A good director must have all the skills of the craft of film-making: cinematography, editing, acting, managing a team, all this while keeping half an eye on the clock, and the budget. A great director must add to those skills a voice that comes from outside experiences. The right director will do all of that while remembering the script is more important than their ego.
My skills as a director come from film school, being a lifelong film geek, and most of all many years of experience in production and post production. Outside of film, my perspective is informed by growing up in New York in a family that took me to museums and foreign films as a matter of course, time spent living abroad, and having a pool of friends of many different backgrounds and disciplines who keep me inspired. Throughout all of that, the three major constants in my life that inform my work as a director are art, Japanese martial arts, and magic.
From my seven years of classical art training, I practice a deliberate, elegant style, usually drawing my own storyboards to compose shots that tell the viewer as much or as little as the story demands. The ability to tell us a power dynamic in a shot, or when to laugh just with framing, comes from this background. A great example you may be familiar with is this one from the film M:
Born of my twenty years of martial arts experience, I plan shoots with military precision. “Maximum effectiveness with minimal effort” is the old Judo maxim. Applying that to directing means planning for every contingency, and allocating your resources to make the most of them. A great example you may know is when Harrison Ford had a stomach bug and there wasn’t time to wait for him to be well enough to film a sword v. whip fight scene in Raiders of The Lost Arc, the fight was traded for a moment of classic comedy where Indiana Jones simply shoots the swordsman, in a moment that both told the audience everything they needed to know about the character, and made perfect logical sense:
As a professional magician, I know how to use the tools I’ve mastered in film to direct attention where I need it, when I need, to give the audience the best possible experience. A wonderful example of this use of data manipulation can be found in the “car chase” scene in the film Toby Dammit by Fellini, who uses the darkness of the surrounding, the extreme closeups on the subject that tell us nothing but his state of mind, and the surreal use of sheep mannequins (save one who disturbingly turns to look at the subject) to give a sense of a man whose world is falling away from him, and there is no escape:
All these examples illustrate the director’s toolkit being used in service to the story, without letting the film simply become a showcase of the director’s ego. With these principles in mind, it’s possible to make powerful films that take the written word of the script and elevate it with the power of the film medium.
At the end of the day however, I make films I’d like to see, as a moviegoer.