Now that I’m going full steam in preproduction on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?, I’m getting a pretty good taste of what directing is like, at least in the early stages of making a film. Unlike writing, which I both love and know I can do, directing is uncharted territory. I’ve studied it, analyzed films for years and I suspect it’s something I will be able to do with at least some competence. Of course, I won’t know that for sure until I get a number of movies under my belt.
I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of each job. Both are vital to a successful film. Although many filmmakers do both, they do require two different skill sets. I’m hoping my directing chops will develop as my writing has.
For me, writing is almost all pros. I absolutely love it, couldn’t imagine not doing it. I’ve always said that I am first and foremost a writer. Sitting down to begin work on a new screenplay is the start of a long, tricky but very enjoyable adventure. The great thing about writing a script is that it’s just you, your laptop (or typewriter in Woody Allen’s case) and your imagination. Anything you can conceive of is fair game. Finish the script and let somebody else worry about getting it on the screen.
Problems certainly do occur while working on a script. There are days when long hours of work produce nothing useful. But, they are solvable using primarily the imagination and intellect. Coming up with a solution for a scene that’s not working or a great bit of dialogue or a character is immensely rewarding.
The only downside I can see to writing is that it can be a lonely road. Don’t get me wrong, there are many times I need to be alone with my thoughts, but truth be told, I really do spend too much time by myself. Part of keeping my dysthymia in check is interacting with other people regularly. Collaboration helps. I have recently formed a writing partnership with my co-star and co-writer on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?. She and I have great respect for each other and our personalities mesh well. We also have talents that complement each other. I focus better when working with her too. It really negates the only con I can come up with.
As to directing, the only experience I have so far is in preparation, so my opinions are not fully formed. To be fair, another factor is the fact that we are on such a low budget that I am doing things that on a big production would be somebody else’s job. For example, location scouting, breaking down the script, acquiring props and doing all the hiring of crew and casting without help.
It is very hectic. Often, I feel as if I’m forgetting something and much of the work doesn’t feel very creative, no matter how important it is. There is a big upside to all this. By necessity, I am in regular contact with a fairly large number of people on a daily basis. I’m meeting new people all the time and having more contact than usual with people I already know. It’s truly wonderful. Great for my dysthymia and sometimes awkward social skills. I’m actually making phone calls now and it is getting just a bit easier.
There is a big leadership component to directing too. It is up to me to set the tone for the production. I need to show my team confidence and that I can handle anything that may happen. I’m really enjoying that and I feel as those I am rising to the occasion. It’s providing me with moments of self revelation as I push myself to do things that previously made me very uncomfortable.
I’ve also experienced an interesting phenomenon. In my reading, studying and discussions with experienced directors, I have learned that in analyzing a script to prepare it for production, a director will find many layers, themes and interpretations that the writer was not even aware of weaving into the script. I was assured that this is always the case, even if the director himself or herself had written the script. While I didn’t doubt this, I was a bit skeptical. After all, when I write a script, I know every nuance. Or do I? Amazingly, as I read ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? repeatedly, looking at it with a critical eye and finding my characters’ true motivations and digging into subtext, I found things I didn’t realize were there. Remarkable. Taking off my writer’s hat and putting on my director’s hat changed my perspective. It was almost as though I was reading someone else’s work. Putting the story on paper and planning to shoot it in three dimensional space with real human beings are two very different processes.
Conclusion: I will always be first and foremost a writer. I am sure I will never direct somebody else’s script. But so far, I am enjoying directing. I’ll have to reassess after I’ve finished the film. I don’t know if I will want to direct everything I write, but I feel it is something I will want to do from time to time.