To Cinema, With Love
Episode 8: The Anatomy of a Director
I wonder what gave Reflections Magazine the idea of calling their issue for this month ‘To Cinema With Love’. Well, in an issue surrounded by films, I would give myself some form of responsibility to at least write something different. As I sat and thought about what I want to write about, I started thinking about the one thing that is fundamental to all things cinematic. That’s when it hit me, that just like the most fundamental thing to a ship is the captain, the most fundamental thing to a film is the director.
Although almost everyone who has ever seen a movie has seen the name of a director, under the heading “A film by” or “Directed by”, very few know what a director actually does. For instance, when I told my friends I want to be a director, most of them replied by saying “Oh, so you wanna shoot a film?” or “All of that is fine, but what will you actually do?”
So here it is, an intro/explanation into one of the most diverse art forms out there. An art form that enables you to take advantage of every single art form out them, and become every artist at once.
Now, here’s the thing. All the things listed below are not true to all directors, and many directors might disagree with it as well. So rather than saying “All directors are _____” I will instead be saying….
…..Not all, but most directors are _____
Alright now that I have done my bit for being politically correct, let’s start.
Not all, but most directors are Storytellers.
This one is kind of a given. From feature-length films to TV shows to even an animated short, all cinematic pieces are stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. But as Tim Burton once said, “All stories have a beginning, middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” That is where the director comes in. Sure, the actual order of the story might be the job of the writer, but how that is to be presented to the audience is the up to the director. And sometimes, even the same story might be told in two completely different ways by two different directors– simply because their portrayal of the source material reflects their unique perspective.
But the question is, ‘What is it that directors do exactly that makes it their scene?’ A script just holds the scene written in words. To take it and transport it onto the silver screen, the director takes several decisions along the way. Take the example of the film Departed. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film was based on a Chinese film called Internal Affairs. There is one scene in the film, which is extremely critical when the two characters interact with each other over a phone call. The storyline here is the same (I’m not going to tell the storyline and spoil the film for you, chill), but the way these scenes are told is completely different. Whereas Internal Affairs has music playing in the background, Martin Scorsese chose silence. While this doesn’t change the story, it changes the way the story is told. (The scene in departed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xds1NklC-Gs, Same scene in Internal Affairs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tX8KpFUmM90)
The Departed vs Internal Affairs
So Martin Scorsese’s decision to use silence in the scene helped him tell the story in his own way. And there are decisions like this in almost every film. Be it Steven Spielberg’s decision to shoot E.T. from the height of a 6 year old, or that of Article 15 director, Anubhav Sinha, to keep the initial scenes of the film foggy to depict the cloudy judgement of the lead character, all directors take decisions in order to get certain emotions from the audience. As Tarantino once aptly said,
“I actually have a lot of different emotions I want the audience to feel, there’s funny stuff in there I want them to laugh at, there’s exciting stuff in there where I want them to feel the fun of the adventure, and there’s horrific stuff in there where I want them to feel the pain.” How Tarantino does this, is through his cinematic decisions.
Not all, but most directors have a Perspective.
“What is the one quality all directors must have”, asked Anupama Chopra to Zoya Akhtar.
“They got to have a perspective,” she replied.
This is a firm belief I have as a cinephile, and I might be completely wrong here. But I believe that how we perceive a film, is directly linked to how the director perceives the story. Which is why we have problematic characters, that still come off as heroes– because that is how the director perceives them to be. Think about it like this: if I tell a story of how I beat up a kid, I might come off as a hero. Whereas if the kid I beat up tells the same story, I might come off a villain. That’s the power of perspective. I have done a deep dive example of filmmaking and perspectives, which you can read here: https://reflectionsmag.in/2019/03/18/2040/ (A subtle plug? Yes, yes it is.)
There is also a video essay, way better than mine, about how perspective can change films by nerdwriter1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gksxu-yeWcU
Not all, but most directors are Collaborative.
There are, on an average, 588 people on the set. A director might not engage with every single one of them but, they at least do with a handful of people. The writer, cinematographer, the editor and of course, the actors. Most directors believe in collaboration because they want to tell the story in the best way possible. And why shouldn’t they? A cinematographer knows the best way to make a scene more visually appealing, a writer knows what is the best dialogue, the editor knows the best cuts and the actors know the best way to act. But a director knows how to use all of these skills together to tell a story well. They use elements from all their crafts to fulfil their vision. One of the most remarkable examples of a director using this skill is Anurag Kashyap.
As Kashyap once said himself, “I give all my people a lot of space to find things.” He later went on to add to this, saying, “My process is that I write a script, and then everyone starts working individually until they all come together, and then I work by negation because I know what I don’t want.” This collaboration can easily be seen in one of his best works, Gangs of Wasseypur. If we just take the musical elements of the film, Kashyap gave his music director complete freedom to find the music for the film, thus creating an amazing and authentic soundtrack. (You can see a lot more about this collaboration here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkGhC8DcoRs)
Conclusion: All Directors Love Films
Almost every roundtable at the Hollywood Reporter with directors begins with the same question, “What is your most memorable moment while watching a film?”, and every time I see any director answer, I see the same emotion on their faces. It’s like their smiles become wide, and their eyes enlarge, and they just can’t stop gushing about how much they love this. I think the reason for this is fundamental.
Hollywood Reporter Roundtable
As John Keating said in Dead Poet’s Society, “And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Films are not a requirement by society, therefore directors are not required by society the same way doctors and engineers are. Therefore, the only thing that drives directors is their unabashed love for cinema. And it is that love that drives them to the sets, makes them want to be storytellers, have a perspective and collaborate with all fellow lovers to create, or at least try to create, something that they cherish. That something being
About The Series
Films may not just be art, and they’re not simply entertainment either. What they are, for sure, is an experience.
When you want to watch a film, you make a plan with your friends or family or sometimes with just yourself. You buy the tickets, get some popcorn, get in the seat and enjoy the show–even if you merely open up your laptop and watch the film, it still is an experience for you, whether good or bad.
That experience can make you laugh, cry or maybe even think. This series is a homage to that very experience.
This is a homage to cinema.
|| Note :- Now, I have not seen every movie ever made (I wish I had, I really do) so my information primarily comes from the films I see, which is why whatever I write might be totally meaningless in the context of other films These articles are not going to be teaching anyone about films, these are just going to be about me talking about my passion for films, and the people who make them (which reminds me, why are you reading this?)
TL;DR: Whatever I say doesn’t matter.