Taking Direction from Great Directors

A little over a year ago, I was sitting in my usual perch leading up to the Academy Awards — the wine bar in my favorite LA theater – taking in all the nominated films, as any film geek does. As I was settling my bill a familiar face floated by, en route to a photo op before ducking into a closed event for directors (working and aspiring). It was Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild, Big Little Lies), my bartender confirmed, mispronouncing his name as only an American can.

I watched as film folks flooded the entrance to the theater, a steady stream of political graphic tees, unintentional fashion statements and tote bags with the quotes of great writers. A crass generalization but befitting of future storytellers. I admired them but never in a million years did I see myself among them. I’m much more comfortable lurking in the back of a dark bar or café awash in the glow of my laptop, trying to make sense of the stories that swirl in my head. Screenwriter, maybe. Director, no fucking way.

Then I wrote something that started out as a gift to a friend and morphed into a sweet little short that won some awards and suddenly hiding behind my laptop wasn’t enough. I’ve been to numerous live reads, lectures and film festivals and interviewed enough screenwriters to know that the chances of having your material made into a film are microscopic. If you want to get it made, in most cases, you have to figure out how to do it yourself.

This year, I registered for those director events. I met people who are just as terrified as I am to direct their first film. I mopped up as much creative energy, advice and inspiration as I could manage. I was reminded that every director was a first-time director at some point, as Greta Gerwig so aptly put it “you only get to not know what you’re doing once. Don’t miss it. Because it’s incredibly powerful.”

Some other helpful tips I picked up at Film Independent’s 2018 Directors Close-Up series:

  • Consider casting theater actors, particularly if you’re on an indie budget
  • When directing, have the actors envision something that will help strike the right emotion or reaction
  • If you’re shooting on location and intend to work with local talent (as I do), set up auditions via Skype or Google Hangout
  • Sometimes, for smaller parts particularly with children, consider casting amateurs
  • SoundCloud is an excellent resource for scoring your film, as it has a wealth of unsigned artists with original content
  • “Work with what the actors have. Find what they have in them and exploit it.” – Ava DuVernay

Without sounding too corny or rom-com (which is, ironically, the genre of my short) I always find the most bizarre signs present themselves when you need a little bit of cosmic encouragement to keep going.

Josh and Ben Safdie (Good Time) were panelists during one of the director events, and they were talking about sound mixing and used “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles as an example of isolating vocals. Lucy in the Sky is the working title of the feature I’m currently writing. The fuck.

Then one night after work, I ducked into this little Russian floral shop, not because I was in the market for flowers but because it was freezing and my Uber was taking forever. I’ve never seen so many red roses in my life (is that a Russian thing?), literally the only thing these crusty old guys were selling was roses. Save one single bucket full of white hydrangea, which is a reoccurring prop in my film. Okay, universe, I hear you.

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Follow along @thelasessions

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