Why I Decided to Direct After Writing Movies for 15 Years…
July 6, 2015 § 1 Comment
We’re blessed on MY BLANK PAGE once again to have writer/producer/director Christine Conradt back for her second time as a guest blogger with a fantastic article about her transition from being a screenwriter/producer into directing her first feature.
Why I Decided to Direct After Writing Movies for 15 Years.
by Christine Conradt
“Action!” I yelled and slid the white painter’s mask back up over my nose and mouth as my voice echoed through the dark, dank corridors of the ‘dungeon.’ Tucked back into a dusty corner, squeezed up against my script supervisor, Katie, one of the co-producers, Noel, and Patrick, Lauren, and John—hair, makeup, and wardrobe, respectively, my eyes flicked back and forth between two monitors as I watched the actress struggle to free herself from the grip of the actor that was kidnapping her in another room.
Our dungeon was the basement of the Herald Examiner Building in downtown Los Angeles, now under renovation to become office spaces and condos— and it didn’t require much dressing. A labyrinth of low-ceiling hallways and cages, it was built in 1915 and housed William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper printing business until 1989. After that, it became one of L.A.’s most filmed locations. My movie, would be, sadly, one of the last to be shot there.
My actors duck past the second camera cinematographer charged with getting a low-angle shot of the action and disappear from my monitors. The only sound now is the hum of the overhead Tungstens. I wait a few seconds and call “Cut! Same thing again!” The set becomes a flurry of activity with props being reset, my DOP calling out orders for lights to be adjusted, and the glam crew making the actors look the way they did before the struggle ever started. Dan, the First AD, peeks around the corner and waits for my instructions. “Tell Camera B to stay on John this time and A to get a safety.”
“Got it,” he says and disappears as quickly as he came. A few moments pass and I know he relayed my instructions because Camera B focuses on Dan as he steps onto John’s mark for a frame check. I sit down next to Noel and discuss the following day’s preliminary call sheet, waiting for the next question to come my way. In an odd way, that’s what being a director is all about—answering questions.
From the outside, I’m sure we appear to be a well-oiled machine—churning out scenes and takes like the dinosaur printing presses once did in this same basement a century ago. But inside, I’m nervous as hell. We are two hours behind schedule and we’re only four hours into our day. It’s our last day at this location and carrying scenes would be impossible. On top of that, we have a complicated chase to shoot after lunch and will lose an hour wrapping out. Everyone knows this and the pressure is on. Especially on me, because at the end of it all, if we don’t make our days, it’s the director’s fault.
And yet, despite the pressure and the nerves and the dust in the air that covered our sweaty skin in grit, I’m feeling exhilarated. This is my first foray into directing a feature— and I’m actually pulling it off! After fifteen years of enjoying a successful writing career, with 45 produced movies to my name, I needed that shot of adrenalin. I was getting burned out. Professionally and personally, I needed to grow and stretch and be inspired, and directing a film that I also penned, accomplished all of that and more.
Being a writer/director is both a rewarding and frustrating experience. So many times on set, it dawned on me how incredibly different it is to write than direct. I felt I was awakening certain aspects of my brain that had been slacking off for decades. When you write, you imagine in such detail how each scene will play out. You go over and over it in your head as you rewrite and hone dialog. It’s a fantasy, really. Writing is purely creative. You create the set, the characters, and the mise-en-scene in your own brain where it’s completely perfect. The actors deliver every line precisely the way you imagine it, the shots flow seamlessly, the lighting and timing is perfect. Fantasy.
Directing, on the other hand, is the process of merging that fantasy with reality. In real life, the locations you get are most likely not the ones you originally imagined, the actors need to be directed, shots are compromised by the need to shoot around c-stands and lights. It’s creative, but it’s creative problem-solving. It’s like staring at a Kandinsky for five minutes then being handed a pencil and paper and asked to reproduce it without looking. You get close most of the time. Sometimes you don’t come close at all and that’s frustrating. And then at other times, it comes out perfect—better than you even imagined it. The stars somehow align: the actors bring something new to their characters that you hadn’t thought of, the DOP suggests a shot that’s more interesting that what you planned, and everything that’s supposed to work a certain way actually does! Those moments, the ones where you realize this is even better than what you fantasized, are magical. And you’ll never feel them as a writer; only as a director.
Prior to directing The Bride He Bought Online, I thought I preferred the purely creative process of sitting alone behind my computer and inventing a world and all the people (or creatures) in it. And I still love it. I don’t think I could ever give it up. But like most artists, I needed to expand. I needed to make new mistakes and try new things. I needed to forgive myself for those mistakes and learn from them. And in doing that, I not only became a better writer, but I discovered a new passion. And passion is what drives creative people. We thrive on rebirth. It’s just who we are.
The Bride He Bought Online premieres on Lifetime Network July 18 at 8 PM ET/PT. For more information and on-set photos, check out the film’s Facebook page, my FB page or Twitter #TheBrideHeBoughtOnline. And yes, there’s an IMDB page too.
Movie Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBrideHeBoughtOnline
Director Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ScreenwriterChristineConradt
Christine Conradt, a graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, has been involved in production and development since 1996. She has earned writing and producing credits on more than 45 indie films and TV movies and just directed her first feature. Her movies have aired on Lifetime, LMN, USA, and Fox. She also offers script consultation services. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter @CConradt.