Friday, 12 July 2013

The Director is God

 by Greg Bepper

I have not doubt that among my peers this will certainly be a controversial topic. The attitude of the role and power of the Director, be it; in film, television or theatre, varies greatly from actor to actor. 

Although I'm on both sides of the coin, as an actor and director, my attitude to this role as never waned since I started in the industry.

It's not a democracy
As far as an actor is concerned, the director should be the supreme being. This is now where the controversy comes in, as there are many actors that do not believe this to be true. 

Whether the production be professional or community based, feature film or short, this rule must always apply. The fact of; why, is very simple. As an actor you are one cog, a very large cog but still one element that must fit into their [the director] vision of how they see the overall production working. It's the actors job to make that vision happen.

Trust in the director is a huge part of this process. They are the one person that watches and listens closely to every line you utter, every inflection, every movement and gesture, all with the big picture constantly in mind. 

I'm not saying there are no bad directors but be they, God's gift to directing or the director from hell, everyone in a production has their job description. As an actor, directing yourself or anyone else is not in your criteria.

It's a partnership but... 
A partnership: Actor & Director Photo by Kate Hall
Any director worth their salt will set out to form a partnership with their actors. So I'm not suggesting that it's a purely dictatorial relationship. The bouncing of ideas, interpretations, combined visions of characters or scenes is an integral part of a good director/actor balance. 

The ultimate decision though, no matter how much the actor may disagree, is landed directly on the shoulders of the director and must be adhered.

I have experienced many styles of directing. I have seen the director be 'the buddy/best mate' resulting in the cast running-a-muck with their own conflicting, self motivated interpretations, leaving the production in tatters.

Many years ago I was involved in an 'ensemble movie' where the original script was clever and very funny. The director unfortunately became their buddy and let the actors have their own way. The result was a mish-mash of ideas no where near the original concept of the script. In fact, entire story lines were changed on a whim of the actors. To say it flopped on release would be an understatement. Although, it did get a small cult following a decade later. Most likely spurred on by the actor's children.

Directing as a buddy and no authority is almost, always heading the production to a disaster. 
The actor a walking talking prop

I often joke that an actor to a director is a walking talking prop. Although a flippant statement, there is a small amount of truth contained within. The actor is only one element of an entire production overseen by a director.

The final say on auditions, sets, props, costumes, lighting, rehearsals, shots and all the other elements is squarely on the director and must fit into their 'vision' for the production. This includes the actors.

Clash of the Titans
Visions do clash, especially where an actors' character and dare I say costumes are concerned. A good director, will listen and if they agree, and it fits the vision, adopt the actor's suggestions. But if they do not, they will explain why or a little trick of the trade is to allow the actor to try it their way, then explain why that doesn't work, and for the actor to do it way they have been directed. Unfortunately this is not always successful, resulting in the detriment of the actor and the production. 

A few years back this was the case with one of my actors. We didn't see eye to eye on how their character should play one of the scenes. Although they listened to the reasons and direction, even to the point of rehearsing the scene perfectly to my vision, when it came to the performances, they did it their way. Their interpretation missed every time, that was until the understudy went on one night and played the character 'as directed'. The scene leaped off the stage and into the hearts of the audience. 

A mirror will only reflect what you see. An actor needs a two-way mirror so others can pass on comment of what the actor cannot see.  

Willie Fennell & John Hamblin
"Say your lines, don't bump into the furniture and collect your money at the end of the week". 

Very early in my television career I received this advice from the veteran Australian actors, Wille Fennell and John Hamblin  At first, you may be forgiven for thinking that Wille and John were suggesting to  'coast' my way through the scenes.

This was far from true. Their advice was based on the foundation of; do as you're told and take direction. I never saw these experienced mentors ever coast. They would put in the hard yards and always find a way within the parameters of the direction to make it work for them.

Does 'God' have a boss? 
Above every director lurks a powerful force. The only being more supreme than they: The Producer. 
The 'seedy' side of all productions; the money
The Producer holds within their grasp, the Golden Fleece, the Shroud of Turin and the Holy Grail all rolled into one: The budget.

While the creative side of a production should be left in the hands of the director to weave their magic. The 'seedy' side of all productions; the money, and all decrees of approval that go with it, is totally sealed within the producer's domain. 

The director is bound by their decisions and just like the actor must adapt and find a way to still make it work. 

In film of course, this all powerful position is commanded by an Executive Producer, a few more rungs up the ladder from a director but their modus operandi is still the same.

A theatre director does have one more body supremely powerful but only for very brief periods throughout a production; The Stage Manager.

 Director's supreme status has no authority
Come the half hour call an exchange of power begins between the director and stage manager. By the five minute call this exchange has been completed and now not even the director's supreme being status has any authority here. For the length of the production the stage manager calls the shots. They are the numuro uno of all the backstage staff and the actors. 

The similar positions in television and films falls to the floor manager and assistant directors. Similar positions but not similar power. They are more disciples or messengers. God [the director] communicates their edicts through them to the actors and crew on set.

Our industry on the artistic side may seem strange to outsiders. But when it comes the nitty-gritty, the chain of command is the same as any other business. It employs people to produce a product. A product that will hopefully produce a profit or at least break even. Hence the name: Show Business.  



Author: Greg Bepper © 2013
Artistic Director
Greg Bepper's Thunderbolt Theatre & Film Productions
thunderbolttheatre.com





30 comments:

  1. A tad harsh, but efficiency on the set is best left unhindered, so you do make some really good points.

    Jason Wagner

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    1. Thnks Jason... Harmony on set/stage is always good! :)

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  2. Not harsh, just honest. Everyone has a part to play including the director. Rob Zabel

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    1. Thx Rob... yep, and someone needs to be at the helm, cheers

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  3. as usual, to the point on what is required, great goings Greg

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  4. Absolutely true. Way too many actors (and others) think that their "vision" for the show is paramount. There needs to be one captain steering the ship!

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    1. Thanks Matthew ... Yep, I have seen actors dismissed from a show for constantly arguing with the Director.

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  5. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
    Good job, Greg.

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  6. Used to direct a long time ago... got great results via ensemble approach, but director has to be ultimate authority.

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    1. Thank you... Always great to have someone read my blogs that has expirenced the topic, cheers

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  7. I thought that they knew you were God... silly actors! ;)

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    1. Hahaha!!! Thank you Tracy... Sometimes it takes a bit of preaching! :)

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  8. doesn't everyone on set think they are God?

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    1. Hahahaha!!!!! ... or at least divine! Cheers m8

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  9. Absolutely true.... but most of the time the actor takes all the credit tho :)

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    1. So true Sunish.. but that;s the way of the showbiz worls.. I don't recall every being told by anaudience member "Loved your direction" :)

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  10. This reminds me of the Steve Jobs school of leadership. There are times, esp. with tight timeframes and/or budgets where one person needs to be the one with all decision making (and accountability).

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  11. Excellent article. I'd guess a lot of what you say is true in the fashion industry too.

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    1. Thx Mark.. I would say so... but thinner! :)

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  12. Light hearted article - tongue in cheek, end of the day - business is business! Thanks Greg

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  13. Great article; always ready to help ruffle some feathers!

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