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!
On my last block on House Husbands I got to work with a director that was truly impressive! I mentioned in a previous post the really short preproduction time given on any tv shows. Maybe that’s why I have never met a director to do exactly what a directing class teaches. I’m not saying other 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. He highlighted each scene and marked them up with vertical lines. His facing pages had floor plans and colour coded camera angles. Here and there on the page there were sketches and storyboards, notes on performance and story. Just have a look!
He wrote these notes in preproduction. Whenever I asked how he wanted to block 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 on his script.
For instance he’d say a scene was about two characters who chatted about other two so he was going to do a ‘walk and talk’ down the hallway of the house for the main part of the dialogue, then the characters would 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 to the other characters. 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 being that intercutting separate two-shots was not in line with 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.
All these ideas he straight away wrote down, colour coded and marked up in his script, so on set he was very well prepared to clearly brief the crew on what he wanted.
This made everyone’s job on set so much easier, specially mine. I knew the exact scripted line he wanted 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 more freedom for his actors to change their performance around those cutting points. It also helped production and camera with planning their time for coverage as he knew precisely how many setups he needed to cover a scene.
And even though he had visualised it all in pre, he was still incredibly flexible to our suggestions. That’s because he knew exactly what mattered in a scene, the story. 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 a camera angle from the other side to accommodate the style of the show.
His scripts are art works! What an amazing process!