What Does a Movie Director Do?

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In Depth Film Director Job Description

The vast majority of the time when an audience views a motion picture, it is the Director’s creative vision of the script that they are witnessing. The Director maintains artistic control of every creative activity from pre-production through to post-production. However, such control may vary greatly depending on the context in which (s)he is involved in the project. The collaborative nature of filmmaking demands overlaps or gray areas between different job descriptions. Ultimately, the Director is beholden to the Producer and the Executives who represent the financing, and this dynamic can lead to tension between the creative and the practical.

Director’s Responsibilities During Pre-Production

The Director influences the following pre-production activities in varying degrees:

  • Casting
  • Shot Planning and Storyboard
  • Scheduling
  • Script and Story Development
  • Production Design

Casting

Depending on the size of the production, casting decisions might be made by one or many individuals. On a big studio picture, a whole team of Producers and Executives may need to approve casting choices. Key cast members may be attached to the project even before the Director is chosen. Insofar as casting affects the potential box-office appeal and therefore the financing of a film, the Production team will exert its influence to protect the interests of the project’s investors. On a television series where a Director is hired on for only a few episodes, (s)he may have little or no say on casting decisions.

Despite all of this, the Director has the key role in working with the cast during production, so ideally the Director will be consulted during casting. In some cases, especially where a Director is also the Writer and/or Producer, (s)he may successfully wrestle casting veto power from the rest of the Production team.

Shot Planning

This activity is closely tied to Scheduling, and in fact one rarely takes place in isolation from the other. However, the two are separated herein to illustrate the differences between creative and practical considerations.

Shot Planning involves an almost Herculean act of imagination on the part of the Director – a fact routinely taken for granted or at least under appreciated. The Director analyzes the script and decides on the best type of shot to use on every line of dialogue and every unit of action in order to convey the plot and emotional points of each scene. The options are endless: wide, tight, moving, static, on a crane, 2-shot, over the shoulder, etc. Each has a different affect on the audience’s perception of the events in the scene, and it’s the Director’s intimate knowledge of this affect and his/her skill in manipulating it that will determine the effectiveness of the storytelling.

To assist in this process, a Director may employ the use of a Storyboard – a graphic representation of what the final movie is intended to look like. (S)he will also collaborate with the Cinematographer or DOP to determine the best “shooting style” for the project. The end result is a list of shots that the Director requires to adequately tell the story. This shot list informs many other facets of the movie making process.

Scheduling

Although the Line Producer is primarily responsible for scheduling, the Director’s input is an absolute requirement. During the production phase, the Director will play a vital role in keeping the production on schedule, therefore (s)he must collaborate on the creation of the schedule, and oftentimes negotiate compromises between the creative vision and scheduling requirements. The content of the Director’s shot list will be a key factor in the scheduling, among other considerations such as:

  • Availability of locations, cast and other key resources
  • Logistics of moving the production between locations
  • Key story elements that may require linear scheduling, such as a profound change in an actor’s appearance (think Robert DeNiro in “Raging Bull”)

Script and Story Development

Depending on the script and the production, the Director may be required to make script revisions in order to facilitate successful rendering of the story on film. A script may have inherent problems or challenges that require the expertise and vision of the Director to overcome. During rehearsals, the Director may glean new insights or uncover key emotional moments that must be incorporated into the script. The majority of the time the Director does this in close collaboration with the Writer(s); in rare instances the Director will be solely charged with repairing a dysfunctional script.

Production Design

The overall visual appearance of the movie is determined by the Production Designer or Art Director. However, depending on the production a Director may have a little or a lot to say about the subject. On a television series, the “look and feel” has been largely established without the episodic Director’s input. However, a Writer/Director/Producer of a film may exert great influence on the Production Designer’s work.

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