Film Director Explained

A film director is a person who directs the making of a film. Generally, a film director controls a film’s artistic and dramatic aspects, and visualizes the script while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfilment of that vision. The director has a key role in choosing the cast members, production design, and the creative aspects of filmmaking. In some European countries, the director is viewed as the author of the film. The film director gives direction to the cast and crew and create an overall vision through which a film eventually becomes realized. Directors need to be able to mediate differences in creative visions and stay in the boundaries of the film’s budget. There are many pathways to becoming a film director. Some film directors started as screenwriters, film editors or actors. Other film directors have attended a film school. Directors use different approaches. Some outline a general plotline and let the actors improvise dialogue, while others control every aspect, and demand that the actors and crew follow instructions precisely. Some directors also write their own screenplays or collaborate on screenplays with long-standing writing partners. Some directors edit or appear in their films, or compose the music score for their films.

Activities

Film directors create an overall vision through which a film eventually becomes realized. Realizing this vision includes overseeing the artistic and technical elements of film production, as well as directing the shooting timetable and meeting deadlines. This entails organizing the film crew in such a way as to achieve his or her vision of the film. This requires skills of group leadership, as well as the ability to maintain a singular focus even in the stressful, fast-paced environment of a film set. Moreover, it is necessary to have an artistic eye to frame shots and to give precise feedback to cast and crew, thus, excellent communication skills are a must.

Since the film director depends on the successful cooperation of many different creative individuals with possibly strongly contradicting artistic ideals and visions, he or she also needs to possess conflict resolution skills in order to mediate whenever necessary. Thus the director ensures that all individuals involved in the film production are working towards an identical vision for the compleated film. The set of varying challenges he or she has to tackle has been described as “a multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle with egos and weather thrown in for good measure”. It adds to the pressure that the success of a film can influence when and how they will work again. Omnipresent are the boundaries of the budget of the film. Additionally, the director may also have to ensure an intended age rating. Theoretically, the sole superior of a director is the studio that is financing the film, however, a poor working relationship between a film director and an actor could possibly result in the director being replaced if the actor is a major film star. Even so, it is arguable that the director spends more time on a project than anyone else, considering that the director is one of the few positions that requires intimate involvement during every stage of film production. Thus, the position of film director is widely considered to be a highly stressful and demanding one. It has been said that “20-hour days are not unusual”.

Under European Union law, the film director is considered the “author” or one of the authors of a film, largely as a result of the influence of auteur theory. Auteur theory is a film criticism concept that holds that a film director’s film reflects the director’s personal creative vision as if they were the primary “auteur” (the French word for “author”). In spite of—and sometimes even because of—the production of the film as part of an industrial process, the auteur’s creative voice is distinct enough to shine through studio interference and the collective process.

Characteristics

  • Different directors can vary immensely amongst themselves, under various characteristics. Several examples are: Those who outline a general plotline and let the actors improvise dialogue. Notable examples include Ingmar Bergman, Christopher Guest, Wong Kar-wai, Spike Lee, Wim Wenders, Mike Leigh, Barry Levinson, Jean-Luc Godard, Miklós Jancsó, Gus Van Sant, Judd Apatow, Terrence Malick, Harmony Korine, Jay and Mark Duplass, and occasionally Robert Altman, Joe Swanberg, Sergio Leone and Federico Fellini.
  • Those who control every aspect, and demand that the actors and crew follow instructions precisely. Notable examples include David Lean, Akira Kurosawa, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Victor Fleming, Erich von Stroheim, James Cameron, George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Lumet, Andrew Bujalski, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Guillermo del Toro and Alfred Hitchcock.
  • Those who write their own screenplays. Notable examples include Woody Allen, Werner Herzog, Alejandro Jodorowsky, John Cassavetes, Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, George Lucas, J. F. Lawton, David Cronenberg, Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder, Ed Wood, David Lynch, the Coen brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Pedro Almodóvar, John Hughes, Nick Park, Edward Burns, Kevin Smith, Todd Field, Cameron Crowe, Terrence Malick, Oren Peli, Eli Roth, Harmony Korine, Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo del Toro, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Oliver Stone, John Singleton, Spike Lee, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Hayao Miyazaki, M. Night Shyamalan,Daryush Shokof, Paul Haggis, Billy Bob Thornton, James Wong, Tyler Perry, Robert Rodriguez, Christopher Nolan, George A. Romero, Sergio Leone, Satyajit Ray, Joss Whedon and David O. Russell. Steven Spielberg and Sidney J. Furie have written screenplays for a small number of their films.
  • Those who collaborate on screenplays with long-standing writing partners. Notable examples include Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga, Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams, Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown/Tony Grisoni, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson/Noah Baumbach, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi/Paul Schrader/Jay Cocks, Yasujirō Ozu and Kôgo Noda, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière/Luis Alcoriza, Krzysztof Kieślowski/Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Frank Capra/Robert Riskin, Michelangelo Antonioni/Tonino Guerra, Billy Wilder/I.A.L. Diamond, Sergio Leone and Sergio Donati, Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, and Christopher Nolan/Jonathan Nolan/David S. Goyer.
  • Those who edit their own films. Notable examples include Akira Kurosawa, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Cahill, Jean-Marc Vallée, Steven Soderbergh, David Lean, Don Coscarelli, Charlie Chaplin, Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron, Ed Wood, Gaspar Noe, Takeshi Kitano, John Woo, Andy Warhol, Shinya Tsukamoto, Kenneth Anger, Gregg Araki, Gus Van Sant, Xavier Dolan, Ben Wheatley, Kelly Reichardt, Leni Riefenstahl, Kevin Smith, Rodrigo Cortes, Joe Swanberg, Steve James, Jafar Panahi, Ti West, Joel and Ethan Coen and many indie, Internet and arthouse filmmakers.
  • Those who shoot their own films. Notable examples include Nicolas Roeg, Mike Cahill, Peter Hyams, Steven Soderbergh, Joe Swanberg, Tony Kaye, Gaspar Noe, Gregg Araki, Robert Rodriguez, Don Coscarelli, Josef von Sternberg, Shinya Tsukamoto and Kenneth Anger. Those who appear in their films. Notable examples include Clint Eastwood, Orson Welles, Mel Gibson, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, John Waters, John Carpenter, Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Anger, Woody Allen, Jon Favreau, Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, Michael Bay, Mel Brooks, Ben Stiller, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Charlie Chaplin, Terry Jones, Edward Burns, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sam Raimi, Roman Polanski, Erich von Stroheim, Billy Bob Thornton, Sylvester Stallone, M. Night Shyamalan, Harold Ramis, Robert De Niro, John Woo, Kevin Smith, Warren Beatty, Takeshi Kitano, Kenneth Branagh and Ed Wood. Alfred Hitchcock, Abel Ferrara, Shawn Levy, Edgar Wright and Spike Jonze made cameo appearances in their films. Those who compose the music score for their films. Notable examples include Charlie Chaplin, Clint Eastwood, David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, John Carpenter, Mike Figgis, Alejandro Amenábar, Satyajit Ray, Robert Rodriguez and Tom Tykwer. Another way to categorize directors is by their membership in a “school” of filmmaking, such as the French New Wave, the British New Wave or the New Hollywood school of filmmakers.

