Living the dream
This past Saturday was the first time I gave out my business card, as well as sent out an email as a “Director”. That felt amazing. Small, but significant steps towards “living the dream”, as they say.
My first “big” project — a keto nut bar commercial that involved a Squirrel and a Hedgehog character, dressed accordingly, was a result of a multi-week collaboration with the clients, one of which was my high school classmate from years ago, that culminated in a three day shoot. There isn’t a proper national commercial campaign on TV without somebody dressed in a full panda suit. In that sense I’m personally flattered and not entirely opposed to having actors dressed as funny animals in mine, along with a few other little off-beat script moments. I call it a necessary evil of advertising.
Long story short, it was three crazy days, incredibly exhausting, yet unbelievably fulfilling. I absolutely became a better director from it which is why I think I must share my experiences with you.
What is directing? Wearing tortoise shell glasses? Speaking brainy quotes? Being revered by LA Film school students and highbrow art house lovers alike? Marrying your stepdaughter? Coming from the world of tech, my perception of the job was that a director is an upper level project manager of sorts. His or her task at hand is to make sure that the product is delivered on time and budget. What I learned was that it’s way more complex than that. A director is a fearless leader and a delicate psychologist, all at once. Your task is to feel the room and get to know every single person of cast and crew like they are your favorite kind of ice cream. To energize everyone with your triumphant spirit and unshaken belief in the badass-ness of the project and, ultimately, get all your collaborators on the same page so that they all are telling the same story. That’s just your first and primary goal. Number two or a subgoal of extreme importance is to protect your actors from the realities of #setlife with its daily stresses, and ensure that they are happy, relaxed and focused on one thing only, which is to deliver the best performance of their lifetime. Come to terms with your role as a buffer between everyone and everything, so make sure you can roll with the punches and be as resilient as a yellow rubber ducky in a bathtub. Also, maybe, dip yourself into a pool of quality machine oil to be as smooth talker as possible. Basically, you should strive to make all the scratchy moving parts of production glide effortlessly as they rub and nudge against you, while this monster machine speeds down the rail track.
Murder your introvert (temporarily)
Before you are even allowed to put your foot on set, there is an extensive and challenging pre-production stage. After the final version of the script is locked and agreed upon by all parties, lots of phone calls are to be made. You have to make those phone calls. This is the first cue for what’s going to happen later on set — tons of exhausting yet crucial communication, sometimes with strangers or people you barely know, to make sure your basic values and understanding of the project align. You must come out of your creative shell where the ideas for scripts are slowly stewing (and some, rotting) and actually talk to people. Talk to the MUA and describe your vision. Reach out to the sound guy and describe what you are hoping to achieve. Pick up your phone and talk. Talk to the actors, producers, and everyone in between. Reach out to your network to help secure locations you want. Scour your Facebook friend list for links to Facebook groups where you can advertise for cast and crew. Talk to the people you know to get added to these groups. PeerSpace. Splacer. Casting Networks. And people who run them. Communicate with them. Be like-able. Know how to start a conversation and how to end it without being an awkward Molly (or Brian). Know how to approach the Snow Queen and make her feel nice and warm on the inside — and let you borrow her stuff. Like her favorite deer carriage 🦌🛷. It’s a metaphor 😅.
Your MVP = AD, DP and 1st AC, Swing Sound, Grip/Electric, and MUA
Now that you have murdered your introvert, it’s time to kill your inner hermit crab! Directing is teamwork, and every director needs a team, otherwise you are just a headless chicken. If you are an up and coming director with 0% experience and 100% ambition, like myself, your budget is minimal, but your ideas are not. You probably don’t need a personal hairdresser to make your amazing ideas come to life, but you do need a few key positions filled in by exceptionally good and experienced folks. Their experience will cover up for the lack of your own. I call it the MVP of filmmaking. MVP stands for Minimal Viable Product, or aptly repurposed by me, Minimal Viable Team you need in order to succeed. Make it a good one.