Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker
by Julia Stiles
Zooey Deschanel stars in Julia Stiles’ Raving.
Leave the ego at home.
The worst thing a director can do is be so in love with his or her own ideas that he or she won’t listen to anyone else’s. Some directors fall into the trap of needing to appear authoritative by being firm. The point of creative discussion should be to make the best movie possible, not to be able to take credit for everything. I was really good at recognizing when people had better ideas than I did.
Then again, no one likes a wimpy leader.
You do have to just bite the bullet and make a decision. It’s okay to take the time to weigh your options, but at some point you have to move on and never look back. If you are wishy-washy as a director, it’s a sign of not knowing what story you want to tell. Like if I were a solider in an army, I’d be really worried if my general said, "Well, maybe the other guy isn’t so bad."
If you see someone chatting with your actor before his or her big crying scene, try to interrupt it.
Pick your battles.
It’s better to not be so precious about one line here or one prop there. You can be into details, but why waste time arguing minutia when you could just do many takes many different ways?
Never let them see you sweat.
I’ve seen crews lose respect for their director and it’s my worst nightmare. I refused to let that happen to me when I got to direct. It’s just awful. The quickest way to mutiny is when the director is a) inconsiderate of the crew’s hard work b) doesn’t seem dedicated to the quality of the movie or c) isn’t confident enough to know when a scene is done or when it’s time to do another take.
Every problem has a solution.
Even if it doesn’t, this must be a director’s mantra. I thought it was fun trying to find creative way of getting around obstacles. (For example, see #7 below)
If a storeowner needs to be paid off to get out of your shot, find the money.
If you have no more money, get him to stop looking at the camera. If you can’t get him to stop looking at the camera, call it "breaking the fourth wall."
Actors need to be coddled, even if they don’t know it.
I always thought this was transparent and absurd when it happened to me, but now I see why. The actors have to wait around while everyone else works, and then they are asked to perform the very elusive task of believable make-believe on demand. If there are circumstances that distract them or make them insecure, the entire crew will be waiting around while you try to fix it. And emotions are not as easily controlled as, say, how many c-stands you need to hold up a light.
It’s okay to be a control-freak.
You have to be around for everything, or at least aware of everything that is going on. That means everything from breaking down the budget to being there for the DI of the trailer. It seems obvious, but when you are tired and feel like something is a waste of time, it’s tempting to sit things out. Don’t.
Do not hang out with the crew and get drunk until the wrap party.
It is one thing to have a feeling of camaraderie, it is another to embarrass yourself and lose credibility.