5 Big First Time Directing Mistakes

Directing your first project is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. You have to balance the demands of the budget and schedule, location issues, and difficult talent. While there are some factors that are out of your control, there is a lot you can do to make your life easier on set.

We often see the same problems plaguing a first-time director, often as a result of poor pre-planning or the lack of a concise vision. When you’re ready to start directing, here are some of the most common issues you’ll encounter and how to avoid them.

  • Overshooting – Directors who aren’t confident in their plan tend to overshoot a scene from too many angles, wasting time and falling behind schedule. Take the time in pre-production to walk through the coverage of each scene so when you arrive on set, you are confident in the number of camera angles you need to cover the action properly.
  • Indecisive direction –The director who constantly looks to the crew for help in directing a scene is a director who doesn’t know what he wants. This is the most dangerous situation to be in because you end up in a boat with no captain. As a director, take the time to sit down and map out what you want, not only for each scene, but for the entire story. The cast and crew appreciate a director who knows what he wants to do, even if he is wrong.
  • Being too focused on the technical aspects of filmmaking – Many novice directors are more focused on the lighting, camera, and sound, that they forget about the actors. The actors get little direction and will not invest fully in their performance, not know what direction to take the character, or worse, lose trust in the director. As the director, your main job is to direct the actors, so always plug in with them before and after each scene to provide feedback and support first, then check on the camera.
  • Lack of communication – Many directors may have their vision in their head, but have a difficult time effectively communicating it to the cast and crew. Often, directors fear that they will sound stupid and simplistic when they explain what they see, but an effective director will communicate as clearly as possible what he wants to have happen. Remember that the cast and crew have no idea what the director is looking for and need everything spelled out in as much detail as necessary for them to do their jobs.
  • Not giving actors room to breathe – As a director, it’s easy to be so structured in your direction that you give your actors no room to improvise. Actors like having a framework for a performance, then the freedom to bring their craft to the screen by interpreting that framework to make it real. If the framework you establish is too structured, either by giving line readings, overly stringent blocking or too many beats in a scene, the performance will become wooden and contrived. Learn to let go and trust that the actors will do their job.

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