Do we really need directors?

As the screen industry evolves,Kingston Anderson the lines are becoming blurred around what constitutes a director but in a piece that first appeared in EncoreKingston Anderson says the role is more important than ever.

In any creative endeavour there is always a singular vision that takes the idea, story or concept and shapes the elements to create the ‘work’. For the screen, this is the director. Although the writer, composer, cinematographer and many others all make important contributions, it is the director who forges these elements into a whole. In some cases it might be a writer/director like Stuart Beattie or a composer/cinematographer/editor/director like Ivan Sen, but in each case it is the role of the director to ‘direct’ the whole vision of the work.

An Australian cinematographer who directed his first film several years ago summed it up well. He commented that when he was shooting a film as a cinematographer he was the one asking the questions. When he became the director, everyone was asking him questions. And he had only himself to ask for answers. In a practical sense, this illustrates the central role of the director. The ‘auteur theory’ that the director is the real author of a film has been hotly contested, particularly by writers. It is clear that the writer is the author of the script but I would still support the idea that the director is the author of the film.

Even in the evolving world of interactive storytelling and non-linear story construction, a unifying hand is required to bring together the diverse pieces into a whole on the screen. This can be seen in interactive games, in multi-narrative storytelling multimedia projects. Behind each work will be the guiding hand of the person I would name as the director.

This sounds very simple but in fact the new forms that are being developed for screen content don’t have this simple clarity. The development of hybrid forms of factual drama such as The Shire, where it looks and feels like a drama, challenge our idea of the dramatic form. Is there a director behind this type of program? My answer is yes but the role of the director is not clearly defined. Is it the director in the field who is directing where the camera should be and how the program is to be filmed? Maybe. Is it the original creator of the concept who usually comes out and sets up the show? Possibly. Or is it the person who oversees the entire production from beginning to end and is in the edit suite making the crucial decisions on what eventually will end up on screen? Most probably. In Australia these people are usually called ‘producers’ whereas in other countries they are called ‘directors’.

We saw this conundrum best illustrated at the AACTA Awards last year when a ‘producer’ named himself as the director of a reality style show and was nominated as a director against drama directors. The anomaly reveals the extent of the confusion that has developed in the Australian television industry. In the US and UK this anomaly does not occur because clearly set boundaries recognise the director as the key creative in any screen work. For some reason, here in Australia, it seems this issue is intractable. But this is something the Australian Directors Guild (ADG) is working to define. It is important for the ADG to clarify this situation so that the real creative talent behind some of our biggest screen works is recognised.

So is the director necessary? Definitely. Is the director the creative force behind screen content? Most certainly. Are they always called directors? Not necessarily.

Kingston Anderson is the executive director of Australian Directors Guild (ADG). The ADG conference will be held in Sydney from November 6 to 8.

Encore issue 35

This piece first appeared in EncoreDownload it now on iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices.



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