Directors and Their Collaborators
Director Alfred Hitchcock (left) and Composer Bernard Herrmann (right)
Besides the actors, the directors are often the most recognized member of the film-making team. You can often spot their names on the title sequence or the opening credits with the labels “A film by…” or “A …film”, thereby giving them a symbolic ownership over the film. Apart from creative directing, a director’s key skill is collaboration.
To ensure that they capture top-quality footage and realise their vision for the film, they have to communicate and work with the other essential creative members of the film-making crew, such as screenwriters, editors, actors to name a few. In fact, all of the successful and well-known directors often collaborate with the same people they feel best works with their aesthetic and vision. Take Alfred Hitchcock as an example. He often works with composer Bernard Herrmann to compose most of the scores for his films, giving his films its distinctive sound.
Famous Screenwriter Billy Wilder
They are the most essential members in the creative process of making a film as they originate ideas, create fascinating characters and write compelling dialogue, all of which are the foundations of a film. Nevertheless, they often have little or no control over what happens to the story after the film project goes into production.
That’s because it’s a common practice, particularly in Hollywood, for scripts to be redrafted countless times by other writers during the development period, when numerous revisions on the script are made. Reasons for revising the script can vary from strengthening a character or making better jokes. There could be dozens of collaborating writers who work on one script even though the Writer’s Guild of America limits them to 3. Oftentimes, the revision period is what causes a film to be delayed. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is an example of a film that fell victim to the seemingly indefinite redrafts, causing it to be released 19 years later.
With this in mind, it can be difficult to perceive the screenwriter as the sole ‘author’ of the film due to its collaborative nature and process.
Screenwriters write scripts, also known as screenplays, to dictate the character’s actions and what they say. In films, screenwriters mainly utilise actions to create characters. A term often used to refer to this concept is pure cinema, in which a film uses visual language as opposed to heavily relying on dialogue to tell a story. Nevertheless, a script’s primary function is to direct a character’s speech.
A screenplay with good dialogue will have just the right amount of exposition necessary to move the story but not too much that the entire background is over explained. Additionally, a good script shows who the character rather than having them explain who they are.
Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (2008)
They are the only person who sees a film project through from the beginning to the end. They are responsible for overseeing the entire film-making process and have the overriding influence on the project. With that in mind, they represent the studio or financiers in having a say in the final cut and the release date of the film. Their role is often strictly related to the business aspect of film-making.
Common Producer Roles and Duties:
- Producers: Oversee the budget, acquire finance and manage the production office.
- Executive producers: Represent the studio’s interests on set, or personally provide the major funds for the film project or act as prestigious consultants during production.
- Associate producers: Work under the main producer and are responsible for completing finance or overseeing post-production.
- Line producers: Directly responsible for the pre-production or planning phase of a project and attempt to ensure that shooting is completed on time and on budget.
- Co-producers: Line managers with some creative input during the development process and producers from other companies that are co-producing the film.
These individuals share the responsibilities of a producer and the different titles ensures that each person is properly valued and acknowledged in a film project.
The necessity for producers was established during the era of the Hollywood studio system, a system that utilises tight contractual control to make films fast and lucrative. They were the bosses in major studios while the screenwriters, directors and actors were their employees. After the studio system ended in the 50s and 60s, there was a shift in their roles and independent producers rose in the industry. Executives took their place as heads of the studio, while major film studios nowadays consist of financiers and distributors. Additionally, talent agents have more power as they take up the producer’s previous duties. In present day Hollywood, most producers work as freelancers. Without the studio system, their job often requires them to collate and present an attractive film project to film studios.
Cinematographers, or directors of photography, have to use their creativity as well as technological knowledge to achieve the director’s desired visuals for a film and make a series of technical decisions for the film project. They make the decisions on lighting, which camera lens to use, films stocks and screen ratios to create the final image. They particularly play an important role in the development and pre-development stages of film-making in which they collaborate with the director to discuss the visual style and aesthetic of a film. They are often the first to be hired by either the director or the producer. Their main responsibility is to lead and oversee a team of camera operators, electricians and lighting crew while filming.
