How to decide which should be the director?

Discussion in 'Professional Video Production' started by Scott T. Jensen, Dec 22, 2003.

  1. Last week, I had a meeting of the production crew. It went very well. The
    show's a definite "go". The nightclub it will be filmed at has potentially
    four different locations within itself that crew members thought might look
    good. A cozy grotto, an elegant bar, a spacious center floor (with the bar
    in the background), and a stage area (the club specializes in small live
    concerts). Beginning of next month (due to the Holidays that are hitting
    right now), we're going to do a test shoot of each of the four, run them
    through the editing process, and see which one(s) are acceptable. Anyway...

    One thing that was brought up by the crew was the need for one of them to be
    called the director. They ALL said it would help everyone as production by
    committee is a bad idea. I could honestly sense that they were all
    expecting me to decide which of them is the director. I'm the show's host,
    executive producer, and producer at the moment. I have put everything and
    them all together. The only problem is ... I'm clueless about who to give
    the nod to and thus I just let that topic go unresolved and moved onto the
    next one. For you see, the most photography I've done is take some lousy
    shots with a still camera and barely acceptable video with a home video
    camera. I have never taken a college course in any form (radio, television,
    or film) production. I'm a marketing consultant by trade. However, three
    of the production crew have expressed an interest in being the director ...
    with the rest really out of consideration. All three though don't want to
    step on each other's toes and am willing to follow the lead of whoever I put
    in charge. I just don't know who to put in charge. As for who the three

    Crew Member A: He works for the local university in their video production
    center and teaches video production to students. He's made a video that
    he's wanting my help with marketing. He's the first one that came onboard.
    He seems like pretty much a jack-of-all-trades. I have even referred to him
    as a "line producer" when introducing him in group emails when I got a new
    production crew member. Personality-wise, he's a self-admitted cynic and a
    bit gruff. However, for all his cynicism, he's very positive about the
    show, getting it produced (has a very much can-do attitude), and seem to
    take the lead in the group. Unfortunately, he's told me that he likes
    working for the university (and the job security it provides) and will
    likely only be part of the show on a part-time basis. This might change if
    it takes off and I can offer him a great salary, but he's definitely at the
    moment a big "maybe".

    Crew Member B: He runs his own video production company. At present, it is
    pretty much a one-man shop (using other freelancers to do what he needs help
    with) and mainly does just editing ... though he's done a lot of video
    photography (including shooting from helicopters). He's going to be the
    show's NLE editor and is doing it for a plug for his company at the end of
    each episode. He doesn't want to become employed by the show but get
    promoted by it. His goal is to make his company into a boutique
    specializing in editing. He's been advocating a live edit of the show as he
    says it will save him 80% of the editing time by doing so. He has express a
    strong interest in being the director and wants to be linked up with the
    camera operator that focuses on the three guests to give him directions
    which shot to take. Personality-wise, he's very polite and definitely not
    afraid to speak his opinions.

    Crew Member C: He works for a local video company that specializes in making
    documentaries for children. He does a lot of camera work (both in studio
    and location) and also does editing for his company. He is like "A" in that
    he's pretty much done it all and is a jack-of-all-trades. Like "B", he has
    expressed a strong interest in being the director. He definitely hopes the
    show takes off and employs him full-time. He was the last member of the
    production crew to be brought in and is willing to help out where he can.
    Tentatively, he'll be Camera #1 Operator (the camera that covers the show's
    three guests). He is in his 50's and the oldest of all the crew members.
    He has a very pleasant way about him. Not forceful, but he does get things
    rolling. When the argument about where to shoot in the nightclub came up
    and everyone was advocating the spot they wanted the show filmed at, he was
    the one that got everyone to agree that we do a test shoot of all four, run
    them through the editing process, and then see which looks best. He even
    noted the different characteristics of each location and, if they all look
    good on the screen, how we could alternate between them depending on the
    guest type and the expected mood of the discussion.

