budget, I'll try to make things as good as possible and completion incidental.

I remember on one shoot, the DP said to me, "let's shoot scene C first, because it's so interesting, and so even if we don't finish shooting everything else, we still have scene C." I said no, and he kept insisting "look, you don't understand, because you haven't worked enough" and so on. I had to make it clear that I wasn't interested in scene C or how interesting it is. I'm interested in completing the shoot, even if it means we have to compromise on scene C.

BTW, I don't blame the DP for having his own agenda. He works part time for his rent, and he was giving me his time for free. So he couldn't meet with me until two days before the shoot. These are the realities of planning an indie shoot. [Edit: Preproduction is limited by availability of other people, who're not getting paid.] So I did all the planning by myself. And when I presented it to him two days before the shoot, he insisted that I should let him handle the shoot and the planning. He had never even been to the location. Again as I say, I don't blame him for not going to the location, because he was busy earning his rent money from doing something else. So how could I blame him? I sure wasn't paying him. But it also means that I therefore had to do the planning myself, and I wasn't going to just let him decide how the shoot would go, once he arrived on scene on the shoot date. It just wasn't going to happen that way.

So I gave him no choice but to go along with me. Even though he insisted on delegation. I wasn't going to delegate at that point. I was basically telling him "This is what and how we will shoot. Now help me light it. And explain to me why you are lighting it this way as we go along."

Again, there's no right way of doing things here, I don't think. I'm sure many people will disagree with my style. I'm not saying it's the right one. It's just one of the ways of doing things, given my limited resources, knowledge, etc. I'm just hoping it's good reading for other directors.
 
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Alcove Audio

Business Member
indieBIZ
Okay, we're veering a bit off topic here, but...

I guess your DP wasn't in time/budget mode. For me as a vendor that means giving your client as much as possible within the budget and time constraints. He should also be thinking along those lines.

I think that one of the best learning experiences I had was doing sound editing for a Saturday morning kids cartoon (the ultimate client was 4Kids/FOX; I was an uncredited freelance subcontractor on the sound team). It was at about this time I first heard the Samuel Goldwyn quote "I don't want it great; I want it Tuesday!!!" I had eight (8) hours to complete about 20 minutes of material. This type of tight deadline forced me to pare everything down to essentials. This is what you need to communicate to your team.

As director your word is law, even if your cast and crew are working for free. This also needs to be communicated to your team.
 
Thanks for all of your comments! This has been an interesting read for me. And I like that much of the conversation has revolved around the issue of delegation (and of course communication would be central to effective delegation).

AudioPost, I honestly very much appreciate your insights, especially since they're coming from a perspective of professional experience, but there are a couple things I'd like to point out.

First of all -- I ain't no hobbyist. :)

But more importantly, for you to think this thread is weird makes me think that you're missing the point of it. In my OP, I asked for people to be specific, and so far, the only people who've listed anything specific have been the amateurs. All of the pros in this thread, though I love all of you, you're speaking with vague generalities, with facts that are pretty well-accepted.

I hope this conversation continues, and includes amateurs and pros alike. And I'd like to guide it towards the question of delegation. How much is too much? Is there too much? How hands-on, in the vast multitude of departments, should a director be? How much of an expert, in each and every field, should the director be? Does the director even have to be an expert in any of them?

In my OP, I strongly hinted at my pre-existing opinion, that I think there's more than one way to skin a cat. As an example of such, I would point to the process of editing, and the director's involvement (or lack thereof). One thing we can all agree on is the fact that every director has a different approach to editing. Some directors are finished with their movie when production wraps. Some directors like to check-in on their editors, adding occasional feedback. Some directors will wait for the first rough-cut, then add feedback. Some directors want to be right by the editors' side, for the entire damn post process. Some directors won't allow anyone else to edit their work, and might even credit the editing to pseudonyms.

Okay, so for example, does the same apply to cinematography? In the zero-budget indie world, I've definitely seen a lot of variation in how much a director is willing to just trust their DP, vs. wanting to have control over it. I can't help but think that the same is true in the pro world. Yes, the director has to communicate their vision to the DP. But just what exactly does that mean, and how technically in-depth does it have to be?

Is there any kind of industry standard? Or is it more just a person-to-person kind of thing?
 
But more importantly, for you to think this thread is weird makes me think that you're missing the point of it. In my OP, I asked for people to be specific, and so far, the only people who've listed anything specific have been the amateurs. All of the pros in this thread, though I love all of you, you're speaking with vague generalities, with facts that are pretty well-accepted.

