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What is a Film Director?

Updated on May 24, 2018
Ridley Scott. Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, etc. Living legend.
Ridley Scott. Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, etc. Living legend.

Good afternoon.

If you've read my blogs aka hubs before about filmmaking, you know I love movies and I'm on a mission to become a film director myself. You can watch my first feature film NOWHERE JOHNNY here: While I feel like I can be great and I know I have that potential, it's a long road to becoming that director that I strive to be. Certainly a difficult road and certainly one that many people do not achieve. And when I say that director, I speak of those whose name is remembered and held in high regard, like Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Michael Mann, Stanley Kubrick, J.J. Abrams, or James Cameron, Steven Soderbergh, or Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Zack Snyder, Quentin Tarantino, etc, etc. There are hundreds of thousands of young men and women who'd love to be on that level as a director.

However, what IS a film director? I can assure you it's a lot more than telling people what to do or taking a script and making it into a movie. There are many types of film directors -- one who is vigorously determined to control every inch of the process while others are more collaborative with their actors and crew members. Essentially, the definition of a film director -- in my honest opinion -- can never be fully defined because I truly feel that whatever the movie is... it will be an extension of who the director is, no matter what the genre is. It is his vision that molds the movie, his personality. He or she definitely has to be a leader at heart if s/he wants to be a strong and effective director. You have to be open-minded to ideas that'll help the overall picture, but you have to also stay true to your convictions and goals. You have to, basically, direct.

Me (in the fedora hat) directing my two actors.
Me (in the fedora hat) directing my two actors. | Source
That's me in the 'Niners cap!
That's me in the 'Niners cap! | Source

As an indie filmmaker, I reflexively eat and sleep movies. Every thought process and every conversation -- it tries to lean towards films. I'm not even aware of it. And that is why I know I'd love to do this forever. I believe this is a trait that directors need to possess. Essentially, you're obsessed with movies. That's a good thing when trying to be a director. I don't know about your sanity, but artists in any medium need to be a little crazy -- I think. lol.

Directors are supposed to be good with people, even if in real life they're anti-social or introverted. They have to essentially be a psychiatrist, to an extent, because character behaviors is their business. A repertoire of many genuine character attributes is essential, otherwise who is gonna believe the story? Otherwise, how will you draw in the audience if they can't connect with someone who feels fake rather than real? No one likes a fake person, a 1-deminisonal person, a fake character. Just look at the John Cena character (hah!). Anyway, for those of you who don't get that reference, it's just a pro-wrestling thing. When there is no realism, all of the tension is gone and you'll have a boring movie. That's it. Look at the difference between the original Star Wars Trilogy and the prequels? Need I say more? (J.J. Abrams shall save it!)

A lot of directors start off making low-to-no budget films as a way to get their feet wet in the world of film story-telling and to channel that passion they have ASAP. At least that's how I feel. After making many shorts and a ridiculous comedy web series that no one thankfully has seen or remembered, I felt I had enough of these practice projects and I set upon to making and directing my first SERIOUS feature-length film.

To the side and below are behind the scene photos of said film entitled Nowhere Johnny, as some of you may know from my other hubs. We're wrapping next week, I hope. A lot of cast members in the movie have erratic schedules that differ from each other. In the last 6 month, we've shot once or twice a week due to the cast's busy life schedules. That's roughly 30 shoots. In between those days for me, is my life and editing the film on Final Cut Pro. You know what I've learned from those 6 months?


I've learned, as a director, that patience is nearly mind-numbingly impossible when waiting and waiting and waiting for the movie to be done. Nothing else matters except making this movie even though you have other obligations and even though you need maintain a social life. You just wanna shoot, shoot, shoot until you get something compellingly amazing and until it is done RIGHT -- but time is not on our side and not everyone on the cast and crew shares your passion for perfection. lol. So, one of the true things in filmmaking, is you have to be willing to compromise on some days if you wanna get things done.

But that's not entirely bad. Art through adversity. There are scenes in Nowhere Johnny that were thought up by me on the spot because misfortune happened out of the blue. For example, an actor called in sick last second, while everyone else showed up on the "set." We either scrap that shoot day everyone else showed up for or we get things done and move forward. I devised a scene on the spot that essentially conveyed the same message as the original scene in the script, but it didn't need the actor and it even made it more mysterious, tension-filled without the actor being there. It worked out better. Since then, I always have a Plan B and Plan C. Even Plan D if things go wrong.

