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directing How to be a director people respect

Nate North

Business Member
indieBIZ
I just want to put an idea I use out there, and see how people respond.

I've been on a lot of different film projects with a lot of people directing. Especially in the indie world I've frequently run across people that promoted themselves to director based solely on ego, or maybe they inherited money. They direct films, in name, but routinely fail to win the respect of their crew.

When I was a kid in high school, we had an orchestra director that did an excellent job, won the respect of every orchestra he conducted, and took our small school to compete at the national level. So as I matured enough to quit thinking with my ego, I began to look back at his example and study what made him great.

His name was Bob, not Michael Anthony Xavier Excalibur the third. He wore normal clothes, and he really wasn't very nice or political to people. He always looked tired, and frequently lashed out in anger at his crew. So he really didn't follow any of the obvious advice most people immediately go to. I'm not saying that the way he was helped, I'm just making the point that he didn't earn his respect via the color by numbers office etiquette often put forward today. Instead, he showed respect to his people in a different way.

Bob stood in front of the orchestra waving his wand about and flipping furiously through dog eared pages of sheet music parts. but when there was a problem with a section of the orchestra, or an individual, he would stop, go over to them, analyze the problem, and show them how to fix it.

The big difference I see between Bob and many self proclaimed directors I meet is this. He knew how to play every instrument in the orchestra. Not to the level of a first chair violinist, but enough that he actually understood every problem he had to deal with and that his team was dealing with. He yelled a lot, but he never yelled, "You, with the thing, do that better, like I would if I had bothered to learn to play it." He had spent real time and effort learning each persons job, and trying to do it himself. He could pick up a flute and play a lead, or walk to the back and show a new guy how to properly tune a double bass.

It was never "listen to me because I'm in charge of you" it was "listen to me because I know what I'm doing, and because I know what you're doing." That made a huge difference. I don't think any of us respect directors that don't feel like they need to bother understanding the jobs under their command. Not only that, but they do a poor job administrating tasks that they haven't bothered to spend time understanding.

If you want to know if you're doing a good job as a director, ask yourself this question. "if there was no money involved, if no one on the crew had any superior position, would all these people vote for me to direct them?" If not, you need to think about the real level of respect you give them. Not just the hollow respect of pleasantries, but the far more labor intensive respect of taking the time to truly understand what they are going through, literally putting yourself in their position. From what I saw, I think Bob spent many nights alone, just playing a clarinet, or banging on a drum set. You can't replace that kind of effort with an authoritative voice, or a piece of paper that says you're more important. Don't look, or act important. Be Important.
 
The big difference I see between Bob and many self proclaimed directors I meet is this. He knew how to play every instrument in the orchestra. Not to the level of a first chair violinist, but enough that he actually understood every problem he had to deal with and that his team was dealing with.
And there it is. The directors/producers I respect least have no clue about how to shoot, edit, light, setup visual effects blocking, score, etc. In other words, they don't understand the mechanics of filmmaking, but end up trying to communicate in a language they do not know.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
Being a "filmmaker" helps but they don't need to know all the ins and outs of all the other specialties. Having held a camera before and made a short? Great! Sat behind a Panavision and was DP on many jobs? Not necessary. A basic knowledge, sure., can help make a great director. I think I know what you are getting at though. The clueless director. Sure, they exist. They need to know the basic ins nd outs of each dept. including the lingo, so when the DP asks a certain question about a shot s/he doesn't have to google it.

Don't forget, extreme knowledge and experience in each department can lead to serious micro management problems. Including situations where the director may not trust the pro, and take over. Then the ego is the problem because of the knowledge and experience.

Delegation of power is one ingredient to making a great and respected director. So yes, knowledge and experience, and trusting others with the same.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
A lot of TV directors start as actors. And then they'll direct an episode. And then a series. And a lot are respected and they know nothing technical at all. It happens in film too. So it does happen. They usually show respect because that's what they have always wanted out of the director, as an actor. These people usually have a very good understanding of the workings of set however.
 

Nate North

Business Member
indieBIZ
I understand and agree with that, I guess my views come from the indie film world, where money typically dictates who gets the opportunity to direct projects. I frequently used to get hired on to projects where someone with 0 experience in any department put themselves in charge of a team of veteran specialists. To me the film "The Disaster Artist" was spot on for what I've experienced in real life.

"should we shoot on film or digital" Director: "both, this movie has to have everything, because I'm the greatest" lol.

