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Patrick McGowan

What is a great director?

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If you're looking for a short answer, I think the quote from above works well: "Being a good director is all about having good taste"

 

I don't know if you'd agree with me on this one, but I think the only true enemy of art is taste. True art has no taste, good or bad (Although it can be disgusting and tasteless).

 

Think of it this way. Does the explosive "Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel have taste? No. Or even the Sistine Chapel itself? No, again. Is a penetrating late self-portrait by Rembrandt showing the artist as a bloated wreck in good taste? Of course not. Great works of art are beyond taste, fashion, and what's trendy.

 

Virtually anything can be art, but there are levels of quality. I suppose a cute green clay frog or a sad circus clown on fuzzy black velvet can be a phenomenal work of art, but I doubt it. Yet something created out of chopped up green-frog clay or the paint made by grinding up the tatters of paintings of oh-so-sad circus clowns can definitely be art and may even be great art, too.

 

I stand by my saying that I think the best way to know why a great director is great is by his or her intelligence.

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I don't know if you'd agree with me on this one, but I think the only true enemy of art is taste. True art has no taste, good or bad (Although it can be disgusting and tasteless).

 

Think of it this way. Does the explosive "Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel have taste? No. Or even the Sistine Chapel itself? No, again. Is a penetrating late self-portrait by Rembrandt showing the artist as a bloated wreck in good taste? Of course not. Great works of art are beyond taste, fashion, and what's trendy.

 

Virtually anything can be art, but there are levels of quality. I suppose a cute green clay frog or a sad circus clown on fuzzy black velvet can be a phenomenal work of art, but I doubt it. Yet something created out of chopped up green-frog clay or the paint made by grinding up the tatters of paintings of oh-so-sad circus clowns can definitely be art and may even be great art, too.

 

I stand by my saying that I think the best way to know why a great director is great is by his or her intelligence.

 

??

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...Or having honest, subjective logic. After that, they can only hope a few audiences agree.

 

I think I know what you're getting at... "A true director does what he/she believes will make a good film and can only hope that others appreciate it."

 

I still believe that good directors usually get people to like their movies. They don't have to appeal to masses, but they should be able to consistently deliver work that pleases the film's intended audience or creates an intended response. Otherwise, they ain't gonna be making movies very long...at least financed ones.

 

I can put all the subjective logic I want into filming myself pooping on a stick; no one will buy it, though. Therefore, I would consider myself a very BAD director. :rolleyes:

Edited by Adam Orton

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??

 

Confused? Let me explain it as best I can.

 

Let's just think of it this way. We tend to view the director as being the artist for a movie, right? Thus, it's worth thinking about art and the creative aspect of things, hence my argument on taste.

 

But I'm assuming the main part you were confused by were the last two paragraphs, so I will try to get you to understand what I was getting at as best as I can. I was basically trying to set out an example that a great director is probably great because of their intelligence. A work that was made out of green frog clay could be considered more intelligent than just a green frog made out of clay. Just as creating a painting using paint made by grinding up pieces of sad clown paintings could be considered more intelligent than a velvet painting of a sad circus clown.

 

If you're still confused, I'd be more than happy to respond as soon as possible.

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I think a great director is one that feels passionate about the film and is trying to express himself through film to accomplish something in particular that he has decided- while surrounding himself with talented, like-minded people from whom he takes advice and criticism.

 

I think a great director is also always thinking about what will make an impact on the audience, and how to orchestrate everything so that that happens.

 

And yes, I think a director must have great taste and a knowledge of what will create impact. He must be able to enforce his good taste in all areas of production to come up with a high quality result. He must appreciate the power of cinematography and editing, not be afraid of powerful music, have the ability to change the script if it isn't working, etc.

 

Finally, I think a great director must be born with a certain genius. Directing is understanding film. It's not something you can truly learn, in my opinion, if it's not innate. You can learn the technology of course, and learn the communication skills necessary, but if you don't have that talent to string shots together, or a vision of how movies should be made, then I don't think that's something that can be taught.

 

That was badly worded, but I think it's true.

