Director’s Notes | Eric Sherman on Directing

Eric Sherman has been a directing and production consultant to Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures and The Mount Company and has worked with several of Hollywood’s leading writers, producers and directors, successfully ensuring on-time and on-budget feature film delivery. In addition to his work with the studios, Eric has directed and produced numerous feature films, documentaries, television programs and corporate marketing videos.

Eric has come to the Zooppa blog to give some insights into how film directors think about their work.

I’ve been teaching at Art Center College of Design since 1976. ACCD has specialized in using short-form films (i.e., spots, PSAs, etc.) as the calling card. Our students have included Michael Bay, Zach Snyder, Tarsem, Marcel Langenegger, Roger Avery, etc.

The common denominator to them all are three points:

1. They can tell a story (i.e., no confusion for the viewer)

To assure that everything – moment and element – are contributing to the whole, I recommend you ask yourself this: What is the “purpose” of this shot/line of dialog/edit/performance? If it just “seems” right, but doesn’t really contribute, chances are you won’t use it in the final film. It must “integrate with all other domains.

2. They create interesting shots (i.e, the visuals are noteworthy)

Now, what is interesting to one viewer might not be to another. Therefore, you can always set up the shot and shoot it with a home-camera, and show it to some friends. Ask them, “what does this shot mean to you?”. It’d be kind of an informal “audience survey”. Or you can apply the same test as above: What does this shot contribute to the overall “purpose” of the scene or the entire movie? The key to the “interestingness” of the shot is not angle, lens, movement – it is “viewpoint”. Now there’s a tricky word. The definition I use is “attitude”, or “way of feeling”. Does this shot not only contribute to the whole, but is it aligned with any particular orientation you have to the subject?

3. They create an emotion with the camera (i.e., not just relying on acting and lines of dialogue)

One other thing: I’ve learned that companies don’t hire directors; they buy into projects.

Therefore, no matter how many awards you’ve won at a student level, the key element is: do you have a script for your next project. If yes, and if it’s read and creates interest, you can then attach yourself as director. When asked, “How do we know you can direct?” you answer, “Now I’ll show you my reel.” NOT the other way around. I know of no one who’s started with his/her reel, and then gotten work.

Be certain that if you co-write a script you have a written agreement in place with your co-author. You want to keep your friendships. While you might have an attorney side-check any agreement you write, be sure to address the three key concepts–I call them the “3 C’s.” Cash, credit and control. If any money comes via the script, how is it shared? What credit does each of you get? Who controls the property?

Be willing to confront all these areas now, and your friends will remain your friends!

Eric currently teaches production, film business and directing at Art Center College of Design and California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts). He has also lectured at Pepperdine University, UCLA, the American Film Institute, Cal Tech and The Los Angeles Film School, as well as other universities around the country.

You can learn more about Eric on his website, and you can read more about directing and film production on Eric’s blog.
Eric also does private consulting for actors, writers, directors, producers or even newcomers who want accurate information about the film industry.

Meme E

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