You don't have to know every little thing, and Bob didn't either, but he was niether lazy nor arrogant, and he loved his medium enough that I think learning about each aspect came naturally to him. He wasn't like a factory worker, waiting for the clock to run out. I think he loved music so much that there weren't enough hours in the day for him to spend as much time as he would have liked with each instrument.

Everyone has their own style, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I was just making a point that you do get a lot of respect if you take the time to walk a mile in each of those shoes, so you truly understand what it takes to accomplish what you're asking of them.

wrong way: "what do you mean you have splinters in your hands, All I asked you to do was dig a ditch, you must be incompetent"

right way: "I don't understand the problem so I'll dig the ditch with you for an hour. Oh, hey you're right, it's not that you're lazy or slow, these shovel handles keep splintering and your hands get slippery in the heat. Now that I understand that, I'll get you some gloves and some fans over here"

So I'm not encouraging micromanagement, just taking the time to really understand what each member of your crew is up against.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
I also think it's important to be willing to ask questions and listen to the answers. You don't have to know everything but you have to be willing to listen to those who do.

At the same time, you also have to be willing and able to stand up for your choices even when others may disagree - and this goes for producers (my experience) as well as directors. That dude who has been working in the industry for 20 years has to accept that he doesn't get to call the shots (pun intended) just because he's been around the block more often. And yeah, I got stories :)
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
It's a common thing where the crew doubts the director. They will snicker and gossip at lunch. With inexperienced and experienced directors. I don't like those crews. I feel like the captain of the team needs support. And asking how to do something does not show weakness. It should be lauded instead of laughed at. Nobody starts out experienced. Once you learn something, you know. And you can ask or try and fail. Asking may save time and headaches.
 
It was never "listen to me because I'm in charge of you" it was "listen to me because I know what I'm doing, and because I know what you're doing." That made a huge difference. I don't think any of us respect directors that don't feel like they need to bother understanding the jobs under their command. Not only that, but they do a poor job administrating tasks that they haven't bothered to spend time understanding.

I come from another school of thought on this topic. While there are plenty of times where leading teams where you're familar with every task subordinates will perform, you're limiting your opportunities if you stick with those rules.

As a director, you're a leader of the team.

If you want to know if you're doing a good job as a director, ask yourself this question. "if there was no money involved, if no one on the crew had any superior position, would all these people vote for me to direct them?" If not, you need to think about the real level of respect you give them.

Leaders lead. Not every leader is as experienced as another. Not every leader has the same skill set. Some are better in stuctured environments where others thrive in unpredictable circumstances... Some thrive no matter what.

I guess my views come from the indie film world, where money typically dictates who gets the opportunity to direct projects. I frequently used to get hired on to projects where someone with 0 experience in any department put themselves in charge of a team of veteran specialists.

That's the reality of life... for some. Some people are natural followers, some are natural leaders. Most people won't "naturally" fall into either category. Sometimes people are put into a position of leadership who doesn't possess all the skills to have the position. It doesn't mean they won't sometime in the future. For most people, leadership skills take time to develop.

They say that there are two positions on a film set that require no experience. PA and Director. I've seen great teams led by a new director who turned out a great result.

Everyone has their own style, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I was just making a point that you do get a lot of respect if you take the time to walk a mile in each of those shoes, so you truly understand what it takes to accomplish what you're asking of them.

There are many leadership styles.

I used to constantly get given teams to lead on short notice or sent in to take over and fix malfunctioning teams. The hardest ones were always the teams who were performing tasks I knew nothing about, sometimes without even a brief. Yeah, I've had to ask the team members who I was sent to lead what we were trying to accomplish. I would constantly get better performance out of most teams than previous leaders. I don't necessarily have the midas touch. I've made my fair share of screw ups. I never strove for respect. It was always nice to get it, but it was never something I required. I couldn't care if you respected me or not. I can get as much out of fear as I can from respect. The trick isn't caring about what you need from the relationship. The trick is to find out what they need. If they need a respect relationship, go that path. If they need the fear of god, as much as I hate using that method, you need to give them what they need to perform. Some need a big foot up their rear end, some need to feel protected. Some need to be heard, others need to be told what to do. Everyone is different but one thing is a constant: Teams need to be led.

This isn't to say that my way is best... and it changes depending on the team. What works for me, might not work for others.

Personally, I prefer to build my own teams of strong, smart, talented, self-motivated people who have alligned goals. I don't like "yes men" (is there a non gender specific version of this?). I appreciate those who disagree with me who can offer better, intelligent solutions.

