Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker: Brad Gann

Brad Gann is the writer and director Black Irish, the 2007 film starring Brendan Gleason and Melissa Leo.

MovieMaker interviewed Brad Gann about his tips and tricks for keeping your cool in the industry, the advantages of an open mind, and the importance of rehearsal.

Don’t ever let them see you panic or lose your composure. There are going to be several occasions during production (and even during prep and post) where you’ll want to lose your shit and it’ll be completely warranted, but that will only ultimately undermine your own authority on set. The cast will feel like it’s a less open environment if they have to work with a hothead and their trust in you may be diminished.  The crew at best won’t give a shit, and at worst they’ll lose respect for you and stop busting their asses, whether it’s intentional or not. At the end of the day, as much as they believe in the project, this is a paying gig for them, with another one coming down the pike.  You can’t expect them to care as much about this thing you’ve bled for nearly as much as you do. As hardworking and committed as they may be, it just ain’t gonna happen.

Always be open to the better idea, no matter where it comes from. If, for example, a crewmember you trust has a suggestion on where to put the camera which saves you two setups and conveys the emotion of the scene better than where you were about to put that camera, listen, thank him and make that change. At the end of the day, you’re going to get the credit for that idea whether it’s yours or not. Ditch the ego and you’ll end up with a better movie.

If you don’t impose a style on your film, it won’t have any. Every decision you make is important—whether it’s the color palette you use, props and costumes you choose, camera angles you employ, shot flow, how you transition from one scene to the next. Every little decision about what gets put up on the screen influences how your story gets told, so you better come up with a strong point of view about how best to tell it. And think it through beforehand. If you figure it out on set, it’s too late.

Rehearsal is huge. I’ve always heard that lots of film actors don’t like to do it, but I think if you do it properly, they’ll be willing to dig in and do the work. Don’t work the scenes to death, but rather develop the character relationships. If the characters are family members, build a history through improv exercises so the actors can viscerally feel that connection and can access it when they’re in front of the camera. Then they’re not “acting,” or at least not as much. But most importantly, a good rehearsal, even if it’s only two or three days, sets up a working relationship with you and your actors. They’ll discover your depth and commitment to the character work and be more empowered to share their process of exploration with you. The more you discuss and share ideas, the greater the odds you’re making the same movie. MM

Featured image still from Black Irish courtesy Gravitas Ventures.

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