“‘Director’ is not a description of what you do; it is something you become. You are a director 24/7. You should always have your ‘director senses’ alert.”
The idea that you have to use all of your senses to be a great director is one that the author of The Director’s Six Senses, Simone Bartesaghi, firmly believes in. Sight, sound and overall vision may seem obvious in their connection to directing, but the fact that smell, taste, and touch were also deemed equally as important was surprising to me. Of course, you can’t touch, smell or taste a movie. But these senses can be interpreted and must be considered when it comes to the filmmaking process.
Smell is such an elusive sense and it is interestingly applied by Bartesaghi as a metaphor for performance. He insists that it’s easy to “smell a lie” when it comes to a performance, but then again, every performance is a lie. It’s all a matter of playing pretend but doing it SO well that it seems true.
Films feel real because of the alternate realities they convey. They transport the audience member into that world and make them believe that, even if only for 90 minutes, it is all real. That’s why smell and the “stench” of a bad performance can be detrimental to the believability of a film.
“If what happens on the screen doesn’t feel right, if the behavior of the characters seems forced, then we snap out of the movie and the whole immersive experience is gone.”
Touch is the biggest sense to focus on when it comes to production design. Every human touches the lives of others and the world around them in some way, and their environment is a direct result of these interactions. As Bartesaghi says, “you’ll notice very quickly that their world is often a reflection of their identity.”
It is important to realise this when it comes to crafting the environment that will be shown on screen. A chaotic, creative character can live in a very cluttered and personalized home, but if their boss is a neurotic neat-freak, their work desk can be devoid of personality. This is because every scene should be a reflection of how the environment or other characters force the character to behave or interact.
“Touch is the perception of the environment. It’s important to remember that we are trying to portray on the screen the truth about our reality and it’s important that we pay attention to how, in real life, we react, perceive, and use things.”
Taste is another sense that doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of directing, but it’s one that should be developed over time. This time Bartesaghi chooses to refer to taste as the feeling that is left and stays with you even after the film is over. As director, you are in control of the story and can dictate how your audience feels as a result. It sounds quite manipulative, but it’s true.
If you want the ending to be so heart-wrenchingly sad that the audience can’t help but feel a piece of them die with the rolling of the credits, that’s your call. But to quote a famous uncle, “with great power comes great responsibility.” You don’t want to drive your audience away; you want to carefully steer them towards the ending reaction you desire.
The Director’s Six Senses doesn’t quite reach its full potential as far as sense related metaphors go. But, Bartesaghi redeems himself with the idea that a director’s senses must be alert and useful when it comes to noticing things others may not. That’s why this book, while at times a bit too on-the-nose, is a good resource for the aspiring filmmaker that’s interested in how to be a good director and not necessarily good at directing.