How to Succeed at being a First Time Director

By Kelanie Aragon

We all have dreams of directing, right? I recently attended a film seminar on marketing, and the speaker asked the obvious question, “Who here wants to be a director?” Over 90% of the people raised their hand. With so much competition out there, I knew I had to find a way to get ahead. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Break down the script more than once.

I recommend a minimum of three script breakdowns before your first rehearsal. If you come prepared with a solid understanding of the script, you will express your vision clearly to your actors. Here are the three types of script breakdowns you should do:


This is for when you first read the shooting script. Focus on what you feel while reading. Take a pause and write down your emotions. This will help you identify your first encounter with the story and see what the scenes really call for emotionally. By doing this, you have a base of what you want the viewer to feel and can better grasp how to translate that feeling onto the screen through performance.


Once you’ve read the script and paid attention to the overall emotional effect, then it’s time to break down the script with a focus on each character. I suggest you read the script with emphasis on one main character at a time.

TIP: I love making Post-It notes. For every scene, I add a note with character subtext and include the objective behind their actions. In a script there is always more to the story than what you read. Make sure you as the director understand and relate to the characters at an intimate level.


Now that you are good on emotion and character, it’s time to really understand the story. Think about technicalities like: in what time-frame does this story take place? What does the time frame mean to the story? What’s the purpose of each scene in moving the story along? If you don’t understand these nitty gritty details, then you can’t expect your cast and crew to be able to understand it either.

  1. Communicate your vision with your cinematographer and art director.

Before expanding on this one, check out our tips for unifying your vision with your crew, I’ll wait for you to come back. Done? Great, moving on. Talking with your cinematographer and art director is essential. Since you have previously figured out what the story demands emotionally, you and your cinematographer/art director can figure out how to bring the script to the screen. The set design, costumes, props, location, and multiple necessary elements are vital to the aesthetics of the film. This all happens when you can communicate and trust those working with you.

  1. Have a coffee date with your actors.

It’s so important to develop a relationship with your actors. Before you even discuss rehearsals, character, or schedules, get to know them on a deeper level. After casting your actors, plan to take time making them feel comfortable with you. After all, acting is a lot about being vulnerable and reaching that performance the director is looking for. The least you can do is be vulnerable with them as well.

  1. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

For a short film, I’d say at least 4 rehearsals are necessary. However, the rehearsals are only helpful if you take your time and focus on each scene. Make sure the actors understand your vision for each scene, but try not to micromanage their acting. Let them bring their take on the character and then direct them from there. They should have their own interpretation of a scene and you might be surprised at how it enhances the overall idea of the film. While you give your actors some artistic freedom, never accept less than your vision.

  1. Block rehearsal with your DP and actors.

To me, this is the most important and the most overlooked step. In this phase of directing, you will go through each scene once or twice to block the shots with the DP and the actors. This  pre-filming blocking is also a good time to do a full lighting set up. I can’t stress how helpful this is on indie sets. On the day of filming, you won’t be bombarded with questions from your actors, because you will have all of your scenes blocked. Plus, you get to use that time to see the things that work and the things that don’t. The most important thing to remember is that you’re director! You are in charge of your crew and actors. Be prepared and understand your film better than anyone else on set.



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