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Sets Provide on-the-Job Training for Actors-Turned-Directors

First-time Directors Depend on Their Crew

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash had never directed a feature before they co-helmed “The Way, Way Back.” The duo were known primarily as actors — Faxon starred on Fox’s “Ben and Kate,” Rash on NBC’s “Community.” But armed with Oscars for co-writing “The Descendents,” they were eager to execute a tour de force tracking shot of 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) being introduced to the wonders of the Water Wizz park by his new boss for the summer, Owen (Sam Rockwell).

“When you’re writing it, you think, ‘This is going to be amazing!’ ” says Rash. “But once you see the physical steps involved to make that happen you think, what else have you got?”

Fortunately, Faxon and Rash were able to rely on the experience of veteran cinematographer John Bailey (“American Gigolo,” “The Big Chill”), who helped them break it down into three separate Steadicam shots, preserving the scene’s feeling of seamless forward momentum, if not the “wow” factor.

“With his help, we were able to comb through the entire script and make choices that worked for us creatively and also realistically fit into our tight 25-day schedule,” says Rash.

Lake Bell, writer-director-producer of “In a World … ,” also came to understand the critical role of her crew. After 11 years as an actress, including TV series “Boston Legal” and “Childrens Hospital,” she knew pre-production was vital, so she took pains to pick her art department crew a year before cameras rolled.
But nothing could prepare her for the rigors of post-production.

“I thought that I would take maybe three months to edit and move on to the next thing; seven months later, I was still at it,” recalls Bell, who also stars in the movie. “The sound mix, color correction and all of the other post-production is really a delicate and nuanced process. Post is very isolating, and you have to inject air into it in order to have fresh eyes and not get stuck.”

To keep himself on track during the three-month shoot for his feature directorial debut, “Dear Eleanor,” Kevin Connolly would refer to the “look book” he assembled with the film’s production designer Chase Harlan, using images that illustrate the film’s story about two teen girls traveling across the U.S. during the chaos of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“I always had it in a backpack so I could look at it and remember what I was doing,” says Connolly, who co-starred on HBO’s “Entourage” and directed several episodes of the series.

Initially, Australian actor Kieran Darcy-Smith (“Animal Kingdom”) had trouble communicating the look he wanted for his directorial debut, “Wish You Were Here,” to his production designer Alex Holmes. “It was touch-and-go for the first three weeks” says Darcy-Smith, who co-wrote the script with his wife (and co-star) Felicity Price. “Then it must have been something I said, and he suddenly went, ‘Right! You like hard dark lines against softer paler backgrounds.’ Then he came in with all these images and I said, ‘That’s it!’”

Baltasar Kormakur, director of “2 Guns,” learned filming techniques during his days as a thesp. “I asked the d.p.’s about lenses when I was working,” he says, “so when I started directing I had already gathered a lot of information.”

But understanding the technical aspects of filmmaking is not as important as having a good grasp on the story, says helmer Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”), who rose to fame as one of the stars of the TV series “Chicago Hope.” “There are so many talented crew members out there, whether it’s visual effects, cameramen or composer,” he says. “If you can make them understand the story you want to tell, you’ll probably be OK.”

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