As directors, I think we are all artists at heart. We are always looking for that “Cool” factor, or something that really separates us from the next director. And I would guess that the “Art” part of the job is what most directors enjoy the most. But what is easy to loose when focusing on art is the purpose behind what we do. As much as art can add, it can also take away.
I have begun to notice more and more when I watch Sports, TV shows or a Movie that it is really about one thing, Capturing the action. You may see a great shot in there every now and again but 95% of the shots you see are focused on capturing what is happening and capturing the experience in order to really engage the viewer. Engagement is a director’s number 1 goal.
It really all starts with purpose, why are you doing what you are doing? You are there to engage an audience and draw them into the experience. Most directors begin to focus so much on the next great shot they fail to remember the key principal that we are there to capture the action and re-translate it to an audience. It’s not glamorous but it is the purpose.
Engagement comes from two places, capturing the content and quality directing. Some may think that directing is easy without art, however, there are rules that must be followed in order to direct a good show.
1) Execute: There is always a plan and we as directors need to follow that plan and do it in a clean fashion. Being in the right place at the right time whether it is rolling a clip, getting someone at the right time, or putting up a graphic is all about a director’s ability to execute.
2) Purposeful Camera Shots: Knowing a good shot vs. Bad shot is key but knowing the why behind a shot is essential. The rule of thirds is great, but it is just the beginning. When an operator finds you a shot, why should you take it? Is it engaging? If so how & why? Is it capturing what is going on? Is it distracting? Does it reflect the environment? Can the audience easily connect with the shot, and will they understand it? These are questions you constantly need to be asking yourself to the point of it becoming instinct. If you are directing a live band and you get a tight shot of the guitar, is that engaging? If it is a ripping solo and their fingers are going crazy, then yes, it is capturing what is going on, people understand it, and it fits into the situation. But if a guitar was just giving you some color or rhythm, a tight shot of the fingers wouldn’t really be right for the situation. Tight shots get really tiring if you sit on them for a long period of time. Facial expressions and body language convey so much and answer a lot of questions. Sometimes the boring shots are the most engaging because they let the talent/ subject do most of the communicating, making a boring shot engaging.
3) The Pattern: when directing you can’t just cut from any camera to any other camera. There is a pattern to the type of shots you have to go to and from. It is a simple pattern and it is pretty much wide to tight. Or in the case of IMAG wid(ish) to tight(ish). A good director will never deviate from the pattern. (Exception: if you have 2 talking heads tossing back and forth) How much tight to how much wide will change depending on angles, transitions, subjects, and energy level. If you are doing dissolves over cuts, I think the amount of change in shots needs to be greater than with cuts. But the bottom line is you should never go tight to tight, wide to wide or mid to mid. They are match cuts and make it look like the shot is morphing or jolting when it should be changing.
4) Timing is everything: The hardest thing to learn is timing. When to change shots and sometimes more importantly, when not to change shots. Knowing when to cut and when to dissolve and when to just let a shot ride for a while. Timing is a feel thing and when timing isn’t happening then engagement isn’t happening because it isn’t natural, and doesn’t flow. A director needs to create flow through out the show, flow is essential to great directing. It is the thing that is never noticed and the hardest to teach. Some people have it and some don’t, many will develop flow, many will not. Ask yourself are you changing shots because you have another one ready, because you need to, or because the timing is just right? You should never switch a shot just to switch a shot. It needs to be the right time, and part of the flow.
Engaging an audience has to be a director’s number one priority by directing a great clean show that captures the content. Artistic shots and directing can be great and add a lot to your show, just don’t let it take over the show because art tends to takeover the intended purpose you are setting out to accomplish.
A director’s true art is the ability to engage their audience and capture their attention. Capturing the action comes first, what is left is left for art. So throw art out the window and start from the beginning and once you have figured out the rules, work art back in.