ON BEING A DIRECTOR

Hint: Try Starting with a Shot List1Aboriginal fingers on bulldozer controls—shot by Keith

Back in 1968, I get a job as a director and I’m forced to work with my client’s chief cameraman. “Want the job? Then learn to live with Keith.”

Day one, Keith, my unwanted cameraman, says, “Tell me what you want me to shoot.”

I reply, “If it moves, shoot it. We’ll just play it by ear.”

“That’s not good enough. I need a shot list.”

This guy’s a pain. “You’re kidding me.”

He isn’t. He says that if I want to be a director, I need to direct him; he really wants a shot list.

“Come on, just think of shots. Basic ones—then we’ll get more creative.”

A Shot List
“OK, here goes: we need shots of passing trucks.”

“Day or night?”

“Both—this is a 24-hour operation. Night would be good … headlights flaring into the camera lens. Trucks backlit with smoke and dust.”

“Great, you’re getting the idea. Give me more.”

“Here’s a thought: I’ve always been fascinated by how a huge crane can be controlled by just the hand of a man. Contrast a frail man with a powerful machine. Do you think you can get a shot of an aboriginal’s hand controlling the bulldozer?” (The video was shot in Australia.)

It’s a difficult, dangerous shot. Keith has to wedge himself in the scoop of the moving bulldozer. If he slips and falls, the bulldozer will run him over.

“Did you get the shot?”

“Yep, cross it off the list.” (See it at vimeo.com/65002374.)

Franz explains how planking is steamed and affixed to the hull—shot by George

Today Is the Ship’s Planking
I’m back shooting the building of the brigantine. Part one concluded with the completion on the hull—all the ribs in place but no exterior planking.

Over the next few weeks they’ll be affixing long planks to the hull. There are temporary metal stairs going up to scaffolding. I’m recovering from surgery—there’s no way that I can climb the stairs and shoot from the scaffolding.

My son-in-law George runs a successful production company, but way back when he was an ABC7 cameraman.

I phone. “George, can you help me? They’re putting planking on the ship but it’s too high for me.”

George to the Rescue
“George, that’s Franz. He’s the man in charge. I’d like him to do a piece to camera explaining what they’re doing.”

“OK, I’ll shoot that now.”

“No, not while he’s on the ground. Wait until he’s up there and just about to cut the plank out of the plastic steaming bag, so he’s on the left of the shot and the new plank being steamed is on the right. You’re following him and then ask him, out of the blue, “What’s happening, Franz?” He’ll turn to the camera and say something like: “I’m just about to take the plank out of …”

And that’s exactly what happened: Franz turns to camera and says, “I’m just about to take the plank out of the plastic …”

It’s just as I had planned. Thanks, George—and thank you, Keith, for showing me how to direct.

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