The other day while I was grabbing drinks with Andy, we started talking about the nature of acting. Andy, you see, has a background in the performing arts and used to travel with a Children's Theatre Workshop. The man knows his craft. "It's like they said in 'Waiting for Guffman'," he told me between sips of beer, "You learn it all so you can forget it."
I laughed at the clear contradiction, but I could see the inherent truth in it. This idea of learning a skill so well so you can just forget it when you seemingly need it the most is probably the key to any performing art from acting, singing, or dancing, to photography, music, or directing.
As I've been writing these articles, I've been harping on the things to know while you're directing - The importance of that first scene, why you should storyboard, and I'm sure I'll go on with more - but I haven't talked about the most important thing: Just doing it. Say what you will about any bad director, from Uwe Boll to Brett Ratner, at least those guys are out there doing it. The difference between those types and the potential director is that they stopped talking and did something about it.
When I first moved to LA, my roommates and I were hungry to make movies. And armed with my trusty DVX-100a (a graduation present), we were ready to do just that, you know, as soon as we found lights, a crew, actors, a script, etc, etc. I got so bogged down in what I needed to have to make a movie, that I wasn't actually making anything I was just wishing that I could.
Then, six months later after an overly harsh, and unpaid, day on set, it hit me: We had everything we needed. While it would be great to have a true crew, all we really needed was a director/camera op. Actors are a great luxury to have, but dudes who can keep a straight face will do in a pinch. And sure, lighting is a fantastic way to give your movie some definition, but as long as you can see what's happening on screen, that's all that really matters. Right? And so, the next day we set about shooting shorts.
It was awesome! Some of the best experiences of my life.
The shorts weren't all that great in the end, but they served their purpose: They got us honing our skills. As the months went by, we continued to shoot little projects now and again and in the process, learned more than we ever could from books, the internet, or other people. We learned how to improvise when problems arose, how to effectively tell a story, and even a thing about special effects. It was like going to the best film school ever, and only having to pay for tape stock.
My advice to any young and/or budding filmmaker is to just grab a camera and start shooting. If you wait until you have the things you 'need', you'll never get anything done. And by shooting, you'll intrinsically learn what you need to know when it comes to making a film.
That said, not all projects should be like that. Shooting fast and dirty like that will help you with the basics - like figuring out what works and what doesn't - but it isn't the be-all end-all of filmmaking. At some point you'll want to, or at least should want to, move on to bigger and better things, like a feature, which require more planning and forethought. So, with your foundation of quick and dirty shorts, you'll be able to more readily discern what you really need to make your film from the things the books tell you you need.
In essence, when I think of my filmmaking philosophy, I think of the immortal words of Kevin Costner in the golf classic Tin Cup: Grip it and rip it.
Now go shoot something!