There's a lot to be said about the director of a film. He's the guy in the driver seat, he's the guy that everyone looks to for answers and he's the guy that ultimately determines what looks good for the film. The only problem is that everyone wants that role. Any independent filmmaker will tell you their aspiration is to be the director of a film and make a million dollars doing it. There's nothing wrong with that goal. The problem arises when you put a bunch of filmmakers together on a project and every one of them thinks they're the boss of the project. Can you imagine a film with 20 different directors listed? Neither can I. Why is the director position role so saught after by everyone? Well, in order to answer that question, we need to know what a director really is.
The main role of a film director is someone who controls a film's artistic and dramatic aspects and brings the script to life while guiding the technical crew and actors to help fulfill the vision. The director also is the guy that chooses who is going to be both in front of and behind the camera. This guy is THE MAN to see the story from paper to the big screen. It's no surprise that everyone wants to be in the director's chair. The stress that comes with the position doesn't matter because it's all about being THE MAN. In reality, being the director isn't the most important thing in a film project. At this moment, some of you just thought, "WHAT??? ARE YOU CRAZY?? THAT'S BLASPHEMY!!" and I'll reply with, "Calm down scooter, I'm only just getting started..." Let's look at the other roles that are vital to a film project.
1. Assistant Directors
These guys are the henchmen for the director. They are the ones that take the information that is given to by the director and pass it on to whatever department it needs to go to. From shooting schedules, to call sheets, and event simple orders from the directors, they are the ones that help the director communicate with everyone to get the desired shot for each scene. Let's say the director has a staff meeting with the A.D.'s and he tells them, "You know, I really think this funeral scene needs to be more gloomy to give it more impact. Let's make it a foggy day and the scene starts after it had been raining for a little while. I want to have a shot of water rolling off the casket with the widow brushing her fingers off the side of the casket. I think that will be a very dramatic looking scene and give the story more impact". The A.D's will take that information and immediately go to the lighting crew and tell them they need to make it gray and gloomy with very little harsh shadows. They'll go to the special effects crew to say we need to add some light fog in the scene and spray some water on the casket and not to forget to get some umbrellas that are wet too. They'll then go to the actors who are getting their makeup done at the time to give them the heads up on what to expect the scene to be when they get on there and tell the makeup artist what kind of lighting conditions there are going to be for the scene. They'll also go to the camera operators to tell them what kind of shots are vital to capture during this scene so they can minimize the number of reshoots they have to do later. All of this within a matter of minutes, depending on how many A.D's you have working with the director. Being a master communicator and a great notes taker is key for this role, but it doesn't make it any less important.
2. Director of Photography.
This role is a given, they're the director of the cinematic shot in the frame of the camera. This person actually made an appearance in the last role description. Did you catch it? Once the direction of the scene is given to them, it's up to the DOP to capture the cinematic vision on camera. The DOP will be able to tell the crew exactly what kind of equipment you'll need in order to get what the director wants. They're the ones that figure out the best framing and the best camera movements and the best places for the actor's position in the frame while making it look good. Basically, they're the architects for the shot. Let's continue our funeral example. Once the DOP gets the information about what the scene is, how it's going to look and the specific shot that the director wants, the visualizing starts and he tells his crew what camera would best fit for the shots they need, what lenses are needed and talks to the lighting crew to tell them where they need specific lighting to make sure that the shot isn't too dark. If you haven't figured it out already, the DOP is the know all of the equipment and placing. This is a position you need to fill with someone who knows everything about everything. This will help speed up production and make filming a breeze.
3. 1st Camera Assistant
As amazing as the Director of Photography is, even they need help. In comes the 1st Camera Assistant to save the day! They make sure that the camera is working, the lenses are smudge-free and everything the DOP needs is ready for him when he gets behind the camera. Once the DOP is ready to start setting up the shot, the 1st C.A. helps the DP, or whatever camera operator they're working with, make sure that the main focus of the shot is in focus and stays in focus the entire time. How do they do this? They measure the distance of the subject from the camera, place marks where the subjects are going to be and adjusting the focus to keep the image sharp. Basically, the camera operator's job is to make sure the camera is rolling, the frame is right and the shot is achieved, while the C.A. makes sure the equipment being used is fully functional and the shot is focused. This helps to alleviate some of the stress so the camera operator can focus on getting the shot. The C.A. may not be the one behind the camera, but they are the ones that are more technical with the camera.
