Finding Your Visual Voice

Have you ever wanted to find your own voice and style? 

I was at a lunch meeting where a producer asked me about my directing style. He asked what I did to develop it while I was in between gigs. Today, I’ll share what I told him—the 5 strategies that will help you find and hone your visual voice.

Many of you have heard me say a motion picture is filled with visual language like a book is filled with literary language. I’ve also said that the cinematic story is an argument, like the written prose at the beginning of a larger work. For the argument to convince the audience, the author or director must find his or her voice to authentically tell their story. 

Filmmaking is a complex art form that involves various styled elements such as storytelling, cinematography, sound design, and editing. For new directors, finding their voice in making films can be a challenging but crucial step toward developing a distinct style and creating work that resonates with audiences. 

To help filmmakers find their voice, I’ll go over some of the easiest strategies to explore.

1. Watch and Analyze Films from Different Genres and Eras

One of the best ways to find your voice as a director is to study and analyze the work of other filmmakers. Watch films from different genres and eras. Pay attention to the storytelling techniques, camera angles, and editing choices. 

Take notes on what works and what doesn’t work in each film, and try to identify the elements that make each director’s work unique. You will find certain elements that ring true to who you are and develop a natural taste for certain choices and styles. 

Then pull out your phone and shoot videos reflecting the elements you gravitate toward. It doesn’t have to be high quality, as this step is simply for practice.

2. Write, Write, Write

As a director, your primary job is to tell stories. Therefore, it’s crucial to develop your storytelling skills. Write scripts, short stories, or even jot down ideas for scenes or characters. Writing can help you clarify your ideas and develop your storytelling voice. 

Don’t worry about being perfect. Keep writing and revising until you find story elements or a story that resonates with you.

3. Collaborate with Other Filmmakers

Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and working with other filmmakers can help you find your voice as a director. Collaborating with writers, cinematographers, sound designers, and editors can expose you to different styles and techniques. You’ll even pick up on elements that will help you develop your creative process. 

Be open to feedback and suggestions, and don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. Find inspiration in your personal experiences and perspectives. They can be a valuable source of inspiration for your films. 

Also, think about the stories you want to tell and the themes you want to explore. Draw from your life experiences to create authentic and relatable characters and situations. This can help you develop a unique voice that resonates with audiences.

4. Embrace Your Weaknesses and Limitations

As a new director, you may feel limited by your lack of resources or experience. However, these limitations can be an asset in helping you find your voice. Embrace your weaknesses and limitations, and use them to your advantage. 

Instead of trying to replicate the work of other filmmakers with more resources, focus on developing a style unique to your circumstances and resources.

5. Take Risks and Experiment

Finally, finding your voice as a director requires taking risks and experimenting with different techniques and styles. Be brave and try new things, even if they don’t always work out. Failure can be a valuable learning experience and help you refine your creative process and find your voice.

Finding your voice as a new director requires studying and analyzing other filmmakers’ work, writing and developing your own stories, collaborating with other filmmakers, drawing inspiration from your personal experiences, embracing your limitations, and taking risks with experimentation. 

By following these strategies, new directors can develop a distinct style and create work that resonates with audiences.

Copyright © 2023 by CJ Powers

Notable Directing Styles

Have you ever wanted to find your own voice and style?

I remember being interviewed by a producer that was looking for a director. He was looking for a specific type of voice and style for his production and asked me to describe my voice. Back then, I didn’t know better than to say somewhere between tenor and baritone.

But he, of course, wanted to understand my visual voice as a director. I realized that studying a handful of directors and their styles would help me better understand my style. So I thought this article might help you do the same.

The first step is understanding the labels used to describe existing notable styles.

The art of filmmaking has come a long way since its inception in the late 19th century. The early pioneers of cinema are responsible for laying the foundation of this artistic medium, which has influenced society, culture, and politics.

Over the years, several great film directors have emerged, each bringing their unique style and creativity to the screen. With each style comes a platform to make a significant contribution to the industry and our culture.

When I mention box office dollars, they are the current ones on the day I published this article and were provided by

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg brought in $10.7B in ticket sales worldwide and has won three Academy Awards, including two for Best Director (Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan). Two of his most successful films are “Jurassic Park” (1993) and “Jaws” (1975).

Spielberg invented the blockbuster style with the release of “Jaws” and is known for his ability to create engaging and emotional stories that resonate with audiences worldwide. His signature film was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

James Cameron

James Cameron is right on Spielberg’s heels, with gross receipts of $8.7B. However, if you thought his films brought in more than Spielberg’s, you would be right. It took Spielberg 36 films to hit $10.7B, and Cameron hit $8.7B with 14 films. He is likely to surpass Spielberg within the next five years. However, these numbers are only based on what the artists did as directors. Spielberg’s box office dollars as a DreamWorks producer are not counted in this report.

