I wrote & directed my first scene (ever) for my Directing class this week.
The assignment was to shoot a 2-3 minute short with one character, one key object, no dialogue, and have the character trying to overcome an obstacle. Sounds simple enough.
I don’t know where ideas come from. I guess they can start anywhere, and the sources of inspiration vary by person. For me, sometimes it’s a half-baked memory, or a conversation overheard in the street. Other times it’s a conscious battle thinking through character identities and grand adventures or obstacles.
For this exercise I started with objects - specifically ones I owned and could easily use for the short. I created mini mind-maps with an object in the centre and branches out from it where I explained my connection to it, the themes that came to mind, the problems that arise from it, and the multitude of ways one could use the object. I went through maybe thirteen of these for various items.
The one I finally decided on was a bottle of cologne.
If you’re interested, you can watch it here: Sniff - Directing 1 Exercise 1
When I finally had to present it in class, I was very nervous. I thought it worked but I wasn’t sure. I learned a lot from the exercise but, intentionally or not, you always compare yourself and your work to that of your peers. You want to be good. I want to be good.
While I had watched it on my own, and let Olivia watch it, it is a completely different experience with an audience. When the laughs came in at the right moments though, I was satisfied. There were some valid critiques from peers and my professor that I jotted down and will think hard on as I move forward into the next one, but I’m happy with this piece as a first exercise.
The primary criticism provided was around the first few shots and the last few shots being very bland and feeling like coverage rather than intentional staging/directing. The shots are typically about one thing, they don’t move, they stay around the same size, etc - especially in comparison to the middle section. While this was my intention, I think I need to look at the bigger picture of the film and make those events more visually interesting as well.
I created a bunch of cue-cards with the shot list, some description of the scene events on the back of it for quick reference, but also a reference number that connected it to specific points in the script. I then created a second number on the cards that helped me put together a shooting-order for each scene. As I had three costume changes in the short, I wanted to make sure I shot everything in a meaningful way while also taking advantage of similar shot setups and environments (bedroom vs bathroom). You can see a few of the cue cards I put together below.
I have no idea how to do a shot-list but I think I did a pretty decent job for having no direction on how to do them. They helped a lot, and I guess that’s all that really matters. If you watched the short, you’ll recognize a bunch of these shots, but there are some that were cut or done differently on set. They took me a long time to put together but I think the next time will be easier and faster. I also plan to figure out if the way I did them was anything close to what others typically do, or if there is a better way. A more industry-standard way.
On a somewhat separate note, six people in my Directing workshop showed their exercises this week. Not a single one was bad. Everyone created something interesting, funny, snappy, haunting, or moving. While not everything worked for everyone at all times, there was always something that worked for everyone. I learned more from watching everyone’s short films and breaking them down as a class (what worked, what didn’t work), than I did just watching scenes from feature films and breaking them down in class.
I am looking forward to the rest of the exercises we have this semester. The next one is two characters, but still no dialogue. That should be interesting.
I am going to share my work here as much as I’m comfortable. I will share what I’ve learned each time and hopefully you will be able to follow that growth through each attempt at creating a story, both visually and literarily.