Meeting Patrick Tucker is an experience that you will never forget. He is a tutor at Raindance and is teaching masterclasses on directing and screen acting. A master of his field, he has directed over 200 theatre plays and around 200 television programmes for over 40 years, and he has taught screen direction all around the world for a large period of his life. His expertise in the theatre has given him a golden touch for getting the best out of his actors. As well, his prowess with the camera itself comes from an early background in physics.
When I took my very first class at Raindance (a very enjoyable Saturday Film School), he arrived as a guest lecturer to educate us on the most effective way to use our actors in front of the camera. He is a man who taught us as a consummate professional, as well as being highly entertaining. I am very happy to be able to review his book Secrets of Screen Directing as through it, I have picked up many tips and ideas for film direction. As someone who constantly reads about cinematography and working behind the camera, it is a fantastic advantage to be able to learn more about filmmaking from the adjacent viewpoint of a director (and a skilled one at that!).
The content of the book itself concerns the skills and attributes needed by directors to get the best results possible for their work. Going from planning, to production and editing, this book focuses on the craft of storytelling, the career of a director and much needed practical problem solving methods. For example, the book’s introduction discusses a foundational truth of filmmaking: that the concept of truth can obscure the artistic and dramatic tension of the screen. Rather, Tucker expresses that an excellent artist bends the truth to fit their means. Furthermore, he discusses the importance of counterintuition in order to find more effective practices in screen directing. However, these discussions are just settings for the main course! Throughout the book, Tucker explains how to use the 180-Degree rule effectively, how to create and perform different types of shots, getting the best out of the cast and the crew on a shoot, as well as working well with an editor, plus much much more.
Throughout the book, Tucker expresses all of these complex concepts using common sense ideas weaved together with varied examples from cinematic history. He also uses handy diagrams and examples to further illustrate his points. While these are simple drawings, they are an easy guide for understanding the set-up of shots, how they are achieved, cutting from one shot to another, and other practical functions. The book has a wide range of examples from film/television and most are cited with a time code pointing to the scenes relevant to the chapter. This is very useful if you feel the need to do additional research on the topics that are discussed in the book. There is also a brilliant appendix which outlines phrases and ideas that will be useful for those starting out in the industry or simply need to learn more about the technical details.
While the book has an obvious focus on screen direction, Tucker discusses how to work with DOPs and other crew members. Unfortunately, there is a little less information on the relationships between crew and director that I would have personally liked, compared to the information about how to direct actors. However, it is also possible that there is simply not enough space in the book to be able to talk about every little idea that a director must learn in order to be an effective filmmaker. Furthermore, I also understand (especially considering Tucker’s perspective) that this is the director’s burden- that you can’t expect to always be friends with your crew and you must know when to be a tough taskmaster, or just “a good Mummy to them all (the producer, of course, is Daddy)”.
However, the positive aspects of this book far outweigh any small gripes. It focuses on immediate and simple solutions – it is a great resource for filmmaking students, early career directors and amatuers looking to find more out about the role of directors. The combination of experienced advice and practical examples has created a fantastic guide. One which is both a great handbook for screen directing, and an interesting exploration into filmmaking.