First off, I have to say everything I have learnt has been through making mistakes and learning from them. Well, not quite, some I was blessed to learn from amazing filmmakers. As a budding director, I have learnt the importance of the role of the Director. Most often when I talk to young directors, especially in Africa, I get the sense that most of them do not really appreciate the depth of what it means to be the Director of a film.
The Director is a very important position to be in because that’s the STORYTELLER. The director is a storyteller who uses the camera like a pencil to sketch images in a way that it brings the story to life. A Director’s interest is telling a story and the director, more than anyone else, must know more about the story than anyone.
Hollywood is good but it’s a shame that the bad part reaches to us young filmmakers in Africa. And we study all these books about the importance of three acts and how to direct a movie and we end up full of a static formula. This results in the individual unique storytelling getting lost in the process. Even in America, lots of filmmakers argue because they believe film schools destroy young film makers by teaching them a formula.
Directing is not a militarized process or a recipe to make it accessible like pancakes. Most directors have to work from a unique personal point of departure. You will have to carve your own unique way of directing, there is no formula but it’s important to know fundamental things about directing.
Over the years I have come to appreciate the importance of two things when I create a film;
- lighting, and
I have learned how these two keys can help a director tell a better story. Filmmaking involves how you see everything – light, dark, the environment. When you go to a location the reason you choose that place is very important.
- Did you go to the location at night when it’s dark?
- Did you go to the location in the morning when it’s sunrise?
- Did you go in the evening when the light is going down? Sunset.
Going to your location at different times of the day can greatly help you. When you get a good location, it transforms your story. Finding the perfect place can make your work easier.
Usually when we talk of mood, it means lighting, period. The director must be the one who knows the anatomy of the location more than anyone else. Just as he must be the one who knows the anatomy of the script, more than anyone else. Deciding on a location for your film is critical. It’s good to go to the location and take pictures. It’s always important to explore your location to identify every individual object in your space.
Usually, we shoot in a primitive way; almost everybody shoots the same way; what I call normal interpretation. It’s like we are confined in a prison. Shoot differently and you begin connecting with the anatomy of the story. You have to look at the physical body of your actors who are the characters in the context of your location. Every time you go looking for your next location have the idea of your characters in mind, let them move around.
When you look for your location the first thing to look at is the lighting. You must know what it looks and feels like if you rig a light from outside, to accentuate is to amplify the light coming in. You must check to see how much the location lends to cinematography construction of the light you see. Because unregulated light erodes the characters of the room. Knowing the power of the lighting coming through, within the frame you must have a stack up perspective of the in-depth dimensions of the frame, so even a frame becomes dramatic, because it has layers and layers of an in-depth structure of light, then when you put the human beings (characters) in and move around the light, that is cinema.
Cinema is when human beings or your characters or your subject matter moves in and out of light, then you begin to see cinematographically. When you go to a location, you must study the geography and anatomy of your location, and the drama of the location before the real acting drama begins. Because lighting is drama, too much light will be flattening everything.
When you are in a bus with a woman seated next to you, you look at her and she looks so beautiful, the feeling you have can be magnified because of the light around her. Whatever feeling you get comes because of the light, the way she is lit. So you have to know what source of light gave you that feeling. Is it the back light of the window of the bus that gives that, is it the light from the top, the light from her phone? Once you know and understand the source of the light, you can re-construct that feeling in your film to get the same feeling you got when you saw her.
Always light consciously and then unconsciously, that is how you construct the vocabulary of light. When we talk light we’re talking since the time you were born. That is why you have memory, if you don’t have memory, you don’t have light in the world. Memory connects to light. In a location you must know what your characters are supposed to do in the space and can they do that.
The idea of understanding light is your capacity to take light to construct tension, because without tension there is no drama. The director always works on drama in the characters, when the character goes into action there is drama but there is also drama that is very important for the film director and that is tension jumping out of lighting. Lighting can create tension. In film directing you really have to know your responsibility, not only to dramatis when they act, drama starts with the location hunting and the kind of drama the location carries. The dramatic tension it provides you when you make the human beings (characters) move in and out of that lighting, the dramatic tension escalates.
I hope you have learnt something from this post. Always remember, there is more reality in movement. Without the cinematographer committing, without the actor, lighting crew, props persons, ‘etc. committing to a director is nothing. It’s their commitment not because you pay them. If as a director you think you are the only person making a movie, you are crazy.
Remember to be yourself and make your own movie. Stories don’t have to be complex. Be honest and genuine. Stories exist when we tell them. Believe in your story and the world will come to you. Good films are made from a deep place; just told. When it’s honest from your heart, it finds people.