Stybz Communications
Writings: Articles

But What I Really Want To Do Is Direct
1999

We hear this phrase all the time by actors, and always wonder why. What is it about directing that is so appealing that it would draw actors away from what we fans like to see - the acting? One answer is that some actors feel that they have an insight to the characters' and the actors' feelings more so than those who have not acted before. It also allows more creativity arid freedom to control what is being presented than any actor would.

So what is the role of a Director? Well, it encompasses many things. First he has to decide what kind of shots he wants and make sure they fit in the time-frame of the episode. Cost is very important as well. The mark of a good Director is one who can effectively utilize materials without going over-budget. He needs to prove to the Producer that he can successfully translate the script to screen.

When putting the production together, he can either draw storyboards (like little cartoon frames), have someone draw them from his ideas, or do a shot by shot listing of what he'd like to see on camera. He consults with the Producer(s) to discuss these scenes and the feasibility of them. If there is a drawback, like a problem of finding a location, he can make an amendment to that particular scene to accommodate a location that best suits his needs.

Not all scenes are filmed on location. Some are filmed on a soundstage, where particular interiors or specific locations can be replicated. Sometimes these sets are permanent, as in the case of some TV series that use a soundstage for its interior shots of the routine locations, and some are not and can be dismantled to make room for another set. So it's easier to shoot there no matter what time of day or weather.

On the other hand, there are times when filming on location is easier than using a soundstage, because there's less to build. Especially an intricate set that requires a lot of scenery (set dressing). It's also easier to use a location if you're only going to be using it for a single episode. It's a lot of work and money to keep building and tearing down sets each week. Not to mention time consuming. And time is limited. But filming on location can be costly sometimes as well.

One fun, and money saving aspect about location and filmmaking is that you can fool the audience into believing things that aren't so. One example is a scene in a restaurant. It's possible that the filming took place in more than one location. For example, the first shot is usually an exterior one establishing the location as the restaurant. Then the next shot would be inside the place. It's possible the actual filming of the interior did not take place in the same location as the exterior. I might have been filmed in another restaurant or on a soundstage. This may or may not be what happened, but it's something that can occur, resulting in fooling the audience into thinking that it was filmed in one place. Welcome to movie magic.

Sure we see can see the characters leave the restaurant using a different another angle. But that shot might have been filmed back to back with the original establishing shot as described above. What happens is that when you have two shots in an episode that require the camera to be in the same position, then it's best to shoot them one after the other, so as to save time in moving the camera. All the director has to do is make sure that the actors are cued at the right moment to leave the restaurant, and that both shots are identifiable for the final cut.

If they next shot is in a parking lot, that could have been filmed anywhere as well. It didn't have to be filmed outside the restaurant. In fact, we don't even know if the place used as the exterior of the restaurant was actually a restaurant. All that's needed is a sign, and even real restaurants have their signs replaced by a fake one for filming, unless they make a deal for advertising. See the fun yet? In movies and TV you can take anything and make it into whatever you want. Just like converting an empty stage to be any place you want it to be for a play; you can convert an empty sidewalk into an exterior of a restaurant.

Not only could the argument in the parking lot have been filmed in a different location, but it could have also been filmed on a different day. Why? There are many reasons, including weather, actors' schedules, location, availability...many reasons. Just like the locations may be different to depict the same place, so can the days and times the scene filmed.

Another example of this technique involves the two scenes that can occur within the story on two different days many days apart, but were filmed on the same day. In TV and film production, one camera is used to film an entire show. On average, it takes a long time to set up the lights and the camera - try anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours. This is why it takes so long to film one episode (7-8 days) or a film (four months or more). One of the reasons one camera is used is because the lighting is easier to manipulate. Once you have more than one camera, you have to worry about shadows from the other cameras and props and the like, plus the challenge of not concealing them from each other. Also, since most of the equipment on a production from the lights to the cameras is rented, it's cheaper to rent one camera than multiple. So any way to apply a shortcut to the process is a plus, despite it making the process a bit longer to finish.

The example of the two scenes on different days, the actors just have to change his wardrobe, makeup and hair and, voila, it's a week later. But wait. What if the shots were done in reverse? What the second scene was filmed first and the first second? Can they do that? Yes, they can. It depends on what's easier on wardrobe and makeup. It all boils down to time and convenience.

Since one camera is used, the scene has to be done over and over again for each angle. So any scene can have several angles, depending on what's happening in it. A conversation between two people can have at least three angles. One angle establishes the couple talking and where they are when this is happening. One angle shows the close up of one person talking to the other. Then the third angle is the reverse of that other person. Each one had to be done over and over again until the director is happy with them. For each angle, while the shot we see on screen may be only a few seconds, the entire scene is performed, mainly for timing purposes, and also in case there is a aspect of the scene the Director decides he'd want to use instead of one he had planned.

These days, the director can playback a scene as soon as it's filmed if he needs to decide if he wants to “print” or keep that shot, or do another take.