Edited by Joseph Konrad

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I heard a couple of times at Sundance this year that 90% of directing was casting. Do others agree?

 

In terms of directing actors at least, I'd agree. The more suited an actor is for a role and the more talent they bring to the table, the less time you have to spend "polishing".

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I heard a couple of times at Sundance this year that 90% of directing was casting. Do others agree?

 

I sure don't.

 

Let me just give you a basic overview of what directing is, in my humble opinion, and as short as I possibly can. Let's assume you're about to direct a one-page scene and your budget permits a three-week shoot with 50,000 feet of film. To make a long story short, this allows you 20-25 minutes per shot. In these minutes, you rehearse and shoot the scene with a master shot, exposing 90 feet of film stock. You're on schedule and on budget, and if you're Jim Jarmusch working on Stranger Than Paradise, or Kevin Smith working on Clerks, you are done. Now let's think art (aka coverage) and get production value. You've scheduled 120 minutes and budgeted 550 feet of film and have only used 20-25 minutes and 90 feet. You now have 460 feet and almost 95-100 minutes left to create art with a selection of medium shots, close-ups, cutaways, over-the-shoulder shots, etc. If directing on a 6:1 shooting ratio, you could get the master shot six times (six takes). Or you could get the master shot with one take and use the remaining budgeted film to get five different shots (master and coverage) with one take each. Does that look like a casting session to you?

 

Seriously, if Sundance actually believes that 90 percent of directing is casting, no wonder they've become such a joke. In fact, most of the film festivals and award nominations (including Oscar) have become a joke these days. The Reader is one of the best movies of 2008. Yeah, right.

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Now let's think art (aka coverage) and get production value. You've scheduled 120 minutes and budgeted 550 feet of film and have only used 20-25 minutes and 90 feet. You now have 460 feet and almost 95-100 minutes left to create art with a selection of medium shots, close-ups, cutaways, over-the-shoulder shots, etc. If directing on a 6:1 shooting ratio, you could get the master shot six times (six takes).

I don't equate coverage with artist intent. I think of coverage as a non-creative tool used to give the editor enough material to create an easily understandable assembly for a general audience. If the Director ascribes to the the theory that the Editor is the third writer of a film, coverage is necessary, but for Directors who are concerned with the artistic merit of a film over mainstream success, I think they're more concerned with predetermining meaningful shots before rolling the camera and/or shooting to cover the emotional and poetic meaning in the scene (which is not coverage in the Western sense).

 

One example of a film that is shot mainly for artistic merit that has no coverage whatsoever is 'Songs from the Second Floor'. Each scene is comprised of one wide, static shot. The production value is in the consistent aesthetic, precise framing, blocking, elaborate set decoration, composited elements, and visual slight of hand. Some of Tarkovsky's films, despite the massive amount of film used to create them, weren't shot with coverage. 'Stalker' is a good example. There are several shots that last six or more minutes that incorporate precise framing and dolly / zoom movement to capture the action and emotion in a scene.

 

As far as saying what determines a great Director, I think the distinction between artist and designer needs to be made. Do we judge Directors on the financial success of their films, or even whether or not the film was accepted by the intended audience? Artists don't need to effectively communicate meaning. Designers do. I look at Tarkovsky as an artist and Spielberg as a designer, but they're both Directors. They both are/were great at what they do, but they fit different definitions of the Director role.

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One example of a film that is shot mainly for artistic merit that has no coverage whatsoever is 'Songs from the Second Floor'. Each scene is comprised of one wide, static shot. The production value is in the consistent aesthetic, precise framing, blocking, elaborate set decoration, composited elements, and visual slight of hand. Some of Tarkovsky's films, despite the massive amount of film used to create them, weren't shot with coverage. 'Stalker' is a good example. There are several shots that last six or more minutes that incorporate precise framing and dolly / zoom movement to capture the action and emotion in a scene.

