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10 Essential Tips to Successfully Master Video Directing

If you’re starting out creating videos and want to step up to be a video director with larger budgets, a team behind you, models, actors, client expectations, time limits — you’re stepping into a whole new world of responsibility and required preparation for success. Shooting videos solo can be incredibly fun, and you can do so much on your own. Video directing with a team will likely be a different experience.

When becoming a director, you may believe that you should continue to exact your vision over your team, and you might have the hubris to think that your singular vision being executed by your team is the best way to operate. That’s not the case, however. This is why the first tip is the most important one on this list.

1. Trust your team

When you hire a team, it’s important to hire people that you trust and respect for their expertise in their job. While video directing, it’s your job to give your team the direction to craft a beautiful image that supports the story, making sure that all of the pieces work together for the vision of the piece.

For instance, the cinematographer’s job is to make sure the camera is producing the best quality image, with effective movement and color. If you hired a good cinematographer, trust them to do their job. Refrain from stepping on their toes by micromanaging everything they do. If you’re hiring actors, allow them to explore in their role and make it their own. They may try something that you never thought of that adds depth to the piece.

2. Be (over)prepared

In producing anything creative, especially if it involves video directing, it pays to be prepared. Depending on the type of piece you’re directing, it’s obvious that you need a script from the start. Not only do you need a script, but you may want to create a storyboard or pre-visualization to get a better idea of how the piece will flow visually.

If you’re going to be using a new effect or technique, try it out in your free time first to work out the issues before you get to set. More preparation always means less headache on set. It’s perfectly fine to deviate from the plan, but you still need the plan to fall back on if your new ideas on set don’t work.

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3. Have a lighting plot

Lighting your scenes will sometimes take as much time as filming the scene itself, so it is extremely helpful to have a plan before you arrive. A lighting plot is a simple illustration with boxes and labels showing where the subject is placed in relation to the camera and lights in the scene. The more scenes you and your team have experience lighting, the closer your lighting plots will be to what you actually end up using on set each time.

Thinking about the lighting beforehand can also help make sure you have all the equipment needed to achieve the look you want, so that you can rent or buy extra gear as needed rather than making do with what you have on the day.

4. Go to the location before the shoot

Locations can appear incredible and spacious with lots of ambient light in a photo online. However, sometimes when you get there in person, you may notice things that are different than the impression you got from photos. It can save you a lot of headache if you visit the location during your preparation period, then take your own photos and notes to create a more accurate plan for the day of shooting.

5. Direct the Action

Many directors become obsessed with all of the technical aspects of how the lighting, sound, and camera are working, how the movement looks, if everything is in focus — and they forget to make sure the action in the shot is correct. Pay attention to your frame, but once your team has all technical details dialed in, shift your focus from the production to the action your subject is taking in frame. Ultimately, that action is what the production is there to serve in the first place, so be mindful not to overlook it.

6. Find and share inspiration

With any creative endeavor, inspiration pieces are important; come up with creative ideas and communicate them. You may find it useful to create a mood board with photos that illustrate different aspects of what you’re trying to create. You might have one portrait that illustrates the lighting you want on your subject’s face, another photo to illustrate the color palette of the image as a whole, and yet another image to show the kind of lens choice and framing you think is best. You can then give your cinematographer, lighting assistant, and other members of the team your mood board to help them better understand and execute your vision in their own way.

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7. Stay within the budget

Budgets are hard because on one hand, you can do a lot on a small budget. On the other hand, every bit more money you pour into a project can marginally increase the quality of what you make. When working within a tight budget, or shooting for a client that can’t spend too much, it’s useful to plan to spend less and give yourself room in case it’s needed. Don’t push clients to increase the budget unnecessarily, and don’t overspend without good reason. Plus, it helps to prompt fully transparent communication.

8. The client is always right

If you’re directing a video for a client, you will almost certainly get feedback that you might not agree with. You may make a creative decision that doesn’t fit the brand, perhaps it just isn’t their normal practice, or maybe they just don’t like it. That’s okay! Don’t take it personally, make the changes they ask for and move on.

If they want to change something that you believe is fundamentally incorrect, you do have a responsibility to share your expertise, but that’s all. If you share your expert opinion and they decide to ignore it, accept their decision and move on.

9. Make a shot list

When you don’t have a shot list, you’ll run into one of two problems every time. You’ll either end the shoot without getting everything you need for the edit, or you’ll have too much to work with and spend extra time sifting through the excess. To avoid this issue, make a shot list of everything you need for a successful edit. Check off every shot for the day, and then you can experiment.

10. Be early

There’s a saying in Hollywood that you should take to heart and live by as you start your career in video directing: “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.”

It is unacceptable to be late for a shoot. It can cost the production money, make you miss shots on your shot list, or cost extra for studio time. Plus, it will annoy everyone else involved. People are routinely fired on the spot for showing up late, so be early! A fun way to make sure you’re always early is to grab coffee at the closest coffee shop to the location an hour before you need to be there. Enjoy your coffee, relax a little, prepare yourself, then arrive at the location 15-20 minutes early.

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