    The fourth technical production crew member is an experienced sound
    technician that only wants to do sound and expressed no interest in being
    the director. He had his own agenda that was pretty much separate from the
    above three when we were scoping out the place. He basically took off on
    his own and was crawling all over the place, checking out all the wires,
    electrical outlets, microphones, walls, ceilings, and clapping his hands
    very loudly everywhere (the place is "nicely dead", which is what they all

    Additionally, I have another person that will be the Production Assistant.
    He's an experienced stage manager for live concerts, musicals, and plays.
    He's willing to help out wherever he can. I have another person that will
    be the Guest Booker and basically the babysitter of the guests from when
    they arrive at the film location to when they leave. And if we use "living
    wallpaper" (non-speaking extras in the background to give the club that live
    and popular feel to it), she'll be in charge of them as well.

    So who should I make the director? Or should I just let it happen
    naturally? Or is that just asking for trouble? I don't think anyone will
    be upset at not being made the director, but I do know all three want to be
    it and want one of them to be made it. That and they pretty much expect me
    to pick which it will be. Then again, should I just start up a discussion
    about this at the beginning of the test shoot and let them decide amongst
    themselves with me knighting the one they choose? I do feel this needs to
    be decided by at least the end of the coming test shoot. Or does it? Then
    again, should I use the coming test shoot to observe more and take that into
    consideration on which to make the director? Is there something(s) that I
    should keep an eye out for that indicates the one that will be the best

    Naturally, if you have any questions that you need answered to help you make
    your recommendation, ask and I'll do my best to answer them.

    Scott Jensen
    Scott T. Jensen, Dec 22, 2003
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  2. Scott T. Jensen

    Steve Guidry Guest

    Here's my take :

    The sound guy and the college gruff guy are out. Sound techs listen when
    the should be looking. Gruff guy will just piss people off. I'm taking a
    stab at his personality type based on others I know, and he's in academia
    because he can piss off students and others with little power without
    jeopardizing his job security.

    Editor-man has this going for him : he will be more familiar with the
    footage he's going to be editing. The downside is that if he gets busy with
    a paying gig, you've now got two positions held hostage to his schedule.

    But I'd go with "c". I'll call him "agreement man. He sounds like he has
    the least negatives.

    You do need a live-shoot approach, in my opinion. ISO'ing everything, and
    then doing an edit is asking for trouble, although there's sure to be lots
    of responses here from folks who "do it that way all the time". It does
    place a lot of work on your editor, something you really don't want to do
    because he's a volunteer. (I'll predict that after the pilot, he's going to
    be asking for money or wanting out anyway, as this is a huge undertaking to
    do it right.)

    More later as the thread develops.

    Steve Guidry, Dec 22, 2003
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  3. And besides, getting somebody that really cares about sound
    is almost more important than getting a good director! (I said
    ALMOST! :)
    I wouldn't let this disqualify him by itself. Hey may turn out
    to be the best director of them all. (OTOH, Mr. Guidry may
    have nailed him precisely!)

    Why not let those who are interested trade off directing?
    * It will give them all directing experience (for when you need it)
    * It can give them better "job satisfaction".
    * It gives camera operators a better appreciation for how
    a multi-camera live shoot works from both sides (and
    * You can look at the results and see who is really the best
    (and next-best) director.

    Directing, particularly with amateur camera ops, is a
    very specialized skill and you can't always tell by looking
    whether someone will be good at it or not. One of the better
    directors we have used was a guy in the 8th grade (!) and
    some very technically competent people made really lousy

    This is in a multi-camera switched environment where the
    director is calling shots in real-time via intercom . Couldn't
    tell whether this is actually what you are planning on doing?
    Richard Crowley, Dec 22, 2003
  4. Scott T. Jensen

    Alan Lloyd Guest

    My vote wouild be for the "cozy grotto" as it's least likely to be
    plagued with distracting background business.

