This is a director’s nightmare: Everyone’s in position, the cameras are rolling, but something’s not quite right. You’ve been shooting the same scene for what feels like an eternity and no matter what you do, the actors’ performances are just not getting any better.
Good listening skills are crucial in the film business. In my experience, a good director will spend most of their time listening. During a production you will be listening to questions and thoughts from every department. Good listening skills will not only help you to direct quickly and effectively, but will also enable you to maintain crew morale. It’s one thing to work for nothing because you believe in a project, but it’s another thing entirely to not be paid and then not even be listened to by a director or producer. If I wanted to put up with that then I would go back to working in retail (and then at least I would be getting paid).
I never went to film school, so I had to learn all the protocols of filmmaking on my own. I didn’t actually learn some of the basics until about three years into my career as an indie director. By this time I’d already won Best Australian Film at MIAF and been commissioned to direct a short docco for the BBC World Service. But still, I didn’t know the basic protocol of working on a film set. This was because of the way I’d come up - fiercely independent, making up the rules as I went. This approach got me some terrific results, but it also had its limitations.
Inevitably, my (lack of) knowledge was tested, and in quite an embarrassing way. Back in 2008 I had somehow managed to score a roll as First Assistant Director on my friend Alan Lam’s final honours film. I thought I knew enough about filmmaking, indie production, and visual storytelling to be of use, but it was a steep learning curve when it came to working with the crew.