"People are telling me it's a huge step to become a director. I think that the greatest step was to become a writer." - Guillermo Arriaga
There’s no denying the fact that cinema is a director’s medium. No matter what happens behind the camera, from photography, to wardrobe to editing, the director ultimately gets and takes all the credit. After all, it’s ‘A Film By’ the director. This rankles with some because we are continually told that film is a collaborative medium yet the director takes all the plaudits come press time and award season. However, this isn’t a post about whether or not a director should claim the film’s grand by-line (check out Craig Mazin’s site for a healthy debate on the subject). This post is about whether writers should step up to the plate and direct themselves.
Yes. Absolutely. Whenever they can, if at all possible. PotDoll over at Bleeding Forehead has been offered to direct her Film Council short film and she was wondering what to do. She was a little bit surprised at my encouragement that all writers should direct. I may not be expressing original sentiments here but writers make natural directors. You’ve already expressed your vision of the movie in script form. You know what it should look like, who the characters are and how the dialogue should be spoken. Why not direct the film? Intimidated by the technical demands of the role? A bit shy of ordering a crew around? Don’t feel up to the challenge?
These are all small demons that can easily be confronted and overturned. I’m not for one second belittling the role of a good director but I think too many writers think there’s a magical talent involved in leading the crew and preparing the shoots when in reality, a lot of direction can be made easier with the support and knowledge of the crew; from producer, DOP (a lot of disgruntled DOPs out there as they groan about doing a director's work for them), cast and essential technical roles. To be fair, I don’t speak with a great wealth of practical knowledge on the process. After all, I’ve only made one no-budget short, and that didn’t have a crew at all.
However, I have paid particular attention to the director during my various spells on other film sets, and have spoken to a lot of directors, producers and executives on the demands of the director’s job. It is a difficult position to uphold. You need a keen eye for the script’s cinematic needs, empathy and insight into all of the characters in the story, and a clear line of communication to cast and crew in order to effectively get your vision across. It’s not a job for a shy introvert. A lot of writers are shy introverts. Fine, not a problem, don’t direct.
For everyone else however, we have little excuse. We need to get out there and direct our own stories. I am of firm belief that if more writers directed their own material, then it would only strengthen the importance of the writer’s role in the filmmaking process, thus earning us the respect and kudos that we continually complain about not receiving. We can’t just sit back and moan that the director’s changed our script, or the script editor’s being rubbish, or writers get treated like dirt. Yes, it sucks, but the only way to change that is if we do the work that will earn us the respect from our filmmaking peers. Challenging, provocative and entertaining films from our pen, translated to the screen with our vision.
It’s not like you have to surrender the title of writer when you eventually do direct. You don’t even have to say ‘writer/director’. You can always say you’re a writer, first and foremost, and bring attention to that side of the craft more so than the direction. Even on a basic level, attempting to direct a short film will give you a new appreciation on screenwriting - how your cherished words on the page can suddenly have no meaning or practicality come the time of production. We need to learn as much as we can about the filmmaking process so that it informs our work, and improves our scripts. Then, writers will be treated with more care and respect because of our developed sense of craft and production.
Directing is not for everyone. I dig that. Some writers are just not interested. ‘Leave it to the director’. Okay. But if someone reads one of your scripts and asks: “do you want direct it?” Then your answer is “Yes”, every time. The nerves, panic and insecurity will transform into passion, excitement and confidence as you discover that your work has true value, and that you do have what it takes to direct it on to the screen. You don't have to know everything about the process but that's why the producer and crew is there: to help you realise your vision.