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Film directing

Educate yourself

The first step to becoming a great director is getting yourself educated.

  • Watch as many movies as you can, especially the highly rated, classic films by the great directors.
  • Take acting classes and read about acting theory.
  • Take film history, theory and appreciation classes and read all you can about filmmaking and great directors.
  • Educate yourself about all aspect of the entertainment and industry and related artistic endeavors--theater, music, literature, history, photography, art, etc.
  • Take advantage of any opportunities to work with actors. Volunteer with local theater groups.
  • Volunteer to work on other filmmaker's productions. Observe what they do wrong and learn.

The filming process

Although a producer many have set the movie production into motion once production begins the director is the general who directs the activities of everyone else. That doesn't mean everyone else just follows directions. On a well-functioning set everyone is making contributions, offering ideas, pointing out errors.

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The assistant director is next in command and handles most of the on-set logistics so the director can concentrate on working with the actors and cinematographer, and the artistic aspects of the production.

On the set a scene each take follows the same general pattern.

  1. The director confers with the actors about how to do the next take.
  2. The assistant director call for "Quiet on the set!".
  3. The assistant director calls "Roll sound". (Historically sound and image were recorded on separate devices and sound tape is cheaper than film so you start the sound recording first.)
  4. The sound recordist responds "Sound rolling".
  5. The assistant director calls "Roll camera".
  6. The camera operator responds "Camera rolling".
  7. The assistant camera operator "slates" the take.
  8. The director shouts "Action!".
  9. When the director feels the take is finished or even that the take is going badly and wants to stop it he shouts "Cut!".
  10. The sound recorder and camera operator stop their devices and the actors stop acting.
  11. Everyone checks their equipment in preparation for another take while the director confers with the actors.

There are any number of variations on this basic procedure. If you have a very small crew and/or the director is running the camera then s/he only needs to call "Action!" to the actors once the camera is rolling.

Clint Eastwood is famous in the film world for disliking having any shouting on the set. He uses silent signals or just quietly tells the actor they can start "When you're ready." I feel that the emotional state on the set helps the actors get into character for the scene. If the scene calls for quiet reflection then having a quiet set completes the mood, but if you are doing an action scene then pumping music and an active set gets the actors up.

Communication is key

The director is always the final authority on the set but everyone needs to be talking and feel they are part of the process. The director's ability to communicate is the key. Actors in particular need to feel they can trust the director to help them get the best possible performance.

Method actors try to "become" their character which can put them in a state of extreme emotional vulnerability. The director needs to be the trusted father and mediator to everyone on the set. S/he needs to stay positive and encouraging and gently guide the performances rather than being harshly critical. Never lose your cool!

Of course all actors are different and vary from those who want constant pampering and ego strokes to the quiet actors who stay to themselves and just do their job. All in all most actors are insecure and want to be directed.


In order to get all the shots you'll need during editing you need to understand and work with your cinematographer to get good "coverage".

Coverage means getting a variety of different takes from different angles and distances of each scene so you can edit them together into an interesting visual experience for the audience. Coverage and the various angles and camera techniques are covered in the section on cinematography.

The usual procedure is to start from the most distant shots working your way in to the closeups. Actors tend to warm up and get more into their performances with each take up to a point. Eventually they get exhausted and tired of the scene. The director needs to be sensitive to the energy levels of the actors and use them to get the best performances.

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