A nice but tricky camera play is one that's used most often in police interview scenes. It's called tracking and panning, where the camera is on a dolly and is pulled slowly across the room from the left side to the right side of the scene (or vice versa) while the camera continues to follow the action. Not only that, but then it's done in the opposite angle to capture the other actor or actors who usually sit on the other side of the interrogation table or on a sofa across from a chair, or just standing in facing someone. It's a lot of work to keep two shots like that in synch. First; the camera has to face one side and track and pan while the Script Supervisor or Continuity Person keeps time with the movement of the camera. Then the camera is turned around and the set is re-lighted to shoot the other angle. The camera tracks and pans again, keeping in time with the previous angle. Then once the scene is spliced together, with the two angles interspersed within it, the movement of the camera should be smooth and symmetrical. The tricky part on the actors' behalf is to avoid being distracted by the camera that is moving in and out of their line of sight, a tough, but beautiful shot done by all.

In order to make sure the shot is done to his liking, the Director has to rely on the Director of Photography (DP) also known as the Cinematographer. He or she is the chief camera operator with a keen eye for how to setup and light the shot. Without the DP the show doesn't get filmed. And if he and the Director can't work together, the vision the Director has won't translate well on screen.

The difference between a Director and a DP is that the Director never operates the camera. That is the job of the DP. A monitor is usually booked up to the camera for the Director to watch during filming.

The DP and the Director will converse about how the shot should look Then the DP will get the chief of the electrical crew (aka lighting) to work with him to set the lights to elicit the mood the Director wants. This person is known as the Gaffer.

When the preparation for the shot is being made, the actors are asked out on set to “block” their scene. This is where the Director walks through the scene with the actors and tells them where to stand and how to perform the scene. The DP might be involved in this discussion as well, but the Director is usually the one who converses with the actors about the scene, not the DP. A member of the camera department will lay some colored tape on the floor to “mark” where the actors should stand or move to during the scene. Each actor is assigned a color, so as not to be confused. This way the actors know where to be in order to stay in frame.

Once the actors know what they need to do, they are asked to leave the set while the DP and the Gaffer light it. During this time, which could be a while, stand-ins may be called on set to stand where the actors are supposed to.

When the lighting is finished and everyone is called back on set to shoot, the Director will wait until the film and sound are rolling before he calls “Action”. An Assistant Director is usually by his side to order everyone on the set to be quiet and to instruct the camera and sound crew to start their machines.

The sound of the scene is recorded separately, but simultaneously, on reel-to-reel tapes. While a video camera will record sound and visuals, a film camera can only record visuals. So it's up to the sound department to add that much needed audio, which is inserted on the film during the post production process.

While filming a scene in most cases a boom microphone (the one that hangs on a pole, hovering over the actors) is used. This mike only picks up their voices. The other sounds from shuffling feet to snapping of fingers is added later, much later, usually in a studio where other actors specializing in making those noises (Foley artists) come to play. Using any props they can find to imitate a sound effect, they will make any noise needed for a scene. Even something like breathing can be recorded separately and added in.

One advantage of the way the sound is recorded is that any time during the filming of a scene the Director can call out cues to the actors if need be. For example, a sound as simple as a phone ringing might not be done at the time of filming. That could be added later, depending upon the location, situation and/or what the Director wants to do. So if the phone isn't really ringing and it's supposed to be, the Director can call out something like, “Phone rings”. This is the actor's cue to react to it, either by looking at it for a second or jumping, whichever the Director prefers. Then, of course, depending upon the direction, they can pick it up or let it continue ringing.

When the filming of the episode is completed the voices of the Director and anyone else cuing the actor are omitted and the voices of the other characters and sound effects are inserted.

Getting back to the filming of the scene...once both the sound machine and the camera are rolling, the camera crew will mark the shot by holding a small electronic slate or “clapper in front of the camera for a few seconds. Then the Sound man will say, “Sound speeding,” as an indication that the tapes are running at full speed, ready to record any dialog when the Director is ready. As soon as the Sound says that, the Assistant Camera person (AC) will say, “Frame”, meaning the camera is ready also. At this point the Director says, “Action” The actors go to work, and will continue working or acting until the Director yells, “Cut”. If he likes the shot he'll say, “Print”. Then the AC and the Script Supervisor will log that shot as printed for use in the episode, noting the amount of film used and what reel number.

So the episode is done filming. What happens next? Editing, sound effects and music we added on. Also, if there was any dialog that didn't sound right, then the actors are asked to “loop” or dub them over in the sound studio. This can occur anywhere from a week or so after filming to months later.

First the episode must be edited. The Director will sit down with the Editor to go over the scenes and make a rough cut of the episode or film, using the sounds recorded during filming. Then, as it falls into place, sound effects, music and other pieces are added. At this point a TV episode may be cut down to allow commercials to be inserted. This is all done with the supervision of the Director.

Overall the Director is involved in all of this, making sure that the mood he wants presented in the episode shines through all the way down to the minor details.

The Producer(s) is (are) there as well to make suit the whole thing is done the way he'd (they'd) want it. The producers have the final say, but the creativity is in the Director's mind, and his ability to translate the script effectively is what makes it a lot of fun for him and all involved. It's definitely a hands-on experience from start to finish.

Back to Articles page.



Home * Film and Television * Writings * Photography * IMDB * Blog *
Twitter * Reviews * Stage 32 * Voiceovers * Links * About Me *

© Stybz Communications