What makes a good film director?
Is it the ability to coax an Oscar-worthy performance out of an actor? Is it the vision to frame each shot as a work of art? What about their natural pace and how that is reflected in the film?
Honestly, it’s staying on budget and on schedule. That’s what makes a good director. Artistic traits make a great director, but if they aren’t first a good director, art will not patch the issues they create.
It sounds so non-creative in the field that encompasses every possible art form, from sets, costumes and actors to directing, editing and post production. Having worked with a handful over the years, the calm, functional sets are the ones with directors who are on schedule and on budget. Those are also the directors who can keep working—they are more in demand, albeit quietly, than the top names in artistic prowess. The artists are praised by the same articles that lambast their stress-inducing attacks on cast and crew to manifest their vision. Sure you’ll end up taking twice as long for twice the money, but the end product is worth all the hair the leading actress lost during her year under duress, right?
What’s worse, one person’s artistic vision is another person’s pretentious arthouse reject. Art is in the eye of the beholder. My parents will always prefer sappy romantic comedies where the ending they predicted in the first five minutes has the decency of being there at the end of the movie in that happy, no-loose-ends warm-fuzzy feeling. To me, that’s as much art as the average children’s story except children’s stories have a point and the message of all romantic comedies is the unwise untruth that everything will all work out in the end because love. If I am moved by a film, I know better than to suggest it to my parents, who will not only hate it, they will then want to question my life choices as to why I enjoy that sort of thing. Therefore, my parents and I will have grossly different lists of directors with whom we are familiar. I love Stanley Kubrick, they love directors like Andy Tennant, who directed such films as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Ever After,” although they don’t know his name.
The point is that while you are trying to create something amazing that speaks to the soul, no matter what you do, some people will love it, some people will hate it, and the most symbolic moments will be debated as “Deep or Dumb.” That part is so highly subjective as to be unmeasurable.
But math is objective. If you promise your team that this project will take four months of eight hour days and you’re about half way done after six months of twelve hour days, no one likes you regardless of what they say to your face. You are also so far over budget at that point that either the deep pockets behind you are getting angry or you have folks working on spec because they’re afraid if they quit the won’t make anything at all.
You’re drawn to the medium by the art, but if you don’t learn the workflow, you’re not a director, you’re a Child in Charge, and your team will see it. A good director will manage the workflow during the shoot, oversee the workflow and allow ample time and funds for post production, and have a small margin added to both the time and the financials to allow for unexpected costs and delays.
Use the Farmer’s Almanac to predict weather when scheduling to film outside. Plan the shooting schedule to make the most of the actors on set that day. Make sure you have the tools you need at your disposal, with back-ups so that one malfunctioning camera doesn’t have the power to ruin your day. No one has ever been in trouble for being ahead of schedule or under budget. Once you learn to be an effective project manager—the foundation of a good director—you can start working towards your own personal definition of Great Art.