Dictionary.com defines directing as “to manage or guide by advice, helpful information, instruction, etc.”32 However, this is a general definition of directing. How can we make it more specific for a movie director?
The portrayal of the director can be phrased by the formula: Cinematography + Setting + Blocking + Acting + Editing = Directing.
In other words, the director is the chief creative person for a movie. The director leads the viewer so the viewer gets the most out of the movie. The director wants the viewer to see the story from a particular point of view.
Like a stage director, a movie director tells the actors how to play a particular scene, sets the scene for a specific type of mood, and moves the actors around for a particular effect. In the above definition, the word setting is referring to the specific atmosphere created by the props, location, scenery, and costumes.
The directing of cinematography includes both the camera shots and the lighting to obtain both a particular type of effect and mood. The director also has control over the editing to create the pace, rhythm, coherence, story, and character development they and the producer want.
Finally, most directors are involved with the sound for the movie, especially the dialogue, ambient noises, and sound effects. Many directors have their individual style, so we can often recognize when a specific director is responsible for a movie. This is referred to as auteur theory.
However, in this chapter, we are going to concentrate on the main visual and verbal direction of the setting, lighting, blocking, costumes, and dialogue and how they contribute to the story, character development and character portrayal of the movie. We will analyze the different viewpoints so you will see and judge for yourself if the actions taken were the best direction, cinematography, sound, and editing for these movies.
We will touch upon the cinematography, editing, and sound as it pertains to the director’s emphasis of the aforementioned areas in the story, character development, and the character portrayal. We will go into more in-depth detail of the cinematography, editing, and sound in Chapter Six, “What Is Cinematography?”; Chapter Seven, “What Is Editing?”; and Chapter Eight, “What is Sound?”
Let’s look at the setting, lighting, blocking, costumes, characters, and dialogue and how they are expressed by the director in the cinematography, sound, and editing.
Mise-en-scene, as discussed in Chapter Four, encompasses the setting, lighting, actors’ blocking, and costumes. The setting includes both the location, such as an apartment, and the props. Mise-en-scene is everything that is contained in a cinematographic shot.
This is a big task. Normally, the director is assisted by the production designer for the setting, the costume designer for the costumes, and the cinematographers for the lighting. Each of the designers and cinematographers has a staff that they work with.
Mise-en-scene is a good technique to use for the exposition of the story.
Without speaking a word, a director can express the mindset of the protagonist with a single shot of his or her apartment. Is the apartment messy or neat? How is the character dressed, and what type of movement is the protagonist making? If the movement is rapid, is the character in a hurry? How does the character look? Are the movements lackadaisical? What is the protagonist wearing? Are the clothes old and dirty? Are the clothes neat and clean? How is the lighting in the apartment? Is the lighting bright, shadowy, or dark with no interior lights turned on?
Without the character saying a word, and with only a short burst of the camera, all the above questions can be answered.
Remember the hypothetical example of Jack in Wanderlust: The Beauty of Discovery? As the director, how would you like the audience initially to view him? Jack is graduating from college, and he still lives at home with his parents. What would his parents’ house be like? How would Jack’s bedroom appear? Do you want him to be sloppy, with a messy room, or neat and organized, to match the rest of the house? Do a college graduate’s accommodations have to match his mind, which is probably organized, to be able to graduate from college?
What would the dialogue of a character sound like when he or she is in a conversation? The tone and what is said is very important in determining the type of person the protagonist is. A combination of both the visual and the audio are very good in displaying the character portrayal. The tone and language, combined with the physical and facial expressions, are very good in determining the background of the character and the actions the character may take regarding the conflict.
How would Jack’s conversation go with Betty? Jack has a one-track mind. He wants to make something of himself without any help from his parents. Jack does not want any distractions, which Betty is. Jack’s dialogue with her would be to the point. He does not want to get to know her because this would jeopardize his chance of establishing the type of career that he desires.
Now, let’s look at how all of the above information is expressed for each of the three movies and for their genres.
Directing Points of the Comedy Viewed
How would you, as the director, express the story and characters in The Front Page? How do your ideas compare to the director, Lewis Milestone?
An Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb) biography of Lewis Milestone states that Milestone’s movies are noted for his taut editing, snappy dialogue, and clever visual touches.33 He is a good example of a director that touches on the areas of cinematography, editing, and sound. Snappy, rapid dialogue was often a signature feature of the comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. There were many instances of the snappy dialogue in the press room in The Front Page.
The quick, rapid dialogue is a very important part of the movie. The dialogue shows that newspaper reporters can very quickly throw questions at someone in order to get the information they need.
When Hildy Johnson hides Earl Williams in the desk, he shows how quickly he can come up with a plan. This action also shows that Hildy is not completely honest. Rather than turning Earl Williams over to the police, like an honest person would, he hides Earl Williams in the desk.
