From script to movie - it is the director's job

Whether the script is assembled or written, it is the director's job to translate it into a film. This is a key operation, for it is concerned with fusing techniques from the silent films with the latest technological developments and combining the unique characteristics of the movie medium with elements from theater and literature. These are not easy problems.

In any society, changes in technology and the introduction of new ideas are often accompanied by conflict and tension, since they require modifications not only of knowledge, but also of social organization, of attitudes and behavior. A familiar example is the Industrial Revolution, when machines replaced hand work. Back in prehistoric times, iron tools, when first introduced into a primitive society which had not gone beyond digging sticks and stone axes, were not always easily or quickly accepted. Many people did not know how to use the new tools efficiently, others did not like them, and makers of the old implements feared a loss of prestige. Gradually, the natives learned how to use the new tools and attitudes changed to one of acceptance. Only sentimentalists, in anthropology or in the movies, long to return to the earlier forms of primitive life or of films. Even if it wanted to, Hollywood could not go back to the more "pure" movie form which existed before the invention of the talkies. The real problem is not of a return to the past, but of integration of old and new. The question then is, which elements in the Hollywood social system help this integration and which retard it?

Movies introduced a new art, the essence of which is the manipulation of movement in time and space with a camera. Cutting, that is, the assembling of the film in balanced sequences, is one of its important skills. It was the director who first learned this. He was all-important; the producer or writer was either absent or insignificant, and actors were far less important than today. The director did everything: planned the story, directed the actors, manipulated the camera and cut the film, as well as taking care of such details as designing the costumes and sets. "Film Author" was not an inappropriate title for him in those days. He constantly experimented with the camera, shooting from different angles; then, later, he used a number of cameras, placed in various positions -- on the floor, near the ceiling, and midway. The camera can seem to become the actor; the audience then sees only what the actor -- and the camera -- is looking at. In the cutting room the director selects the most effective "takes." If he likes none of them, he can combine bits from three or four into one. It is also in the cutting room that the tempo for telling the story and the rhythm of the movie are set. Just as the same musical notes played in two-quarter, threequarter or four-quarter time express different moods, so, by cutting a sequence into many segments, a tense mood of expectancy can be obtained, while fewer and longer segments will produce the opposite one of tranquillity. An actor walking across a room can be taken in one long shot which is not particularly histrionic. But if the same shot is broken into many segments and each step the man takes is seen separately, it becomes highly dramatic.

In the development of the silent films, inanimate objects, or "props," were useful in helping to tell the story; this trend reached its apex at the end of the silent era. The symbolism of rain beating on a windowpane, the close-up of a hand crushing a letter, two chairs placed cozily by a fire, a large pile of unwashed dishes in the kitchen sink, could be used as effectively as actors, and sometimes even more so.

While the saying that the camera does not lie is true, behind the camera are the men who manage it and who can create, if they are skilled, an emotional effect, without the actor necessarily portraying that emotion. If, for instance, an untalented actress in the past or today is unable to express frightened surprise, the director can take different shots of her face full face, profile, and finally a close-up of her eyes; and then, by cutting from one to the other, he can produce the emotional effect which the actress was unable to register. Or, a director may turn the camera on an actor's back and show it sagging or stiffening and produce the impression he was unable to get from his face. If the actors do not carry a romantic scene well, the director can shoot from them to a landscape bathed in a full moon and thus increase the romantic atmosphere. The hand of an actor tearing up a girl's photograph may express more poignantly the breaking of a love relationship, than the expression on his face.

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