A Quick Guide for First-Time Directors

A Quick Guide for First-Time Directors

By: Laura Huie


Stepping into the role of a director for the first time presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities, especially when the film in question is based on your own script. It’s a complex process that blends creativity with the practicalities of filmmaking. This scenario is especially relevant for writers participating in our Short Film Fund (SFF), who are keen to bring their visions to life from behind the camera.


This guide is designed to shed light on the essentials for novice directors, providing valuable insights that could also enrich the approach of those with more experience in the field.


Can I Direct My Own Film? And Other FAQs


Before diving in, let’s address some common inquiries of our Short Film Fund. One of the most frequent questions we get is “Can I direct my own film?” And the answer is “Yes!” We will ask to have a conversation with the writer/director before making any final decisions to ensure that their vision aligns with the practicalities of the film and its budget. For those with directing experience, we may ask to see previous samples of work.


Many writers possess a vivid vision for their stories that uniquely qualifies them to take the director’s seat. And it’s also okay if you’re a first-time director as well. After all, every acclaimed director once navigated their debut. We are also open to working with writers who prefer to attach a director of their choice. And, if you don’t want to direct, don’t worry! We’ll help you find the right director for your script.


The SFF aims to champion new voices, believing in the fresh perspectives they bring to cinema. One other inquiry we often get is “Does Shore ever own rights to my film?” The answer is a resounding “No.” Your creative integrity remains intact, and we will never own the rights to your story or script. The production team will retain all revenue that may be generated from the produced film.


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5 Tips for First-Time Short Film Directors


Directing a script you’ve written offers a profound connection to the material. This intimacy can be your greatest asset, allowing for a nuanced understanding of the characters, themes, and narrative flow. However, this dual role also demands a balanced approach, recognizing when to don the writer’s hat and when to view the project through the lens of a director.


1. Casting


Let’s talk about casting, which honestly, is way more than just picking people to say the lines from your script. It’s about finding the heart and soul of your characters. Think about it: the actors you choose are going to bring your words to life. They’re the ones who make your characters walk and talk on screen, turning them from ideas into real people we care about.


Talent is important, but there’s so much more to it. You want to look for actors who really “get” your characters, and who bring something genuine and deep to the table. And don’t forget about chemistry! When your cast clicks, it’s magic. It makes everything more real and believable to your audience.


So, as you’re casting, think about how each actor fits with your character’s vibe. It’s not just about finding someone who can play the part. It’s about finding someone who can bring out the part’s true essence, making your story resonate on a whole new level. Choosing the right cast is a big deal—it’s about igniting the heart of your film. So take your time, trust your gut, and find those perfect matches for your characters.


2. Storyboarding


Think of storyboarding as planning your way through your film before you even shout “Action!” This isn’t just about making pretty pictures; it’s about planning out every shot, and figuring out how your story flows visually from one moment to the next.


For those of you who’ve written your own scripts, storyboarding is like building a bridge from what’s in your head to what’s going to be on the screen. It helps you communicate your vision to your crew so everyone’s on the same page. It’s about making sure that what you’ve imagined, from the mood to the pace to the look, gets translated into the actual film.


Getting into storyboarding lets you spot potential issues before they become real problems on set. It’s a way to experiment and tweak your scenes, ensuring everything works just right. So grab a pencil (or a digital pen) and start visualizing your film. It’ll make a world of difference in how you approach your shoot and help you share your vision with your team in a way that words alone can’t.


3. Trusting Your Crew


Have you heard the saying, “The director is the greenest person on set”? It’s a bit of a cheeky reminder that filmmaking is one big team sport. Picture this: your crew is like a gold mine of know-how and skill, from the person who’s perfecting the lighting (that’s your key grip) to the wizard behind the camera (your director of photography). Each one of them is bringing something special to the table.


Trusting your crew is key. It’s not about having your hand in every single pie but more about steering the ship together. It means really listening to their ideas and advice. They’ve been around the block and back, and they’ve got a ton of insights that can make your movie even better.


So, encourage everyone to speak up and share their thoughts. Your job as a director is to take all these incredible talents and sync them up, so they’re all playing the same tune. And that’s how you turn your vision into something that not only looks good on screen but feels like a real, breathing world.


