NOTE: Even though “Notes on Directing” is a book about theatre directing, these 12 directing mistakes are equally relevant to film and television.
“Learning from one’s own mistakes is an important component of getting better at any craft. Better still is avoiding the mistakes in the first place – recognizing where others have commonly stumbled and then detouring around.
Here, then, in no particular order – gleaned from observation and from hard-earned personal pain from which we want to spare all others – is a compilation of common errors in action or perception committed by directors of all stripes.”
1. Giving emotional directions – Imagine yourself as an actor being told to “be angry,” “be disappointed,” “be sad,” or even “be awestruck.” Is there a greater guarantee of an insincere result?
2. Applying style without reason or intention – Elements of style are best applied with intention, purpose, and meaning – not as ends in themselves. Without intention, style is empty.
3. Criticizing and bullying actors – Too many directors choose shouting or sarcasm or, worst of all, imitation to cover up their own ignorance about what to do or say. They figure if they’re intimidating enough it will keep everyone on their toes.
4. Failing to include all the actors – Good actors do an enormous amount of internal work based on the circumstances you and the script have set up. If you change those circumstances you must give ALL the actors the opportunity to adjust.
5. Being lazy – No actor likes a lazy director, or an ignorant one. You should certainly know the meaning (and the pronunciation) of every word, every reference, every foreign phrase.
6. Using nudity to indicate inner nakedness and vulnerability – Beware the naked truth. Earnest nudity imposed by sincere directors is rarely the reliable conveyer of inner emotional nakedness and vulnerability they suppose it is.
7. Mandating the revelation of real life on stage and the repeatability of dictated, on-the-nose moments – If you have skilled actors at work there will be some variations moment to moment and performance to performance that make it real and therefore subject to change. Expect and accept that.
8. Using technical solutions when acting solutions will do – Spectacle has its value, but when we wean the audience from simple human drama, we commit a kind of suicide. It becomes instead all about the eye rather than the ear, about cleverness and money rather than insight and skill.
9. “Concepting” the play – Directors need to stop coming up with “concepts” that mean omitting passages which don’t fit, altering an emphasis for the sake of novelty, or twisting the writer’s overt intention in order to bring out some hypothetical Inner Meaning.
10. Thinking good art is whatever the audience cannot understand – Too many audiences blame themselves for not following a story when their negative experiences may in fact be the result of directing that undervalues clarity.
11. Neglecting the audience – The object of the director’s attention is often not the crowd in the seats, but someone else: the director’s idol, a former teacher, colleagues, parents, critics The real audience, of course, is the one showing up.
12. Lacking self-awareness and acceptance – Young directors often don’t know or accept themselves. This leads them to imitate the most notable stylist or theorist they can find.
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