Assistant Director

The role of an assistant director on a film includes tracking daily progress against the filming production schedule, arranging logistics, preparing daily call sheets, checking cast and crew, and maintaining order on the set. They also have to take care of the health and safety of the crew. Historically the role of an assistant to the director (not the same as an Assistant director) was a stepping stone to directing work; Alfred Hitchcock was an AD, as was James McTeigue. This transition into film directing is no longer common in feature films, but remains an avenue for television work, particularly in Australia and Britain. It is more common now for ADs to transition to production management and producer roles than to directing.

An “assistant director” can also take on many roles. Responsibilities of an assistant director in theatre may range from taking notes to actually staging parts of the play. Many aspiring theatre directors begin their careers assistant directing, although the responsibilities in theatre are usually completely different from the requirements of filmmaking and should not be confused.

Sub Roles

Often, the role of assistant director is broken down into the following sub-roles:

  • The First Assistant Director(First or 1st AD) has overall AD responsibilities and supervises the Second AD. The “first” is directly responsible to the director and “runs” the floor or set. The 1st AD and the unit production manager are two of the highest “below the line” technical roles in filmmaking (as opposed to creative or “above the line” roles) and so, in this strict sense, the role of 1AD is non-creative.
  • The Second Assistant Director(Second or 2AD) creates the daily call sheets from the production schedule, in cooperation with the production coordinator. The “second” also serves as the “backstage manager”, liaising with actors, putting cast through make-up and wardrobe, which relieves the “first” of these duties. Supervision of the second second assistant director, third assistant director, assistant director trainees, and the setting of background (extras) are parts of the “second’s” duties.
  • The Second Second Assistant Director(Second Second or 22AD) deals with the increased workload of a large or complicated production. For example, a production with a large number of cast may require the division of the aspects of backstage manager and the call sheet production work to two separate people.
  • The Third Assistant Director(Third or 3rd AD) works on set with the “First” and may liaise with the “Second” to move actors from base camp (the area containing the production, cast, and hair and makeup trailers), organize crowd scenes, and supervise one or more production assistants (PA). There is sometimes no clear distinction between a 2AD and a 3AD. Although some industry bodies (American DGA) have defined the roles in an objective way, others believe it to be a subjective distinction.
  • The Additional Assistant Director(AAD or Additional) or Fourth Assistant Director (4AD or “Fourth”) or “Key Production Assistant” (Key PA) may have a number of duties. Most commonly, the AAD has two broad job functions. One is the contraction of the duties of an AD where the AD acts as both 2nd AD and 3rd AD simultaneously. For example, a production with a large number of cast may pass the 2AD call sheet production work to that of the AAD, especially when the 2AD is already performing the additional work of a 3rd AD. The other main use of an AAD is as an adjunct to the 3AD and 1AD for logistically large scenes where more ADs are needed to control large numbers of extras. The “Additional” may also serve where the complexity of the scene or specialized elements within it (stunts, period work) require or are best served by a dedicated AD in most respects equal to a 1st AD – directing and controlling a number of other ADs to direct action to the satisfaction of the 1AD and the director.
  • A production assistant is one of the lowest crew in a film’s hierarchy in terms of salary and authority. They perform various duties required of them by ADs.
  • The sub-roles of assistant directors differ among nations. For example, the distinction between second second AD and third AD is more common in North America. British and Australian productions, rather than having a second second AD, will hire a “second” 2AD experienced in the same duties, and trained to the same level, to allow a division of the duties. 3ADs in Britain and Australia have different duties from a second second AD, and the terms are not synonymous. For example, A “third” may just be a crowd scene specialist, with seniority, and even higher pay than the second AD of that production.
  • Many times, in Hollywood film making, especially studio productions, the First AD is the first person hired on a film, often as soon as the project has been greenlit for production. An assistant director must be very good at estimating how long a scene will take. (Sometimes a scene running a few pages long on the screenplay can be shot relatively quickly, while a half-page emotional key moment may take all day.)

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