“Notes on Directing” for Writers
March 19, 2012
Just before I get into the subject at hand, I want to let you know that my blog is being critiqued today by Laura of Laura B. Writer. (Thanks, Laura!) Pop over there and see what she has to say about By Word of Beth, leave a comment if there’s something you’d like to praise or pan, then come back to read some of my thoughts on the relation between writing and directing.
This week, as Behind the Scenes Month continues, we’re looking at directing — for stage and screen. I thought of titling this post “Why is a writer like a director?” but that sounded too much like Lewis Carroll’s “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” and I didn’t want you to consider my question the same sort of unanswerable conundrum.
In fact, there are many similarities between directors and writers. (Not including the fact that some screenwriters and playwrights direct their own work.) I’ll share just a couple that come immediately to my mind. Directors work with character, setting, dialogue, to tell a story — story is the end purpose of film and play. Directors must be imaginative and creative in finding the right way to tell the story, and must be prepared to edit or excise scenes which do not adequately contribute to the story.
The book Notes on Directing by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich may have been intended for directors, but I have found some invaluable advice for my writing journey within its pages.
This small book is a compilation of notes from British director Frank Hauser, gleanings of the wisdom he imparted over the years to — as the jacketflap blurb puts it — “a host of theatrical and cinematic figures, including Sir Alec Guinness, Richard Burton, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, Kevin Spacey, and many others who called Hauser their director, mentor, teacher, or boss.” The notes were put into book form by Hauser’s apprentice, Russell Reich. Within the covers of this 127-page volume, there is gold.
I am going to cite just a few examples, and tell you how I relate them to my own writing. The quotes are in bold font. Unless otherwise indicated, the thoughts that follow are my own. Your take on these notes may be different, you may agree with me on some and not others — I invite other writers to read the book, and find the places where it speaks to you, where the director’s journey and the writer’s journey intersect in your experience.
From the section Understanding the Script, #8: “Identify the story’s compelling question.” ~~ This is key for the director looking at a play script or screenplay and preparing to bring that script to life. As I have learned from other writers, this is essential to writing a good story in the first place, whether that story be picture book, novel, or indeed, a play.
From Section III, Casting, #29: “Directing is mostly casting.” ~~ Or, as Blake Edwards used to put it, “Your characters make your story.” When one is writing, one must pay great attention to one’s casting, to the choice and fleshing out of the characters in the story.
From Section IX, Elements of Staging, #108: “Give your actors face time.” ~~ In the book, Hauser is adjuring his students to beware of upstaging the actors with “things”, props, furniture, costume details. My take on relating this to writing is that writers need to make sure their characters are not upstaged, and their story is not derailed, by things such as florid description, unnecessary tangents, imprecise language.
From Section X, Last Tips, #115: “When a scene isn’t clicking, the entrance was probably wrong.” ~~ There’s no better way to state this than to quote what follows in the book — “Work on what happens before the scene begins.”
And finally, going back to Section II, The Director’s Role, #27: “It is not about you.” ~~ In the end, our writing is about sharing a story. It is about bringing a message to the audience, to the reader. It is not an ego-trip.
I hope these brief quotes have given you some insight into the director’s role, as well as into how a writer can learn from what a director does.
What are your thoughts?