Advice to First-time Film Directors

On a recent episode of Scriptnotes, John August and Craig Mazin answer "What advice would you give a first-time director of their own script?" August shared brilliant bullet points that apply for all managers.


I wanted everyone to be happy. And I wanted to make sure that the set was comfortable and that everyone was having a good time. And then I realized, you know what, this isn’t a party. It’s not my job to make sure everyone is having a good time. It’s my job to make sure that everyone has the information they need so they can do their jobs really, really well.

This advice makes me think of Michael Scott managing Dunder Mifflin on The Office. He worked so hard to be the adored, entertaining host of his work group instead of the leader. Leaders set direction.


You will usually have an answer. And just pick an answer. And answers are great. Although you can also say, “I don’t know.” And you can solicit their opinions. You can figure out sort of what the choices really mean. You can also say, “None of the above.” And if the none of the choices that are presented to you are the correct choices, say none of the above and let them come back to you with more choices.

This advice varies for managers a little. Yes, you'll still get a 1,000 questions, but soliciting opinions and options from question askers is even more important in managing than in directing a film. The practice sets the expectation for team members to propose solutions, empowers them to make more decisions on their own and strengthens their decision making skills.


While you’re directing, always remember what the intention is of the scene and what the intention is of the moment. Because when you’re in the middle of directing a scene and things are going crazy and you’re turning around shooting from one side to the other side and things are just nuts, it’s so easy to forget what the scene is actually about. And so making notes to yourself before the day starts, like the scene is about this is incredibly useful. Like the minimum viable scene will be about this, rely on that.

As business leaders, start with a clear objective and keep it in mind. It's easy to drift away from the original intention because of process limitations or other agendas pulling at the project. Stay focused.


Directing actors I find works best with verbs. So, it’s very hard for an actor to be happy, be sad, be angrier. Give an actor a verb to play. So you can say don’t let him walk through that door. Or, you can sort of give them a simile. Can we try that same moment but as if he’s just said the most horrifying thing imaginable to you? That’s something an actor can do. An actor can’t be an adjective.

Thinking in verbs is a simple, tangible way to help managers be specific, direct and clear with their direct reports.