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Monday, January 31, 2011

Jack of all trades

As we’ve mentioned several times before, there are an incredible range of skills involved in making a movie. If you’re working single-handed, you’ll need to know all of them. You’ll need to be not just the director but also director of photography, lighting designer, editor, sound recordist, sound editor, foley artist, stunt coordinator, scriptwriter, continuity girl, graphic designer, set dresser, effects department, wardrobe mistress, property master, makeup artist, hairstylist and publicity manager. And you’ll need to get your own coffee.

imageIf you’re working on a live action production, unless you’re shooting a guerilla style documentary completely on your own, you’ll delegate some of these tasks to your crew. These are the people who will make or break your movie. Although the popular perception is that it’s the director who makes a movie, that’s a complete misconception. Movies are a team effort, and the best directors work with the same crew over and over again until they develop an almost telepathic rapport.

As a director, the more you understand about what each member of your crew actually has to do, the better. So if there’s a particular moody shot you have in mind, it helps if you have some idea of how you want it lit, how you want it framed, how it will cut into the edit, and what sort of music you’re thinking of. The more hands-on experience you have of each of these elements, the easier it will be to convey your ideas to your crew. You don’t have to be able to do it very well, but it helps if you can at least speak the same language as your specialists and use their technical terms.  Having tried each part of the process for yourself, you’ll be more aware of practical problems, and you’ll have some concept of what you’re actually asking for from your crew. Your crew will also appreciate that you are taking the time to see things from their point of view. And if you’re working professionally, your producer will be glad you’ve got some idea what’s going to be a big budget item and what’s straightforward.

This is one reason machinima makes such a useful training ground for filmmakers. Because you’re forced to deal with all aspects of a production, you learn to appreciate everything that goes into a movie. I’ve learned, for example, about how to carry a scene with sound when I can’t show what I want for whatever reason. I’ve learned about how to stagger an edit so that I cut to the sound of the new scene before going to the visual, and how that affects the way I would shoot the closing and opening of those two scenes so that the editor has what he needs to make it work. I’ve learned about how set design can hinder the clarity of a shot when it’s too complex, and how it can make it look dull when it’s too sparse. Perhaps most importantly from a personal point of view, I’m learning how to write differently: screenplays aren’t prose, they’re not theatre, and they’re not real life. I’m beginning to understand how words will come out when they’re filmed, and I’m learning how much of the story and characterization doesn’t depend on dialogue at all. That will make me a better writer, and I haven’t wasted anyone else’s time filming my early scripts.

I won’t claim for an instant that I’ve learned to do any of these jobs anywhere nearly as well as a specialist. In fact, if you put me on a movie set, I wouldn’t know how to operate most of the equipment, let alone get a decent result. Let’s not forget that the full expression is “Jack of all trades, Master of none.” But what I am learning is to understand everything that goes into making a movie, how to relate to the rest of the crew, and what I can do to make their job easier. That’s one of the keys to an effective and productive movie crew.

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

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