Most likely you will be the director of your low to micro budget film. How well you do this job will be the one thing that impacts your movie more than anything else. This is the one part of the process where you are not held down by equipment or budget. You are as good as you are going to be at this moment in time.
Picture this, a hack direct is a hack director whether he has a thousand dollars to spend on his first movie or a hundred million dollars. It will show through and no matter how good the camera or sound or acting is the director will be noted either positively or negatively.
I believe that there are only three kinds of directors. Let us look at them.
First is the Artist. I do not mean the silent film, I mean those special few who stand out from the crowd. The hated one percent who are gifted unlimited. I will name a few, Chaplin, Hitchcock, John Ford, David Lean, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Sorcsese, the Coen Brothers and Ridley Scott. If I included foreign directors I could list many more. The two I will mention are John Woo and Sergio Leone. Each director has a signature look and feel to their films. Watch three minutes and you know exactly who shot it.
The next level is the technician, these film makers are hard workers who get the job done. It is not always pretty, but they finish what they start. Some of the greatest films every made have been done by these guys. Here is a list of some, Victor Flemming (Gone with the Wind and the Wizard of Oz) Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, The Sound of Music), Billy Wilder, William Friedkin, Don Seigel (Dirty Harry Films, Charley Varrick, The Big Steal), George Lucas and James Cameron. You may disagree by saying that guy is an artist, that guy is a hack and that guy should be erased from history. Fine we can do a list someday and argue each and every choice, but for now let’s just go one.
The last level is the Hack. For the sake of not getting hate mail I will not mention any of them (okay you forced me into this, they can blame you guys later for this one} Spike Lee is a hack. He should be hacking people home from grocery stores rather than making movies. The next crappy movie he makes will be the next crappy movie he makes. How about the Gus Van Sant, overrated, smug and did I mention smug. Remake another Hitchcock film why don’t you and when you are done paint a better version of the Mona Lisa. Ron Howard is not a total hack, but man he is great a steal defeat from the jaws of victory. Ron close to being a good movie is not a good movie no matter what your friends in Hollywood tell you. I would rather have the Fonz direct a movie for me, I would go on, but your daughter is smoking hot so I am going to stop before I offend you. Not going to leave the women out of Hack territory. Jodie Foster is not very good. Jodie if you invite a guy into a dark theater for two hours with the promise of showing him a beaver you had better deliver more than the Road Warrior with Elmo attached to his wrist. Last is Sofia Coppola, she is a better actress than director. Do I have to say more?
I know that this reads like my list of loves and hates, but it is not. I want to list you guys amongst the technicians and the artist and not the Hacks, but where you end up is really up to you.
If you are an artist there is no advice for you here, you are gifted in ways that I can not begin to describe.
If you are going to be a technician which is the majority of us who make low budget movies then my advice will be simple. Surround yourself with people who are better than you when every possible. Better with lighting, better with sound and editing and better writers. Be a great listener. Part of leadership is not waiting to talking, but being eager to listen to everyone around you. Take advice seriously. This does not mean that you have to use it, but listen and absorb. People love to work for and with those who pay them some attention. Keep it basic. When shooting you do not have to do twenty takes and coverage from ten angles. Woody Allen rarely if ever does closeups and Clint Eastwood rare does more than three takes on any scene. Have fun making your movie and try to learn something new everyday.
Here is a look at the editing style of Martin Scorsese.
Next is Steven Spielberg talking about the learning process of being a director.
Next up is a simple bit of advice on directing actors.