A lot of folks have major misconceptions about the filmmaking process, and there are a lot of them floating around in particular about what a director does. Some people think the director is the dictator of the movie. Some people think the director just tells the actors what to do. These are common assumptions that aren’t really true. So, you may be asking yourself, “What exactly then does a director do?”
Well, that’s complicated. There are a lot of different people with different directing styles that work in the business. We’ll run through some of the basic things that all directors do to give you a better idea.
Block the Scene
This is primary function of the director, but a lot of people don’t know what it means.
Blocking the scene simply means telling the actors where to move within the scene while telling the director of photography, or DP, where to place the camera.
If a character needs to walk across the room, the director tells the actor which path to take and tells the DP where to place the camera to capture the action.
Control the Shot
That brings us to the next function of a director, controlling the shot.
On a narrative film the person responsible for designing all of the shots is the director. That means the director decides when to use a close up or when to move the camera. Most people assume this is the job of the DP, and there are some directors that do allow their DPs to do this, but normally this is one of the main jobs of the director.
Below is a link to the opening scene of the 1986 Woody Allen picture Hannah and Her Sisters. It’s a strong example of blocking and shot design.
Directors tell the actors exactly what to do, right? Wrong. This is a mistake that many first time directors might make and it will lead to angry actors and a really fake feeling film.
Acting is a very organic activity. Actors need to be able to feel the emotions their characters are going through and make decisions in order to come across realistic on screen.
So, how does a director work with actors?
A director serves as a guide for the actor. Essentially, the director will watch and make sure the actor is on the right track. If the actor is, the director doesn’t have to do much work with them. If they’re off, the director may need to discuss their character or do an exercise to help them feel what they need to feel to play the scene, but the director never needs to tell them exactly how to say a line.
Is That It?
Honestly, no. We could talk all day about what a director does and only scratch the surface, but I hope you now have a better idea of what directing is all about. Try the links below on editing and constructing a narrative to further improve on your on set knowledge.