No, this isn't just the one with the tape. This is the position that is going to execute the DP's lighting plan. They choose the right lights, flags, filters, and lighting rigs, and then position them in the exact right spot so the DP can get the shot he is looking for. Of course, it takes a bit of tinkering. We've all experienced this at some point. We think if we put the couch in the corner of the room and the TV on top of a brick fireplace that it will look great, and then we find out after we've done all the work that it doesn't look good and we need to adjust everything. Of course, we don't want that to happen on a film set, so this is where the communication between the DP and the Gaffer comes in to play. They need to work very closely together to make sure that they are getting what they need for the shot. The more the Gaffer listens to the DP and the clearer the DP is to the Gaffer, the quicker they get the shot and the sooner they can move on to the next scene. Using the funeral scene example, the gloomy scene obviously can't be lit with too much white light, so they would have to bring in some filters to give a gray and gloomy date and position the lights in a specific way to make sure that the shadows coming down on the scene aren't too hard. They may even add some lights on the side to help lower the amount of shadows for specific shots to help bring out some details in the casket. Of course, that's up to the Gaffers and the DP to figure that out.
The grips are the grunts of the film crew. They are the ones that load in the necessary gear, move the heavy equipment like dollies, tripods, sandbags, cranes, coffee cups, everything really. They're the backbone of the entire production. They're the ones that keeps the moving shoot sturday and smooth while maintaining a safe environment for the crew. Without efficient grips, production slows to a crawl and you'll end up losing money for taking too long to shoot instead of maximizing funds to ensure a tight schedule and a quick production. Let's go back to our funeral scene example. Let's say the DP decided to have a moving shot of the widow walking next to the casket as she drags her finger on the side of the casket and he wants to focus on her fingers of the casket as she walks with it. It would be up to the Grips to make a rig for the camera and the Camera Operator to use and the grips will move the rig for them to get the smoothest shot possible.
6. Sound Recordist
Let's face it, everyone has their niche. For most filmmakers, audio isn't their niche. They know how to get the shot, but when it comes to getting great audio, they won't get as great sounding audio as a Sound Recordist. These people are dedicated perfectionists, which is a great thing to have. They will have the equipment and the experience needed to capture the sound that you are needing. They will have an ear that will hear a violin with a broken string in an orchestra of 200 players. They will hear things that you won't and be able to capture and enhance the story even more.
7. Hair and Makeup
This is a given, you need to make sure your actors look good. Do you think the director is going to tell the actors that they need to do their own hair and makeup? Of course not. The director has other stuff to worry about. The actors have other stuff to focus on as well. So who's left to do the work? That's right, the Hair and Makeup crew. They are given instructions on what the director is needing and they immediately get to work. After all, beauty takes time, right? The actors are exhausted for the long days they spend on production days so it isn't their job to constantly say, "Is my makeup ok?". The makeup artist will make touchups as needed during the shoot and making sure the actors look consistent between shots, especially when certain scenes take multiple days to film.
8. Production Assistants
This is the role that does the jobs no one else wants to or has time to do. They're always on the go. They help where people need help and run errands for the production crew. They are the unsung heroes of the project. There may not be a lot of these people on the set, but they pick up the slack wherever they can.
If you haven't figured it out yet, being the director isn't the most vital job of all. Sure, they're the ones with the vision, but they aren't the ones doing everything. They are the leader of a very large team. A team that is dedicated to helping the director achieve a greater goal. Without a great team, the director fails, which means the project fails, which means you lose money. It's a domino effect. So why is it that everyone wants to be a director? Is it because they want to create something great? Is it because they want to lead a team of passionate individuals to help bring a project to life? Or, is it that they just want everyone working for them and they can sit back while everyone does the hard jobs? Think about it. If everyone thinks they're in charge, no one is in charge.
So is easy to be a director? No. Can you do it all by yourself? Probably, if the project doesn't require much. Would it be easier if you had a crew? Absolutely. Could you do the project if everyone thought they were the director? NO! As I said at the beginning of this post, not everyone can be a director and that's perfectly ok. There are other very important roles to take up in a project. Each one is just as vital as the director. So if you are asked to be on a project as a camera operator or a DP, don't be upset that you aren't the director. Be excited that you are the one that's chosen to frame the shot. Be excited that you have the privilege to see what is being shot before the world sees it. No matter what role you take, remember, it's not the end of the world if you aren't the director.