Oblivious of the towering Nazi being positioned before me, I shade my eyes (far right) to peer between the Velcro flaps of the monitor, glowing promissory note of the film to come.
Interesting watching myself at work on THE NORTHLEACH HORROR. A few students and ex-students were on the shoot, and one or two said afterwards they could see me putting into practice stuff that I’d taught them. I rather felt I was guilty of ignoring a lot of it, particularly when it comes to the monitor.
I had opted to save money by only getting a small monitor. Money was tight, so I can’t regret the decision. But if I were doing it again I might try to save money elsewhere and go large. I’m somewhat in thrall to Richard Lester and Steven Soderbergh’s view of the monitor, which is to see it as a kind of devil incarnate. It puts the centre of attention and energy in the wrong place, to paraphrase Soderbergh. And a director glued to the monitor is at one remove from the actors.
But Lester and Soderbergh both operate the camera themselves. Lester says that when you see a good performance coming at you down the lens, you just KNOW. I’m getting more and more confident about knowing when a performance is right, but as I don’t operate (Lester worked with multiple cameras, doing the master shot — the easiest to operate — himself, whereas Soderbergh is his own director of photography), I rely on some other means of observing. Sidney Lumet, shunning the monitor, recommends watching the actors live but from as close as you can get to the camera’s position — right under it, if possible. This does give you a great rapport with the actors, but is second-best compared to watching on a screen the actual movie as you record it.
I did make a point of trying to get from the monitor to the cast after every take. That’s a vital moment when the actors need to know, at once, if you’re going again, and why. Instant communication with them comes before everyone else on the set — though the 1st AD and the DoP will learn from overhearing whether you need another take. I try to begin the comment with “We’ll do one more, and this time –” from which everyone can glean the information needed to prepare for what comes next. Being glued to the glowing screen can make delay this process.
Marianne Sagebrecht told a story about working with Danny De Vito, actor and director, on THE WAR OF THE ROSES. Sat at table for a dinner scene with him, she found him peering at a small monitor clasped between his chubby thighs. She was struggling to get the attention of the actor playing a scene with her because he was also the director and he was trying to watch it at the same time. I think that’s a misuse of the device. Jerry Lewis famously developed playback so he could check out scenes he was acting in, but he didn’t, so far as I know, attempt to watch them live. Of course, replaying a scene takes time — on at least one occasion I shot a retake rather than replay the shot, because it takes the same amount of time and you end up with more material. (Set-up time is essential, but it’s the filming time that you’re left with in the edit.)
Note: THE NORTLEACH HORROR has raised around £3,000 of its £5,000 target! Go here to contribute.