Thursday, July 14, 2011
What's in a Vision?
You've heard it before; a director discussing his or her "vision" for their project. The director's vision in many cases might as well be the word of God, sent down as the ultimate truth for a film or video production. In many instances someone on set will have a strong idea, suggestion, or even demand for the director, and it will quickly get brushed off with the words "that's not part of my vision for this". This is the ultimate veto on a set.
So what's all the fuss over something so elusive as somebody's idealization of the project? What does a director "see" when they have a "vision"? Is it something that comes to them in the night and takes over them like some kind of spell?
As a director it took me a while to get accustomed to being the final say in any discussion or decision. Doubt naturally seeps in when making decisions on a major production as a beginner. But after years of working at it I started to realize that decisions need to be a perfect blend of knowing it's the right thing logically, and knowing it the right thing instinctively. Like anything, you get better at dealing with logistical issues it with experience; you learn from your mistakes and hone in on what works best for you. The second is more difficult. Over time, when considering a decision you just begin to know whether something is right or not. You can feel it in your bones. Half the time I won't know why I made a decision until I'm in the edit room and I can see the way a decision gives the right feeling, but it's nothing I really considered on set aside from that gut instinct. This is a skill that also takes time to refine.
So that's how decisions are made in the moment, but what's with this vision? Is it seeing the movie play in your head? Actually, yeah that's it exactly. It's how the piece comes together in the director's head. For me, I literally see a little movie in my head. Now for an actor this could be terrifying knowing your director already has their performance in their head. The idealization of a director's vision can be the death of a project. Nothing will be good enough because it's just not the same. Instead of this, I've found that the vision is the map; it's the path to make sure the project has a unified direction in narrative, theme, and style. The vision is not the be-all end-all, and it's never static.
The vision is the first step in inspiration, and it will shape-shift throughout the process. If there were a technology that would allow someone to extract my vision from my head and say that's the final product, I wouldn't purchase it. Nothing is more inspiring for me as a director than the ability to have my vision altered and challenged by the creative people and settings around me. The process of going through production forces a director to revisit that vision and breath new life into it. This is how good films have a life and texture of their own. It's how they lose rigidity and gain complexity. An actor with expressive eyes can change the way we shoot and light a scene. The way a room takes in light can change the set dressing and the overall blocking of a scene.
OK, so you must think this is the most convoluted explanation for what should be a simple concept. It's important to understand that it doesn't seem this complicated because the vision itself isn't complicated. A vision can be simply described as the way a director sees a piece, at any given moment of its creation. Much like an artist painting a mural, we need to know how the overall piece must come together. But at the same time, we can get caught up in the moment and let inspiration take over when we step closer and start working in details.