A few months ago I made the transition from writer to writer-director, directing my very first short film. As the UK winner of the Jameson First Shot Competition, my film HOME stars Academy Award nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal and is produced by Kevin Spacey. Faced with this learning curve, here’s the top five things I learned along the way to help prepare any writer thinking of making the leap into directing their first film.
1.Know your story
So you’re a writer, right? Approach directing from the point of view of being the visual master of the story, not just the master of the story on the page, and all of your directing decisions should fall out of that. Where should you put the camera to best express a particular story beat? How does how you’re planning it to look visually translate into a feeling for the audience tied into the story?
It goes without saying that being really well prepared to direct will help you enormously. Watch DVD commentaries, read books on directing, read internet articles on directing, speak to friends who are directors, go on any courses you think might benefit you (I went on the Raindance Directing Essentials evening class), anything until you feel like you’ve reached saturation point on learning how to direct.
3. Ask questions
If you don’t know how something works on set, just ask. If you aren’t sure if you know or not, don’t just guess. It’s ok to ask your Heads of Department if there’s anything else they think you should be talking about, anything else you haven’t covered that needs to happen for the film. Be upfront about your experience but tie it in with bags of enthusiasm, spirit and leadership skills.
4. Don’t be afraid of actors
They will bring the character you wrote on the page to life. Don’t be afraid to let them do it, value their input, genuinely listen to them and collaborate. Make sure you’ve prepared enough with you DP that on set you can spend most of your time with your actors focusing on performance.
Even if this is your first film, you are the director and everyone expects you to lead. Everyone will ask you questions and expect you to know the answer. But you know all the answers, remember? Because you’re a writer, and all your directing decisions come from the story.
Watch a behind the scenes video of HOME here
HOME was released at the end of July, you can watch it on you tube here