In describing the various responsibilities of the director, it would seem that he or she occupies a central position within the cinema's creative division of labor. Despite this apparent centrality, however, it must be established that the title of "director" is not necessarily synonymous with the designation "author." Understanding the role of the director is an objective concern and does not require the subsequent appreciative assertion that he or she is the most important individual in this process. Nor should it be assumed that a director's supervisory status is ipso facto proof of his or her status as the center of the work's significance. Rather, the director's centrality should refer to his or her position within a system of creative labor. Again, a director is first and foremost a delegate—one whose primary duties are to coordinate numerous creative endeavors in the interest of maintaining a consistent style and quality across an efficient production process. Given the collaborative nature of this process, it is important to understand the basic ways in which a director can work with key personnel within a filmmaking collective.
Since the screenplay serves as the primary source material in the director's process of adaptation, the screenwriter and director ideally will collaborate closely during the preparation of a film's shooting script. While the writer(s) and director will have their own opinions about the work's nascent significance, they will strive to reach an objective understanding of the script's intent—one that represents an unforeseen synthesis of their respective attitudes toward the material. In practical terms, this partnership may include identifying the work's central ideas, resolving any potentially disruptive ambiguities in the story, tightening narrative structure, and rewriting dialogue or adjusting characterization if necessary. Their work may continue through the shooting process itself should circumstances require further adjustments to be made.
Again, the actual proactive involvement of the director will vary. Alain Resnais (b. 1922), for example, allows his screenwriters to have virtual autonomy in preparing their screenplay. Milos Forman (b. 1932), by contrast, will labor over a script with a writer, line by line. Directors may prefer to work on the script personally with a favored collaborator (as evidenced by the long-time partnership between Billy Wilder [1906–2002] and I. A. L. Diamond [1920–1988]), or film his or her own screenplay (Ousmane Sembene [b. 1923], Pier Paolo Pasolini [1922–1975], and Preston Sturges [1898–1959] are all prominent examples of director-screenwriters). Alternatively, a film's working script may emerge through improvisations overseen by the director during rehearsals: John Cassavetes (1924–1989) and Mike Leigh (b. 1943) are celebrated exemplars of this tendency. It is important to note, however, that if there is a substantial degree of financial investment in the film, investors may insist on approving every draft of the work in progress. Hollywood screenplays, for example, have been subject to the whims of producers, executives, censorial boards, and even stars—all of whom have wielded creative authority over the majority of screenwriters and directors.
Just as the shooting script is frequently outside of the director's complete control, the casting of a film's principal roles is often dictated by the economic logic of the star system, especially in mainstream Hollywood cinema. Orson Welles (1915–1985), for example, may have despaired at Universal's insistence on casting Charlton Heston as a Mexican in Touch of Evil (1958), but the casting of the film's principal players was not his decision to make. In the studio era, a contracted star might be assigned to a particular film, while contemporary stars may be "packaged" along with a screenplay by a talent agency as part of a non-negotiable deal. However, the director typically has much more independence in the casting of secondary and minor roles. The director will oversee the work of the casting director, who will organize auditions for these roles and/or present the director and producer(s) with a selection of actors to handpick for smaller parts.
For certain directors, their influence in the casting of the film is of paramount importance. Sergei Eisenstein's (1898–1948) reliance on typage in the casting of his early Soviet films is a good example, with the director often personally selecting the ideal faces needed to personify particular ideological positions. John Waters's (b. 1946) entire filmography is founded upon casting director Pat Moran's selection of the perfect assortment of lumpen freaks. Andy Warhol (1928–1987) and Paul Morrissey (b. 1938) transformed casting into a quasi-political act, by selecting whoever happened to be hanging around the Factory and proclaiming them to be instant "movie stars." Other directors may choose to work with favorite actors or cultivate a stock company. Such reliance on familiar faces not only potentially simplifies communication between actor and director, but it may also serve as a kind of expressive shorthand within the film itself. John Wayne (1907–1979), for example, is John Ford's (1894–1973) idealized emblem of the frontier's potential for self-determination, while Liv Ullman (b. 1938), Bibi Andersson (b. 1935), and Max von Sydow (b. 1929) are not so much part of Ingmar Bergman's (b. 1918) "troupe" as they are his recurring muses and creative partners.
For certain directors, performance is the very heart of cinematic art. Jean Renoir (1894–1979) provides the most prestigious example of a humanist aesthetic: his famed deep-focus photography, elaborate tracking shots, and long takes represent a concerted, empathetic effort to preserve the integrity of his actors' performances within a fully realized social world. Other directors frequently showcase the technical ingenuity of gifted actors. Elia Kazan's (1909–2003) close involvement with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler in the cultivation of American "method" acting often resulted in films that foregrounded the intense psychodynamics of their principal characters. Occasionally, the better part of a director's career might be dedicated to exploring a single actor'spersona. Examples include Zhang Yimou's (b. 1951) early feature-length "tributes" to Gong Li and Josef von Sternberg's (1894–1969) obsession with Marlene Dietrich—the radiant focal point of his films' mise-en-scène. In all of these cases, the director's function is to facilitate the actor's cultivation of a performance that will satisfy a shared aesthetic ambition. Actual working methods might range from encouraging improvisation (Shirley Clarke [1919–1997]), the use of provocation and multiple takes (Stanley Kubrick [1928–1999]), or blatant manipulation and intimidation (Roman Polanski [b. 1933]).
