Short films: the writing/directing pitfall

Often seen in student films the writing/directing syndrome is the source of many mistakes that could have been prevented by giving more control over your creation to another person.

Going to screenings of film schools is always an enjoyable experience. It’s a great learning tool as well, as when watching these films it is generally easier to analyze what are the strengths and weaknesses of them, and how they could have been better, than in big productions. I believe that the reason behind this is that the teams producing the student films are generally minimal in these situations, which means that there is less crossover control of what is done. What I mean is that each person is going to do his or her own task and not worry too much about what the next guy or girl is doing. Which results in some mistakes not being prevented by looking over someone’s shoulder to see that they are doing something wrong because you are already too busy on your own task.

Obviously mistakes still happen in big productions, but they come generally down to bad decision making at a higher level, and individual errors are generally prevented by the fact that a team of people performs most tasks.

By watching student film after student film, a pattern emerges. Writer/directors. The majority of student films I have been given the chance to watch suffered that syndrome. I believe it is generally a bad thing for the production when the team is reduced and let me explain why.

When working with beginners, directing is crucial. When working with beginners who think that they know perfectly what they are doing (i.e. film students) directing is critical. According to my previous point regarding individual mistakes, in a small team if each person is too busy with his/her own task to check on what the other guys are doing, this should logically be the director’s responsibility to see that every member of the crew is doing the job right, and is doing what the director expects. This adds an extra load of work on the director compared to bigger productions.

In such a stressful environment, the director ends up having to act even more as a commander of anything to do with the production. Of course some have the luxury of a PA to look after the crew while they are focusing on the actual directing, something often forgotten in student productions but that saves from the extra work of working in a small team.

But even in the ideal situations of the director not having to worry about individual mistakes thanks to the PA, we come back to the issue of the director being the writer as well. Whereas the team has the PA or the director to remind them of what they are supposed to do, the writer/director has only him or herself to get reminded of the story, its mechanics and how the characters should be on screen. There is no balance, and seeing the magic of his or her story coming to life easily carries the director away. And he/she forgets to actually give some real directions to the actors.

Whereas in a situation where the writer is a different person than the director, and very importantly the writer is present during the shoot, the writer can be the reminder of what has to be done and can be here to prevent the director from making mistakes and criticize what he or she is doing.

Of course if you are writing/directing you can still try to hide behind the belief that your story is so incredible that you can’t let anyone ruin what you have come up with. But given the very little amount of writing/directing geniuses coming out of film schools every year, giving away the writing or the directing to someone else could be the best thing to do in order to learn more. Chance are, someone else directing your story might make you amazed of how differently if can be interpreted and fuel your creativity. And directing something you didn’t write could make you so much more focused on the acting and actually making a good film rather than trying to reproduce what was inside your head when you wrote the story.

Image courtesy of Brandon Otto.