    Has to happen. A multicamera show needs direction.
    As the producer, deciding on the director is definitely your
    responsibility. And the sooner the better.
    I think I might actually know this guy...
    Live switching is good, and for that very reason, but isoing will save
    live switching mistakes. Think belt and suspenders. And as far as
    "linked up" do you mean communication during the shoot? This is
    pretty mcuh essential for a good show. Find a way to run comms, even
    if it's FRS radios with headsets.
    Maybe this guy is a good choice.
    What you want in a sound guy. Leave him to what he does best, don't
    ask him to play out of position.
    Don't forget releases for "living wallpaper" - or at least the generic
    "taping" announcement/sign of some sort. CYA.
    A, B, or C.
    See above - you are the producer, it's your responsibility.
    Perhaps give each of them a bit of a shot and see which look you
    prefer. Or jsut go with experience. Or just go with your instinct.
    Just don't go without a decision for too much linger.
    Alan Lloyd, Dec 22, 2003
  5. -----------

    NO TO ALL - bring in an outside director who is focused on the job of
    directing with no other agenda.

    Journalist-North, Dec 22, 2003
  6. Here's how I do it. I hire each of my potential DPs for about 2 hours. I
    give them the same assignments. Go to the town square and shoot b-roll of
    the activity. I want to be able to edit a two minute continuitous sequence
    that shows small town activity from the footage. I provide a VX-1000 and one
    cassette to those who do not own a DV camcorder. Since I'm looking for a DP
    who can make good shooting decisions fast, the subject matter doesn't
    matter. It's his ability to shoot sequences that make sense that I'm
    interested in. It doesn't matter that you are not a photographer. You know
    good video when you see it even if you don't know why. You are also the
    producer, so you have final say on the shoot, including reigning in egos if

    Best regards,
    Craig Scheiner
    Executive Producer
    CPS Associates
    Video Production and Publication
    Craig Scheiner, Dec 22, 2003
  7. Scott T. Jensen

    Steve Guidry Guest

    Darn !

    I wish I had thought of that.

    This is the best suggestion of all so far.

    Steve Guidry, Dec 22, 2003
  8. Scott T. Jensen

    Steve Guidry Guest

    Well, yeah. That's how you hire a DP for a single-camera edited piece.

    But a live multi-camera gig requires a different skills set. Waaaay
    different than just shooting and editing.

    Steve Guidry, Dec 22, 2003
  9. Steve,
    The idea behind it is the DP's eye. The number of cameras are not
    particularly important. It's his ability to put shots into sequences in his
    mind's eye that I'm interested in when I look at the test tape. As you
    probably know, shooting (or directing) a shot that follows the previous shot
    in a continuitous way is fairly easy to do. A DP is thinking about how the
    current shot will fit with the next shot and the one after on down the line
    to assure a finished sequence. That's the eye I look for. That eye works
    with one camcorder on an edited piece as well as a live multi camera shoot.
    As folks like to say, "It works for me." May differ for you and others.

    Best regards,
    Craig Scheiner
    Executive Producer
    CPS Associates
    Video Production and Publication
    Craig Scheiner, Dec 22, 2003
  10. Scott T. Jensen

    Steve Guidry Guest

    Respectfully Craig, I differ. This test might be an OK one for the camera
    ops for a live-shot. And it's an excellent one for DP's on single-camera
    pieces or even for news.

    But someone could pass your test with flying colors, and still not be worth
    a darn at directing a live shot. Here's why : with plenty of time to
    compose and choose shots, it's relatively easy to do what you describe.
    (Not that it's easy, only relatively so.) In a live situation, you're
    dealing with multiple incoming streams of video, and having to juggle a
    half-dozen or more folks doing what your DP is doing - - composing a single

    Specific skills NOT tested by your method are myriad : communicating with
    several folks at once in real time, watching all the incoming streams,
    verbally communicating his vision to folks of differing skill levels,
    dealing with a switcher as opposed to just a camera (if he's also punching
    the show), skillfully "calling" the show, etc.

    The two are just different.

    Steve Guidry, Dec 22, 2003
  11. Scott T. Jensen

    Bill Fright Guest

    IMHO I don't mean to be insulting but I would start by hiring a tested
    true producer. It costs a lot of money to produce live to tape shows and
    if you want to sell them for good bucks it has to look like it. Your
    producer will hire a quality director, engineer, lighting tech and Audio
    guy. Shoot switched live but iso every camera. It amazes me that people
    still think a switching director is an easy find. If your spending the
    money get a good 400 to $800 a day director. Also be wary of folks who
    don't do this stuff for a living 365 days a year. All three of the folks
    you listed MIGHT be a cam op in any of my productions at best. The
    editor who will work for a show credit must be new to the business.