 

So? Who in the world has seen 'Songs From The Second Floor' anyhow? Let alone 'Stalker?' Almost no one. Let me also take the last two films I briefly joked about in my last post. 'Stranger Than Paradise' and 'Clerks,' both of which used extensive coverage and were more successful than any of those two movies you mentioned. Find me a movie that was successful (like 'Casablanca' or 'Pulp Fiction'), and maybe I'll believe you then.

 

And let me be honest with you on your director thoughts. Who is this Tarkovsky guy anyway? Cause I've never heard of him before. Hitchcock or Kubrick probably made better movies than he ever did, whoever he was.

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I sure don't.

 

Let me just give you a basic overview of what directing is, in my humble opinion, and as short as I possibly can. Let's assume you're about to direct a one-page scene and your budget permits a three-week shoot with 50,000 feet of film. To make a long story short, this allows you 20-25 minutes per shot. In these minutes, you rehearse and shoot the scene with a master shot, exposing 90 feet of film stock. You're on schedule and on budget, and if you're Jim Jarmusch working on Stranger Than Paradise, or Kevin Smith working on Clerks, you are done. Now let's think art (aka coverage) and get production value. You've scheduled 120 minutes and budgeted 550 feet of film and have only used 20-25 minutes and 90 feet. You now have 460 feet and almost 95-100 minutes left to create art with a selection of medium shots, close-ups, cutaways, over-the-shoulder shots, etc. If directing on a 6:1 shooting ratio, you could get the master shot six times (six takes). Or you could get the master shot with one take and use the remaining budgeted film to get five different shots (master and coverage) with one take each. Does that look like a casting session to you?

 

Seriously, if Sundance actually believes that 90 percent of directing is casting, no wonder they've become such a joke. In fact, most of the film festivals and award nominations (including Oscar) have become a joke these days. The Reader is one of the best movies of 2008. Yeah, right.

 

 

Wow. So wrong, Benson.

 

When Sundance is referring to "directing" (as it relates to casting, and as Theatre Directors refer to it), they are talking about the responsibility of the director to obtain a dramatically effective performance from an actor.

 

Yeah, directors have to worry about coverage and coordinating the talents of everyone on board the project, but a HUGE part of directing is working with actors. Directing actors is probably one of the most difficult and intuitive processes on the set. You can't learn it from reading a book or from figuring out many feet of 35mm film equates to running time as you've illustrated for us.

 

For a movie to be dramatically effective, it must have good performances. For a movie to have good performances, it needs to have good actors. You catching on yet?

 

Do you know what beats are? Action verbs? Do you know what drama is? Acting? You clearly don't if you think directing is only about "covering" a scene.

 

Do you have a film in Sundance? Or anywhere?

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Just so everyone knows, Benson is like fourteen or fifteen (not an insult Benson, just some info.). This is a common thing on cinematography.com; a teenager comes along and stirs everyone up for a year or even two, then either leave to never be heard from again or post's far more conservatively as they've grown up and realize who they're actually talking with.

 

Man I've been here a long time.

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To bring the debate back to the issue, I don't concur that directing is 90% casting, unless you consider hiring a DP, production designer, recording engineer, editor, composer, foley artist, mixer, etc. to be "casting." Good performances are, of course, essential, and you won't get those from bad actors. However, great actors in a movie that's technically incompetent is not a good movie. If you've hired great people in all departments, you can make a competent movie by merely "riding herd" and making sure everyone's visions are meshing nicely.

Edited by Jim Keller

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Wow. So wrong, Benson.

 

When Sundance is referring to "directing" (as it relates to casting, and as Theatre Directors refer to it), they are talking about the responsibility of the director to obtain a dramatically effective performance from an actor.

 

Yeah, directors have to worry about coverage and coordinating the talents of everyone on board the project, but a HUGE part of directing is working with actors. Directing actors is probably one of the most difficult and intuitive processes on the set. You can't learn it from reading a book or from figuring out many feet of 35mm film equates to running time as you've illustrated for us.

 

For a movie to be dramatically effective, it must have good performances. For a movie to have good performances, it needs to have good actors. You catching on yet?

 

Do you know what beats are? Action verbs? Do you know what drama is? Acting? You clearly don't if you think directing is only about "covering" a scene.

