Through Make Your Own Break I’ve produced and consulted on dozens of independent film and theater productions, generally working with actors and writers looking to create a calling card to get their work noticed. Oftentimes these creatives are at a loss when it comes to choosing the right director for their production. The first thing I usually suggest is to start with the people you know and have access to. Talk to your friends, peers, classmates and colleagues. Have any of them produced their own productions? Or have they worked on any independent projects with a director they loved? Reach out to your network and you may be surprised at what you find.
Needless to say, if you are in “the industry” you are probably going to the theater and film festivals frequently to stay inspired, to stay in the loop, to support your friends and to network. Even if you don’t have a project on the go, take note of the work that resonates with you and start building relationships with the people you want to collaborate with. That way the connections are already in place for when you need them. Read theater, festival and film reviews. It’s not only important to experience the director’s work first hand, it’s also important to see how the work lands on others. Reviews are also a good place to find out about directors you are not yet familiar with.
If you find someone whose work resonates with you while at an event or festival, talk to them, talk to the cast and producer(s) if possible. Find out as much as you can about their experience, process and philosophy. Collaboration is not only about liking someone’s work, it’s about compatibility and being able to work closely together to breathe life into a story. No matter how talented a director may be, you need to work with someone who gets you and is on the same page with your vision.
There are several things to take into account when selecting the right director for your production: what is the genre of your piece? Comedic? Dramatic? Classical? Movement based? Improv based? Experimental? What stage of development are you at? What are the needs of the production? What is your budget? Keep in mind you may not want to approach a director too early on before you have resources to move forward with the production, they may not take you seriously. However, you do want to put feelers out early enough to gauge their rate so you know you have enough in the budget to cover their rate.
There are so many factors involved in putting up a production that talent and passion are not always the deciding factors for who you hire – many times relationships are. What kind of resources do they have to bring to the project? Do they have relationships with actors and crew? Access to equipment? venues? press? distribution outlets?
When putting my solo show together I initially asked an acting teacher of mine to direct me, he was fabulous and I loved working with him. As things progressed I found the perfect theater for my needs, willing to let me perform on off nights when their main productions didn’t have shows to keep my costs down. The owner of the theater and I started chatting and it turned out I saw a play he directed at another venue a year prior, and LOVED his work. I asked him if he’d be interested in directing my show and we negotiated a deal on the spot. A lump sum that included 1) the theater rental for the show, 2) his direction and 3) two weeks of rehearsal time in the small theater space (the venue had 2 spaces). Because I was able to make a package deal with one person who was now invested in my production (putting his name on as director), I saved a considerable amount of money, rather than having to pay 3 separate people – a director, a rehearsal space and a theater. I regretfully informed my acting teacher of what transpired, and he understood the situation completely. Although I felt bad, we hadn’t negotiated any rates, dates or details so it was early enough for me to go in another direction without breaking a contract or destroying a friendship.
We all have different goals with our artistic endeavors, before you begin your search you have to be clear on what you intend to accomplish with your production. The more clear you are, the easier it will be to align with the right people. One thing that has always led me towards success is this – don’t overlook the ‘low hanging fruit’ – the people you already know and have access to. Sure the dream is to work with Spielberg or Tarantino but don’t forget there are so many talented people out there just like you, that just haven’t had a shot to prove themselves yet. Finding a team of collaborators that you can grow with while supporting each other is always worth the investment. Look how many superstars always work with the same people over and over again, it’s not a coincidence they stick with the friends who supported them before they were superstars.