The Best Way to Learn How to Direct Film

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Learning how to direct film means understanding how the pros set up and shoot their film. Studying other director's films can be the best education anyone can get for free. No film has impacted me more as a director than the movie Jaws.

This movie…

I know it's near the top of a lot of people's 'best of' lists but it's takes the top spot of mine.

Not just because it's a fantastic movie with an incredible making of story, Jaws is the movie that helped me learn how to be a filmmaker.

When I first learned I was going to direct on The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, I had no clue what I was doing (some say I still don't). There was no one to tell me how to take each step and show me the ropes. John Davis was great and was there to help but he let me go on my own after just a few days of shadowing him. "You know how to do this stuff," he told me. My inner child was trembling with fear but my stupid braggadocios shell said, "Yeah, no problem."

Yeah right.

I had not a clue. 360 rule? OTS? Pacing? Shot within a shot?

I was dead on arrival.

That is when Mr. Spielberg and Bruce came in. I thought, the only way I am going to learn how to direct is to watch what some films of the best directors and learn how they did it. Studying their films was the best education I could do quickly - and I could be entertained along the way.

I popped in the trusty dvd of Jaws and then paused it after every cut. I paused so I could see the framing and then draw what I saw.

I drew every single cut in the movie. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

The regular framing was easy - well, my drawing skills were OK but not stellar. The problems were charting and drawing the camera moves. Lucky for me, EVERY SINGLE SHOT moved.

I do say lucky for me because I learned a lot from restaging and reframing. The "shot within a shot". How to move actors to certain spots and make it look natural. I even learned how to pace from one shot to the next. (the whole 360 rule came a little later - I cannot give Spielberg credit for everything).

This gave me confidence when heading into storyboarding meetings. I became armed with a little more knowledge and understanding. The coolest part was that I began to develop a style as well. That was not expected at all.

Inspiration and knowledge can come from anywhere. Books, mentors, museums...the point is to find it. And continue to find it every day.

I did not stop with Jaws. I boarded The Graduate, Notorious, and Cool Hand Luke. Those are some stellar teachers.

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