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So...What Exactly Does a Director Do? by Maty Young

Updated: Oct 4, 2023



In today's digital world, a tidal wave of platforms like YouTube, Google, Vimeo, tons of streaming services, TikTok, and Instagram are changing the game for directors and actors. It seems like everyone, from your cousin to your cousin's dog, can jump into the roles of director and actor, and you know what? You're probably right. If you're doom scrolling on your phone, or idly clicking through shows on TV and contemplating, "I could do this," you're also, likely right. The modern age has ushered in an era where it seems like everyone is a filmmaker; everyone is a director, everyone has the beginnings of an actor, and I agree. Yet, mastering the art of acting often demands a more nuanced approach and extensive practice and when creating unforgettable moments in your projects it's not solely about the actor's unique talent. These moments are substantially moulded by the synergy between the actor and the director.


Every piece of content consumed, whether a high-budget film or a short video clip, is a concoction of direction and performance. People across the world are not just spectators but potential creators, consuming and, by digital osmosis, exploring the possibilities of acting and directing. Whether you are a casual viewer or an aspiring artist, these platforms offer a canvas, inspiring the director and the actor within you to bring out dormant talents. A wave of overexposure to diverse content encourages us to analyze and imagine, opening doors to the possibility that anyone can wear the hats of a director, an actor, a writer, an editor, and again, I completely agree!


Nevertheless, understanding the fine balance between acting and directing is crucial for crafting meaningful and memorable experiences, not just TikTok trends. It's about the cohesive blend of individual flair and collaborative synergy that brings a vision to life. The modern world does not just offer us a spectator's seat; it invites us to play roles, contribute to the vast world of creativity, and shape the landscape of content that we consume daily.


Whether you are making a significant impact on big screens or small, the relationship between the director and the actor is pivotal in defining the essence of the creative piece. So get out the coffee traveller and let's take a look at what a director does.



BUILDING GENUINE TRUST


Creating sincere and trusting bonds with actors, in my experience, stems from maintaining absolute authenticity, both internally and externally. As a director, establishing a cooperative and secure environment on set is paramount, as it sets the tone for actors to reciprocate the same energy.


Ask any director "What is the role of a director?", and you’ll receive a different response from every single person. My perspective is that directing is about gathering all of the incredible ideas and decisions made by others, as well as your own, and sculpting them into a cohesive vision. It's about sustaining an open-minded approach and seeking golden moments. It's about making impactful decisions swiftly and effectively. However, the primary responsibility of a director? To cooperate effectively with actors and crew, weaving together a collective vision. We morph scripts into storytelling marvels, with the essence of the process deeply rooted in interaction with the cast. Ultimately, it’s the relationships developed with the actors that matter most.


From inception, a director’s role is to facilitate an environment where an actor can fully immerse themselves in their character. This influences every facet of filmmaking, from casting to rehearsal to incorporating a sprinkle of improvisation on set. Directing actors is not a one-size-fits-all job; it’s a dynamic amalgamation of your project's theme and the shared passion of everyone involved. It's crucial to create a world where actors feel they are part of a collaborative journey, their input is valued, and they are free to explore their characters without interruption. It's about striking the right balance between guidance and freedom, allowing the actors to bring their unique flair while aligning them with the project narrative.


For me, directing is more than just orchestrating a project, it’s about building relationships, fostering creativity, and bringing out the best in everyone involved. It’s about creating a tapestry of diverse ideas, integrating them into a cohesive storyline, and transforming visions into tangible art. Every moment on set is an opportunity to discover, learn, and create something extraordinary, and the unique bond between director and actor is the catalyst for bringing stories to life. The journey, filled with shared experiences and mutual growth, underscores the beauty of filmmaking, making every project an adventure.



PICKING THE RIGHT CAST


Getting the right actor is key to the success of a project. Every director does casting their own way. Picking an actor usually means checking out their past gigs and doing rounds of auditions. I'm all about auditions! I honestly feel I can’t tell if an actor’s right for the part, or if they're any good unless they’re more or less doing the scene. Some directors prefer just chatting about the character with the actor to see where their head is at but for me, that's never enough. I need to see them in it.


Every actor has their take, they hold their character’s essence and usually, I know that at some point, my actors are gonna know their characters even better than I do. Once you get the cast, it’s time to play around. The rehearsal is where the magic happens. It’s the space to experiment, to try new things before the cameras roll. If you have great actors, rehearsals will only make them better. That’s where you get creative because once you’re shooting, you’re on a tight schedule.