 

Do you have a film in Sundance? Or anywhere?

 

Wow. So wrong, Adam.

 

Sure, directors have to worry about actors, but they're only a piece of the director's job compared to things like staying within the budget, making sure you're on schedule, having cutaways and reaction shots in case an actor doesn't act right, not breaking the 180 degree rule, and, of course, getting the shots. Directing is not simply casting everybody.

 

Besides, a good movie is always about the script, never about the actors. Contrary to what you just said, for a movie to be dramatically effective, it must have a good story. For a movie to have a good story, you need a great script. Screw performances. You could hire Steven Spielberg, Jerry Bruckheimer, Will Smith, Vittorio Storaro and all the greatest actors, producers, directors, cinematographers, and filmmakers alive and they wouldn't be able to do diddly if the script is awful. Take 'Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull' as a prime example of just that. On a different note, 'Napoleon Dynamite' didn't have the greatest directing, cinematography, or acting in the world, but it still became successful. Why do you think that is? Because of its storyline. Oh, you say it's plotless? Look again, the movie has its structure rooted in classical romantic comedy. Or take 'Toy Story.' I wonder what the future of children's animation would've been like had the storyline been terrible for that movie.

 

As far as Sundance is concerned, let me be honest with you. Have you ever made a single must-see film that actually got loads of cash at the box office and was very well received by audiences everywhere?

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Just so everyone knows, Benson is like fourteen or fifteen (not an insult Benson, just some info.).

 

That old? :rolleyes: Thanks for reminding me though.

 

To bring the debate back to the issue, I don't concur that directing is 90% casting, unless you consider hiring a DP, production designer, recording engineer, editor, composer, foley artist, mixer, etc. to be "casting."

 

Yeah, I see where you're coming from. And I think that you could very well consider it to be casting. Whether you're talking about directing actors exclusively or directing the crew, it's all the same idea. You get talented people to bring more to the table. Theoretically, if you spend enough time hiring a cast and crew who all have the same vision and excel at their jobs, you wouldn't have to do much :rolleyes:

 

My argument is that Sundance is likely referring to the verb "to direct" as in a collaboration between the director and actor. For theatre people, "directing" is almost exclusively that...

 

Obviously there's more to making a film than just running a casting session. The most important part of directing, to me at least, is working with the actors.

 

As far as Sundance is concerned, let me be honest with you. Have you ever made a single must-see film that actually got loads of cash at the box office and was very well received by audiences everywhere?

 

Doesn't matter. I'm not mouthing off nonsense.

 

I don't know what to say to you, buddy. I don't mean to be rude to you, but you come off with an attitude that triggers a negative reaction. Your answers are more opinion-based than anything. That's fine, but when your answers are subjective people look to you to have some experience...which you have none.

I gave my opinion on this thread because I have enough experience in theatre and directing to know how difficult it really is. And I've experienced the pitfalls of putting weak actors in a movie with a darn good script. Doesn't work.

I've also worked with professional actors and professional directors and have had to struggle with learning how to communicate with them. I could be wrong about everything I say, but I'm coming from somewhere, at least.

 

Anyway, cheers man. Just go make a movie!! I mean that in the nicest way.

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As far as Sundance is concerned, let me be honest with you. Have you ever made a single must-see film that actually got loads of cash at the box office and was very well received by audiences everywhere?

 

Hey just to let you know, since Adam is too humble to say this, he has had multiple films win at festivals before. One of which recently took home the Audience Choice award at a pretty well known fest in Chicago that had about 300 films competing. So I think there is no doubt that Adam knows what he's talking about here.

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This is the whole problem with reductive sayings like "casting is 90% of the job" or whatever... under close scrutiny, they always break down.

 

But the point of simple concepts like that is not to be accurate, but to make a point -- if you've miscast a movie, then it's hard to compensate for that with all of your directorial skills, just as if you are working from a bad script, it's hard to make up for that. But then if you say that "90% of a great movie is a great script" then how do you account for exceptions to the rule? And it doesn't therefore follow that everyone else just has to put in 10% of their effort if they've got a great script to work from. You can't break it down into percentages like that because maybe it's that the script is 90%... and the casting is 90% -- and everything else is another 90%!

