Directing Short Films: Playing Through vs The Climb

September 11, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Directing Short Films

I’ve been making movies since high school.  Back then we were winging it.  We shot our films with a camcorder and filmed every scene in order.

We didn’t have screenplays and barely worked out the stories.  We simply made it up as we went along.

You learn by trying.

I consider Playing Through my first official short film.

It was based on a screenplay I wrote and absolutely adored.  I couldn’t wait to see the finished film.  Screenwriting has always been my passion.  I’ve never considered myself a director and truthfully, I don’t know if my ultimate goal would be to direct for a living.  I want to write.  I love writing.

However, I also enjoy challenging myself in new creative environments. 

Why not give directing a serious shot?  I had nothing to lose.

Playing Through Short Film 17 West Productions

When we shot that movie, I didn’t know how to carry myself on a professional film set.  That was the biggest hurdle I had to leap in order to communicate with my crew effectively.  I had spent countless hours shot listing and story boarding in the week’s leading up to the shoot.  I did this for two reasons:

  • I wanted to make sure I had a clear idea of what I wanted the movie to be.
  • I wanted the crew to take me seriously.

Our first day of shooting was hard on me.  We had fallen behind and I had to adapt my vision accordingly.  When you are dealing with a golf course that remained open as well as the constant threat of rain, you really have no choice but to push forward as efficiently as possible.

We had to make sure that by the end of the shoot, we had enough footage to make a movie.

I learned early on that certain complicated shots had to be sacrificed in order to make sure the story was told.

In the end, I got everything I needed to tell my story and I’m extremely proud of the final film.

So far, Playing Through has won 3 awards and been an official selection in two film festivals.

I suppose the one thing I learned was that you can’t rely on story boards and shot lists when you are in the moment.  You have to let your instincts take over at some point.  I don’t think I did that enough.

It may have been nerves but I definitely wish I let loose a little more with my imagination while I was on the set.

The Climb Short Film Toronto

We made The Climb nearly 4 years after I wrote the original draft of the screenplay.  That script went on to place 4th out of over 1200 scripts in the American Gem Screenplay Competition.

Since that time, I’ve rewritten and simplified the script several times.  When it came time to decide what I wanted to do next, it was an easy decision.

I went into the shoot with the same amount of preparation as Playing Through.  I had my shot lists and drawings finished and I was confident we would get it all done.

With the exception of the weather, this shoot was actually pretty smooth.

The major difference?

I left my notes at home.

All I had on me was a miniature copy of the script which I rarely opened while we were shooting.  I had general approaches to each scene but because of the weather, I was forced to come up with new and interesting ways to get the work done.

From a visual standpoint, The Climb has many more varied locations and settings.  I did my best to keep things as new and interesting as possible as the entire script is essentially one long conversation.

Much like Playing Through, the weight of the script is in the dialogue.  When we were making Playing Through, I had golf to rely on during the longer conversations.

The Climb deals with two people who live on the street.  I had to find a way to keep things moving even though my main characters do not.

So I tried to use the locations to my advantage and create as much depth as possible.

We’ll see how it all turns out but I’m definitely more comfortable on set.  What’s important to me is to always keep improving.

I’m not sure if I’ll direct again any time soon as I’m now firm on my goal of writing some new shorts and a couple feature scripts.

Writing will always be my first priority.  When I’m directing, I miss it.

So while I’m finishing post-production on The Climb, expect a lot more posts about screenwriting.