Often at complete variance with the "actor's director" is the filmmaker who aspires to a rigorous aestheticism, treating the artistic process as an opportunity to explore the parameters of the medium itself. Such a director's fellow artists might be encouraged to consider the filmic image as a graphic design, rather than an indexical referent to a profilmic reality. In such cases, the production designer and director of photography are frequently the formalist director's chief collaborators. In The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989) and Prospero's Books (1991), for example, production designers Jan Roelfs and Ben van Os and director Peter Greenaway (b. 1942) treat the screen like a canvas, creating an intricately layered onscreen space and occasionally "writing" on the surface of the screen itself. For Alfred Hitchcock's (1899–1980) color films of the 1950s, Hal Pereira (1905–1983) helped the director devise some of his most superbly crafted set pieces: the multi-windowed courtyard that provides voyeuristic glimpses of multiple levels of action in Rear Window (1954) is a triumph of design. Another example is the sumptuous formalism of Sally Potter's (b. 1949) work since The Tango Lesson (1997), which can largely be attributed to her recurring collaboration with designer Carlos Conti.
Congruently, the DOP is equipped with the technical knowledge to help a director visually realize his or her conception of the significance, mood, and/or affective intent. Bernardo Bertolucci's (b. 1940) most stylized efforts—particularly Il Conformista ( The Conformist , 1970)—are a result of Vittorio Storaro's (b. 1940) mastery of expressive lighting and color. The invariable steely iciness of David Cronenberg's (b. 1943) films since Dead Ringers (1988) is largely cultivated by Peter Suschitzky (b. 1941), just as the warm romanticism and nostalgia that pervades Woody Allen's (b. 1935) work in the late 1970s and early 1980s can primarily be attributed to Gordon Willis's (b. 1931) photography. Or, we might reference the lyricism of F. W. Murnau's (1888–1931) "unchained," moving camera in Der Letzte Mann ( The Last Laugh , 1924)—an innovation developed by master cinematographer Karl Freund (1890–1969). Despite Andrew Sarris's assertion that an auteur must be "technically proficient," the majority of directors in his catalog of great filmmakers rely heavily on the technological ingenuity of the DOP to develop and realize their visual ideas.
On a similar note, a skilled editor effectively shapes a film's structure, pace, and intended significance. Again, directors may formulate an outline of their intent, but most often the creative onus is on the editor to bring this objective to fruition. Even a director as heralded as Martin Scorsese (b. 1942) is reliant on the precision and innate sense of timing of his long-time editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. Certain directors believe montage to be the essence of their medium and develop an aesthetic that foregrounds the expressive potential of the various relations between shots. Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin (1893–1953), and Aleksandr Dovzhenko (1894–1956)—the chief exponents of Soviet montage—are the obvious examples here. As equally inventive are prominent figures from the various international "new waves" of the 1960s, whose editing styles are informed by an irreverent admixture of radical politics, anti-classicism,
While the pyrotechnic editing evident in much contemporary commercial filmmaking is frequently reviled for its perceived pandering to decreasing audience attention spans, several directors have turned this tendency to their creative advantage. Taking their cue from the use of sampling in hip-hop music, director Darren Aronofsky (b. 1969) and editor Jay Rabinowitz devised a montage for Requiem for a Dream (2000) that is a lightning-fast form of crosscutting synched with exaggerated sound effects. Harmony Korine (b. 1973) and Valdís Ó skarsdóttir developed an editing style for Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) that emulates the elliptical and erratic perception of the schizophrenic protagonist. Also noteworthy are John Woo's (b. 1946) dynamic alterations between expertly choreographed, slow-motion action and almost subliminally fast cutting in Hard Boiled (1992) and Face/Off (1997)—a contemporary update of a style devised by Sam Peckinpah (1925–1984) for the bloody climax of The Wild Bunch (1969). Conversely, a director's signature style may be founded upon a preference for minimal edits and a long-take aesthetic. Kenji Mizoguchi's (1898–1956) delicate exploration of an intricately crafted mise-en-scène, Andrei Tarkovsky's (1932–1986) attempts to evoke the felt duration of time, and Chantal Akerman's (b.1950) minimalist emphasis on the domestic labor of her female characters are notable examples. Contemporary artists such as Tsai Ming liang (b. 1957), Abbas Kiarostami (b. 1940), Michael Haneke (b. 1942), and Béla Tarr (b. 1955) continue this tradition, collaborating with their various editors to produce slowly paced films that reward patient, studied attention.
The most potentially contentious of the director's various working relationships is with the producer. Since the producer's chief tasks are to secure finances and ensure that filming adheres to schedule and budget, the
On the one hand, a positive working relationship can lead to an extremely creative partnership, as evidenced by the work of producer Val Lewton (1904–1951) and director Jacques Tourneur (1904–1977) collaborative RKO. On the other, certain directors perceive the producer's close involvement as interference with his or her creative autonomy, and their relationship to producers is typically hostile. Indeed, Erich von Stroheim (1885–1957), Orson Welles, and Nicholas Ray (1911–1979) are often characterized as artist-martyrs whose Hollywood careers were destroyed by gross materialists. During the late 1930s, the emerging Directors Guild made a concentrated effort to secure the director's right to supervise the first rough cut, participate in casting and script development, and wield more authority during the actual production stages. However, it is also worth noting that the creative tensions that arise between producers and directors during the most tempestuous production circumstances can sometimes yield riches. For example, Gone with the Wind (1939) was produced amidst stormy relationships between producer David O. Selznick and the various directors hired and fired from work on the film, including Victor Fleming (1889–1949), George Cukor (1899–1983), and Sam Wood (1883–1949), yet it went on to become the most widely seen American movie in history.