You rarely get to build your perfect team. I think I've only ever had what I'd call my perfect team once and held on to them as long as I could. You don't always get the team you want. As a leader, your job isn't to gain the respect of your team mates. Your job is to lead. Do your job well and you'll earn the respect of most (if not all of your team). If you focus on gaining their respect, your focus will be in the wrong place and the chance of doing your best job will be reduced. Be a professional. Learn to do your job and expect others to do their job.

I also think it's important to be willing to ask questions and listen to the answers. You don't have to know everything but you have to be willing to listen to those who do.

100%. This is a very important lesson for leaders to learn.

I got stories

Lead enough teams, and you get more than enough stories, both positive and negative.
 
right way: "I don't understand the problem so I'll dig the ditch with you for an hour. Oh, hey you're right, it's not that you're lazy or slow, these shovel handles keep splintering and your hands get slippery in the heat. Now that I understand that, I'll get you some gloves and some fans over here"

Imagine doing that as a director. Sorry guys, I gotta dig some ditches for an hour so you'll all respect me.. and everyone face-palms... How much extra time are we going to have to spend away from our families? You don't need to know how to sweep floors, build the sets, be an armorer, do the stunt work or operate the boom. You don't need to drive the actors to set to be a good director. You hire professionals to do their job. If they tell you about something, listen. If you cannot trust what they're telling you, you've hired the wrong person/team.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
"Where did everybody go???????"
Grave Bury GIF by Rhymesayers
 

Nate North

Business Member
indieBIZ
Pretty sure you knew that wasn't what I was suggesting. So the question becomes, why bother to try and make me look foolish? I don't really bother responding when people try to draw me into arguments. I ask myself this question, "if one of us wins the argument, what do we win?" If the answer is nothing, I don't proceed much.

You've made some straw man arguments here. I never said I'd do that with a crew waiting around on payroll. I never said you needed respect to lead, or that I thought gaining respect was a substitute for a strong leadership personality. If you want to feel superior to me, there is a way to do that. but it's not making snide forum posts using logical fallacies. You can simply make a better film than me, with the same resources. That would make considerably more sense.

Bob the orchestra conductor retired 3 years ago as a community hero. I think I'll just keep following his example,
 

CamBlamo

Pro Member
indiePRO
I can also say its not only knowing how to do the job well... But going through every situation you can experience... And still sticking to task.

To me, the most respectable people are the people who might not have started great, or did something wrong, but they stuck with it... Asked questions... Stayed true to themselves and their heart... And are still going. How do you become humble, without having fumbled? lol

Sometimes having more grit and passion than others can be a leadership quality that paves the way to other qualities. The skills will follow if the purpose and pressure is there.

Remember, even the best Directors have their horror stories.... James Cameron is one, almost killed his actors. Another is Stanley Kubrick, treating that actress from The Shining so bad... She had to get therapy (at least I think that's what I remember reading). Sometimes being the best, doesn't mean being good at leading or with people.

A Director I love, Robert Eggers, is pretty weird with people... You wouldn't really see him as a "leader", but he makes unique stories not seen anywhere else. Artists aren't always the best at leading, but still have a special vision that no one can emulate.
 
Being a "filmmaker" helps but they don't need to know all the ins and outs of all the other specialties.
But, they should have a basic understanding of each area. A while back, a director kept making the actors do a really lengthy scene over and over. On the next take, the actor flubbed a line. The director said, let's do it from the top. My producer buddy, who has gotten used to working with me, said, "Why not just take up that last line?" The director said, "The whole take needs to be perfect!" She got mad at him for an easy suggestion, but I also know her, and have worked for her. She does not grasp editing to the point that they just cut to the other character, then back to the first one. Really easy to redo just the one line out of several otherwise good takes.

Yeah, Hollywood actors can step into director's shoes, but they have 100 experienced people around them, from the DP, the AD, the Continuity person, etc. I'm talking about what most of us deal with here.

I always remember a movie I was sound man on, years ago. The DP would meet with the director, every morning, and ask him how he wanted the scene shot. That director had no idea. He answered in the most vague terms, with no idea as to what kind of mood the lighting should convey, kinds of lenses, nothing! That DP would just shake his head and start making shit up. Of course, after he had it all set up, the director would chime in, "maybe a little different than that."

So much time is wasted in these situations. It's not different than moving furniture. You ask the lady, "where do you want it?" You put the dresser down, then she makes you move it three more times.