 

The reason that being able to direct actors is the lion's share of a director's job on a movie set is because it's no one else's job. A director can get back-up from his DP or editor or AD, whatever... except when it comes time to direct an actor in a dramatic scene. Then it's just the director and the actor working together, no one else. That's a one-on-one relationship, not committee work.

 

But obviously a director's job extends beyond the period of shooting, from prep through post to release and beyond sometimes.

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This is the whole problem with reductive sayings like "casting is 90% of the job" or whatever... under close scrutiny, they always break down.

 

But the point of simple concepts like that is not to be accurate, but to make a point -- if you've miscast a movie, then it's hard to compensate for that with all of your directorial skills, just as if you are working from a bad script, it's hard to make up for that. But then if you say that "90% of a great movie is a great script" then how do you account for exceptions to the rule? And it doesn't therefore follow that everyone else just has to put in 10% of their effort if they've got a great script to work from. You can't break it down into percentages like that because maybe it's that the script is 90%... and the casting is 90% -- and everything else is another 90%!

 

The reason that being able to direct actors is the lion's share of a director's job on a movie set is because it's no one else's job. A director can get back-up from his DP or editor or AD, whatever... except when it comes time to direct an actor in a dramatic scene. Then it's just the director and the actor working together, no one else. That's a one-on-one relationship, not committee work.

 

But obviously a director's job extends beyond the period of shooting, from prep through post to release and beyond sometimes.

 

Very well said. I like that more than my half-witted answer. And I won't disagree with Mr. Allen's comment either :rolleyes:

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Chinatown is a great reference to use for screenplay adaption.

 

I'm a newly graduated film student with the intentions to take the industry by storm. As a Director I am the visionary and set the tone for the film regardless of genres.

 

Directors are as important as the camera itself. Without it you have no picture. Literally.

 

"Great directors dissolve and disappear into the work, while making other people look good." -Alexander MacKendrick

 

 

If you want to grow in your appreciation for what a great director adds to a film, sit down and read a published screenplay of a film like say, "CHINATOWN" and then watch the film. You'll begin to notice all the things that the director brings to the film, that weren't mentioned in the screenplay. Through camera movement, working with his cinematographer on composition and lighting, getting the right performances from the actors, use of music, editing, etc,. you'll see how a great director sets and maintains the right TONE for the film.

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Who is this Tarkovsky guy anyway? Cause I've never heard of him before. Hitchcock or Kubrick probably made better movies than he ever did, whoever he was

 

lol at this

 

By now i hope he knows who Tarkovsky is.

 

Like someone already sad -A great director has good taste, he can tell the story with intelligence, has good timing and intuition, but wont forget to add/create emotions.

 

Btw thanks to everyone willing to share their knowledge with us aspiring filmmakers,im really happy to have found this site.

 

YPD

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Guest dino

A good director creates an environment, which gives the actor the encouragement to fly.

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A good director creates an environment, which gives the actor the encouragement to fly.

And a really great director can do that in 10 hours.

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I think there are many ways to look at good direction

 

1. a director is the 'manager' of the film. Every artistic decision is in his hands. He tells the dp what look he's going for. He coaches the actor's performances. He works with the editor to tell the story. If all artistic aspects of a film come together to tell a story, that's good direction.

 

2. a good director will fully exploit the the medium of film. Films are a very unique form of art. there are plenty of things you can do with it that you can't do with, say, literature (and vice versa). If a director finds a way to fully take advantage of what he can and can't do with films, then he's a good director. one example would be conveying an idea, with images and not words, through the things previously mentioned, directing the performances, the cinematography, the editing...

 

3. How a director feels about a character or a scene will probably end up being how most of the audience feels about that character and scene. If a director reads a script and makes it up in his mind that one character is malicious, he will direct the performance, stage it, shoot it, and cut it, so the audience ends up agreeing with him.

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