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What Are Film Director’s Responsibilities?

As a film student I read many books written by other film directors but I never fully understood what my responsibilities were going to be until I started making my own films.

Below you will find my own list of director’s responsibilities.

1. I believe that director’s first responsibility is to the story, which means that the story you are translating from the script to the screen comes first, must be coherent, watchable and make logical sense to the audience.

2. I like being ready and prepared before I start production. I analyse the script from top to bottom. Often, I forget everything the moment I walk onto the set but I know I’m allowed to do it since I have already prepared for the production and my hippocampus remembers everything that I have to remember.

3. During the pre-production, I analyse the script my way, which works for me and my productions. I go through every scene looking for objectives, beats, action verbs, and images. I make all those notes for myself. I don’t share my findings with the actors during the rehearsal or when we are on the set. I only use my scene analysis as a backup, if the actor isn’t delivering what I need for the scene to work on the emotional level.

4. When I know that I’m making a film that year, I often read one of my favourite books on acting or how to work with actors. I have a decent collection of those, and a little refresher is always good. While reading, I often find inspiration for exercise I can use during the rehearsal or while on the set.

5. I like working with actors on the set and during the rehearsals. I respect their process and know that no two actors work the same way. However, I also like giving my actors choices to build their characters organically. I never tell them or, God forbid, show them how they should act. I see myself more as a facilitator who encourages actors to find the most suitable tools to build their characters most naturally (if the emotions are fake, the camera picks up on that and the film is going to suffer).

6. I always try to have a rehearsal, even if it’s one day. For me, it’s important that the actors get to know one another before we all descend onto the film set. I believe it’s the director’s responsibility to make sure there is some time put aside for the rehearsal. I like building the history between the characters, and this is what I often use the rehearsal for.

7. My main objective on the set is to have enough coverage of each scene. If needed, I’m happy to cut scenes or takes, if this is what needs doing because we are running out of time.

8. I work way before the shoot begins with heads of departments to make sure everything we have spoken about and planned for is going to be delivered.

9. If some unforeseen difficulties occur, I make hard decisions such as change location, drop scene/s, cut characters, etc.

10. I answer questions; many of them. Everyone will have at least one from the moment I arrive on the set.

11. I delegate jobs and heavily rely on my First AD if I’m lucky enough to have one.

12. I work with the actors before the scene begins. We don’t usually go into the heavy emotional stuff. Before we start shooting, I make sure the actors know what the scene is about, what happened before, and what the objective of the scene is.

13. We do a walkthrough of the scene with the actors for the technical crew and try to rehearse/come up with the right movement for each character, where the actors are going to look, where they are going to stop etc. It is all-important for the light, continuity, and shoot size.

14. I call action and cut. But before that happens, I always give myself five extra seconds at the start and the end of the take. It’s purely for editing purposes.

15. I work with the actors after the cut and tell them what we need to change in the next take if the take wasn’t what I wanted. If the take was fantastic, I also tell this to my actors and tell everyone that we are ready to move on to the next set up.

16. If needed, I talk to my DP about our framing and what’s in it (the unwanted stuff such as too much headroom, some parts of the production design that shouldn’t be in the frame, etc.). At times the frame needs adjusting.

17. I decide when to move on to the next take or the next scene. Sometimes, even though you try and work as hard as you can, you can’t get what you need from the actors. You, a director, must decide when it’s time to move on.

18. I’m one of the directors who likes looking at her monitor. I know that some directors prefer not to, but I need to know what is in my frame, how the actors look in the frame, and if there is anything in my frame that I don’t like. What is in the monitor, is going to be on screen and I like knowing what I am going end up with.

19. Together with the DP, we make sure that we have enough takes of each screen to make the film visually appealing to the audience.

20. If I feel and know we have enough footage, I call the wrap.

21. In the post-production, I usually take on the role (remember that I often work on small, low budget films) of the post-production manager and editor. It’s hard to edit your own projects, but I usually get feedback from people outside of my editing bubble.

22. There are some things in the post-production process that I don’t do and must hire a post-production professional for those jobs. As a post-production manager, I often have to chase them if the deliverables are taking ages.

23. Film sets and post-production process are full off conflicts and clashing egos. I’m the person who needs to solve them.

24. I decide what music and sound I’m after and what kind/type of colour correction I want for my film. When it comes to colour correction, I work with visuals, and when it comes to music, I use samples of other the music.

25. I make sure that everything is delivered on time and that the final edit works (sound and music aren’t out of sync).

26. During the post-production, while waiting for other departments to deliver, I usually make a list of film festivals I want to send my film to. I also come up with ideas for marketing and promotion of the project.

27. Once the film has left the post-production stage, I send my film to festivals or markets and work as hard as I can to promote my film.

As you can see the director’s responsibilities are diverse. As a director, you are involved in the project from start to finish. I realise that sometimes it’s not possible because the director gets replaced or you come in to direct a few episodes of the show.

What I feel is important to remember and to focus on, is that your responsibility is to the story and to make sure that it’s engaging and told in the best possible way.

I guess every director is going to give you a list of different responsibilities that should be included in the director’s job description. The list above is mine, and I do hope you will find it useful.

While you are here, you might also be interested in Creative Distribution.

Filed under: film director, indie filmmaking

About the Author

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Magda Olchawska is an award-winning independent filmmaker, writer and screenwriter. She writes not only about making films and writing but also about financially independent and sustainable lifestyle. Her current projects include Ecotopia Universe and School Runs.

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