Production Rules, Part One

No matter how great a director is, the work will suffer if he doesn’t “get it.”

A couple of years ago, our team was faced with two directors on a spot. One was a cool, music-video director with one of the best production houses in the country. He was young, hip and eager. The other sounded like a slick ad-guy, saying all the right things, and buttering us up in all the expected ways.

But even though his schmoozy, unctuous over-sell made us roll our eyes, one thing was obvious: he got it. He knew what the essence of the spot was. The cool, hip guy kept talking about props and set design.

We went with the cool, hip guy, thinking we could help him get our vision. Boy, were we wrong. He obsessed about shots that had nothing to do with the story, wardrobe, and motivation for wardrobe, tiles and wall color. I want my directors to have this attention to detail. But only after they give detail to the shot that really matters.

No surprise, the spot (which I originally had a lot of heart for) was awful. The client hated it. And we ended up recutting it, removing the dialogue and replacing it with supers. All because we thought we could eventually bring him around.

I read once that Steven Spielberg wrote a treatment for the first Harry Potter movie. He deviated from J.K. Rowling’s vision in several ways, most notably by suggesting Hogwarts be an American school. And he wanted Haley Joel Osmet to play Harry Potter. I love Spielberg’s movies. He’s a brilliant director when he’s on his game. But as far as Harry Potter, he did not “get it.”