It’s past time for me to step up my directing game. Way past time.
I’m with Robert Rodriguez when it comes to being a director. You need to learn how to do it all. You don’t always need to actually do it all on every movie, but not understanding how to light, or use the camera, or cut your film is opening a weakness someone will later exploit. They might not do it out of malice, but incompetence can ruin your film as quickly and decisively as intent. Unless you have a budget at your disposal sufficient to hire the best, and the good sense to know what “the best” is supposed to mean, you’re going to be making uncomfortable decisions about who gets to muck with all the work you’re putting in.
At my level – that would be the level where you have no money and are paying people in sandwiches and beer – it’s even more dire. There’s always someone around saying they know how to do sound, or light a shot, but most of them are affable amateurs at best. Even if you, too, are an amateur, there’s something you need to remember: they’re helping out on set for a few days and you’re sweating blood for something that’s going to bear your name. If you don’t think that makes a difference in how much effort and ability the average person will bring to bear, I understand. You just haven’t had your sound ruined by someone who put in the time but not the heart.
It’s not their fault. This isn’t about anger. It’s about admitting that directing isn’t the kind of thing where you get to do one job and leave the rest to everyone else. You’re the center. The locus. The hub of wheel. And when the movie fails, it fails all over you. Even if you could hop into frame mid-film and blame the guy who forgot to turn on the digital recorder for the horrible sound in the scene, people would still wonder why you didn’t notice before you stuck this piece of crap in front of them. The point I’m making is that you feel a little feel better when you’re the guy who forgot to turn on the digital recorder.
True, if your career goes anywhere, you’re going to have to give that job up to someone else. In fact, I dream of the day when I can find someone better at some of these jobs than I am. Having made the mistakes myself, I’m better equipped to know if the person I’m bring on is better, and I’m also less likely to make their jobs more difficult.
So I was talking about stepping up my game. I’m proud of the fact that I can do it all. I can set up my sound. I can point lights. I can swing the camera about and I can hack the footage into something resembling a movie. I can, and have, done that, a couple of times. Now, I want to do it better.
A lot better.
Finding the right books is the trick. I’m not interested in how-to books, especially not ones focused on being a Do It Yourself Filmmaker. I don’t need an instruction manuel and I don’t want to be talked down to. I want theory. I want something I can internalize, something I can turn into a process, so that when I find someone to take a job from me, I still know how to think towards that job. The energy of filmmaking flows from the director to all other jobs and back again. Knowing how to think about your shots, your setups, your camera moves and your acting directions in terms of those energies means you won’t be begging your editor to make something for which you did not give him the materials. I want something that gives me that. The knowledge of the how and why, the philosophy and the theory. I’ve got Google if I get confused in Final Cut.
I got lucky when someone on my Twitter feed mentioned In the Blink of an Eye. I hadn’t asked, and it wasn’t even directed at me, but as soon as it was mentioned as being one of the seminal works on film editing, I knew this was where to start. Editing is something through which I’ve fumbled; I’d have a sense of not liking the rhythm of a scene, but not a good idea why. That meant a lot of aimless trial and error (which is different from aimed trial and error, I swear), and chunks of scenes I wish I could go back and change.
In the Blink of an Eye is a wonderful read. It’s short (the main text is 70 pages, and the appendix on digital editing is the same), but it speaks eloquently about the way editing should feel, about the mindset of approaching it and of the way the human mind interprets cuts between different spacial points of view. It discusses different film editors not in terms of how to use them, but in how their different approaches change how you think about a film. The KVM, in which you take bits of film and splice, is more like sculpting out of clay, while the Moviola, with which you cut away from long runs of film, is more like carving out of marble. Insights like that speak to the way you should think about a thing, not to which button to flick and when. If you have any interest in directing, I strongly recommend it.
As for me, it’s time to move on to the next area of pain and suffering: light.
I’ll leave sound for a really masochistic day.