Welcome to our archive of the "Ask a Filmmaker," a column that was devoted to your questions and concerns about the filmmaking process. Our guest columnists were screenwriter John August (Go, Charlie's Angels), director Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, Wayne's World) and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News).

October 9, 2006

Ask a Director
by Penelope Spheeris

What should we know before we approach a director who we badly want for our film?


I just read another Ask a Director question that was two pages long, so I greatly appreciate the succinctness of yours. Probably the most important thing you should know before you approach the director is: Even if a director wants to make a certain film, it does not guarantee that the film will get made! It always amazes me that people think that we have the power to launch a project. Having the right director attached can HELP, but by no means makes it a shoe-in for financing. Many of the most legendary, most successful directors have projects they have not been able to get off the ground.

When thinking of which director may be best for your project take into consideration their past body of work. Sometimes this can present a bit of a Catch 22. Let's say your picture is a romantic comedy for example, so you think of all those directors who have had successes in that genre because it makes sense that their experience will contribute to the credibility of the project. However, from the point of view of the director, often times we are trying to break free of whatever pigeon-hole genre we may be stuck in. After I did all those studio comedies, I wanted to do what I set out to do early in my career which was socially significant youth-oriented dramas, but I was not able to do that. One grand success in a certain genre (i.e. Wayne's World) and you're stuck there forever, especially if you are a woman.

The next most important consideration when choosing the director is if you and he/she have the same vision about the picture. The last thing you want is a director who does not see the movie the way that the producer(s) and writer(s) do. If your film is already financed and you are trying to decide which director would be best, then it is probably a matter of sending the script to your wish list directors, gauging the level of their interest and then interviewing them to decide which one clicks with you and the production in general. Once you settle on a certain director, it would be advisable to talk to other producers, cinematographers, etc. that have worked with her or him and ask certain pertinent questions that might prove to you that this person is the one with whom you should trust your treasure.

Penelope Spheeris made her feature film debut with The Decline of Western Civilization, an energetic documentary about the L.A. punk scene in the early 1980's. She has since directed a number of diverse projects, including Wayne's World , Suburbia , and The Boys Next Door , as well as completing two more films in the Decline series (The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years in 1988 and The Decline of Western Civilization Part III in 1998). We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll, debuted at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. In 2004, she produced and directed The Kid and I, based on a true story about a young man with cerebral palsy, who wants to be an actor.

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