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Friday, July 04, 2014

How do you co-direct a film?

Note: Myself and Danny are the co-directors. Nelson Nutmeg has no directing duties!

I am co-writing, co-directing and co-producing a children's feature film called Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? alongside Danny Stack. We've worked together for years creating the UK Scriptwriter's Podcast.

That's a lot of co-filmmaking duties we are sharing though. However, two out of those three get no comments from anyone at all. Lots of films are co-written. In fact many times there are 4 writers on the credits of major films, which normally means about 10 writers were used, but many were uncredited so the film didn't look so bad. And lots of films have more than one producer, in fact having only one producer would be very unusual. But directing? Wow, no one co-directs.

One guy on reddit even said about our idea - "Co-directors=Creative poision 95% of the time." In a way he could be right. When we see more than one director on a project it is actually often because the first one has left / been fired and another one brought it. But does it need to be like this?

Our inspiration for this film is the Coen Brothers. Not just in their film making style but also how they work as a double act. They are both credited as director for No Country for Old Men, for example.

We may change our minds but here are our current three thoughts on co-directing.

One - Don't focus on taking the credit
Agree up front that this is a joint effort - 100%, equal billing. Sometimes you may feel that you doing all the hard work. Sometimes the other person will (you won't notice that of course, as that's human nature). If you are solid in the fact you are doing this together, it will work out.

Two - Know your strengths and weaknesses
Simply put, I'd say I'm more technical and Danny has a better grasp of story. We are both okay with the actors. That gives us a lot of strength to be doing two directing tasks at once. One person can be rehearsing actors, the other can be looking at lighting set ups or making art direction choices. Provided of course....

Three - You plan and create the film together
Personally I feel this can only work if you've created the story and worked things out together. Why? Because you have already crafted a world together, you both know it inside out. Co-directing from someone else's spec script would be harder as you may disagree about the interpretation or look / style or even the meaning. This isn't an issue if you've created all those elements together.

Join in the fun yourself. Our Kickstarter still has a few weeks to go.


Eve said...

This is a welcome commentary about co-directing, something I think has not been explored enough in film. The Coen bros are the obvious great example, but as a woman, I'm hoping for more female mentors.

I'm coming form the perspective of a major studio buying the rights to my novel, yet agreeing to ample creative control on my part. Perhaps it would be wise to co-write the script with my co-director. I naturally have a strong vision for the story since it's my own, but I think another person could bring new light to the script.

I'm trained in film, even many technical aspects, but I haven't directed anything full-length or big-budget. Of course I'd welcome co-directing with a woman or man, as long as she/he is the right fit. Anyway, suggestions welcome, and thanks for writing about this subject.

Tim Clague said...

That does indeed sound like an occasion when co-directing could work and indeed, co-writing or co-adapting in tandem with that.

The big question is - can you be divorced enough from your own original novel to let things be changed in that adaptation process. Some examples could be cutting characters out, changing the age / gender of some characters or changing location. All this could happen for either practical filming purposes, to help marketing the film (demographics of novel readers and film viewers are different) or for artistic reasons too.

If you can cope with that then co-directing could be a good route forward.