Friday 1 February 2013

Everything I've learnt about making films - Nigel Cole

I first became aware of Nigel Cole when I saw Saving Grace (2000). My wife, who has never touched dope in her life, loves that movie. I don't know why. During my misspent youth, I encountered more than my share of green cigarettes, though I —naturally—have never inhaled.

Next up was Calendar Girls (2003), another oddly appealing movie, which has lingered on our Favourites list ever since. The hard-working director followed that with a series of films, including Made in Dagenham (2010).

Then he capped it all last year, with this, on Twitter.

And, as good as his word, he did. Here is the substance of those tweets, in order.

1. The script is everything. You can ruin it, but no amount of great acting, clever camera work or editing will make it better than the script.

2. Watching a film is like being hypnotised into a dream like state. Everything fake or false in the film shouts wake up! at the audience.

3. There are 2 parts to a film. The ending and everything else. Beginnings are easy. Any scene is a great opening scene. The ending is hard.

4. If you cast the wrong actor there is very little you can do. If you can’t find the right actor rewrite the part for an actor you love.

5. Every scene needs to move the story along in some way. If it doesn’t you’ll cut it after the first preview.

6. Shooting a film is all about compromise. Knowing where you can’t compromise is what makes you different from other directors.

7. Most actors want to be great. So they try and do great acting. Tell them to stop it.

8. A hundred minutes is a long time to keep audiences interested. The second act really needs to get interesting.

9. The small parts make a big difference. Give them character—there is no such thing as a receptionist or policeman. They are people.

10. Don’t get stuck on an approach to a scene. There’s little point in doing 27 takes of the same thing. If it isn’t working change something.

11. Characters don’t have to be nice to be likeable. Nice is boring. But they do have to be entertaining.

12. Never ask the actors to improvise sex scenes. It’s very embarrassing for them. You need to tell them what to do. Move by move.

13. Try to give an actor just one note at a time. It’s impossible to lose yourself in a scene if you are trying to remember a dozen notes.

14. Never have a character talk to themselves. Always looks fake. Find an action that reveals the character’s thought process.

15. It’s tempting to do lots of angles of the scenes you love and skimp on the duller ones. Wrong. It’s the dodgy scenes that need options.

16. All storytelling is a balance between subtlety and clarity. How do you be clear without being obvious? Solve that and you’re on your way.

17. You can start a story with a chance event or coincidence but by act 2 it all has to be driven by the choices the characters are making.

18. Movement is the forgotten art of film. Move your actors in a way that illuminates the scene rather than placing them to suit the camera.

19. Pace is the hardest thing to judge on set. But in the cutting room it’s almost always too slow. Make sure you do a quicker take.

20. Don’t just shoot the dialogue. Ask yourself what the characters are seeing, show the audience the world through your character’s eyes.

21. Storyboards are useful for action and SFX. Useless for everything else. Watch the scene with an open mind—then decide how to shoot it.

22. Continuity is over rated. It’s only a problem five percent of the time. The trouble is knowing which five percent.

23. Get out from behind the monitor on set. It’s an easy place to hide but go and watch the scene with your own eyes. The actors will love it.

24. Rushes are hard to watch—a time consuming, demoralising, insomnia producing, backwards looking nightmare. But you’ve got to do it.

25. Be specific. Don’t be vague. Make your mind up, say something, make choices. Decide specifically what you are saying at each moment.

26. Rehearsals before the shoot starts are a chance to get all the talking done. There’s so little time on set.

27. No one ever noticed the shoes a character is wearing in a film. But the actors and wardrobe people care very much about shoes.

28. On set, shoot the rehearsal. Everyone will complain but it will probably be the best performance and minor technical issues won’t matter.

29. All film is horrible until you put music on it. Most directors watch rushes with music in b.g and slap it all over the cut from day one.

30. Stay away from the snack table (in the USA known as craft services). Directing a film is bad enough for your health as it is.

31. Finished films are never as good as the rushes and never as bad as the first assembly.

32. Never do a joke on top of another joke. One joke at a time.

33. Crossing the line is an easy concept to grasp (google it) but I’ve seen cameramen with thirty years experience get confused by it.

34. However long the shoot you’ll wish you had more time. Cut the script before you start. Try not to shoot scenes you didn’t need.

35. Practice telling your story on friends, strangers—everybody. Only when people tell you that you have a great story will you be ready.

36. Some actors get better the more takes they have and some get worse. When planning coverage shoot the ones that get worse first.

37. Just because the crew are laughing doesn’t mean it’s funny.

38. In script meetings most people’s notes are about logic. I don’t believe this character would do that. I don’t believe that would happen.

39. You are going to be with your editor 18 hours a day for several months, crammed together in a small room. Choose someone you like.

40. To get a job a director must persuade the producer that they will do a better job than their previous work suggests they will.

41. Most actors are good at saying the lines as if for the first time. Looking as if you are hearing lines for the first time is harder.

42. Test screenings are vital, watching with an audience tells you what’s wrong with the cut. But ignore focus groups, they will confuse you.

43. You are going to hate the poster. But there’s nothing you can do about it.

44. The best moments happen by accident. Create an atmosphere where they will happen. Here’s an example from Brando.

45. Story is mystery. Withholding information is more important than giving it. Make the audience ask questions. Create suspense.

46. Ask yourself what the purpose of the scene is. Why haven’t you cut it? Make sure that is what you shoot.

47. Extras get a lot of stick. But they can bring a scene alive for the actors if you motivate them properly.

48. Crews work harder when there is naked actor on set. Everyone gets busy so they are not caught looking.

49. A prop that looks fake can kill a scene. Suitcases must look heavy for fucks sake.

50. Have something to say.

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1 comment:

Ed Love said...

Good stuff, thanks.