I always have the cast do on-location rehearsing to keep the performances FRESH.

Directors also choose which type of shot is best to portray the tone of the movie or whatever the director wants the audience to feel. Either it's a two-shot, a wide-shot, a close-up, a low angle or high angle or eye-level, or extreme close up -- what have you. The director not only directs the actors, the environment, and so forth for the sake of making a great story -- he also directs the camera and its subtle or not-so subtle movements; and it's all to evoke a certain type of emotion s/he wants the audience to feel. Why does the director choose a hand-held shot rather than a dolly shot? Well, for me, I like the grittiness of hand-held and it was appropriate for my film where as a dolly shot would be elegant and smooth, when Nowhere Johnny is anything but. There is one or two dolly-like shots, though, that are appropriate. At the end of the day, the director decides what is appropriate.

In most movies, the director has a cinematographer aka director of photography collaborating with him and he conveys what he wants to his cinematographer to shoot either physically or to the camera operators via shot-list, storyboards, and so on. It all depends on what the movie is and who is involved. It's never the same, cookie-cutting set up when it comes to the collaboration between filmmakers on different days. It's a changing art form each time you shoot, the process can be similar but never the exact same.

For me, I like operating the camera and lighting a scene when possible. I love to PHYSICALLY shoot the movie myself as it feels like I am indeed molding it with my own hands. It's really half the fun! Why let someone else have half of the fun, in my opinion. Haha. So I can't delve too deeply into that aspect of directing, which is the duo of a director and cinematographer working together. Just remember to always get enough coverage (many angles and takes) of the scene as possible and always get logical cutaway shots. You'll thank yourself during editing when you need those.

Directors can draw up storyboards as a guide or plan the actual scene. I've tried it but learned it hinders my instincts and my "in the moment" style.

My drawing isn't great, I know. Hahah.
My drawing isn't great, I know. Hahah.

A director needs to be mentally AND physically strong. The mentally part is more important than the latter, of course, because it can get stressful solving various problems concurrently with the mass amount of fun involved -- but physically? You need to be energetic and you need to move with your actors. You need to be on your feet all day and keep a positive attitude. The way you behave reflects the actors and crews' overall performances and mood. I've learned, the hard way, if you show up on the "set" pissed off because some of life's problems or you forgot to eat breakfast that morning or if you don't stay hydrated...your energy and your mood WILL effect the actors/actresses in a NEGATIVE way. I had no intentions of doing so, but by the time I had realized I was emitting such a actors were already effected and the performances for that day was not the best I could've gotten. Unless you want your actors like that for a scene, it could be a good method to manipulate the actors into feeling like sh*t. But for that particular day, it wasn't that kind of a scene.

There was one scenario where it helped for an actor and the crew to be upset with the director or the overall production-- and that was in Blade Runner . Harrison Ford wasn't happy with Ridley Scott -- at the start anyways -- while making this film. But I feel Scott wanted Ford to feel that way purposely because the character Deckard (played by Ford) wasn't a happy person, maybe he wasn't even a person. Don't even get me started on how the American crew of Blade Runner backlashed on Ridley Scott and how low their morale was. It's well documented, do look it up if you want. Point is, it made the character and the film unique because it was appropriate to the mood of the film...a film that I LOVE, like many filmmakers do. Blade Runner is such a f*ckin' masterful movie.

Harrison Ford as Deckard in Blade Runner, a film by Ridley Scott
Harrison Ford as Deckard in Blade Runner, a film by Ridley Scott

Anyway, I hope my opinions and perspectives on what a film director is has entertained you in some way. I'd love to know who your favorite director is, do leave a comment on why that director is your favorite. And so I leave you all with the official trailer for my film. Also, do SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel for the latest film stuff.

Thank you, have a great day.

Trailer to my NEW feature film!

Trailer to Nowhere Johnny:


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    • The Jet profile image

      The Jet 6 years ago from The Bay

      Haha. Thank you for that compliment.

    • James Peters profile image

      James Timothy Peters 6 years ago from Hammond, Indiana

      Super great work, man!

      Right on, love this Hub. Very, VERY cool.


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