• A Film Director at Work - An Exegesis of a StereotypeBefore attending film school, I was under the misconception that a director was an amalgamation of many disparate characteristics.

      By Chris Wood

      First, I assumed that most (but not all) directors were male. Second, I believed that directors were dictators in foldout canvas chairs, who told everyone — both cast and crew — what to do. Finally, I thought that all directors — especially Hollywood directors — were famous and fortunate. The above picture, while encapsulating these previous pipe dreams, at once calls them into question, and I have my experience at CalArts’ film school to thank for that.

      The Boys Club

      To begin with, I assumed that most (but not all) directors were male. While it’s true that the subject of the accompanied image is decidedly male (note the aggressive posture with hand raised), it’s also misleading for one to assume that all directors are male. For every James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell, and Luc Besson, there’s also a Kathryn Bigelow, Mary Harron, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Agnès Varda. One can even make a sound case that not all directors are white males. Spike Lee, John Singleton, and Ryan Coogler are only a few examples of famous African American directors. At film school, I met many aspiring directors who were both male and female and came from different racial and cultural backgrounds with perspectives.

      According to Kate Lyons in Mail Online, while minorities make up thirty-six percent of the population in the United States, they’re featured much less in film and television; however, films and television shows with diverse casts and crew fare better commercially. For example, “Grey’s Anatomy is one of the most racially diverse [and successful] shows on American television, with an African-American female show-runner [Shonda Rhimes] and a writing staff with a percentage of minority writers that reflects the percentage of minority people in the U.S.”1

      This is a reflection of the growing diversity in the United States, and while many women and minority directors would like to start their directing careers in film, television offers them far more opportunities, which may one day lead to directing feature films. Tyler Perry, a successful African American director, actually began his career by directing plays before television shows and later feature films.

      Quiet On the Set

      Secondly, not all directors are dictatorial. Most photos in the media depict directors as being solely in charge of film shoots. Notice, for example, that the director in the image above is the only person in frame; he calls all the shots, and with a megaphone to enhance them. While this may be true literally for crowd scenes (whose responsibility usually falls on the second unit director), it is far from true metaphorically.

      A director’s responsibility is to be concerned with performance and to know how to communicate with actors while deciding where to put the camera. And although some directors may want to be in charge of all aspects of film production, most of them rely on the collaboration with the screenplay, cinematography, costumes, locations, second units, editing, and (excepting John Carpenter and Clint Eastwood) musical scoring. To paraphrase the famous directing instructor Alexander “Sandy” Mackendrick, “A director shouldn’t call attention to him- or herself.” Let the film tell its story and stand on its own merits — and get out of the way. For Mackendrick, the three most important elements of good filmmaking are writing, acting, and directing, and in that order:

      It has been said that the director is like the orchestra conductor, a maestro who must be able to play every instrument competently. Unlikely as it is that you will ever discover real ability in all three fields of directing, writing and acting, I believe you will not be even competent in any single one without a basic comprehension of the other two.2

      As a director, Mackendrick knew his technical limitations, so he depended on the expertise of his crew while he focused instead on the essential elements of storytelling — namely, writing, acting, and directing. Sandy was a soft-spoken, yet passionate man, who went far without carrying a big stick.

      Hollywood Fame

      Finally, as a director, it would be icing on the cake to be blessed with fame and fortune. While the director in the picture is wearing a business suit (which I’ve yet to see on a film set), most film directors have to climb their way to the canvas seat of a director’s chair. Those who are lucky enough to garner fame and fortune with their first films aren’t necessarily guaranteed that same success with their second projects.

      It’s true that directors are concerned with money, but more than likely, that concern has to do with financing their next film undertakings than it does with mortgaging their new mansions in the Hollywood Hills. While I was at film school, I met a handful of fellow students who wanted to be famous Hollywood feature directors, but most of them just wanted to be independent filmmakers. According to Cameron Chapman, a young independent (or “indie”) director, creating a positive environment on the set is the most important aspect of good filmmaking:

      For me . . . the most important thing is creating a good working environment. That means everyone on set is comfortable and having a good time, stress is kept to a minimum (as much as it can be), and both cast and crew trust me and my judgment (while at the same time feeling like they can make suggestions to me and that I’ll seriously consider what they say)3

      Clearly, collaborating with a cast and crew seems to be the number-one goal of this director, and I daresay many of today’s indie and mumblegore directors share this same philosophy. If making money at the box office (that is, if an indie film makes the transition from film festival to multiplex cinema), then so much the better. Some independent films even go straight to DVD, often garnering cult followings. It’s safe to venture that with these up-and-coming filmmakers, plot takes precedence over profit.

      Even though the picture above is a stereotypical image of what I used to — and many people still — think of as a film director, its intended context is that of white-male empowerment and wealth. However, the director in this picture looks lonely. Leaning forward in a black canvas chair without his name stitched on its back, it appears as though this anonymous hack has lost control and is desperately trying to regain it by raising his hand (“Look! I’m here!”) while shouting through a megaphone. He may even be sitting by himself in some vacant lot, rehearsing for that fateful day when someone will finally acknowledge him as an auteur. But judging by the fact that no one else is in frame, and owing to the subject’s funereal suit, this deluded self-promotion may be for naught. Directors direct — regardless of money, power, and prestige.

       

       

      >Works Cited

      1Lyons, Kate: “Why Hollywood is Frozen in the 1950s.” Mail Online. dailymail.co.uk, 6 June 2014. Web. 6 June 2014.

      2Mackendrick, Alexander. On Film-making: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director. Ed. Paul Cronin. London: Faber & Faber, 2005. Print.

      3Chapman, Cameron. “Directors: What Are Your Goals?” Indietalk: A Filmmaking Community. indietalk.com, 13 April 2012. Web. 7 June 2014.

       


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      Contributor

        • Chris Wood

          Chris Wood was an adjunct instructor of English. He held master’s degrees from California Institute of the Arts, Marshall University, and Florida State University. He enjoyed reading and writing poetry in addition to writing articles pertaining to the movie industry and its aspects. Chris passed away in July 2020.

          Colorado Boulevard is your place for enlightening events, informative news and social living for the greater Pasadena area.
          We strive to inform, educate, and work together to make a better world for all of us, locally and globally.

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