Best Director’s Required Mastery

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The Oscars are right around the corner, and many people need to know what the director does to deserve the Best Director award. The director is the one that owns the vision for the film and translates the literary screenplay to the screen. In doing both, he makes the film his story while hopefully honoring the writer’s initial intent.

To pull these activities off, the director must address the following:

Understand the Story

The director must read the script multiple times. The first read is the emotional read. This will give the director an understanding of the heartfelt story elements and emotional undertones.  This first read is critical as it can never be done over.

The director only gets one first read to measure the emotional thread of the story. The nuanced vibe of the first read can never be recreated, so the director must read the story from top to bottom without stopping.

The subsequent reads allow the director to learn about the characters, themes, and tone. Each read-through will reveal new details and help the director identify the key elements that must come across on screen. Good directors take notes, analyze the plot structure, and review the character arcs.

Meet with the Writer

Meeting with the writer is a must. Not all writers can capture their vision on paper as clearly as others. The director can gain insights into the characters, settings, plot, and themes by meeting with the writer. Questions can be asked to clarify the character’s intentions and motivations.

The best discussion covers the central theme/message, the universal question, and the main character’s internal and external change. These must be crystal clear to translate the screenplay to the screen properly.

Break Down the Script

The director must break down every scene to understand the main character’s goal, obstacles, actions, conflict, and consequences. If one of those elements is missing from a scene, the director must decide how to adjust the story or drop the scene.

Directors are typically hit with about 1,000 questions every day during production. To answer these questions correctly and confidently, he must understand how the scene is a cohesive part of the story. Each decision is integral to enhancing the story and reinforcing the theme.

Visualize the Story

The Director’s Notebook is a great place to capture the style and visualization of the story. Some filmmakers use child-like chicken scratchings, craft or department-oriented codes, and rough sketches to make their stylistic decisions more visual. This way, the director can bring his vision to life and share his ideas with the production trinity (Production Designer and Director of Photography).

To bring their vision to life, the director develops a style that is all his own. Keep in mind that some directors have several different styles depending on the type of film created. For instance, the director might choose to express different moods using bright colors for a kids’ show and muted darker tones for a drama.

The visual style is tied to conversations with the production trinity. The decisions are related to color, camera angles, lenses, lighting, music, sets, and other things the art department touches. To fulfill this vision, there must be a collaboration with the department heads and key crew members.

The final decision belongs to the director and is filtered through his understanding of what will bring the characters to life while telling the story in a way that resonates with the audience and is easily understood.

Paint the Vision

Working with the cast and crew requires knowing the vision for the story better than anyone else. The director needs to be intimate with the story and motivate his team to execute his vision. This requires great listening skills and excellent communication.

Helping others to understand the vision is critical when getting 30 to 300 or more people in alignment. The director’s guidance needs to be clear, concise, and consistent. This will help ensure that the film is successful artistically and commercially.

Mastery Required to Win

The Best Director award typically goes to the director that demonstrates a mastery of the story, the writer’s intent, the key elements and beats of the story that are critical to its telling, has a style unique to the story, and knows how to help the cast and crew buy into that vision. The final film demonstrates these abilities with its cohesive and emotionally stirring story.

Copyright © 2023 by CJ Powers

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2 thoughts on “Best Director’s Required Mastery

  1. Excellent article! Very precise insights into what makes an effective director. Jon Erwin has risen considerably in the ranks of notable directors recently. He’s made movie history as the only director to receive four A+ CinemaScores, beating out Rob Reiner, director of A Few Good Men, and Robert Zemeckis, director of Forest Gump. Lots for us to achieve!

    • Thanks for the comment. I’ve had the chance to chat with Jon twice; the most memorable thing about him is his humility. If anyone deserves that honor, he’d be a good one to bestow it on.

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