How To Draw

Excitement, passion, surprise, beauty — these are the things I think about when making a film, and these are the things my students think about. They cannot be realized unless the director's vision is wedded to a firm grasp of the directing craft. With that end in mind, this book sets out to introduce you to the conceptual aspects of this craft, and to offer a step-by-step methodology that will take you from the screenplay to the screen.

This second edition has benefited from the many questions I am still asked by students concerning the implementation of this methodology, so that I have endeavored here to be as clear as I ask my directing students to be. I have rearranged the material from the first edition, and most importantly, have added new chapters and artwork that I believe amplify, clarify, and ultimately, justify this second edition. I have devoted a separate chapter to "Organizing Action in a Dramatic Scene," stressing the three dramatic elements that are unique to my methodology: Dramatic Blocks, Narrative Beats, and the Fulcrum. I have also added an in-depth analysis of a dramatic scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, complete with floor plans for staging and camera, along with storyboards from the film. Another innovation I have found to be extremely helpful for student directors is the Prose Storyboard, and in this edition I have included examples.

Finally, this second edition includes an Instructor's Manual, offering instructors a medley of curricula options including a week-by-week "Introductory Directing Workshop" and an "Advanced Directing Workshop," complete with field-tested exercises designed to facilitate the student's mastery of the methodology offered in this book. Qualified instructors can request the manual by emailing [email protected]

This methodology is based on the experiences of my own professional career as a director, cameraman, film editor, producer, and graduate filmmaking teacher for 20 years at Columbia University, in the School of the Arts' Film Division. I have taught more than 80 semester-long directing workshops where students have made many hundreds of films, and I have supervised more than a hundred thesis films. It was as a teacher that I realized the need for an organic, comprehensive text on directing. To put off the job of writing such a text, I developed a series of lectures I delivered at Columbia and at seminars in Europe. Still my students wanted a book. I began with a 30-page handout that has evolved over the years into the present book. The emphasis throughout is on the craft of narrative storytelling in the "classical" sense. The goal is to offer a toolbox that is fully equipped with every essential tool that can then be used to craft any kind of story. To use another metaphor, I want to develop all of the student's directorial muscles.

I make an assumption about the audience for this book — that they will want to engage their audience in a cinematic story. Everything contained in this book is aimed at that goal, which I believe is a laudable one. Human beings are in need of narrative and always have been. It has played a significant part in all the diverse cultures of the world, and perhaps even in development of the species itself. Out of concern for survival, our brains are constructed to make sense of incoming stimuli. Given any three facts or images, I, we, all of us, including our ancestors from forty thousand years ago, are on our way to making sense of these facts; in other words, to making a story. A movement in the grass, birds taking flight, an unnatural stillness, and a Cro-Magnon might begin concocting a scenario of a leopard stalking him.

When I first began teaching, students would ask me what books they should read about filmmaking, I would tell them Dear Theo, Vincent Van Gogh's letters to his brother. I still think anyone aspiring to be a film director should read this book — not for the craft of filmmaking, obviously, but for the inspiration to pursue the creation of art through the painstaking development of craft. For years Van Gogh drew with charcoal. He would spend countless hours drawing potato farmers digging in the fields, his eyes burning through their clothing to imagine the bones and muscles underneath. He built an unwieldy perspective device he would carry for miles in order to develop this invaluable skill of the representational artist. After many years, another painter mentioned to Van Gogh that he had surely done enough drawing and should begin to work with color. Van Gogh's response, "The problem with most people's color is that they cannot draw."

The point I wish to make is that although every one of you is in a hurry to "use color," it would behoove you to first learn to draw well. And that is where we will start. The "drawing" or methodology in this book is based on the proposition that the screenplay — the blueprint of a film — informs everything the director does. We will focus on four areas: detective work on the script, blocking actors, the camera as narrator, and work with the actors.

Do all good directors follow this methodology? I believe they do, whether they know it or not. For some it proceeds from an innate dramatic instinct. For others it is forged in the fire of experience. Most likely it is a combination of both. But I also know from my 20 years at Columbia that it is possible to teach these principles. And I know that it is nearly impossible to engage an audience fully, to pull them into your story and keep them there, eliciting their emotions — which is, after all, the main power of film — if the steps called for here are not paid attention to on some level.

There are many attributes that are necessary for a good film director: imagination, tenacity, knowledge of the craft, knowledge of people, ability to work with others, willingness to accept responsibility, courage, stamina, and many more. But the most important attribute that can be taught, the one that if missing will negate all the rest, is clarity — clarity about the story and how each element in it contributes to the whole, and then clarity about what is conveyed to the audience.

Alfred Hitchcock said that if he were running a film school, he would not let students near a camera for the first two years. In today's world that film school would soon find itself bereft of students, for the camera serves as a validation that one is indeed pursuing the art of filmmaking. But nevertheless, there are things one should be aware of before picking up a camera, so we will begin our journey with an introduction to film language and its grammatical rules.

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