During principal photography (the physical shooting of the film):
- They check and test all camera equipment and lighting
- Set up the scene by placing the cameras and lights
- Block the set, marking out the movement of actors and any camera equipment.
- Work with actors to ensure their performances are recorded accurately by cameras.
- Watch and approve the rushes or dailies, the shots recorded each day in their raw, unedited state.
the cinematographer takes part in digital grading and image manipulation, the process of changing the colours and other elements of the footage through a computer program.
While collaborating with directors to discuss their visual style and aesthetic for the film, they research and take inspiration from paintings, photography and even architecture. Jack Cardiff, the British cinematographer for A Matter of Life and Death (1946) is inspired by Dutch painters Rembrandt and Vermeer. Hence, his lighting setup emulates the highlights and shadows found in their paintings.
National traditions can also influence mainstream cinematography. Early silent films or German expressionism influenced international cinema and especially film noir due to its use of diagonal lines and extreme light and shade. The large number of German directors and cameramen who worked in America during the two world wars may have also contributed to its influence.
Other sources of inspiration for cinematography:
Avant-garde or experimental films. Jeff Cronenweth, cinematographer for Fight Club (1999) was inspired by American artist and filmmaker Stan Brakhage who was known for scratching celluloid and sticking translucent items to it.
High-concept films featuring high gloss, high-impact style of 1980s advertising used by directors and cinematographers who worked across media. Their signature style consists of bold backlighting and high-contrast images that resemble posters or advertisements.
Comics and graphic novels: bright hyper-real colours like in Batman and Robin (1997) or the darker, noir-ish style of Sin City (2005).
Art directors are responsible for the visual elements of a film. They solidify the vision of collective imagination and resolve inconsistencies of ideas between different parties. They are often also a liaison to other departments; especially construction, special FX, property, transportation (graphics), and locations departments.
Art directors assign tasks to personnel such as the art department coordinator, and the construction coordinator, keeping track of the art department budget and scheduling as well as overall quality control.
They decide what artistic style(s) to use, and when to use motion. Successful art directors are able to use the visual appearance to communicate messages or concepts to the audience by stimulating moods, contrasting features, and creating psychologically appeals.
A film’s technical crew (techies) takes charge in all technical aspects during film production. They transform artistic ideas and innovations into screen using technology.
Some key roles include:
- Gaffer: Chief electrician on set with responsibility for keeping the lights on, laying cables and following safety regulations
- Key grip: Works closely with the cinematographer to design and main- tain the lighting set-ups
- Best boy: First assistant to the gaffer or key grip
- Dolly grip: Operates camera dollies and cranes
Film editors turn and reduce raw footage taken during production into a typical feature film length by selecting shots and combining them into sequences.
For most well edited films, the audience becomes so engaged they don’t notice the work put behind the scenes. Hence, film editing is often referred to as the “invisible art”.
There are three main phases during post-production editing:
- Editor’s Cut (“Assembly edit” or “Rough cut”) — The first step in which the raw footage is transformed into what the final film will be when it reaches picture lock
- Director’s Cut — An edited version of a film that represents the director’s own approved edit
- Final Cut — The version of a film released for public viewing, often approved by the director(s) or producer(s)
Sound designers and composers
Sound designers take up the responsibility of obtaining all the sound effects and live recordings required for the film and setting up the sound playback equipment.
A sound designer typically leads an audio team consisting of a combination of sound design roles including and not limited to ADR (automated dialogue replacement) teams, audio engineers, composers, dialogue editors, foley artists, music editors and supervisors, re-recording mixers, supervising sound editors.
Special effects artists are in charge of generating optical, mechanical and computer effects such as computer-generated imagery (CGI). The sub-categories of special-effects artists include and are not limited to:
- Animatronics — The art of creating mechanical creatures and aliens
- Matte Artists — Paint spectacular and elaborate backdrops onto glass that are combined with live action elements
- Model Builders — Construct intricate miniature sets that appear huge on screen