As I'm learning more and more, directing films is really about making decisions. What kind of performance do you want out of your actors? How do you want to frame up the shot? Do you want to use music in the scene? The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, in my opinion, making these decisions can often be a lot more complicated and confusing than it needs to be.
From the beginning of Play It Safe's development the idea of authenticity has been really crucial, and so it's very important to me that we portray the events in the film as accurately and realistically as possible. In the film's second act, Jamie (the film's protagonist, played by the very talented Nick Kato) gets a job as a piano teacher and we spend quite a lot of time watching him work at the music school. I knew early on that this was something we had to get exactly right.
When Jack and I agreed to write the screenplay, we both knew that realising that (seemingly simple) and was going to be very challenging. Neither of us had written a feature length script before, and we both enjoyed procrastinating as much as the next writer. To combat this, we decided to set up a bunch of commandments or rules to help us along the way.
When I decided to make Play It Safe back in early 2011, I knew that I had a great challenge ahead of me. Even though I finished my first festival short back in 2005, the fact that I had never attended a proper film school weighed heavily on my mind. I've worked on many different projects over the last few years, but for the most part the production processes were nothing like what might occur on a Hollywood film set...
The Film Collaborative have just released an amazing resource: the new book “Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul”. This book is availible in a variety of formats. It’s available for free in PDF format, and it is free for a limited time for iOS and Android. It’s also available on Kindle and in paperback for a small fee.
Good listening skills are crucial in the film business. In my experience, a good director will spend most of their time listening. During a production you will be listening to questions and thoughts from every department. Good listening skills will not only help you to direct quickly and effectively, but will also enable you to maintain crew morale. It’s one thing to work for nothing because you believe in a project, but it’s another thing entirely to not be paid and then not even be listened to by a director or producer. If I wanted to put up with that then I would go back to working in retail (and then at least I would be getting paid).
In my opinion, the technical side of filmmaking is often more complicated than it needs to be. This is because of the way filmmaking has developed over time. A lot of the methodology and terminology we still use today is based on the way things were done years and years ago. Take for example: the way the 16:9 aspect ratio was developed, the fact that your sound guy will probably still say “speed” to indicate that the sound is recording, and don’t even get me started on the different framerates we’ve been left with thanks to the differences between PAL & NTSC.
Aspect ratios are one of those things can seem a bit overwhelming when you’re getting started. I used to refer to some of the wider aspect ratios as “extra-widescreen” (and I actually still do sometimes, just for fun). I remember when we made Fraught back in 2006. I desperately wanted to present the film in an aspect ratio of 16:9 or wider but we didn’t have access to a camera that could shoot that natively. So we settled for 4:3. Now, I know of a bunch of things we could have done to fix that (especially since it’s a rotoscoped animated film).
With this post, I’ve done my best to explain what aspect ratios and resolutions are in relation to film and video. The rest of the post then explains the most common aspect ratios and lists some common resolutions for each.