Directors Should Be Animators First

“I think the toughest thing for a director to do is to know what he wants. It’s not how to get what you want; it’s knowing what you want. So many people make movies and they don’t know what they want.” –Stephen Spielberg

As many people know, Spielberg is probably my favorite film director. Not all of his films are favorites, but he is extremely talented at managing the three main responsibilities of the director: directing the camera, directing the actors, and directing the screenwriter (although this is an area where he is weakening). Yesterday Stu Maschwitz posted a video that goes a long way towards explaining why.

This clip was shot by the American Film Institute in 1978, and it’s a principle that I strongly believe in. Obviously, good directors don’t have to be former animators, but animation is an excellent training ground because it requires considerable planning, and so it forces animators, and directors, to decide what they want before they start production. This approach will always give better results than the make-it-up-as-you-go style of improvised filmmaking used by directors with no pre-conceived vision. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Also, here’s a clip where Spielberg explains why he always draws his own storyboards. Even with a budget large enough to support staff artists, he does the initial sketches himself. This is another important principle, since the storyboard artist is the guy who directs the camera. If the director renounces this responsibility, he is no longer the director of the camera, and he probably didn’t know what he wanted in the first place.

  1. Very neat, Isaac! Thanks for sharing!

    By the way, do you know of any good biographies on Spielberg?


  2. Interesting; These videos are just after Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but prior to Raiders of the Lost Ark. As I understand it, Raiders was the movie that took the most planning and exact detailing of his vision for the project. Was this due to budget constraints? Or was it simply that he was trying to reach a new pinnacle with his work?

  3. Fascinating…I’m sure that the concept of animation being good preparation for directing would never occur to many aspiring filmmakers; it’s great to hear Spielberg lay it out.

    I’ll assume he still does, but since it has been three decades I’ll ask anyway: does Spielberg still do his own preliminary storyboards?

    - Nathanael Brunner
  4. All Directors should be EDITORS first. They need to know how pacing and shot selection affects a scene.
    It’s amazing how cinema has changed over time. Originally, Directors only focused on the performance of actors, the Cinematographer set the shot, chose the focal length, blocked the action and set the lights.

  5. Very interesting. Obviously Spielberg understands that his role as a director is not simply to organize, but to imagine the vision for the film and then communicate that vision to others. Pushing your own vision of the film while leaving room for your collaborators’ creativity . . . that must be hard.

    - Daniel Devine

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