You never forget your first time.
I'm talking about directing. What did you think I was talking about? This is a respectable blog. Well, most of the time at least.
Strangely though those two firsts have some commonalities:
1. It's hella scary before you do it.
2. At first you're all insecure and timid.
3. Once you have a basic grasp of how it works though you begin to notice how much fun it is.
4. And as soon as you've done it once you'll want to do it again and again and again.
While one has happened for me quite a while ago the other experience has been a more recent one. Last Saturday I had a ten hour directing workshop scheduled at film school. I was wary, at best, of spending ten hours on my feet when I currently get exhausted by about two hours of running errands. I also had no idea whether the teacher was going to be any kind of good or all kinds of bad. But I packed my energy rations (coffee, water and nuts, never leave the house without nuts, and some chocolate) and an extra dose of Ritalin in case my Concerta wore off to fast. I printed out the scene I was going to work on and hopped on a curiously empty Saturday bus on a lovely spring day.
Boy was I wrong to be apprehensive! The teacher turned out to be fantastic, running us trough the basics of directing, giving immensely helpful feedback, and he even has a sense of humour (sadly, that's not always a given). Otherwise he pushed us into the deep end - the best thing he could do.
About two hours after arriving I was already in the middle of DP-ing for one of my colleagues, sketching storyboards on a whiteboard and discussing the benefits of purposely jumping over the axis. Then, before lunch break, I set the lighting for another colleague's scene and watched from the side as they took their first tries at directing.
The differences in style are completely fascinating. Everyone has a different way of easing into the job, of talking to the actors, the crew. I was learning a lot just by watching. Suddenly it was my turn. I jumped right in, assembled my crew, briefed the actors, and there I was, doing a first read-through already, then setting up the scene, blocking, sketching floor plans, figuring out the best camera angles with my DP. Shooting. Tweaking. Shooting another take. Working with the actors. Giving my DP the chance to get a focus change just right considering the limited amount of time we had for our practice shoots. Shooting another angle. Another take. Saying "Action" (although I prefer the more friendly "Aaaand go") and "Cut". Thank you, you were wonderful. Great camerawork. Everyone take a break. I got great feedback from the teacher, the actors, the crew.
And all of it - ALL OF IT! - felt so fucking right. Much like, fish... meet water.
Felt like I was meant to do this. Never supposed to do anything else. Like every other job I'd ever had was just a youthful indiscretion before getting hitched to this wonderful thing called directing. I fell in love, fast and hard.
I suppose this isn't surprising. Because me and directing, we were set up ages ago. After all, I grew up watching my father direct. He started out as a theatre actor, then became an editor at the Austrian Broadcasting company. He started directing for TV even before I was born. I suspect he did some work on documentaries early on but I mostly watched him direct television broadcasts of operas, concerts, theater productions, ballets etc., both recordings and live broadcasts. My mother was his assistant director a lot of the time then became a director herself. When I was older I even worked with them as a floor manager.
Sure, it's a bit weird working with your parents (though it didn't even take me that long to hammer it into their heads that it was definitely not okay to call me by my embarrassing childhood nickname on set) but I learned so much from listening to my dad's voice transmitting through my headset. The way he maneuvered the giant and intricate system of cameramen/women, sound mixers, lighting technicians, cable pullers etc. through live broadcasts has given me a certain instinct for directing. He was always respectful, never without a sense of humor, knew that everyone on set was indispensable and took care to treat them as such.
He knew how to talk to people, knew when to be strict, when to be diplomatic. Ironically, his communication sucked big time in familial settings but while working he knew what he was doing. He felt safe, I assume, like he had a spot in the world that fit him just right. I'm lucky to have seen him work, and while I wasn't aware of it at the moment, soaking up all that I could learn from him.
I was way to scared during my first directing stint last Saturday but I think if I had been viewing myself from the outside instead of, well, being wide-eyed and in the moment, I would've been able to spot a lot of my dad's directing style in my work. I choose to believe that had he seen me in that moment (and maybe he has, I'm agnostic after all) he would've been proud of his director daughter. I'm finally proud of myself as well.
Here's to my dad who unwittingly taught me a lot while I unwittingly learned from him. You would've loved seeing me do this, dad, I just know :)
I love you.