10 Directing Techniques that Raise a Film’s Quality (Part 2)

This is part 2 of the techniques a director uses to avoid the nightmare that generates lower quality films. Every filmmaker can improve his preparation and therefore the quality of his film by practicing these techniques.

6. Draw Blocking Diagram

Visualizing the shoot is important to the planning process and quickly separates the experienced from the amateur. Sketching out the talent’s blocking gives a director immediate control of the set. However, directors use blocking diagrams as a flexible tool based on collaboration with the talent.

I typically use 3X5 cards or Shot Designer software for blocking diagrams. Shot Designer is ideal for showing the talent a complex action or movement. While it’s not at the level of previsualization software, it gives a great bird’s eye view of movement.

7. Mark Shots

Notating a script for shots and coverage is a great tool for considering multiple perspectives. Most directors use similar markings to that of a continuity supervisor. This includes the shot, duration, cutaways, and specialty gear.

The markings help me to see immediate patterns emerging within a film. This alerts me to story elements that demand a more creative approach. It also gives me insight into what can be dropped should an under funded shoot start to run long.

8. Determine Set-ups and Camera Movement

Camera Setup 001In a similar fashion to a blocking diagram, directors draw up ideal camera positions and mark the desired movements for track and dolly shots. These ideas can then be discussed with the director of photography and the production designer to validate the practicality of each shot.

I typically use 3X5 cards or Shot Designer software for camera set-ups and movement. I’ll also use a large sheet of butcher paper to create a chart shared with the crew on projects with fast and numerous set-ups. Shot Designer is my medium of choice for complicated moving shots, as the movement of characters and cameras can be animated for on set playback.

9. Make Shot List

Once the director of photography (DP) understands the director’s vision, the desired camera shots need to be listed in shoot order. The camera department always appreciates a detailed list that includes specialty gear and lens choices. While this list is typically made in collaboration, it’s a great skill for directors to work in prep.

The smaller the shoot the less likely I am to prep a list for the DP. Not because its not needed, but because smaller shoots don’t have a person on the camera team to reference it during the shoot. Typically the director or assistant director will chat with the DP before each set-up to make sure everyone is on the same page. However, the more complex the shoot, the great the need for the list, especially when using second unit teams.

10. Journal Directing Process

The greatest tool that a professional director has is his journal. It allows him to take notes on actors, crewmembers and story ideas throughout the shoot. It’s also a great reference in remembering what worked and didn’t work for the sake of future films.

I’ve found that journaling is the only method that is profitable in determining how to fix temporary problems with the shoot. It’s a brainstorming board during difficult times and a canvas to express art during the great times. It also helps the director get a feel for his own behavior on set, so he might be able to create a set in which everyone desires to return.

I selected the above ten items out of the 100 plus skills because every Oscar worthy director that I’ve spoken to has used these tools religiously. Also, every director that I’ve talked to that has made bad films did not use these tools. That makes the list a differentiator for me and I hope future directors take the list to heart and practice often.

See previous post (Part 1)

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers
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