Join Ashley Kennedy for an in-depth discussion in this video Building a rapport and a language with the director, part of Filmmaking Forum: Conversations.
- I would say the most important thing to have with the director is some kind of rapport or creative rapport, maybe even friendship if possible. But start as early in the process as possible. - And then the other thing is just keeping a constant line of communication with them as they're shooting, and asking questions. - I like to exchange emails or phone numbers with the director and just introduce myself and just try to create that open line of communication. I usually just shoot them a quick email after a couple days of dailies and just let them know everything is looking great, or if I have a question about, "Oh, I'm not quite sure how you intended "this shot to go" or "Was it one or the other?" or "Did you envision a cut point for these two shots?" So if I have any questions that's when I'll reach out to them.
- If it's a director I've worked with before, literally they can do an entire shoot and I will not have sent them a single email or called them once. But if it's a new director, and I see something in the footage, I'll say, "Hey, so I saw this thing, "what's your intent with this? Do you want me to do this, "do you want me to do that? What are you thinking?" But the other thing that I do that wouldn't have been unconventional 10 or 20 years ago, but today it's becoming more unconventional, is I watch every frame of footage that was shot, and I watch it in the order that it was shot, and what that does, is it helps me understand the scene through the director's eyes.
So if I see five takes of a master shot, and I see the transformation and the performances or the camera work between Take 1 and Take 5, I can say, "Oh, I can see "what that director wants. I understand why "they made that change." - I think language is very important. I think it's weird, because I can say an emotional feeling, or give you an emotional context to something that I want, but everybody takes that and interprets that differently. In some ways, that's the beauty of how we are sort of unique as human beings, but it's also sort of very challenging.
- Somebody said, "Well, I want something that's "gritty and edgy and dark." I'll say, "Well, that's great, but I don't know "what that means. "You need to actually give me "visual examples, you need to send me to something that "you're picturing in your mind, because what I see as gritty "could be totally different than what you see as gritty." So I don't believe in vagueness at any step of the process. - I do a lot of things to develop that language. So in preproduction you can be having meetings, you can be reading treatments or screenplays together and commenting on what you think is going to work here.
You can be looking at films together and saying, "I like that, I don't like that." - I think it's really important for the director and producers to share any ideas they have in their head for how they see something playing out in this episode, whether it be an example from another film, or a TV show, a book, if they have a song they want to use that would really help tone that scene or that montage or that episode, is so helpful.
- Really, and this is just coming from my own personal experience, really the only way that you're going to learn what it is that your director is looking for is time, really. It takes time. It takes time sitting in a room with somebody and having formal conversations with them and having casual conversations with them. And as much as you would like to think that that happens early on in the film, it just won't.
Because I think that most directors, unless they're Hitchcock or someone like that, are still trying to figure out what they want as well. - And I think once you go back and forth a bunch of times, I feel like people get what you're saying. Like they know, "Oh, this is what Eric means based on what he talked about before." And I think this is a big reason why a lot of filmmakers and a lot of big-time filmmakers work with the same people. They work with the same actors. They work with the same editors, the same as how, because they speak the same language. And there's a sort of common language that they understand.
And that's very, very hard to sort of build. And so I think a lot of people don't stray too far away from who they work well with. - You know, there are certain directors that I've worked with for a long time now, where I kind of feel as though I know exactly what they want. And that's just come over time. That's come working on a lot of projects together. That's come over showing them something that I was really proud of and thought worked great, and they went, "I don't really like that." And I know not to go down that path again, you know? It just takes time, really, you know, there are things, there are processes that you can put in place to ensure that that happens more smoothly.
By discussing, by looking at examples together, but you really won't have it until you've gotten about halfway through the project. That's just the reality of it. - The process I've been used to is getting to sit in on the tone meetings, which is a meeting where the heads of department, the writer, the creator, the director, sometimes the DP, the editor, will sit in and literally go through the script, page by page, and tone the show. So everyone hopefully is on the same page.
- It doesn't serve anyone for you to sort of think, "You know, this performance is not that good," and to not say anything about it. Or to say like, "This line has always bothered me." The more you can sort of think about why certain things feel the way they do, then I think the easier it is to sort of discuss how you can come up with better solutions to that stuff. And once you start getting into those types of specifics, that's when you can really sort of get the whole film together in a cohesive way.
- I'm always very, very specific. It's always about specificity with me. So if they will say something that's vague, I'm like, "Well, I'll see if I can figure it out," that's just gonna, unless I nail it, that's just going to waste time. So I want to make sure that I'm very specific and have visual representations of what's important to them. - In terms of working with those directors, the busy ones, who are also very trusting, are great people to work with. Because they kind of will give you the note, but it's a looser note, and they trust you to infer how best to address it.
Then there's some directors who are quite specific, and can be very OCD, which is not uncommon in our industry. So when you have directors like that, you kind of do have to walk a finer line of trying to really get at what they see in their head. - It's a very enjoyable, creative time when the director and the editor can work together. So you need to have a nice environment, make it somewhere where the director feels at home, and keep the atmosphere light and fun and creative, constantly, so that you, even though you come up against creative hurdles and challenges constantly when you're editing.
And sometimes challenges will seem almost insurmountable, but you have to put one foot in front of the other and keep trying stuff out and keep refining and keep refining and keep refining and keep refining and keep refining over weeks and weeks and months. And you'll just take one step forward, one step forward, and slowly, slowly, slowly you'll try something out and you won't go down that path and you'll try this path, and then eventually you'll find that you can create something that really works for the audience. - Ultimately, the directors gets the final word.
I think the editor has to have the space to say, "I think there's a better way, and let me show you." So the editor has the time and the space to cut his or her way and say, "Okay, you say your way is better, but look at this." And I think if it's better, it's going to be better. So I really think that the editor's responsibility is to be able to stick to her or his guns, but prove it by showing how it's gonna work, how it's gonna look, how it's gonna sound, how that cut's gonna make a difference.
- And so like I'll explain my ideas of why this could be a better solution to a problem, and then I'll say to the director, "Why do you disagree?" And they'll give me their ideas about why it's not a better solution, and then, more often than not, while we're sort of talking the whole thing out, we come up with more of a combined answer to something. Something that just wouldn't have happened without sort of that little push and pull from each other. - So my favorite part of the editing process is, without a doubt, hands on, being able to sit with the creative partner who I have, whether that's the producer or the director, and reshape things.
To go in and find solutions to problems. That's my favorite part. I love the interaction back and forth, whether we're arguing about something, or getting excited and building ideas like this, it's just fantastic.
- Advice for novice filmmakers entering the industry
- Finding, enhancing, and tweaking your story
- Experimenting in filmmaking
- Solving problems and troubleshooting your film
- Changing your approach or finding new angles
- Communicating and collaborating on set and in the edit room—and with clients
- Working on different genres of film
- Teaching and mentoring new filmmakers