Visually, in movies, actions can say more for a character than words. Molly Malloy, a supporting character in the movie, is an acquaintance of Earl Williams. She jumps out the press room window to distract the reporters, so that they do not discover Earl Williams in the desk. Ignoring any dialogue prior to jumping, what does the act of jumping signify about her personality?
The actions of Walter Burns both progress the action of the story and demonstrate his character and Hildy’s character. Walter pulls a fire alarm, and Hildy runs to the street to see what was going on. This blocking shows that Walter is a conniving individual, and the viewer can see, from almost the beginning of the movie, that Hildy does not want to quit the newspaper. What Hildy states and does are two different behaviors.
Directing Points of the Crime Drama Viewed
How would you, as the director, express the story and characters in Detour? How do you think your ideas compare to the director, Edgar G. Ulmer? Do you think that the negative outcomes of each action make Al Roberts an unlucky individual?
The physical movements and facial expressions of Charles Haskell and Vera coincide very well with the dialogue in those scenes. The accidental death of both of these characters progresses the story and illustrates the future for Al. The shadows and the night, along with the cramped setting of the diner, express the life style that has become Al’s.
Directing Points of the Historical Drama Viewed
How would you, as the director express the story and characters in Cyrano de Bergerac? How do your ideas compare to the director, Michael Gordon?
The visual action is very important and the mise-en-scene is developed to show the type of places that Cyrano frequents, such as the theatre. This demonstrates that he is a learned man. The amount of sword fighting he is involved with indicates he is a talented swordsman. However, his hiding when he is feeding the romantic language to Christian points to his conflicted personality. He is confident in certain situations when his physiology does not matter to him. When the love of someone does matter to him, he hides because he is afraid of what the truth might bring.
Language and dialogue are very important in this movie, especially toward the end when Christian is dead. The language and dialogue are important because of what is said but because of what is not said. For 14 years Cyrano never stated that he wrote the words that Christian stated. Cyrano only tells Roxane before he dies of a mortal wound. Does Cyrano write the satirical essays to purposefully get killed so he does not have to face Roxane, the woman he has always loved?
Final Thoughts on Directing
The director shapes the story, or the script, so a particular emphasis is stressed and a specific theme or discourse is presented. A particular point is put forth. The director decides on or contributes to the cinematography, the sound, and the editing of the scenes for a movie. In so doing, the director shapes the movement and dialogue of the actors, along with their character portrayal. The director is also responsible for the prop placement, the costumes, and the location of the different shots.
Did you see the development that was taking place for each of the genres? What was different in the development of each of the movie genres? As an armchair director, what would you change about these three aforementioned movies? What would you emphasize differently? Always keep in mind that the producer has the final word.
We will travel on to the final three chapters and go into the cinematography, the editing and the sound in more detail to give a clearer exemplified overview of these three moviemaking areas.
With the completion of this chapter, further movies to watch that are excellent examples of directing are:
- Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, directed by David Lean, starring Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, and Anthony Quinn. This movie is an excellent example in cinematography and character development.
- The Godfather, 1972, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and James Caan. This movie is an excellent example of timelessness, presenting a topic that is still pertinent over four decades later.
- Breaker Morant, 1980, directed by Bruce Beresford, starring Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, and Bryon Brown. This movie is an excellent example of timelessness, presenting a topic that is still pertinent over three decades later.
- Schindler’s List, 1993, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley. This movie is an excellent example in directing a realistic view of a dark chapter in the history of the world.
- Pulp Fiction, 1994, directed by Quentin Tarantino, starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman, and Samuel L. Jackson. This movie is an excellent example of a different directing style of storytelling.
As Jack looks at Alec, he has a flashback to when they first met. Jack enters the bar that they are in, and Suzie asks Jack to buy her some flowers because it is her birthday. Jack buys the flowers for Suzie. Alec walks over to Jack and states that he should not buy her anything else or she may want to move in and live with him. Jack states that would be tough because he is a poor college student and does not have a place. Suzie states that college students are not poor. Alec tells Jack that he has been there for a while and has heard every line. Jack asks Alec why he is in Latin America. Alec states that he got discharged from the service and he did not want to return to the United States. Jack asks why, and Alec states that he wanted to try not being under the weight of the rules, policies, and authority of the United States. Jack asks Alec when he is going to return to the United States. Alec states, “When life is better in the United States.”
Back to the present, sitting at the table, Alec asks Jack if the doctor told him everything. Jack states as far as he knows, yes. Alec says that he told the doctor to tell Jack everything. Jack asks if Alec wants to return to the United States to his parents’ home. Alec states that he does not. Alec states that his existence now is just fine. Suzie asks them what is going on. Alec tells her that in six months, at the most, the trio will be a duo.
As the movie director, how would you direct the scenes above regarding mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, and sound?
32 “Directing,” Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/directing?s=t.
33 “Lewis Milestone,” IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0587277/.