Recently Sam Mendes gave his top 25 rules for filmmakers. If you aren't familiar with Sam Mendes, he has a prolific career in directing the theater as well as major motion pictures ranging from American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Skyfall.
Lists are always fun to read through but sometimes they tend to waste you time. I read through the whole list and I am going to give you the best and most valuable ones in my opinion.
#1- Always choose good collaborators
This seems obvious but he points out that that good collaborators are the ones that disagree with you. Don't surround yourself with people who tell you do no wrong.
#2- Try to learn how to make the familiar strange
This is something I try to achieve whenever possible. When you are shooting a narrative piece try to do it in a way that you haven't seen before. Don't frame the shot like every other scene that is similar to yours. Think outside the box.
#4- I Don't know the answer
This is especially brilliant when directing actors. Actors look to the director for guideance and if you aren't sure don't mislead them. By admitting you aren't sure then you invite them on the journey of finding the answer. That is where the magic can happen.
#8- Confidence is essential, but ego is not.
Never a truer statement has been said. You are the commander of the ship and everyone following you needs to know you have a vision and you are confident you can get it. But there sometimes is a fine line between confidence and ego. Don't cross that line.
Top 25 Rules for Filmmakers | Source: Vanity Fair
#12- You are never too old to learn something new
I often find myself shooting things that I say to myself “I've done this a 1000 times” and try to coast through it. I catch myself and realize that is the fastest way out of this business. Work with older and/or younger people that do your job. Ask questions. Find a way to learn things so you continue to grow and create.
#13- There is no right and wrong, there is only interesting, and less interesting.
This sounds weird but it is totally true. When I am writing a script and working with actors there is a ton of work asking these very questions. If I think A and it isn't interesting then it is “wrong.” We need to entertain people and keep them interested. Find a more interesting way to shoot your scene.
#17- Learn when to shut up. I’m still working on this one.
If you ever meet me you will realize I am a talker. I struggle with this one a lot myself. Since people come to me for guidance on the set I usually feel I need to talk. Sometimes the best thing is to keep your mouth shut. Try it sometime and see what magic might happen by you not speaking.
#18- When you have a cast of 20, this means you have 20 other imaginations in the room with you. Use them.
Again this can be a fine line. You can't just ask everyone their thoughts and not have your own vision. However, if you foster a working environment that encourages the others around to be a part of your creation they will blow your mind as to how much better the end product will be with their assistance. Use them.
#20. Get on with it. Robert Frost said, “Tell everything a little faster.” He wasn’t wrong.
My favorite director of all time Frank Capra would force his actors to speak faster. Barry Sonnenfeld is famous for only telling actors to play it “faster and flatter.” It is very hard for directors to be able to understand that when people watch the final performances they don't see them the same why you do in real life. Everything is slower. If you don't speed up your performances chances are you have failed. Try it next time and shoot it both ways. You will be surprised at the results in post.
#22- Learn to accept the blame for everything.
If you want the credit be prepared for the blame. You are the captain of the ship and you assembled your team. The buck stops with you. Make sure you have thick skin and you are able to handle the criticism.
25. Never, ever, ever forget how lucky you are to do something that you love.
This is my favorite rule ever. In my opinion we have the greatest jobs on earth. No matter what hell you are dealing with just remember you could have any other job. And if that doesn't scare you it's time to switch careers.
Read the full list of rules at Vanity Fair “Sam Mendes’s 25 Rules for Directors”
(cover photo credit: snap from Vanity Fair)