    Best of luck,
    Bill Fright, Dec 22, 2003
  12. Scott T. Jensen

    MSu1049321 Guest

    The old guy used to working with children, he's your perfect director;-)

    Why don't you just let your four guys alternate on the first four shows? This
    way you give them all a break, they can't fault you if they screw up. one of
    them is most likely to shake out of this as the best choice. there is also
    something to be said for rotating thru all the jobs, as long as you can
    maintain a single "look". You do that by formatting the show into a book that
    everyone follows for each episode. The book dictates the speed and timing of
    shots, the location, angles and framing of cameras, the style color and
    positioning of the graphics, etc. It may only be a few notes on a single page,
    but it's the bible of the show, and you need one.

    I think when working with inexperienced people who have not been a team before,
    and considering you have an alleged experienced editor, you should shoot iso
    cams and edit in post at least for the first two shows, until you get your
    procedures down and the director you pick develops an "eye". Let me describe
    what i mean by "eye".

    The director is a unique animal, as is the technical director. In the big boy
    world, you'd have a Director who's only job would be to watch the monitors and
    call the shots. The TD would only push the buttons, maybe cue up tapes to roll
    in live and maybe advise cameramen on a second intercom channel. A producer
    watches the time, lets the director know about how well he's keeping to
    schedule, supplies confirmation of things like identities of guests match the
    graphic supers. Lets the Director know the clients behind him want to see more
    product in the shots...;-)

    In the small-end of the biz where I work, 99 percent of the time I have to
    produce as well as direct and TD my own shows. That's not too bad if you only
    have three cameras, tape rolls, and a CG to throw around on a laid-back public
    affairs show. It's a different deal when you're switching sports or say a live
    talent show or dance recital or a big event like a convention.

    The one-man director/TD has to develop a "situational awareness", much like a
    fighter pilot or expert video gamer. He or she has to know where in 3-d space
    all the cameras are from moment to moment without looking, to know what kind of
    shot they have, to know what kind of shot is needed next and who can move to
    get that shot and when, so he doesn't interfere with any other camera or the
    online picture. The director is playing a chess game in his head, thinking
    moves ahead, half listening to the program for the rythm of what's being said
    as well as the content, from which he picks up cues as to what's needed next.
    "He's talking about the prop object he brought, he'll pick it up in a moment..
    I need to line up camera two on a CU of the prop, I need cam three to cover
    wide in case the guy handling the prop bobbles it or moves it wrong, I will
    need a 2-second reaction cutway to the host while this is going on, and I need
    to tell three cameramen and a floor director what-all to do and in what order
    and I have to pre-set the switcher so it's ready for that move, and oh, damn,
    he's saying the phone number, hold everything but don't lose it, I need to
    throw the super of the number up on three with the downstream keyer..."

    The above mental conversation takes about four seconds in my head while I'm
    directing, then succinctly telling the crew what and when takes another three
    or four. Any of your newbie friends really ready to do this job without iso
    recorders backing him up? It doesn't sound like it to me; it's a skill you
    build over time and with practice. If you can't find somebody who is already
    practiced at it, shoot iso for edit until your guy learns how to do it for real
    on the fly, and all his mistakes (and he will make them) will be covered later.

    We used to have a rule where I work: whoever made a mistake during show tapings
    that could NOT be covered by an edit had to buy lunch for the whole crew. We
    don't have the rule much in effect any more, after years of practice, nobody is
    that bad anymore...
    MSu1049321, Dec 23, 2003
  13. On Mon, 22 Dec 2003 10:50:53 -0600, "Scott T. Jensen"

    Just appoint a couple of directors on rotational basis. Your crew is
    right, someone has to take decisions. Trying to run a show with a
    democratic committee will cost too much time.


    Martin Heffels, Dec 23, 2003
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