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Directors tell stories. How do they make one?


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#1 Jia Cheng Tan

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Posted 26 March 2013 - 11:50 AM

My teacher's advice for me in my aspiring dream to be a film-maker is "If you have a story to tell, be a filmmaker."

 

I was passionate and frankly quite eager to get my hands on some basic filmmaking equipment (better lens and memory card etc.) and start filming stuff and feel the challenge and pressure during production period and have the satisfaction of moving people.

 

But then I realized as a person that has no filming experience, I don't really have a story to tell. Not a story that can translate into a script or screenplay at least. I'm not a person full of film material stories waiting to burst out of me, like some gifted filmmakers do when they become one. It may be just beginner's doubt and stuff like that, but any advice on how to start off? 

 

I know the nice stories are in my mind somewhere but I can't really grasp them out and put them in a form of a script or visualize them on the TV screen in my head. I'm good at writing poems that focus more on the reading+hearing aspect, but coming to filmmaking which is mostly visual eye-candy, not so much. 

 

So maybe some advice to this ridiculously newbie question? Much appreciated.


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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 26 March 2013 - 11:53 AM

Well you start by making many many mistakes, and trying things which you'll look back on and go "well that was stupid." But you just keep going without getting discouraged.

Perhaps, instead of worrying about the visuals, you should focus on the story and then partner up with a young DoP who is bad with words but good with images to translate what you've written into images?


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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 27 March 2013 - 03:11 AM

You should concentrate on the story first, the characters and their need to do whatever they're going. There are quite a few screenplay books to get you thinking, also reading screenplays. Doing acting classes will also help, the visuals will come out of all this work.


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#4 Abdullah AbuMahfouz

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 03:31 PM

You have to remember that film is an art.  Film is the visual (combined with audio)  medium of storytelling.  Any form of art can tell a story whether it is painting, music, dance, etc.  The list goes on. 

 

To be a director, I feel like you have a basic understanding on all technicalities of film and visual art.  You have to really understand film: analyze, critique, and research.  One of the most important roles of a director is directing talent (actors).  Once you have the understanding and the mastery of the art, you can tell your stories effectively. 

 

The way I started was making home videos and then entering film school.  Also took acting classes to understand how to communicate effectively with talent.  Now I am directing a short film and a narrative.  if you have the passion for it, there is nothing to it but to do it!


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#5 Richard Boddington

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Posted 01 July 2013 - 11:25 AM

Why do you have to write the story? Most directors do not write the content they direct.

 

R,


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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 02 July 2013 - 01:42 PM

If they did write all the films they direct, they could have an even longer wait between films. Developing the script usually takes a lot longer than making the film and can be pretty speculative.


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#7 George Ebersole

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Posted 16 July 2013 - 02:34 PM

I've never understood until recently why you'd want to direct anybody else's work [script] other than your own.   You come up with a story, turn it into a treatment, then a screenplay, then a shot list.  

 

I guess some directors really get into a story and screenplay they read, but, strictly speaking, if you're going to tell a story, as a screenwriter, I'd think you would want to tell your own story, and tell it your way; i.e. direct it.

 

Just  me.


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#8 Jason Outenreath

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Posted 20 July 2013 - 01:09 PM

I think especially at the student level, it's impractical to expect other qualified people to write content for you to direct. First off, it's unrealistic and probably isn't going to happen (speaking from experience on this one). Secondly, it encourages a dependence on other people to create work, when you're at a stage where you should be trying to develop your own voice in a variety of ways.

 

Also, I would discourage partnering up with a separate cinematographer as a student. Again, I cite the same reasons, not to mention it's extremely important to learn something about cinematography yourself if you hope to be a director. Heck, that's how Stanley Kubrick got his start: "To make a film entirely by yourself, which initially I did, you may not have to know very much about anything else, but you must know about photography." - Stanley Kubrick

 

I can definitely sympathize with you Jia, I had a terribly hard time coming up with ideas for films in high school/college. Something that helped me a lot however (besides just living life and growing up a little), was watching LOTS of movies. I think this is really important on a number of levels. First, as David Mullin has said over the years here on the forum--you don't want to reinvent the wheel. Second, it will make you more aware of the kinds of stories you like, and don't like. Watch as much as you can, everything from blockbusters, to foreign films, to documentaries, to shorts.


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#9 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 20 July 2013 - 04:45 PM

The problem is that very few scripts are made into films. If you only direct your own scripts, the chances are you could have a long wait between films. Most directors don't write all their scripts, the development process can be quite long and can be frustrating, there are exceptions, but  generally the process is collaborative with the script being written by a writer. The writer may or may not have another role, but usually they don't.

 

If you know a starting out writer who wants to write screenplays, you can work with them. I know a number of shorts that were made that way, but if you're starting out as a film maker it sort of makes sense to practise writing. Ideas come from all kinds of places and people you meet. Stories are generally about people overcoming something, as writers put it, their normal world is upset and they have things thrown at them by this new set of events and then. by their struggle. they find find a way out, be it for the good or bad. 