As a result of being super busy, the past year, I've been dealing with a lot of "change this, change that." I say, "Okay, but what do you want?" I was editing some projects (not discussed on this board), and I had to redo the edits a multiple times. These were for non-paying jobs. I was getting used to the nth! :lol: I couldn't get onto the next one, because so and so was tying me up. There was a shot of two girls, who turn and nod at each other. Honest to Pete, the director had me slow it down into slow motion, so the audience would get the significance of the nod. She was really beating the audience over the head with every point. I did a lot of slo-mo on that one!
 
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indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
I put all the ins and outs in italics because later I said:
They need to know the basic ins nd outs of each dept.
So we actually agree. They just don't need to know it all that's what the pros are for.
 
They just don't need to know it all that's what the pros are for.
True, but when there are no pros, and sometimes no crew... you dig ditches. (as mentioned above). I've had to, such as digging a hole and burying an actor up to his chest, then running over his fake legs with a truck! Everybody else watched, and since I was paying a paltry wage ($50 per day, though it was 1989). I didn't expect help. It's a weakness of mine. I've also dug a 12' deep, 20' wide crater, dug zombie resurrection graves, and underground tunnels for astronauts to escape through. Most recent dig was a grave, on May 30th. I kind of like digging, and I've done a lot of it! You dig? :woohoo:

Anyway, I digress! As said above, respect is a two way street, so showing appreciation for those helping out is crucial. But, there is something more important than that.....protein!! Feeding your people is the most crucial thing you can do. I know that's more of the producer's job, but it often takes a director to insist.

I've been teaching our producer, through repetition (as it's sorely needed), that chips and granola bars aren't going to cut it for all night shoots. There are usually 4 of us, the producer, myself, an assistant camera/gaffer/sound, and a PA. We've all shut down, literally, at one point or another. Some shut downs have been ugly, one in particular because the guy only had an energy drink all day. Food is #1.

Back to Sweetie's and Indietalk's points, it is important to be a good leader, often more so than a knowledgeable one. It's basic advice that I give new filmmakers, which is to try making a couple small things on your own, to get a little familiar. Then, surround yourself with people who are better than you. A good leader takes advice from the tacticians.

Finally, just because you are willing to kill your body to make a movie, don't expect the same of everyone else. Again, I'm trying to teach our producer to quit scheduling so many pages, per day. Too many pages means that you're behind, no matter what, plus it kills any chance of you getting a meal break, because the producer only has the location for a limited time period.

To sum up:
1) Food with protein in it.
2) Respect is mutual. You won't get any, if you don't give it.
3) Try to use people who are smarter than you.
4) Don't overplan and overwork your crew.

Keep the number of script pages to something reasonable. Trying to do too much, just cuts corners on everything, overall. It's best to do a good job on two scenes, than do a poor job on ten.

I know I'm writing a lot, but it's because this topic makes me more loopy than usual.
 
Pretty sure you knew that wasn't what I was suggesting. So the question becomes, why bother to try and make me look foolish? I don't really bother responding when people try to draw me into arguments. I ask myself this question, "if one of us wins the argument, what do we win?" If the answer is nothing, I don't proceed much.

You've made some straw man arguments here. I never said I'd do that with a crew waiting around on payroll. I never said you needed respect to lead, or that I thought gaining respect was a substitute for a strong leadership personality. If you want to feel superior to me, there is a way to do that. but it's not making snide forum posts using logical fallacies. You can simply make a better film than me, with the same resources. That would make considerably more sense.

I'm assuming this was directed at me? If that's the case, it wasn't my intention to make you feel foolish. That being said, if you want to be a good leader, you might want to start by giving up this pity party crap. I don't say this to put you down but it's starting to sound like you're the kind of person who takes it that way. The hard truth is, if you're going to continue to take stuff like this personally, your leadership journey is going to be very tough for you to endure.

I always remember a movie I was sound man on, years ago. The DP would meet with the director, every morning, and ask him how he wanted the scene shot. That director had no idea. He answered in the most vague terms, with no idea as to what kind of mood the lighting should convey, kinds of lenses, nothing! That DP would just shake his head and start making shit up. Of course, after he had it all set up, the director would chime in, "maybe a little different than that."

Experiences like these can frustrate and demoralise entire teams. I see this when leaders are afraid that asking questions show weakness or make them look incompetent.

As a result of being super busy, the past year, I've been dealing with a lot of "change this, change that." I say, "Okay, but what do you want?" I was editing some projects (not discussed on this board), and I had to redo the edits a multiple times. These were for non-paying jobs. I was getting used to the nth! :lol: I couldn't get onto the next one, because so and so was tying me up. There was a shot of two girls, who turn and nod at each other. Honest to Pete, the director had me slow it down into slow motion, so the audience would get the significance of the nod. She was really beating the audience over the head with every point. I did a lot of slo-mo on that one!

