To Direct or Produce?

Professional Development in Screen Production is an interesting unit for third year film/media students who really want to get into the business. Therefore, one has to choose between different modules that can help sharpen their craft: cinematography, directing, producing, sound editing, editing etc.



Each module will last only for half a semester, therefore one is supposed to choose two modules for the entire semester. Being a postgrad student, I was stuck with the directing module since it is taught by my supervisor, and she just wants to keep an eye on me and the other three. Whether I want to do any other module during the second half of the semester is entirely optional.

After directing (which is merely about theoretical approaches and such about directing people), I have 'directing actors' (real practice where I get to work with real actors) and 'producing' to choose from. For one wanting to get a job, producing should be a more logical choice since it overlooks the business aspect and the organizing of the entire filmmaking process. Keeping things under budget, setting up a schedule, ensuring that the script actually 'works' etc etc. After all, the producer is usually the one representing the film company/sponsor, and he has to make sure that the film being made is 'marketable', and that the ones involved in the film will not screw up, spiral things out of budget etc.

Since I was pretty much a one-man-crew when directing the past two short films, I was more or less the producer of my own works too (... since I DID fork out my own cash, so no, I wasn't crediting myself merely to assuage my ego). But taking the producing module might perhaps assist me better in organizing things like that better (I foresee myself not having a real crew that soon), and possibly more useful in trying to get a job.

Yet directing actors would help me improve one of the weaker aspects of my filmmaking skills. If one have seen my previous Forced Labour, one could see that I was unable to really direct my actors in emoting. All I could do was ask them to pose, and fight, or smoke, and then using fastpaced, rapid cutting to conceal the shortcomings in this aspect (basically, speed up the pace of the film so quickly that people will think of it as a 'cool' film without noticing the performances that much).

I was incapable of directing my actors into conveying more complex emotions. It's not strange, imagine you are my main actress, and you hear this from me (this is what happened when directing the last scene, the 'flashback' of Forced Labour).

Me: All right, (points at a certain direction) Your poor husband has just gotten shot, bang bang, and he's lying on a pool of blood, DEAD. I want you to look entirely devastated, yet your character is too cool and emotionless to show it. Yeah, therefore only your eyes can display your anguish.

Amelia (my main actress): Er, hmmmm. (frowns)

Me: Okay, just think of Infernal Affairs, Tony Leung's reaction when Anthony Wong was tossed off the hotel and fell onto the taxi. See the range of emotion upon his face that he was struggling to hide, the pain, the anguish!

Amelia: But I've never seen Infernal Affairs.

Me: Oh well, I know, I'll just let the camera run, and you can try all kinds of emotions you can, and I'll take the one that works best.
So, now you know what a difficult time Amelia went through. I was crazy to ask a first-time actress to emulate, ah, the guy who happened to win the most number of Best Actor awards in Hong Kong film history. I'm sure that wasn't the way to direct actors either. So taking the 'directing actors' module would've been useful for me.

Hence my dilemma, should I take the 'directing actors' or 'producing' module? I was conflicted for a while, before I was struck with a sudden realization. I have a degree in marketing and literature, and that should have already helped me acquire SOME skill sets I need as a producer. By being a business student, I am capable of approaching things from a business point of view, and also organizing and working in a group environment, and being a literature student and lifelong diehard film fan, I've read and written more than enough to be able to know what sort of screenplay would work or not (after all, in my opinion, it'll be difficult for a producer to try to correct one's screenplay when he or she doesn't even know that much about screenwriting and films in general, hm).

There were times when people would wonder why I would study business, literature and films when they are seemingly so different from one another, and what can I get from doing all these? Although it had been my plan all along to be more diverse and versatile, that no matter what, these three will somewhat complement each other in certain situations (useful for indie filmmakers like me who have to produce, write and direct?), time will tell whether I am right or not.
Me to mom: Hah! You can't blame me for being so multi-talented!
Perhaps I sound too idealistic and optimistic in this entry, and one can simply snort and say 'HAH, he doesn't even know the way society works, real world isn't supposed to be like this! Just another dreamy filmmaker who doesn't understand that one has to toil and work hard to achieve what he wants!'. I may not have spoken about the possible pitfalls and the bad aspects of the route I am taking, but it does not mean that I'm entirely ignorant to them (I tend to roll my eyes when someone tells me things like 'you sure about all these? Showbiz ain't that easy, yo'. I felt that my intelligence had been insulted), or impractical to the point when I think I can immediately be invited to Hollywood to make a big-budget summer blockbuster, or win the Oscars, or sweep festival awards. It's just that I need to keep myself going with my boundless enthusiasm (along with my fiery competitive spirit, hah!), instead of just being entirely jaded and then worry about my possible failure. Being practical is good, but pessimistic? Nah.

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