We just wrapped principle photography on the new short thriller I wrote and directed Our Own, and I am both ecstatic and depressed. It is a very weird state to be in. On one hand I am so glad we got it done and I can’t wait to watch the final product come together. On the other hand, you build and build and build up to the shoot and it’s over just like that *snap*. It’s difficult to process such a high and low simultaneously. Regardless, I wanted to share some thoughts I have managed to process since the wrap.
Disclaimer: The following is based on my personal experiences and perception of these experiences. These thoughts are my own and in no way suggest that anyone else would encounter the same as a first-time, low-budget independent film director…but it’s possible. In addition, this blog in no way does justice to everything I learned directing Our Own. It was a phenomenal experience!
Kim’s Lessons Learned Directing her 1st Formally Produced Independent Short Film:
1. Trust your vision.
First and foremost. Your vision is your only weapon, so make sure it’s sharp and well-defined down to the smallest detail. You are the only one with this weapon, which makes you uniquely prepared for the challenges you will face during the shoot. Challenges will question your vision and try to force compromise of it. Stay true to it and yourself.
2. Take care of your talent, and they will take care of you.
Your cast and crew are extremely talented and will change you in ways you can’t imagine. Their objective is to bring your vision to life, and that is an incredible thing. They are your team and have your back. Do everything in your power to take care of them. Everyone that shows up believes in you; they wouldn’t be there otherwise. Honor that. Be worthy.
3. Be decisive.
Make decisions without prompt. Be thoughtful yet proactive. This quality breeds respect.
I know. Duh. (This is what I call a Muppet news flash.) Clear and concise communication is essential. Humans aren’t mind readers (well…most of us aren’t). You hit a roadblock? Create dialogue. Work together to find a way around it. As director, you need to motivate in sometimes very tough times. Don’t be a jerk.
You will forget to eat, but if you don’t eat things can go bad. You will be irritable and impatient, and these are toxins on set. Force food if you have to.
6. Caffeine and Exedrine are your friends.
Whatever keeps you on point, use it (as long as it’s legal). You will be tired, you will ache. Do what it takes to keep going.
7. Write a tight script.
The tighter, the better. I thought I had written a pretty tight script, that is until I chopped approximately two of ten pages while filming under the gun on time. Which brings me to…
8. Time is NOT your friend.
Just as in life, time goes fast, faster than you’d like. The clock will piss you off and you will vehemently curse the stars above when your Magic Hour is gone and your actors must wrap for the day. As a first time director, you must be prepared for this. I wasn’t. As DIY I had all the time in the world to get the money shot. Not so in the real world. If you aren’t strong and keep your wits about you and adapt, you will fail. Remember: species that refuse to adapt die out.
9. Mother Nature is a bitch.
Know that going in and prepare for it. She will lie. And it’s her prerogative to change at whim. Prepare for the 0.1% chance of crappy weather. Unless you are shooting the next Fargo, NEVER shoot in cold weather if you can help it. It’s truly miserable, not to mention your fake blood will freeze and look like shit.
10. Save a line item in the budget for a manicurist.
Yes, this is a silly one. But wouldn’t it be cool if after you wrapped a long day shooting in dirt, horse poo and fake blood there was a manicurist on set to remove all that funk from under your fingernails? Yeah yeah I know. And you want a silver pony.
11. Directing is a lonely job.
Again, this is my perception, but I have rarely been as lonely as I have been as a director. Most of you reading this will have no idea what I am talking about on this one. But some out there understand how one can feel completely isolated in a crowd of people. You stand there with the enormous weight of the success of the shoot on your back and no one can help you carry it, because YOU are the director. In fact, additional things will be piled on. Heavy things. You are the only one that carries that weight and that is a very lonely job. As long as you prepare for it, you will be ok. Thus the next lesson…
12. Be prepared.
Directing well is an amazing experience. And only with meticulous preparation can you direct well. Prepare mentally, physically, intellectually. Expect the unexpected and plan for it. If you don’t, you will suck. That is all.
13. Be grateful.
I am reminded of a text from a very good friend the day I left for the shoot. I was all freaking out a la Wayne’s World “I’m not worthy”-style and she texted: “Take a breath. You’ve got this. No reason to stress, you’re living out a dream. It’s a blessing.” Perspective is imperative. Sadly, most people’s dreams don’t come true. But if you are directing, yours has. I don’t give a crap if you are an introvert quirky artist type that would rather hide behind your Oliver Peoples than have a meaningful personal moment with someone you just met a month ago. Your cast and crew are making your dream come true. Be sincere and gracious and thank them every chance you get.
Thanks for reading.