Simon Phillips along with the Directors Guild of Great Britain has been touring the UK with his “Tools of Directing” workshop. The workshop is a great insight into his work as a directing consultant and illuminates some potentially much overlooked areas of film directing. As an enthusiastic and thoroughly engaging teacher, the four hours zipped by, but the information gained is worth far more. Unfortunately, the workshops have finished their tour (Leeds was the last stop), but nevertheless Simon is a busy man and he will be around again soon.
I want to talk a little about the workshop, but don’t want to give away any of Simon’s secrets (as he explicitly said, not many people know about these tools!) Nonetheless, it is beneficial to reflect and I want to offer an introduction to Simon and the craft of directing in general.
It is common knowledge that there are three principal areas for a director to focus his attention: the script, the actors and the camera. Some directors will say they only focus on the actors and the camera, at least whilst on set, but the script is always the bedrock and the core that is constantly shifting. Simon talks about all three, let’s start with working with writers (a colossal task for all directors). Simon has an effective term to use for the director’s reading of a screenplay, the “creative reading of a screenplay” that offers a unique way of breaking down a script. It is simple, read the script like a “real event” (you as the director, are fundamentally the only person treating it as such) and in doing so you reach into each character’s senses and note all the “ChangePoints” – I won’t go into “ChangePoints” because they are intrinsic to Simon’s great work, but I will say that they are a great eye-opener and magnificently simple (but not easy) way to breakdown the script, camera set-ups and yes, even the directing of actors.
A lot of discussion was given around working with actors, planning the rehearsals (which are ever lacking with today’s schedules), what to gain from them, asking questions with the actors on set, sensing the empathy and, ultimately, creating the director’s unique vision. It is not the actor’s opinion that counts, let their questions be your guide, you must have the material to formulate the answers and adjust the performance. Simon is very much in touch with the director as auteur, a true visionary, and so they should be. Such talk created some stimulating discussions and, of course, there is a complex network of answers (many consultants bring different ideas to the table), but Simon was focused on making the situation as simple as possible (good!), I am definitely intrigued to hear from Simon and attend one of his masterclasses that go into more detail with these simple methods.
Finally, and one of my favourite discussions, the tools of directing the camera summon equally abundant possibilities. Simon began with narrative strategies (mystery, suspense etc.) and how to work the camera in conjunction, though the strategies all come scurrying back to the script and the actors; everything must be in place for the camera to work its magic. I won’t give away Simon’s specific insights into working with the camera, but he offers some genuinely intriguing and original advice that you won’t find in Katz’s Shot by Shot method of directing.
Sign up to Simon’s website and gain more insight.
There is also a Facebook group for further discussion here.