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#10 Jason Outenreath

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Posted 20 July 2013 - 06:25 PM

The problem is that very few scripts are made into films. If you only direct your own scripts, the chances are you could have a long wait between films. Most directors don't write all their scripts, the development process can be quite long and can be frustrating, there are exceptions, but  generally the process is collaborative with the script being written by a writer. The writer may or may not have another role, but usually they don't.

 

Ideally, and at the higher levels of filmmaking, I think you're right. But I think at the high school/college level (i.e. short film level), there's something to be said for learning the different skills yourself, even if it maybe does take a little longer than it would if someone else were writing. Regardless, I don't know a director alive or dead who didn't write at least their very early work. It helps you figure out what you care about, and what you want to tell stories about.

 

At this level, I think learning how to tell a story through multiple techniques is more important than increasing overall efficiency. But I guess it's all a matter of perspective. And everyone learns differently. I'm not advocating to not collaborate; only to learn about all the different facets of filmmaking through a hands on approach. Maybe it's as simple as going out everyday and snapping some pictures, or writing short stories on the side. But the director can't hand off the difficult responsibilities without having a thorough understanding of how they function in the process.


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#11 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 21 July 2013 - 02:02 AM

Certainly at high school level/college level almost all directors/filmmakers will be writing their own scripts. It's a part of the learning process, it's cheaper than actually shooting a film and since not all scripts are worth turning into films, you need to try out a few ideas. Like most things. your writing tends to get better the more you do it. There are now a large number of screen writing books, so you can learn the basic skills and you need to understand these, even if you only direct.

 

There are short films that have separate writers and directors, but they tend to be at a higher level than the one we're discussing,


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#12 Jason Outenreath

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Posted 21 July 2013 - 03:17 AM

Another thing worth mentioning is that something that slows down a lot of writers is self-censorship--the idea that everything they write has to be a work of genius. Not all films are worth making, very true. But sometimes making a bad film serves as a valuable lesson of what not to do next time. I've certainly had those moments. :P


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#13 George Ebersole

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Posted 21 July 2013 - 04:38 AM

 "To make a film entirely by yourself, which initially I did, you may not have to know very much about anything else, but you must know about photography." - Stanley Kubrick

 

I'm going to get angry PMs or cold shoulders from vets down in LA when I apply for a job, but I disagree with Kubrick here.  I think what he might have been wanting to say is that you need to know something about framing and composition, otherwise knowing about F-stops, film speed, focal lengths and everything else doesn't do you too much good around a BLIII or RED.

 

I think most people can be good directors if they have a sense for the material they're going to put on screen.

 

To be a commercially successful director you need to be able to sync up with the vision intended on the page.  If someone hands you the script for Avatar or the next Marvel superhero film, if you know the emotion of the scene, then you're good.


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#14 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 21 July 2013 - 04:55 AM

Another thing worth mentioning is that something that slows down a lot of writers is self-censorship--the idea that everything they write has to be a work of genius. Not all films are worth making, very true. But sometimes making a bad film serves as a valuable lesson of what not to do next time. I've certainly had those moments. :P

 

It's a good idea to write treatments, rather than the full blown script. Unfortunately, it takes almost as long as writing a draft, but it allows you tell the story without falling in love with the dialogue and go where ever you're afraid to go, because you're going to take the characters there in the end anyway, the writing just takes longer if you keep putting it off.  


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#15 George Ebersole

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Posted 21 July 2013 - 12:19 PM

The problem is that very few scripts are made into films. If you only direct your own scripts, the chances are you could have a long wait between films. Most directors don't write all their scripts, the development process can be quite long and can be frustrating, there are exceptions, but  generally the process is collaborative with the script being written by a writer. The writer may or may not have another role, but usually they don't.

 

If you know a starting out writer who wants to write screenplays, you can work with them. I know a number of shorts that were made that way, but if you're starting out as a film maker it sort of makes sense to practise writing. Ideas come from all kinds of places and people you meet. Stories are generally about people overcoming something, as writers put it, their normal world is upset and they have things thrown at them by this new set of events and then. by their struggle. they find find a way out, be it for the good or bad. 

 

It depends on how busy you are.  My first pro "director's" gig was me shooting a series of videos for my martial art's instructor.  It was your standard Betacam video shoot.  I cam up with an idea for an intro and what needed to be shown, then came up with a stick figure story board and a shot list.

 

It wasn't a project that needed a script.   You show kicks, strikes, applications of techniques, forms, etc, add some narration and music and you're done.  Unfortunately the guy never showed up to any of the shoots, so I had to decide whether I was to continue on with the project continuing to cash in on favors, or move onto another project.

 

Moral of the story, shoot what you want, but also earn a paycheque.


