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What Directors Are Made Of

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Daryn Johnson on July 18, 2012 - 9:07 am in General

A while back I watched a television director’s symposium online. There, gathered before me were the immensley talented live directors of the network morning shows, the nightly news, even the director of SNL.

They were discussing the business of directing live television; it’s history, some of the real “game changing” moments, funny stories from the trenches, etc.

Towards the end of the discussion, the moderator – a world class director himself – asked each of them to comment on their reactions to the newly-emerging technology of automated production (already becoming a staple of local news production) and how it would affect their roles as live television directors.

As the shot went wide, showing all of the directors on the panel, I swear I could almost feel what they were thinking: ‘I wish this technology would stay out of network production’ , ‘It’s interesting, but it won’t work with the complexities of our broadcasts’ , ‘Those computers can never truly replace my crew’ .

Whether any of the above-imagined thoughts are true or not, I think, misses the point of what directors are made of.

First and foremost, directors are “feelers”. They have an acute ability to feel – what others are feeling, the mood that needs to be conveyed, the essence of the script, etc. Computers don’t feel. They can, however, help the director convey a feeling, albeit in a way that is more akin to “post production” (more on what I mean in a later blog on directing a live production using automation).

Directors are effective leaders as well and, for better or worse, enjoy leading a flesh and blood crew. I know I do. While my current role is to precode a newscast and take it to air using automation, to me nothing beats having a full crew on your team. Developers of automated production software like to say that, with their system, you alleviate the camera op who misses their shot. To me, guiding that camera operator to get the best shot they can is part of what it’s all about (not to mention the occassional instance where my automated, robotic camera goes haywire).

Directors are also rhythmic and systematic (all while being extremely creative). No matter if it’s a newscast, a sporting event, a concert or a variety show, make no mistake: there is a rhythm to what we do, and we have tried and true systems in place that actually allow us to work outside of those initial systems. I will admit it’s challenging for me to find my rhythm with automation. Not impossible, but just a different feel to everything.

So it’s not about “adapting to change”, or “resisting what’s coming”. It’s about acknowledging that these new technologies are implemented to cut costs, not help us to feel more, or lead better. I think that’s what those directors were collectively feeling that night.

The powers that be have brought to us the crazy dance called automated production.

It’s up to us as directors to find our rhythm.

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