Been there, done that. I was asked a favor to edit a piece for someone. I had one where we time ramped, reframed and/or flipped virtually every shot in a sequence. It took a little over 2 long days to get it right. It was the emotional endcap for a slice of life film, so the ending was important to drive the feeling of the film home. It ended up being worth it... well at least that part of the film was worth it.

The other end of the spectrum also sucks. I've had a few clients who mortified me when I ask them to look at the rough cut to see if we're moving in the right direction and they approve it for release.
 

Nate North

Business Member
indieBIZ
But, they should have a basic understanding of each area. A while back, a director kept making the actors do a really lengthy scene over and over. On the next take, the actor flubbed a line. The director said, let's do it from the top. My producer buddy, who has gotten used to working with me, said, "Why not just take up that last line?" The director said, "The whole take needs to be perfect!" She got mad at him for an easy suggestion, but I also know her, and have worked for her. She does not grasp editing to the point that they just cut to the other character, then back to the first one. Really easy to redo just the one line out of several otherwise good takes.

This is exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote the original post. People who's understanding of the craft is so limited that they make the entire process inefficient. There are a lot of practical reasons why someone shouldn't be made a boss when they don't know how the parts of the system they are administrating work.

I put all the ins and outs in italics because later I said:

So we actually agree. They just don't need to know it all that's what the pros are for.

That's all I was saying in the first place. Not an exhaustive knowledge, but at least enough understanding of the tasks they assign that they don't cause huge problems for all the people that actually bothered to pay attention in school. I think my quote was something like, "He knew how to play every instrument in the orchestra. Not to the level of a first chair violinist, but enough that he actually understood every problem he had to deal with"

I'm assuming this was directed at me? If that's the case, it wasn't my intention to make you feel foolish. That being said, if you want to be a good leader, you might want to start by giving up this pity party crap. I don't say this to put you down but it's starting to sound like you're the kind of person who takes it that way. The hard truth is, if you're going to continue to take stuff like this personally, your leadership journey is going to be very tough for you to endure.

it was, and to be fair, I'm a somewhat moody person. Sometimes I take offense where none is given, and it's admittedly not my best quality. on the other hand, you just went right back to making assumptions that I want or need some approval from others, generally regarded as a sign of weak character. I'm not looking for pity, what could I possibly build with that. Useless. I'm looking for help, and sometimes I'm just looking to vent some frustration, it's not the same thing as seeking pity. So you can at least see why I might react in such a way. Consider the fact that that is the only negative reaction I've posted towards any comment, this entire year. I was a bit annoyed that you came across as a somewhat pedantic based on such a simple original statement as "directors should know what they are doing, and care enough about their art to spend real time understanding the nuts and bolts, as opposed to being lazy and egotistical" And I practice what I preach. But I'll drop it here.

Honestly after so many replies, it kind of feels like we all agree for the most part. Ultimately though, I wasn't trying to lay down some defining law of film, but rather talk about a an experience I had with a person I admired when I was young. Role models are sometimes in short supply these days.
 
The big difference I see between Bob and many self proclaimed directors I meet is this. He knew how to play every instrument in the orchestra. Not to the level of a first chair violinist, but enough that he actually understood every problem he had to deal with and that his team was dealing with.
The best director I ever worked with, just last month as it happens, made it very clear to me when I arrived to clean up someone else's mess, that he knew nothing about my job or how I would do it or what resources I might need in the three weeks I was there. It was my job to do, not his. Between the two of us, we got more done in three weeks than in the previous four years during which I've regularly had to go over there and clean up several someone else's messes.

I would say it was entirely due to his appreciation of the fact that there are some people who are "creative" - i.e. they think outside whatever box you put them in, and it's pointless wasting time and money on building a tougher box; and there are others who are "technicians" - give them a job to do and they'll do it, exactly as they were told. For years, this association has been plagued with staff retention problems because they insist on employing the creative types, trying to imprison them in an unbreakable box, then have to promote a technician type to the creative role in a hurry because the creative has broken free and/or gone rogue.

In the creative arts, it's easy to assume that everyone is a True Artist Unbound By Rules, but many performers or creators are, in fact, quite happy to live in their box and have someone else tell them what to do and when to do it. And in the same sense, there are some technicians who are crazily imaginative and can turn something meh into amazing. A good director will know who to box into a corner, who should be given free rein, and how to fuse the talents and the requirements of both groups for the greater good of the company/band/movie/whatever.
 
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