Thursday, June 3, 2010

Directing... cooking... the same rules apply.

I've spent a disproportionate amount of the past eight months shooting out of town, and living in hotels, I've had a disproportionate number of meals in restaurants. Some of them quite frou frou.

And you know what? I've learned something.

The fancier restaurants used lovely ingredients and prepared them well, but most of them did something that pretty much spoiled every dish. They tried too hard.

Usually that meant they added just one ingredient too many. The smoked salmon appetizer had both goat cheese and chutney. The sushi-grade hamachi was seared, then slathered in teriyaki sauce.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Brian, what does a restaurant meal have to do with film making?" Well, I'll tell you.

Strangely, a lot.

Directing, like cooking, is about honesty. And when you get too tricky with either, what you gain in style you lose in directness.

Obviously, I'm not advocating bringing out a slab of meat (actor) on an unadorned plate (set), and leaving it up to the restaurant patron (viewer) to appreciate it in all its raw glory. What I am advocating is finding the best ingredients possible and combining them in ways that they work with each other –– ways that they emphasize each other's strengths without masking what makes each of them unique.

Take that a step further. You need a good recipe (script) and the equipment to prepare the meal (crew, equipment). And when all is said and done, the presentation should look appetizing (mise en scene, lighting) without creating expectations counter to what the meal can deliver. And each course (act) needs to work with the others, so that there's a satisfying flow from the appetizers (opening credits) to the dessert (denoument).

Or, to put it another way, if you have Meryl Streep performing Shakespeare, you probably don't need to shoot it underwater.