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

Don’t Boycott the Academy Awards®

Academy AwardsTwo factions are digging in their cleats to push their political agenda to the masses. One group suggests the Oscar® nominations must be more diversified. The other group suggests those receiving nominations did so on the merit of their work, not their skin color.

Side arguments have also risen suggesting that blacks shouldn’t complain, but instead “improve their craft to get nominated.” Still others suggest that “if you don’t like segregation, then close down the BET network.” More political strikes come from those suggesting it’s “the studios fault for not producing enough ‘black’ material.”

The arguments continue to divide the once unified art form, sending more professionals to television. Most shows are made with a universal audience in mind, but some are now suggesting that more “all black films” must be made. Diversity is now requiring more segregation for equality. Oh, the ebb and flow.

Everyone in the industry knows that audiences determine what films are made. If they support Star Wars to the sum of billions, then sequels will follow. If they don’t support the independent art film, then fewer art films will be made.

On average, white male actors dominate the box office. White females come next and then black men. The list continues through all nationalities, races and known orientations. It’s not rocket science. For some reason black actors like Denzel Washington (6 Oscar® Nominations and 2 Oscar® Wins) can draw a large audience of all races, while Tyler Perry (Zero Oscar® Nominations) draws a smaller mixed audience and a larger black audience.

Female leads draw fewer viewers than men, unless they happen to be Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Lawrence. Why? Because men and women both like watching men on screen and fewer men and women like watching women on screen. If you want people of color to have more lead roles on screen, you need to give the audience incredible talent to change their minds about what they prefer to watch.

Three factors can create a green light project: talent, money and distribution. But, only one factor can determine a film’s success: the audience. Whoever can build an audience can make whatever film-starring vehicle they want, but it doesn’t mean it’ll be award winning.

As for the Academy, it’s open by invitation to those who do great work for a universal audience. Those who create niche films typical don’t get invited. Why? Because they don’t reach a large enough audience for the Academy to notice them. That’s not to say the Academy doesn’t try to award great filmmakers who practice outside of the universal audience segment, they do with best short film and documentary categories.

The Oscars® are the best of the best based on wide distribution. The blacks that have won Oscars® in the past deserved it. To suggest that a poorly acted film like “Straight Outta Compton” should get a nomination because they’re black, only weakens the well deserved Oscar® received by blacks in prior years. Yes, Compton’s was a good film (although written by two white guys), but the acting was only up to the caliber of a music video, not an award level theatrical picture.

The Academy doesn’t give everyone a trophy for showing up to set. They keep things extremely competitive to raise the standards in the industry. You have to be “excellent” in the eyes of “all your peers” to win.

Now, some think Will Smith (2 Oscar® Nominations) should have received a nomination for “Concussion.” However, the story wasn’t as powerful as the “Erin Brockovich” story that landed Julia Roberts her Oscar®. While Smith may have performed well, Oscar® is usually associated with great stories.

It takes the right combination of audience, money, talent, story and excellence to land a nomination. And, it takes the admiration of ones peers to cash in the nomination for a win. By sticking a couple music video actors in the nominations reduces the weight the nominations carry among peers. If the nomination means nothing, the win becomes nothing more than political, which kills the awarding of the art form by peers.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers