New Voices versus Visions

When there is a call for “new voices” in film and television, somehow directors are the focal point and not writers despite the fact that a “voice” comes in at the writing stage.

So much energy has gone into dissolving the auteur theory of direction and yet because a director is considered an authority on set the attibute of “voice” gets folded into his or her disciplin even when it comes to television where typically the writing team and producers are the deciders and the directors are considered guests.

If the entertainment industry was serious about injecting new voices into it, funding contests would focus on screenplays alone and not references from established professionals or attachments of producers or directors. More screenplays could come from people who are doing nothing more than writing, far from the epicentre of TV and moviemaking, with a distinct and sometimes even rural slant on life.

The screenwriter who genuinely brings a new voice could be someone who has no producing knowledge, doesn’t schmoose, and may not have directed shorts in obscurity but has access to a keyboard and can crank out wonderful material. Meanwhile there are many movers and shakers working as directors and producers, taking meetings and working ling hours who are great at self promotion but can’t write – let alone anything with a new voice. But there are two key problems with that:

a) Those with power and influence want to see their own babies born and are motivated by a sense of authorship which they won’t get from genuinely trolling for untested talents who only have a draft of a screenplay to judge.

Also, b) For good or ill, the perceived centers of show business are in big cities and carry the expected urban liberal bent of one degree or another, the most extreme being averse to giving a platform to anyone from an area that is potentially burdened by the stigma of geography and the associated political and social attitudes associated so the “heartland” or “flyover” country might be easily discounted. Both of those concerns are part of the overall reluctance the establishment has to be the first to endorse or discover anything or anyone because there is no heat and assumed value to give it status.

If a screenplay is matched with the style or approach of an appropriate director, this must imply that the director’s choices and processes are deliberate and that a genuine vision is part of the equation. If the director does not believe there is a visual grammar of cinema, and that choices with the frame are random and not part of conveying and emphasizing anything, then that person is unqualified.

If the director is only willing to step on the toes of the art department by preparing a “look book” but not willing to imply a cut and confine the editor or restrain the cinematographer by preparing storyboard sketches of each shot, this person may be a wild card and may attract a strong editor or cinematographer who are attracted to being de facto co-directors. That person might be chosen for personality. (Which leaves me out of the running, having not much to speak of.)

Kevin Smith has said that he feels like his job is not necesary when directing a TV show episode, because the crew all know their jobs so well and have tried every shot variation. He has been told the reason he gets assignments is that people are happy when he is around. That may be false modesty, but it must have a ring of truth.

If a crew feels the director thinks he or she is the next Kubrick, Peter Farrely has said the crew will make his or her life hell. There-in lies the frustration for those of us who absolutely prefer to draw our storyboards and know the psychology of every chosen frame and cut and build each sequence to direct the audience.

There must be a skill to seeming loose and being like Lt. Columbo, looking like you need help and that you aren’t a control freak but at the same time having a firm vision shot for shot and cut for cut where every beat of a scene may have a best angle or lens or framing.

Some say there is no movie syntax, even to the extent of crossing the camera access and letting the audience be confused by who is facing whom. But certainly we must agree that there is psychology and we understand personal space or comfort bubbles and what can be read into proximity of characters and how we view someone who is framed small and overwhealmed by surroundings or sitting sharply in a close-up with all activity around them soft and blurry as if the person is tuning it all out.


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Filmmaker, from North Bay, Ontario, currently in Toronto. Graduated from Humber Film and TV Production in the Nineties. Made countless short films.

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