4. Flexibility


Film sets are notoriously unpredictable, so always stay flexible. No matter how much you plan, something unexpected can always pop up—weather changes, equipment fails, or a scene just doesn’t work the way you envisioned. The ability to adapt is your superpower. It means being creative on the fly, and finding solutions when the original plan goes sideways.


Flexibility also applies to working with your actors. They might have insights into their characters you hadn’t considered, leading to more authentic performances. Be open to these moments of spontaneous creativity—they can bring magic to your film that you hadn’t planned for. Embracing flexibility doesn’t mean compromising your vision; it means enhancing it in ways you hadn’t imagined.


5. Get Experience on Set (if you can)


If you’ve got your sights set on the director’s chair but haven’t directed yet, consider immersing yourself in other roles on set first. This strategy isn’t just about building your resume; it’s about gaining a comprehensive understanding of the filmmaking process from the ground up.


Whether it’s shadowing the director of photography to get a grasp on visual storytelling, assisting in the art department to understand set design, or even stepping into the shoes of a production assistant, each role offers unique insights into the craft of filmmaking.


Working in various capacities on set also helps you learn the language of film. You’ll pick up on the technical jargon, understand the nuances of different roles, and appreciate the importance of every detail that goes into making a movie. This knowledge will empower you when it’s your turn to direct. You’ll approach your project with a well-rounded perspective, able to communicate effectively with your crew and make informed decisions that enhance your film.


Real Directors, Real Experience


We reached out to a few members of our Directors Roster and asked them, If you could go back in time and give yourself advice before directing your first short film, what would it be?” Their responses offer a great deal of insight that could benefit both new and experienced directors alike.


Erica Rose


“It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to go out swinging and miss. It’s okay to try big things. Some of it might not work, but that’s okay, it’s part of the process. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”


Erica is the co-creator and director of the Lesbian Bar Project docuseries and the second season will premiere in Spring 2024.


Keith Wilhelm Kopp


“My best piece of advice for first-time directors is to work with a strong director of photography this way you can focus on ensuring that the script and story are dynamic and performance (emotive beats, reactions, blocking, and chemistry) is engaging. Ask yourself if you believe and enjoy what is happening from your talent as this is the one area in which you will lose the audience if it’s not right. Do not be afraid to switch things up on set and if there is a better moment that can be improvised do that. Once you are satisfied that this is working you can think about the cinematography and other creative needs.”


Keith is currently packaging his feature film Translations for streamers and foreign distribution. He is also directing a segment for a new comedy pilot (Something Sketchy) in March.


Dorothy Xiao


“Don’t try to wear too many hats on your film. To put your best foot forward as a director, you don’t want to have too many responsibilities on your plate. You’ll end up splitting your focus, and experience regret that you didn’t spend more time rehearsing with your actors because you were too busy setting up a light. There’s a reason that filmmaking requires a team to make a good film because everyone can focus on being the best at their jobs – just like you can focus on being the best director you can be.”


Dorothy is finishing up her new short film Only in This World which she received a grant for through the CAPE Julia S. Gouw Short Film Challenge, and the film will be starting its festival run this summer. She also just released her short As Bitter As Sweet publicly for viewing. Learn more at dorxiao.com or follow @dorxiao.


Thales Corrêa


“If I could go back in time and advise myself before directing my first short film, I would emphasize the importance of simplicity. It’s easy to get carried away with grand ideas, but I would remind myself not to scale much. Instead, focus on the core of your narrative – the story you’re trying to tell. There are three key aspects that deserve extra attention: the story (script), acting, and sound. These elements are the backbone of a successful short film. Dedicate more time and effort to refining the script, ensuring compelling acting performances, and paying meticulous attention to the sound quality. By prioritizing these fundamental components, the chances of your short film turning out well will increase significantly.”


Thales recently dropped the first episode of his Amazon series, Doggy Bank, as a promotional preview on YouTube. The full series is available on Amazon. Also, he was recently featured in a Spectrum News segment where he discusses the creation of Latino stories.


Submit Your Script to our Short Film Fund!


Remember, every great director started somewhere, and the journey from script to screen is as rewarding as it is challenging. If you’re ready to bring your vision to life, our Short Film Fund is the perfect platform to kickstart your career.


We’re looking for unique voices and compelling stories, so why not submit your script to our upcoming fund? Submit your script today and take the first step towards writing/directing your debut film.