Filmmaking To The Max: On Control, Trust, and Directing Scenes You Act In


(Kyla) #1

Hi! I’m Kyla, teenage filmmaker & creator of the teen drama webseries To The Max. This column will serve both as a production diary and an ever-growing list of how I’ve found my way around every issue I’ve come across and every mistake I’ve made.

DISCLAIMER: We’re about to get mildly personal and deep, pals. This totally ran away from me. Buckle your seatbelts.

So I don’t know about you guys, but in creating a webseries I’ve learned a lot about who I am! Well, not learned a lot so as much as confirmed something about who I am, but basically, having created a webseries really amplified the fact that I am what could be called a control freak. I prefer Type A. Or determined. Or passionate. Or something else positive so as long as it is not so bright that I’m blinded to the downsides of having and liking control.

The fact that I am very much Type A made me feel like I could not relegate any important aspect of my project to anyone else. Of course, every aspect is important, but I would not let anyone else write it. When I couldn’t find a director, I took that mantle myself, and quickly became possessive of the tasks assigned as well as the tasks assigned to the director of photography. (There was a series of incidents with my former DP and we thought it best to part ways because we clashed creatively.) So I loaded all of this on my plate as well as acting in the webseries because, quite frankly, I’m a human disaster.

The trouble came with my decision to both direct and act. I found that once I was in costume/hair/makeup ready to act, I was so much less willing to direct. I had almost left my authority at the door. I felt like I was on the same level as my scene partner(s), and I wanted to be on the same level as my scene partner(s). I wanted to let go of that responsibility of directing and be on an equal playing field. I found that I was more willing to be distracted or get off track than I was when I was behind the camera.

The true downfall of all this came when I stopped directing besides blocking when I was acting in a scene. I wouldn’t give notes, I’d let the actors do what they wanted (which of course wasn’t bad, but sometimes would not align what I wanted to get out of them) and I’d just be a fellow actor. I dropped everything because honestly, I was afraid. It was more power than I’d realized, having written and directed and acted. I didn’t want to disrupt whatever balanced camaraderie my scene partners and I had. I didn’t want to be the authority, which is shocking when it comes to me. I was tired. So I let stuff go. A line said too fast, facial expressions edging more towards a certain emotion than the one it should have been, things that seemed unimportant in the moment. I now regret it when I look back on those videos because I know I could have gotten a better performance or a different performance if I’d just tried to direct. But I shirked the responsibility. I was on-camera, I was performing-- it was so easy to pretend that I was on-stage in drama class, the directing a combination of personal choices and collaborative choices as we worked on a play.

Another thing I know about myself, not realized through the process of the webseries but just in general, is that I’m mostly self-aware. And sometimes it sucks. I recognized this was a problem I was having, and I came up with solutions. I’ve tried a few, some more possible than others, and so far so good I guess, but there’s always room for improvement.

Here are some tips for directing scenes you act in:

  • DON’T.
    You think I’m kidding. I’m not. Find a director in general, find a director for your scenes, collaborate heavily with said director if you’re terrified of losing creative control. You can focus on acting and putting all you have into the scene.

  • Assign someone as your go-to authority figure.
    If you’re getting that distracted, make your crew keep you on track. For me it’s usually the wonderful Kendall Prior, our camera operator/hair and makeup person/scripty/PA/actress/probably just about everything at this point. She calls the shots when I’m acting in a scene, including literally calling “3, 2, 1, action”. Love that girl.

  • Make notes beforehand
    If you’re also kind of DP-ing the scene you’re in, make your shot lists and storyboards beforehand and know them as well as you know your lines. Make notes for the scene in general as well-- such as what lines need to be altered tone-wise from the table read, what words should be emphasized, and such. Make those notes for yourself and your scene partner(s), but BE FLEXIBLE. If your scene partner is making a good acting choice, don’t direct them otherwise just because of your original intentions. Things shift sometimes. Let them.

  • Trust and have faith in your cast and crew
    When it came down to the wire, a lot of my issues with my webseries are about trust. I didn’t trust if someone could get the angle I wanted for a shot, even if they’d read my shot list and seen my storyboard and I made them stand in and pretend to be me so they can see what it should look like. I didn’t trust that someone would have the right tone for a certain line, even if they did it right in the table read and our run-throughs and the script specifically called for it. At the current moment, I don’t have 100% faith in everything. I don’t think it’s possible to have 100% faith in anything, not in people or actions or words or even that the sun will rise tomorrow. But not having 100% faith does not mean you must lack a large amount of it. Trust is something to work on. I’m still working on it, trying to land as close to 100% as I can, and that’s okay!

We now break from our regularly scheduled program to show me, peak lumberjack, semi-directing the lovely Daria Miran!

I get wanting control. I get wanting to call the shots. I get feeling high on the prospect of power. I do. But sometimes you need to have some faith and let go. You need to trust that people will catch you when you fall, because they most likely will so as long as there are people in your corner, and you can’t worry about the other side of most likelys or you’ll never take any risk ever. Go direct scenes you act in. Go get someone else to direct them. Just don’t lose your vision in the process, and be aware of the advantages and disadvantages. Go forth and create. And go forth with the knowledge that you, most likely and hopefully a stranger, now know way too much about some random 17 year old wannabe filmmaker!

(Bri Castellini) #2

Big mood. The biggest mood.

(Bri Castellini) #3

I’ve only directed myself once and also hated it! It was the worst! And I only had to do it for a small scene! (it’s the one at the end of S2E8 of Brains, when I come into the apartment making out with someone. SIDE NOTE: directing yourself in a kissing scene you wrote, casted and act in is the biggest power move)

(Ghetto Nerd Girl) #4

Girl, I know you you feel about the trust issues! It takes time to ease your control freak grip. Fellow Type A here! But it’s great when you do have people to pick up the slack. I too acted in a few scenes and let my DP direct. It was hard to let that go, but in the end I knew I was making the right move.

(Kyla) #5

I’VE DONE THAT AND IT’S THE WORST. though maybe it’s because I personally really didn’t want to kiss him (and that was mutual).

(Bri Castellini) #6

It’s so bad. It’s so bad I actually wrote a whole article about it (and also writing and acting in your own kissing scenes in general)

(Kyla) #7

I read that before I had to film that scene!!! and then I read it again after and it was so very relatable

(Bri Castellini) #8

I read and reread Mindy Kaling’s book because it made me feel like someone else was more of a pervert control freak than I was :joy:

Filmmaking To The Max: What Do You Regret?