ENED - DAILIES AND DEFINING DIRECTING
ENED is an abbreviation for EVERY NIGHT & EVERY DAY, which is the working title for my first feature film I directed earlier this year. Yesterday I got the dailies back from the editor. The production was super low budget and we didn’t have the chance to create them during shooting. John Limoli, our editor, is kind enough to double up as Assistant Editor. He concluded that part of the job yesterday and in his words: “Now the fun part begins.”
So I get the dailies back and I watch them. Thoughts come up that range from excitement and wanting to start putting pieces and moments together, to fear and shame for other takes. It’s a crazy mix of 13 days of shooting in Los Angeles and Palmdale, California. But I must say, the footage is not all too far off from what I remember.
My vision for the film is still as strong as ever but my mind keeps reminding me that it’s about searching and finding the film again, in the footage that is now available to me. It’s the final telling of the story and I want to make sure to stay open to changes and improvements during this process.
Regardless, I have mixed feelings about it all and one question specifically is taking over my mind: What is my responsibility as director? I know this sounds very basic but I’m constantly finding and re-defining directing for myself. What is it about a director that gets her/him hired?
In the past eight years, I have worked and assisted directors that have ranged from very little involvement with actors or production to micromanaging it all. Now having had the experience of directing my first film, I’m trying to find my place in that range. What does directing mean to me?
I think the answer shows, through the analyzation of the two elements which I like to describe as THE ACTING, which of course describes the work with actors, and THE CAMERA, which describes everything else, including production design, costumes, make up and hair, and sound. So let’s break down my findings, after looking at dailies:
On this project I was highly involved with the actors. From early rehearsals to exercises and games. I was all up in their business and for the most part this was very effective and enjoyable for them and me. I gave my best to find out what works for them individually. I know for a fact that I didn’t always find the right note or the right motivation for them but I worked hard at it.
Now that said, a director can do a lot of damage by being involved so much in the actors process. For example, an actor has trouble with a certain moment and the director gives note after note, trying to help. Inadvertently the actor will try and please the director rather than be in the moment and react impulsively to the situation. All actors want to please, like children. The result will be a downward spiral of the scene or moment that neither will be happy with. Sometimes it would be better to stay quiet with an encouraging word here or there.
On the other end of this are wonderfully collaborative moments between the actors and me. Moments that we found together and that will stand out in this film as truly full and rich. Moments and performances that we’ll never forget and think back on for years to come.
The adjustment I’m giving myself for the next one, would be to buckle down during rehearsals on moments that are unclear in the script. Instead of blowing over them and trusting that we’ll find them, to work harder at them. Analyze them and find out why they are not working or coming easily and find a solution before going into production. And if we can’t find a solution, stay encouraging to keep searching. Let the actors make a decision because at the end of the day, this will at the very least be truthful for themselves.
I worked extensively with the cinematographer, Carlos Vargas, on creating the visuals for this film. We met for weeks, every day, to go through the story, for me to explain moments and meanings in this script and for him to translate this into camera movement, lens choices, support gear, lighting.
Carlos has a wonderful background in documentaries and character driven content which I thought would lend itself beautifully to this picture. So we spent hours and hours over cappuccinos and burgers talking about the camera work and how to tell this story visually.
I am still thankful for this prep time because on an ultra low budget film like ours, there just isn’t enough time on set to discover what supports the story best. We needed this time together so we could go off and do our work during production, working from our instincts that were fueled by our conversations.
Amazing moments came out of this, in which the camera is wonderfully supporting the characters and their journeys. It’s a harmonious dance between all the elements that will make this film and the filmmakers stand out from the crowd, no doubt about it.
I had a very similar experience with our costume designer, Rivkah Spolin, who challenged me to think of these characters in ways that I wasn’t able to myself. Through countless conversations, she created the wardrobe for these characters and drove their individual journeys along with it. What a blessing to have such strong collaborators that are willing to put in the time!
I’m giving myself one adjustment in this department as well: More detailed exploration of the script during preparation. I would urge myself and the cinematographer to lock in even more details and more defined moments that will tell the story visually. In addition to be more specific with the other departments as well.
SO HOW DOES ALL OF THIS ANSWER MY QUESTION?
I think the job of the director is that of the conductor. I know this analogy has been made many times before but it’s just now that it truly makes sense to me. It comes down to the director to balance all the available elements that will in the end create wonderful moments, which combined together, create an experience for the audience. And this does not just describe the process of working with the cast and crew, but hiring these individuals as well. Sitting with them and getting a sense for them as people is a key element in this entire process. Another element is the budget - you better be all over that as director (-there will be a blog post about the friction between a line producer and the creative team down the line, not to worry)! Nobody will know better than you, where the money should be spent. It is you who knows best about investments in cast, crew, locations, equipment, and everything else that surrounds your film!
The director is the the final word in deciding how to position, stimulate, restrict, free, and unleash, all these collaborators, tools, and elements, in order to create the final product. Every decision will transform and change the product you are creating. Sometimes it falls into place and sometimes you must work hard to stay the course. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
It’s an art. Simple as that. This is where experience comes in. Balancing it all, is not learned in film school or by studying other directors’ work. It is burned into you in the field, by doing it. In the moment, being present, making difficult choices.
As time goes on and my experience grows, it’s super exciting to define the role of the director further and to be more specific about this crucial hinge in the filmmaking process.
Let me know what y’all are thinking in the comments below!
All my best,