Rehearsals are the time to connect with the actors and let them sink into their roles. Some directors like Christopher Nolan use it just to sort the logistics, especially for the heavy scenes, letting the actors save the energy for the real deal. Steven Spielberg is different; he says, “The best scenes I ever saw were in rehearsals, with no camera. When we got to the set, the magic was gone. It should happen in front of a camera.”


Whatever your style, what you do with your actors before production affects the real thing on set. On set, it’s all about the right cues. It can be stressful with time running out, but the directors’s gotta keep the story in focus and guide the performances to tell it right. This is where the mutual trust becomes crucial. It’s about working together.



COMPLETE HONESTY


It’s not uncommon for directors, despite their usually collected demeanours, to harbour insecurities and uncertainties on set; a scenario that’s typically the norm rather than the exception. Many might perceive directors as confident and decisive, but we all know, that sometimes, most times, we just put on a brave face and dive in. Directing can sometimes mean that every ounce of your focus relies on maintaining honesty. Honesty with yourself inside and out, with a steadfast focus on creating an environment of authenticity and openness. When directors are sincere, it reverberates amongst the actors, and they'll bring that honesty in return.


Once a foundation of trust and mutual respect is established, providing guidance ceases to feel like issuing commands; instead, it transforms into a synergistic exchange of ideas and insights, elevating the experience to one of genuine teamwork. Regardless of whether one is a meticulous planner, maintaining a collaborative and easy-going atmosphere is essential. When directors and actors exchange thoughts and feedback, it’s not about imposing one’s vision but about harmonizing different perspectives while allowing individual creativity to flourish.


Without a shadow of a doubt, directors must extend unwavering and unequivocal support to their actors. Delivering precise and clear directives is a demanding task, occasionally necessitating straightforward instructions, like specifying movements or focal points, before stepping back. It’s crucial to avoid inundating the actors with information and to be succinct and clear to prevent them from feeling overwhelmed or confused. Understanding when to limit advice is crucial; overdirection can inadvertently impair an actor’s portrayal of a character.


Sometimes, the role of a director is to simply entrust the actors with the responsibility, refraining from unnecessary interference during the shooting. Most of the intense preparatory work is completed before the actual shooting begins, so the filming process becomes a journey of exploration and artistic revelation. It’s like unveiling unseen facets of art, which adds an exciting layer of discovery to the filmmaking process.


Finding that sweet spot between directorial leading and letting go to allow your actors to discover on their own is just like dancing, it's all about moving together, feeling the beat, and going with the narrative flow. Making art, especially in film, is a journey where directors and actors have to vibe together, mixing their flair into one cohesive piece. It's all about working together, allowing different ideas and talents to come together and make something special happen.


NOTES FROM THE DIRECTOR WITH A SPRINKLE OF IMPROV


Directorial notes are crucial elements in moulding and refining the envisioned piece of art. Still, there is magic to find in embracing the unforeseen and unplanned dimensions of any creative project. This acceptance of unpredictability breathes life into the process, making each moment a dynamic interplay of spontaneity and structure. Sometimes, there’s an undeniable allure in keeping actors in a state of eager anticipation through improvisation, adding a layer of thrilling unpredictability to their performance, provided they feel comfortable and engaged in such an environment. Maintaining this sense of playful exploration yields moments that feel incredibly real and raw, but it requires an intimate understanding of character nuances.


Improvisation is kind of like a live gauge, showing all the feelings in a scene, from laughs to tears. It quickly shows us what hits the mark and what doesn’t, what pulls on our hearts and what leaves us cold. However, allowing too much freedom with improv can muddle the story, sending actors into a web of mismatched actions and meanings. As actors dive into their roles, they make tons of little decisions that change and grow with each take. This flexibility in their performance unlocks a whole range of expressions and feelings, making every playthrough its own special thing.


Numerous directors employ multiple takes, not as a means to impose control, but as a tool to explore all the ideas that may lay dormant in a scene, seeking that unanticipated masterpiece of a moment. At Young One Studio, where digital filmmaking is the norm, the temptation to delve into endless takes for that elusive perfect shot often requires a gentle reminder of our limitations. We always advocate the rehearsal period to hone characters and scenes to perfection before unleashing the playful and spontaneous energy in front of the camera.


Improvisation is a treasure trove of genuine reactions and unscripted moments, a space where the actors and directors can let their creative instincts roam free, uncovering hidden gems and unexpected nuances. But it demands a delicate balance and a profound comprehension of the characters and their world. When orchestrated meticulously, this dance between structure and spontaneity can breathe authenticity into any project.



In the end, pulling off awesome performances and creating a cohesive project is like a smooth, well-synced dance, it's all about the teamwork between partners, in our case the actors and the director.


- M. Young

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