Cameron is best known for The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009). All of which were so popular they became franchises.

Cameron’s style is action-driven. His characters are always type-A personalities and often command each other. To further drive the story, Cameron is known for switching between sound effects and music to shift the audience’s emotions. His technique might even drop the soundtrack to near-silence and then build suspense with the volume to draw the audience to the edge of their seats.

Alfred Hitchcock

Regarded as the “Master of Suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock, an English film director, was known for his innovative camera techniques and ability to manipulate audiences’ emotions. His films were a perfect blend of horror, suspense, and drama. Two of his most successful films are “Psycho” (1960) and “Vertigo” (1958).

During his career, Hitchcock developed many techniques that altered cinema. He dedicated his legacy to pioneering innovations in film grammar. For instance, he created the zoom dolly shot where the camera zooms in while it is being dollied out, creating visual disorientation and emotional destabilization.

Hitchcock also popularized the MacGuffin. A MacGuffin (muh-GUFF-in) is an object, character, or event in a story that keeps the plot in motion despite lacking intrinsic value or importance. In Star Wars, George Lucas used R2D2 as a MacGuffin.

While Hitchcock was deemed one of the greatest directors of all time, he never won an Oscar for Best Director. Still, his style revolutionized the industry, brought him 32 prestigious awards, and pleased droves of audiences for several generations.

Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s films reflect the gritty realities of life, infused with elements of violence, crime, and passion. He added to the legitimizing of profanity and violence more than other directors. He bared the souls of his characters to reveal their darkness, complexity, irony, and contradictions.

He grew up in Little Italy during the 1960s, where boys had two career choices: the priesthood or the mafia. He found a third alternative in filmmaking where he explored the good and bad within him. If there was a rule to break in filmmaking, Scorsese would find a way to break it.

He won numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Director for his film “The Departed” (2006). His other successful films include “Goodfellas” (1990) and “Taxi Driver” (1976).

I could share another 100 directors that impacted society due to their stylistic choices. But the examples I’ve given are a good start in helping you realize that what a director brings to the industry, based on who they are, impacts the way the film informs culture. Therefore, if a director wants to impact our culture, he or she must find their voice and style.

Copyright © 2023 by CJ Powers

A Director’s Take on Location Scouting

When making a film, finding the perfect location is crucial. A great location can set the mood, add authenticity to the story, and make the audience feel as though they are truly immersed in the film’s world.

The responsibility of finding and securing these locations typically falls to the location department, which consists of the Location Manager, the Location Scout, and assistants. They all answer to the director and his vision for the story.

The Location Manager oversees all aspects of the location department, including scouting, securing locations, and managing the budget. They also coordinate with other departments to ensure the location needs are met throughout the production. Essentially, the Location Manager is the go-to person for anything location-related on a film set.

The Location Scout, on the other hand, is responsible for finding potential locations that fit the director’s vision for the film. They are typically the first person on the ground, scouting various locations and taking pictures to present to the director and producer. The scout should have a great eye for detail and understand how to capture the essence of a location in a photograph. They need to be creative and resourceful in finding the best possible locations that work within the budget.

Once a location has been identified, the director will visit the site to determine if it works for the story. There are several factors that a director considers when scouting for locations. Some of these include:

  1. Authenticity: The location needs to be authentic to the story and feel like it truly belongs in the film’s world. For example, if a film is set in a particular era, the location should reflect the time period accurately, or the location owners need to be willing for the art department to make the needed changes.
  2. Accessibility: The location needs to be accessible for the cast and crew. This includes transportation, parking, and ease of access to power, fresh water, and other resources.
  3. Lighting: Lighting is crucial to the look and feel of a film, so the location needs to have the right lighting to achieve the desired effect. This includes both natural lighting and the ability to set up additional lighting if necessary.
  4. Sound: The location needs to be suitable for recording sound. This includes considering background noise, acoustics, and the ability to control the sound environment.
  5. Logistics: The location needs to be practical for filming. This includes factors such as the ability to set up cameras and equipment, the availability of restrooms, and the location’s safety.

Once the location has been selected, the Location Manager and their team will work to secure the location, negotiate contracts, and ensure that all necessary permits are obtained. They will also work with the director to ensure the location is set up to meet their vision for the film.

Finding and scouting locations is a critical part of the film production process. The Location Manager and Location Scout work together to identify potential locations that fit the director’s vision for the film. The director considers factors such as authenticity, accessibility, lighting, sound, and logistics when scouting for locations. Ultimately, the location department works to secure the location, negotiate contracts, and ensure that the location is set up to meet the director’s vision for the film.

By working together, the director and the location department can create a truly immersive and believable world for the audience.

Copyright © 2023 by CJ Powers