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

Condo Fire: Leading in Crisis

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(I took first place in a speech contest with the below—this is not a transcript of my talk, but a close approximation)

The fire alarm was not a rehearsal. But I was unaware—sound asleep.

I slept through multiple knocks on my door as I drifted from dreamland to reality. I vaguely heard conversations in the hallway and thought, “Who would be talking at this late hour? How rude.”


I was startled by pounding on my door. The knocking had turned to banging.

“Just a minute, I’m coming.”

I got out of bed, put on my slippers, and opened the door. The frantic individual said, “The building fire alarm is going off!”

“Okay, I’ll get my clothes on.”

I put on a pair of pants, a warm-up jacket, and my glasses. Then I grabbed my winter coat and stepped into the hallway.

The blaring alarm and the people heading to the staircase suggested the fire was real. I reflected on my training and decided to focus on three skills to help others.

Everyone can help others by demonstrating three values people seek from a leader during a crisis: honesty, clarity, and consistency.


A woman from the far end of the hallway shouted, “Is it real?”

“Yes,” I responded. While I wasn’t sure, I was confident that the late hour suggested it was not a drill. A sensor had to have detected something. There had to be a real threat, but how significant was yet to be determined.

Referring to her husband, the woman said, “We can’t use the elevator during a fire, so we have to stay in our designated area until the firemen can move us. We have a phone number to call.”

I had no idea my words could impact such an important decision about calling that special phone number.

Had I chosen to comfort and relieve their worry by saying, “No,” the firemen would never have known they were in the building. The couple needed the unadulterated truth. I was thankful my answer was “Yes.”


I made my way to the lobby. A group was arguing about whether the alarm was real. Some just wanted to delay standing in the wintery night.

I shared a clear and succinct message for everyone to move outside. I stated clear and simple action steps and headed toward the door. Others followed. 

The firetruck pulled up as we exited the building. The response time could’ve been better for a station three blocks away. But the delay did give us time to get out of the building.

As the firemen headed inside, a few people asked me what would happen next. I said, “The firemen will read the lobby control panel to determine what sensor set off the alarm and head to that room.”

Shoulders drop and people relaxed a bit. A sense of peace came over those who heard the clear truth. While we didn’t know the outcome, honesty coupled with clarity reduced the anxiety level of others.

I saw the Lieutenant open a door and watched smoke billow into the hallway. The fire was real.

What I observed were firemen that weren’t concerned. That made me curious as I watched the smoke dissipate. There was very little smoke, which raised a few questions in my mind.

None of the firemen headed to the fire engine for more equipment or hoses. That suggested the fire was contained or small enough to handle with a fire extinguisher.

I found the Lieutenant to learn the facts.

He said, “There was a small electrical fire, but we couldn’t find the source. The room was sealed, and the smoke absorbed the oxygen and extinguished the fire. You’re all set. Call us if the fire starts up again.”

The Lieutenant’s comment didn’t give me any hope, but his clarity reduced my concerns. Since the room held new water heaters, it was possible the smoke was caused by a label burning off a hot metal piece. There was no real threat.


As the firetrucks left, a few residents hounded me for information. I quieted the group and led them into the water heater room. A few entered, but most stayed at the door and peeked inside.

Consistency was foremost on my mind. I needed to speak honestly and clearly, as I had already done, to maintain consistency. The reason for consistency is to build trust.

I said, “There was a small electrical fire that produced enough smoke to put itself out due to the lack of oxygen in the room. The Lieutenant didn’t see any threat at this time.”

One woman asked, “Is there anything we can do to avoid this issue in the future?”

“No specific cause was mentioned, except that the equipment detected and labeled the fire as an electrical fire. The only thing I can see is that the three water heaters are plugged into the same extension cord. However, the Lieutenant said there was enough amperage to cover the electrical draw of all three water heaters on the same outlet, so it wasn’t the cause.”

I suggested that the board could consider running conduit with separate outlet boxes to each machine, but it wasn’t necessary.

Then I realized some people just needed to hear that everything was clear, so I said, “There were no signs of fire or cause that needed to be addressed tonight. The fire is over, there is no longer a threat, and I’m returning to bed.”

