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George Ebersole

Do you need to be a people person?

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Most directors I've worked with have been normal bosses on any other job. Some have been pretty dictatorial, others pretty mellow, others just like regular people. But sometimes it seems like some of the bigger high-profile names make it a point of being friendly with their talent. I'm wondering how much of that is hype, or whether they really get better performances out of talent.

 

Anybody have any opinions?

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I find the most successful directors I work with, though not anywhere near important or major in any way, tend to be those who can communicate. It doesn't matter if they're dictators or mellow or regular so much so as it does that they can relay to the people around them what it is they want or need at a given moment for their film.

That said, I much prefer a director who has implicit trust both in themselves and their vision, as well as their crew. I have been on a few productions where the director didn't seem to trust in people (myself as well on occasion) and it was always just a disaster.

And a lot will depend of course on the other people's on set's opinions/feelings.

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Yeah, that's kind of what I figured. One director I worked with regularly was pretty paranoid, and angry with everybody except the talent. He used to work on features in the 70s, but then decided to move to the Bay Area and do industrials for Chevron and Autodesk. He was pretty temperamental.

 

Features seemed to bring out the reserved artists in them, which in retrospect is probably that confidence in vision you're talking about.

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This humorous anecdote to throw some confusion into the topic.

 

I once worked second unit ist AC for a couple days on a film by New Zealland's only great film artist (IMHO). We were close to the main unit in this big warehouse. You couldn't hear the director. You heard the 1st AD relay or extend direction. I heard the crew mutter "what was that..." The imported American male lead actor was having to do his own stunt, falling down a ladder as the wooden dowels snapped. He was really pissed and loud about it. I looked over as I was inching the Arri II and he flashed me an angry look. Shortly after the director came over and helped us execute our shot. Cool guy, I thought. Later, I heard that he would break down and wail when they ran out of their film stock allowance before days end. Even more cool.

 

So what's a people person? The film was really great actually, art. Well regarded. But for some reason, some people are grossly missunderstood or misperceived. Sometimes all the crew care about is whether it makes their job easier or not, and whether they have crayfish (big lobsters) for lunch or not. I had french fries (vegetarian).

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Interesting. Most of the directors I've worked with have been pretty cool and professional. But it seems like some directors try to get real close with the talent get better performances out of them. I guess for some director-actor relationships that works, but it strikes me that if you're a true professional, then you already know your job, and there really isn't a need to get all extra friendly with the talent.

 

Sometimes some actors seemed fairly fragile personality wise, regardless of the job. I wonder if some directors spot those people early on or something.

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Part of the reason I asked this question is because I've not noticed a great deal of quality in shooting styles, but I have noticed a difference in performance. But that sometimes, to me at least, it seems like if you over coach your actors, then you get over the top performances. To me that translates as spending too much with actors.

 

So I wonder if maybe you need to find a magic number of how much time to dedicate to them and then to everything else.

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As a director I usually give the talent my best mood. Actors are, as a rule, the most insecure people working on a film. And that's because everybody is being able to watch they while they work. And everybody is actually doing it, and judging it. Everybody but themselves.

 

The main goal here is to be trusted and make them more comfortable so they can have a reference point on the set. If the talent stop believing in your judgment, you're screwed. And even more screwed if they think you just don't really care enough.

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I'm having a hard time trying to edit my post.

 

I have trouble with that. There isn't much time allowed. I normally write in Notepad then paste it in the reply box. When I do edit I sometimes find the full editor option easier. Another problem I have is that the curser seems to want to keep me in the quotation area.

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You have to be able to understand and sympathize with people. The main reason for this is for your communication with talent. You also have to be a leader, a charismatic person. The entire cast and crew looks at you for direction and leadership, hence the title director. Personality wise, I think director's can range from out going to introverted and having all kinds of clicks. In fact, most of history's greatest leaders sought solitude and kept to themselves most of the time.

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What I've noticed among great filmmakers is that they're professional individuals who share a common passion. Through this passion mutual respect is formed and friendship. I don't think people would want to be friends with you for being a nice guy, it's all about common interests and working hard. There's no way anyone could hate someone who is a complete ass if they make you look good and get you more work by making a great film. Sofia Coppola is a bit of an introvert, but that doesn't make her a bad director. If anything, I feel personality of the director creates the atmosphere on a set, and as long as people are passionate and working hard, they're all going to want to be there everyday.

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As a director I usually give the talent my best mood. Actors are, as a rule, the most insecure people working on a film. And that's because everybody is being able to watch they while they work. And everybody is actually doing it, and judging it. Everybody but themselves.

 

The main goal here is to be trusted and make them more comfortable so they can have a reference point on the set. If the talent stop believing in your judgment, you're screwed. And even more screwed if they think you just don't really care enough.

Well, I'm out of the game, but I'm hoping I can shoot a little something this summer, with or without onscreen talent. Having said that, I think this is key. If you're honestly trying to get the best job done in anything, then you've won most of the battles there.

 

I remember a Sunmicro shoot where the director was a bit of a dictator, but no one took it personally. He was shouting at everyone to shut up one moment, and all smiles and jokes the next. To me that's a little extreme, but it's how he works, and no one really seemed to care if he played Alpha-dog every half hour so between setups.

 

A fun shoot.

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You have to be able to understand and sympathize with people. The main reason for this is for your communication with talent. You also have to be a leader, a charismatic person. The entire cast and crew looks at you for direction and leadership, hence the title director. Personality wise, I think director's can range from out going to introverted and having all kinds of clicks. In fact, most of history's greatest leaders sought solitude and kept to themselves most of the time.

I remember a director who was not a people person at all. In fact he was a bit of a paranoid. I won't mention the shoot nor his name, but he had issues. He had a huge stage rental bill, tons of lights, equipment of all kinds, a camera dolly fully equipped, etc. To the best of my knowledge he had never shot anything before in his life, much less go to any kind of film school or receive any sort of formal training. But, there he was, spending money, directing actors, and everything else.

 

I'm having a hard time thinking anyone looked up to him, but he had the resources, and so there you are. I can't remember if his project every got completed or not, but to me it was a fine example of how not to shoot a major feature film. He wasn't friendly in the least, paranoid, actually accused one of the senior stage managers of trying to start something (a fight) with him.

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I often wonder how other Directors run their sets. I used to do Sound work for no-budgets when my own projects were slow but I never had much time to observe since sound guys are always busy. Not to say DPs arent but DPs seem to be more likely to have a department underneath them (at least 1) whereas production sound mixers are usually only 1 guy on a tiny shoot.

 

I, personally, baby the actors and treat them super nice because they seem to be a flighty bunch. The sound guy, I am usually nice to as well since they seldom work cheap and if they do, you better respect them. The grips, on the other hand, I have blown my top with...especially when my gear gets broken.

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Playing the secondary role of a live speaker/comedian is helpful in engaging co-workers. Not everyone can do that but I've simply seen it help.

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As this is a cinematography forum, I'll take a little different route...

 

Just as the director is the main audience for the actors, the DP can be the audience for the director. They are alone at the top of the pyramid and sometimes need a bit of positive reinforcement. And so I find that it can be a real disadvantage to be a DP/operator when the director is far away in a video village. And more important to be at the village to learn how the director feels about the work, and just to react to the performance, very quietly of course! Directors need to be comfortable, just as the actors do. Even when they are very self confident, but especially when they are not.

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Just as the director is the main audience for the actors, the DP can be the audience for the director. They are alone at the top of the pyramid and sometimes need a bit of positive reinforcement.

 

It's nice :)

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