I must have worked with over a hundred directors by now, with some of them on more than one project. Some are camera oriented, the shots are everything to them. Others concentrate a lot more on performance, they focus on their actors. Some are more inclined to let things happen naturally and only intervene when a scripted line or a camera angle is out of whack. Others want to be involved in all decisions that influence the set. Some stick to each comma in the script. Others can’t shoot a scene without changing a bit of big print action or a line. Various styles and methods and of course, various personalities!
During my last block on House Husbands I got to work with a director that was truly impressive. I mentioned in a previous post the lack of time when creating a tv show. And maybe that’s why I have never met a director to do exactly what a directing class teaches. And I’m not saying directors don’t do their homework but Ian did his exemplarily! I’ve never seen another director more organised than him! His scripts at the beginning of the day looked like MY scripts at the end of the day. Each scene was highlighted and marked with vertical lines. His facing pages had floor plans and colour coded camera angles. Here and there on the page there would be sketches and storyboards, notes on performance and story. Just have a look at his script!
He did his notes in preproduction. Whenever I asked how he’d like to stage a scene and what it meant to him for the overall story, he’d start explaining with a ruler and colored markers, drawing floor plans, camera angles and quick sketches to explain the shot sizes.
For instance he’d start by saying that a scene was about two characters who chatted about other two and therefore he’d prefer to do a walk and talk down the hallway of a house for the main part of the dialogue and reach the lounge room on a specific line in the dialogue – a key line he’d mark in his script. Then, their reveal in full view, for the other characters to see. He also had a thing about connecting characters in a scene. In this case by doing two wide shots from behind the two pairs once they were all facing each other. The reason behind this being that intercutting separate two-shots was not appropriate for the tone of the scene, characters would just ‘see’ each other but he wanted them exposed and vulnerable so a wide shot from behind would express that vulnerability.
These ideas he straight away wrote down, colour coded and marked in his script, so on set he was very well prepared for a succinct and clear brief.
This kind of in depth analysis made EVERYONE’s job on set so much easier. I knew exactly on what line he’d want his actors to stop at the end of the corridor – so no confusion with which take’s action to keep for coverage. Actors knew how to pace their dialogue during the walk and talk to hit their marks at the right time. I also knew when he wanted to cut so I only needed to focus on matching those specific actions. Everything else could be different, so less stress for actors who could change their performance around those cutting points. It also helped production and camera with planning their time for coverage as he knew to say how many setups would cover a scene.
And even though he had visualised it all he was still incredibly flexible to our suggestions. And that’s because he knew exactly what mattered in a scene. It allowed him to be open minded and not cling onto preplanned shots. Whenever possible he combined setups, changed the block for better lighting or easier coverage. And even though his floor plans didn’t have shots that crossed the line, he allowed now and then a camera angle from the other side to accommodate the style of the show.
His scripts are pieces of art! What an amazing working process!