The crowd dispersed with enough confidence in our safety to sleep well.

My attempt at leadership in a crisis was complete. Everyone was comfortable with heading back to their condos. The evening was a success because I demonstrated honesty, clarity, and consistency during a crisis.

Should you one day find yourself in a crisis, help those around you by demonstrating honesty, clarity, and consistency.

Copyright © 2023 by CJ Powers

Film Set Walkie-Talkie Etiquette

Crew members who are new to a film set struggle with using walkie-talkies. Only those with Secret Service aptitude like wearing them, but many crew members need their earpieces in place to support their department. Listening to a person speaking in front of you while listening to a conversation on the radio takes time to adapt.

The adjustment period is significantly reduced when the crew follows the proper radio communication etiquette. While there are rules on radio use that vary between productions, here are the six most common rules I’ve encountered.

Select the Right Channel

Most departments have their own channel. However, channel 1 is shared by ADs, Art, Costume, Makeup, and Safety. This results in channel 1 being restricted to essential and necessary conversations only. Any lengthy or specific chat should move to channel 2 or another designated chat channel.

The goal is to keep the unnecessary dialogue in people’s ears to a minimum. The crew benefits when the channel is kept clear for immediate and important contact. Most crew members use the radio as a listening tool when department heads give instructions.

The last thing a crew member wants to do is ask a question that was already answered over the radio. The crew must train themselves to pick out and listen to their department’s voices.

Push to Talk

The timing of when a person speaks and the speed at which they click and hold down, or release, the talk button makes the difference in whether their comment is understood. To ensure that your voice is heard, hold down the talk button for half of a beat before speaking. Also, finish your complete comment before releasing the talk button.

If a person asks you to repeat your comments, do not get nervous and speak faster or before the radio is fully clicked and engaged. Instead, slow down and make sure the button is completely down, then speak clearly and concisely. Keep in mind that the repeat request might not be about you, but the noisy environment the other crew person might be in.

State the Players

When you click the talk button to begin a conversation, state your name and the person you need to speak with. A couple of examples include “Jeremy to Maverick,” or “Sound to Transport.” If there are too many Jeremys on set, state your department with your name, like “Make-up Jeremy to Maverick.”

Once you’ve released the talk button, listen for the response. The person might respond in one of several ways. This might include:

  • “Jeremy, you’ve got Maverick”
  • “Maverick here”
  • “Go ahead, Jeremy”
  • “Hi, Jeremy”

Be patient if the person can’t respond right away, as you won’t know why they’re delayed.

Keep It Brief

Conversations on the main channel must be kept brief. Anything beyond a couple of sentences requires the conversation to be moved to channel 2. This is done by saying, “Switch to channel 2.” The proper response is “Switching to 2.”

While channel 2 is off the beaten path of most conversations, it isn’t a private channel. Make sure you don’t say anything you’ll regret later.

Speak Clearly

Speak slowly and clearly, holding the microphone 1-2 inches from your mouth. Any closer and your voice will distort. Any farther away and you might not be heard. There is no reason to yell into the radio.

Part of clarity is knowing what you want to say before speaking. Crew members don’t want to talk on the fly and find themselves saying something that comes across as odd and makes everyone laugh. They might never be able to live it down.

Clarity might also be achieved on windy days by cupping your hand around the microphone so the wind doesn’t distort your words.

Care for Your Radio

The battery will eventually die. Fresh batteries are typically available in various locations around the set. If you find yourself in an urgent situation, ADs often carry a spare battery, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Also, do what you can to keep your radio dry from the rain. Having a faulty radio due to rain will make your day miserable.

The best way to protect your radio, regardless of the weather conditions, is to get familiar with it. Just as sharpshooters are able to assemble and disassemble their guns blindfolded, you need to know your radio as an extension of yourself.

Make sure you can turn it on and off, adjust the volume, and switch between channels, all without looking. Use the properly assigned channels and know when to move between them to facilitate longer conversations.

In no time, you’ll be able to have a conversation with the person in front of you, while listening to the person calling you on the radio. Your walkie-talkie communication skills will make for a successful production.

Copyright © 2023 by CJ Powers