Director and filmmaker Charlie Watts provides his top 10 tips for anyone destined for or sitting in the director’s chair
Charlie Watts is a professional director and filmmaker based in Manchester.
The team at Wex recently asked me to think of a number of tips when it comes to directing and filmmaking. It was a strange one at first, because I’m still fairly new to this industry myself and am learning every day. However, in the short time I’ve been directing, I have already absorbed some key bits of advice and learned from first-hand experiences that will stick with me for the rest of my career. Filmmaking is subjective and so is everyone’s approach to it. These tips aren’t dos and don’ts, nor are they right or wrong. For me, these are the ten rules I try to take into account on a shoot-to-shoot basis.
1. You're only as good as your team
When I first started shooting short films and videos on a DSLR, it was super fun and easy. The simplicity of picking up a camera and engaging in some run-and-gun shooting was brilliant. For a while, it was very fulfilling. Plus, I was happy with the results and feedback I got from people about the shorts. However, you come to a point where filmmaking becomes more complex if you want to grow and create bigger, more intricate projects.
Eventually, you need to bring others on-board: DPs, producers, makeup artists, runners and the list goes on. Although you may be the captain of the ship, each crew member is just as important as the next. Appreciating people’s roles and understanding them is vital to working coherently as a team.
2. Be approachable
I guess this relates to the first point in many ways. You are the captain of the ship, the director on set. There will be numerous points on a shoot when you have to make key decisions, and decisions that will be tough and stressful. Fundamentally, you will have the answers that crew members need, so be approachable. If you come across as arrogant or aloof, people may second-guess you and not ask you something, which later down the line, could be vital to the workings of the shoot.
3. Be comfortable with being selfish
What I love most about my job can also be the toughest aspect of the role. Quite often, you might receive a last-minute brief for a project on Friday and the deadline is on Monday morning. Similarly, you might have to fly abroad at short notice and at the drop of a hat say "yes". In my short career so far, there have been times when this has caused issues with family or friends. You have to be comfortable knowing that sometimes you might disappoint those closest to you, whether that's missing a birthday or cancelling on friends. You are pretty much always on call.
4. Try new things
This point is really as simple as it sounds. Be brave and push yourself out of your comfort zone, if you feel your work is becoming too samey and saturated then do something about it. Shoot a side project that’s different to your commissioned work. When I first started out, I shot a series of mini documentaries and soon people started pigeonholing me into the genre. This is great if you are pitching for jobs of the same genre, but it can also be damaging when pitching for jobs of opposing styles. So, keep it fresh and try new things!
This isn’t really about listening to learn, but rather listening to appreciate. In the world of directing with agencies and production companies, you collaborate with many different types of people. More often than not in the commercial world, your job will be to bring someone else’s idea to life. It can be easy to let your role as a director go to your head, but remember that you might be shooting someone else’s idea (even if it’s bad). It’s your job to understand their view and offer up alternatives.
6. Prep, prep, prep!
When directing, preparation is as key as making important decisions on the day. But, your life will be made so much easier if you know your shoot logistics inside out. Don’t leave anything to chance on the day. What you can prepare and plan for, you should!
7. Build relations along the way
I’ve probably just come off the biggest shoot of my career so far, and we faced a lot of logistical challenges. On the day of the shoot, around 80% of the crew had worked with me before on smaller projects. I know they went the extra mile on this project for me, because of the relationships we have built up. This ties in with my first tip, you need to treat everyone with respect and gratitude because you are going to work with some individuals more than once in your career.
8. Keep an eye on current trends
This can easily be misinterpreted as: ‘copy ideas around you’. That’s not what I'm saying at all. When you are pitching on jobs or having conversations with agencies, you are going to chat and reference existing work. You need to know what’s currently trending and what’s not. There are always going to be trends and showing awareness of this tells agencies you are in tune with what they might be looking for.
9. Enjoy it
This is probably the most important advice of all – you should enjoy your work. Just remember that you are doing this because you chose to and you are passionate about it. Reminding yourself of the reasons of why you got into directing is so important. When you have bad experiences or things don’t go well on shoots, just remember we are making films, not saving lives. Try not to put so much pressure and emphasis on yourself to succeed. Enjoy it and the achievements will follow.
10. Don’t take yourself too seriously
This isn’t something that necessarily applies to everyone, but it’s something I try to keep in mind as I progress in my career. Let’s face it, the film industry can be an extremely pretentious working environment. Speaking from first-hand experience, sometimes I have felt that pressure to pretend to be someone I am not. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
About the Author
Charlie Watts is a professional director and filmmaker based in Manchester. To see more of his work, visit his website.