Film Directing Tips



Film Directing Tips by Peter D. Marshall

1 – Shooting in Slow Motion


You know those wonderful scenes where the actor is walking in slo-mo and his long coat is blowing dramatically in the wind. (Think of Nick Cage in Face Off when he gets out of the car at the airport.

A trick to get the coat to billow like that is to have your costume designer either purchase a coat made of light-weight material, or they can creatively rip the lining out of the coat. This lightens up the material so it will move easier in the wind. And by the way – 60fps and 90fps are good frame rates for the effect.

2 – Shooting Comedy Scenes


Nothing can kill a comedy scene quicker than the lack of pace. The pace of comedy needs to be faster than drama – but not so frantic that there is no time for reactions. And never over rehearse a comedy scene – use rehearsals to block out actor movement, then turn on the camera and see what happens!

3 – Page Count vs Camera Set-Ups


When you look at the 1st AD’s call sheet and see all those scenes and pages you have to shoot each day, remember: it’s not the page count that matters as much as the number of set-ups (shots) you have each day.

4 – Use Your Hand as the Foot for a Great Hit!


Want to get a great CU of Person B getting hit in the face/head by Person A’s foot?

Take the shoe, sock and pant leg of Person A and dress it on the stunt coordinator’s hand and arm.(re: fit the pant over the arm, put the sock and shoe on the hand). You can then move the camera in close and use the stunt coordinator to swing at Person B’s head right beside the camera. You get a great looking shot and you have more control of the “kick.” I’ve used this technique several times in fight sequences and it looks great on camera.

5 – Screen Direction in a Fight Sequence


Which way an actor looks, or which side of the camera he exits or enters, is called Screen Direction (the “180 degree rule”). Maintaining proper screen direction is one of the jobs of the Script Supervisor and is very important to the uninterrupted flow of your story. But should the screen direction rule always be “obeyed?”

During fight scenes, “crossing the axis” adds a dramatic sense of confusion to the action – where punches and gunshots come from odd angles and characters enter and exit unexpectedly. And when you add slow-motion, dutch tilts, hand-held cameras and jump-cutting techniques, you can create a ballet-like scene that is stylistic and dynamic.

6 – Work Expands with the Time Allotted


In a TV Series, you should know what scenes you want to spend extra time on (more coverage or more time with the actors) and which scenes you will shoot quickly (to make up for the longer scenes). Give the 1st AD this information so he can help you out in the schedule.

Remember, if you are shooting a low-budget movie or a TV Series, it’s “Gone with the Wind” in the morning and “Duke’s of Hazzard” in the afternoon!

7 – The “Walk and Talk” Scene


Two actors have to walk from Point-A (a hallway) and finish their dialogue when they reach Point-B (an elevator or a door). A quick way of deciding where they must begin (in the hallway) is to have

them start walking FROM Point-B to Point-A. Where they stop (finish their lines) is where you can start them for the scene.


8 – Learn to Balance Your Scenes


Every script will have scenes that are not necessary; scenes that have nothing going on; or scenes that are only for character development. But if they haven’t been omitted, (by the producers or writers) you still have to shoot them. The trick here is to not spend a lot of time on these scenes – just shoot them fast and get onto the next one.


9 – Character Objectives


Actors and Directors have to come up with as many objectives for a character as possible. A character’s objective should be something that will engage the other characters in a scene; it should create it’s own obstacles; and it should be something the actor can believe in and commit to.

But there is one important rule to remember when choosing objectives for a character. An actor can only play ONE objective in a scene! Always ask yourself “What is the character’s need in this scene?” and then make sure the actor plays that objective!


10 – Advice on Making Short Films


My name is Luciano Bresdem, I am from Brazil and I have made some short films. I would like to share some directing tips that I have learned.


For me, the most important part for a director is knowing the script: structure, characters, space, plot,… You should know the material that you have in your hands. Second thing: You should know what you want to say with this film – if you don’t know what you want to say, you will lose the control over the material, actors, and crew. And the last thing: You should find the ways to say what you want to say. Discipline and organization are important here. Make a list, in detail, with every aspect of the production (Performance, Location, Direction of Photographic, Sound,…) and remember that “there’s no unimportant decisions in filmmaking”.


11 – Communicating to the Crew


An experienced director should be able to talk to key personnel in their own terms.

That means you should not only know the techniques of acting when talking to actors, but you should also understand lenses when talking to a camera operator and DOP, you should understand costumes when talking to the wardrobe department, you should understand the basics of hair and make-up….etc.

Does this make you a better director? Not necessarily. But it will help you to communicate your ideas and vision to the people that have to make it happen!


12 – A Quote from Frank Capra

Here is one of my favorite tips – and it comes in the form of a quote from the legendary director, Frank Capra.

“There are no rules in film making, only sins. And the cardinal sin is Dullness.”


13 – Dealing with Actors who Change Dialogue

When dealing with actors who want to improvise and change their dialogue, make sure they know what the intent of the scene is first. Once you and the actor both agree on the scene intent, they can go ahead and improvise their dialogue – and the objective of the scene will still be met.


14 – The Director and 1st AD Relationship


In Television – The 1st AD works WITH the Director FOR the Producer

In Features – The 1st AD works FOR the Director, WITH the Producer


15 – Directing for an Audience


As a director, it’s important to properly gauge the length of time the viewer needs to digest the information in a scene. (the greater audience involvement, the more successful the film)

Remember, an audience will accept as pertinent almost anything portrayed on the screen, even if it seems to make little sense. (If it’s there, it must be for reason.)


16 – Actors Should “Do” Rather than “Say”

When working on your script, and when shooting on the set, make sure you have the actors “do things” rather than “say things.”


17 – Developing Small Character

Any character in a script that is worth keeping is worth developing. Allow the smaller roles to have offbeat remarks or unique bits of action to make them memorable.


18 – Understanding the Business of Film

Understanding the differences and similarities between both TV and Film is essential to a successful and productive career in the film business because of one word: POLITICS!


19 – When to Use a Second Camera


Shooting with a second camera is a must if you want to save time on the set.

1) Action Scenes – you should always use several cameras during Action and stunt scenes.

2) Dialogue Scenes – you will need to work closely with the DOP, and the soundman, about when to use the second camera, what it is covering and what lens to use.

3) Filming kids and animals – this will help you get the shot on the first or second take as both children and animals will never do the same thing twice.


20 – Night Shooting


Shooting at night takes more time than shooting in the day so make sure you are totally prepared. It is also helpful to know how to cheat your reverses – so you can spend less time lighting and more time shooting.


21 – Working with Visual Effects


Most film and TV programs today utilize some form of special visual FX (Green screen, motion control, computer screens etc.) Because of the complexity of these shots, make sure you work very closely with the Visual FX Supervisor to properly schedule all of the plate shots, reference shots and green screen shots.


22 – Blocking a Scene Tips


Having a shot list will help you during the blocking process. The shot list is like a map: it gives you a path to your destination but you don’t always have to follow it

a) let the actors show you what they want to do first, then, when you make a suggestion, it is based on something you have already seen

b) in Television, speed is essential, so try and block some scenes so that your action takes place in one direction (to avoid turning the camera around for reverses)