I'll try to answer but bare in mind the context of my answer. I've worked mainly with professional directors and with a few indy directors. I've never worked directly with any of the big name directors or huge budget films but I have occasionally worked with those who do and communicated (via online professional audio-post forums) for many years with those who do. Pretty much all professional audio post worldwide uses one particular audio software (ProTools) and as I'm one of relatively few certified ProTools (audio-post) instructors, this brings me into contact and situations well above my usual pay grade. I'm not trying to give my CV here, just the context of my answer:

In my experience, the Director's role is that of artistic visionary. By definition, all the creative crafts (actors, cinematographers, set designers, costume designers, picture editor, sound designer/mixer, composer, etc.) have to use their imagination (creativity) to interpret the script and apply that interpretation to the work they do. Left to their own devices, you would expect professionals to produce good quality work but there's almost a zero probability that the interpretations of each craft will match the interpretations of all the other crafts. I've used the example of an orchestra before, imagine a professional orchestra without a conductor: The musicians would play all the right notes in all the right places but the different interpretation of each musician would almost certainly lead to an unbalanced musical chaos. The conductor directs the interpretation of each of the musicians and oversees the mix and balance of the musicians to conform to the single interpretation the conductor developed before he even set foot in front of the orchestra. To give a good performance, the orchestra, although made up of many different individuals, must act as a single entity. The conductor's job is to bring everybody together and create this single entity. All conductors know that an orchestra is only as good as it's weakest section and furthermore, that an orchestra with both a world class section and a particularly weak section is a nightmare because the comparison between the world class section and the weak section will create a contrast which will make the weak section appear even weaker. Far better to have all mediocre sections than one section which shows up all the others. Everything I've stated here is identical to the film world if you exchange "orchestra/musicians, performance and conductor" with "cast/crew, film and director".

So to your questions of how expert should a director be and how much delegation should s/he do. The professional director does not need to be an expert in how to do anything. Most directors in my experience are not so interested in the how but are completely focused on the what and why. By this I mean that the director is not so interested in how a particular feel or appearance is achieved but is intimately concerned about what particular feel or appearance is used and why it aids the story telling. Usually by the beginning of pre-production the director will already have a pretty good vision of what is needed and why it's needed and this vision is finalised as pre-production progresses and the director consults and collaborates with the heads of the creative crafts. Pre-production is effectively at an end when all the planning and preparation for collecting all the raw materials required to fulfil the director's vision is completed. Production is effectively at an end when all those raw materials have been collected and post-production is ended when all those raw materials have been used to construct and complete the director's vision. Hopefully now, you will understand that there is little or no complete delegation and that although they maybe focused on a particular aspect of filmmaking at a particular instant in time, ultimately to create the artistic entity which is a film, the good director must focus on and supervise every artistic element. A director will give a department head a great deal of freedom and often complete autonomy in how something is created but will very closely supervise the artistic framework within which the department head is required to operate to fulfil the director's vision.

I've never heard a professional director to say to a department head "you're in charge of your department go and do what you want" but I've frequently heard: "I don't care how you do it but this is what I want and this is why I want it" baring in mind of course that what the director wants and why has usually been discussed at great length much earlier in the process. Of course this is an oversimplification. In reality the director's core vision rarely changes but the details usually evolve or have to be modified to some extent, in response to things not always going exactly to plan or if better options present themselves.

At the most basic level the director must have enough expertise to know good from bad for all the crafts, good acting from bad acting, good sound design from bad, etc. At the very highest levels, the best directors have enough expertise to appreciate what is potentially achievable by each of the crafts and how to communicate their vision and inspire those crafts to achieve that potential. In exactly the same way that a conductor doesn't need to be an expert in playing all the instruments in an orchestral but does need to be an expert in how all those instruments (and the musicians who play them) can be used to best create his/her vision of the final performance.

G
 
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Cool, thanks for such a well-written answer. Though I'm coming from a different perspective (relatively-experienced, but amateur director), I agree with all of that. :)

In exactly the same way that a conductor doesn't need to be an expert in playing all the instruments in an orchestral but does need to be an expert in how all those instruments (and the musicians who play them) can be used to best create his/her vision of the final performance.

Perfect analogy.
 
I know for me, I try to step back and work as a director instead of doing everything. I used to, and I felt I was more improving my skills as a cinematographer and producer than director.

Directors used to be focused more not he actors and getting the best performances out of them. The new generation of directors are very technical oriented, which isn't a bad thing, but they should be aware of that. It takes awhile to find out what is expected of you, and what is not.

I try to focus on the actors, because I trust my cinematographer or DP to do his job correctly and adhere to my vision (that's why I work with him). I then can just make a shortlist of what I see in my head before the shoot and hand it to him. He'll set up the shots, directing the key grip and other crew members to make the shot as perfect as possible while I keep tabs on everything going on.

Normally before we actually start shooting, and things are being set up on set, I will walk between departments and answer any questions they may have or correct anything that I see going in the wrong direction. Generally I try to stay away from stepping in and "fixing it myself" because that just show's I don't trust their ability to do their job.

Once shooting commences, I really focus with what is on screen. If I say something should be different to an actor or my cinematographer, they take my direction and try to fix it. If they ask "how" I will tell them, but I seem to get better results by allowing them to adjust themselves and just take direction from me.

Overall, I take really hands on and slightly overbearing role in preproduction and then step back and watch the magic happen during production, just nudging things in place that might not fit the vision.

I know I'm not a professional director yet, but I've never worked with anyone that isn't dying to work with me again... so I assume that means I'm at least a decent director. I've learned a LOT (most of what I stated above) on my current film, Uncontrolled, that is still in production. I found after I dropped out of college I learned a lot more on how to be a director instead of a cinematographer or an over controlling indie filmmaker.

So take my description with a grain of salt lol.
 
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