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#16 Alex Anstey

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Posted 08 September 2013 - 09:11 AM

Kevin Reynolds had some really good advice about finding story, he has a point: 

 

 

Do you have any advice for younger filmmakers or aspiring writers on how to keep interested in new things after you’ve made personal stories?

Well, what I always tell people that are starting out in the film business, because everyone wants to know ‘How do I start out?’ and what strikes me about people going into film now is that they go right out of school, and they go right into film school, and that’s what they want to do. I’m always reminded of this moment that I went to USC Film School – I had something similar – they sat me down and said, ‘Listen, we’ll teach you how to make films. We want someone who has something to say.’

That really just rocked me back. I’d never thought of it that way, but it’s so true. The great filmmakers of the past, so many of them had come from a variety of life experiences – they fought in combat or they’d ridden the rails, had great love affairs and all – before they became filmmakers. So they had so many stories to draw upon. I think any young filmmaker would be better served to go to school, get a degree, then go out and work for a couple of years or travel the world or fall in love. Just do anything. It’s out of those experiences that you’re going to come up with the story that you’ll make later on. I think a lot of the kids that come into films now have a lot of technical expertise, but they don’t really have anything to say.

 

 

So you’re officially endorsing that young, aspiring filmmakers go ride the rails for a while?

Yeah, just do something. Go get a job. Work as a roofer. Go join the army. Jump on a ship and work in the galley. Go on an ocean cruise. Because I promise you, out of that will come great stories.

 

 

- See more at: http://www.filmschoo...h.Gal8Hpyx.dpuf


Edited by Alex Anstey, 08 September 2013 - 09:11 AM.

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#17 alan prakash

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Posted 15 November 2013 - 01:57 AM

the film is an art like dance , music , paintings etc , rather i would say a combination of arts , u can write poems means that u can already visualize the things in your head . why do u write poems ? to communicate others what u feel or how is your emotion at that particular time or something etc , you are trying to open up your self , and i appreciate that , let the world hear what u think , 

if u can write poems then visualize that subject , then write it in a piece of paper , whats the subject is , from whose point of view the poem is told and whose feelings ? why a specific feel ? and the solution , so when u get in the story side , let others know who is that ? what happened to that ? how to solve that ? , if u succeed in this congrats , u have finished a three act structure of your screenplay , now just add some filmic time ,  and gather your crew  , go and shoot . 


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#18 joshua gallegos

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 12:43 PM

Frank Capra once said that the one cardinal sin for filmmaking was dullness, and I am guilty of that. Making my first short was such a dispiriting affair, that I don't think I fully recovered from. It was a learning experience to say the least, but I still feel like I don't understand what a director truly does. There are those intelligent directors who surround themselves with great actors, and the actors are truly the ones that carry the film. I saw an interview where Gordon Willis talks about his contribution to the Woody Allen films he shot, he mentions how Woody merely nailed the camera and performed in front of it, the camera didn't capture any type of dynamism and everything he filmed was absolutely dull. Gordon really managed to interpret Woody's stories with great visual tone and command, he turned his ordinary stories into grand visual poetry. I think the true genius lies in the cutting, a cinematographer understands the orchestration of images as if he was composing music, the rhythm of it, the way it should flow on screen to its audience. I suppose the true responsibility of a director is to communicate the things brewing inside his/her imagination, and perfecting it within each take. That is why so many directors do different takes, in a sense it is almost like writing with the camera, and every take is a draft with unexplored possibilities. 

 

I think the best way to go on about it is to start from the very bottom, doing PA work in sets to watch professionals work, that way I don't feel like I'm questioning myself all the time, I suppose what ruined the experience was the fact that I was absolutely clueless about everything. 


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#19 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 06:00 PM

Life experiences tend to breed compelling stories.  And you may need to get out of school before you have any significant ones since school often insulates people from reality.

 

My first narrative - a 16mm short - was about my passion for film.  I adapted a short story I'd written in high school into a screenplay and just made it happen.  It was a good experience.  Everything before that were short montage films which were also good experiences, but different kinds.  But I think I learned more from the those than the narrative I made.

 

Don't be afraid to jump into the experimental realm if you don't have a story.  Those can be just as compelling if done correctly.


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#20 Gregg MacPherson

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 07:01 PM

.... I'm good at writing poems that focus more on the reading+hearing aspect, but coming to filmmaking which is mostly visual eye-candy, not so much..... 

 

 

Are you already a poet, by nature and practice?  Some interesting answers can come from that if you are.  But first,  what is the nature of the poems? 

 

If you are writing evocative,  internalized impressions that read well,  then you can simply try extending those feelings with images.  Keep it short.  The idea of "story" is commonly a quite limiting notion with film.  What about,  we think of a "compelling unit of experience" instead.  Whatever feelings underlay the poem,  just give more of that,  with moving pictures.

A story,  as the word is commonly used,  is a particular kind of narrative,  by definition explicative,  it's pragmatic.   Let's consider "poetic narrative".  Much harder,  by definition to explain,  but simple enough to experience.   And for some,  simple enough to create.


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