Director as World-Builder

I once had a conversation with an Advertising Director. Before he began directing, he was a copywriter for an agency.

Usually, it is the art director, not the copywriter that chooses directing as his next life. Being a writer myself, I asked him, “Is it true that Art Direction is the better jumping point into directing? Does it have anything to do with the mastery of visuals?”

I remember we were drinking, and some of our friends were singing on the videoke. So in between the birits and the cheers, he said that yes, the art director’s very visual background truly helped. But that doesn’t mean the writer can’t be a director.

Here’s the more memorable part: What’s important, he said, is that as a director, you see the scenes in your head. It is precise in your imagination. And that is how you lead people to that vision.

Well, I didn’t become a director after that conversation, but this weekend, I proved his theory true. I saw three movies: Hugo (yes, I finally got to see it — through my laptop, through a torrent file), Les Miserables, and The Life of Pi. And in all three – it was clear: a director is a world-builder.


Scorsese photographed a la George Melies

The movie Hugo allowed us to see the world through the eyes of a child. The magic of tinkering with mechanical stuff. The magic of discoveries in a train station. The magic to be had with just peering from within the faces of clocks. The magic of movies. The color and characters were so real you can almost smell their world. The old pages of books. The rust of old machines. The smell of bread and flowers. The delight of a kid. The heartbreak of lost dreams. It was so palpable that it seems like a place you’ve visited before and at the same time a new land to explore. Because of the right balance of surreal and reality, Scorsese was able to allow us journey with Hugo, on a ride that was believable and memorable.

Les Mis, in turn, was set in France. However, that was just the physical world Tom Hooper successfully created. On another level, he had to create the world of the musical and make it believable on a different medium. How can people sing on and on and on and still be credible?


Hooper on Set

He had to merge those two worlds and come up with a Les Mis that was its own. What is more difficult is that his material had a following sometimes stronger than cults. He was able to get outstanding performances from his cast, got them to work together, and the result: a Les Mis that not just respects the book and the musical, but one that is able to stand as its own work of art.


Ang Lee instructing his lead actor

Ang Lee instructing his lead actor

In the Life of Pi, India was intricately gorgeous. And the sea – as terrifying as how it would be when I let my imagination run wild when I swim in the sea. In such a surreal setting, the challenge is how to be able to let the humanity – terror, pain, glory and grime – be palpable. This meshes with one of the movie’s themes – can you believe? Not just in the story, but in yourself. In God. In what no one else has seen or can see. At the very least, Ang Lee made me believe in his talent – not least because of the gorgeous visual work.

When you get into a movie you like – as in get into it body and spirit – the movie becomes a country you’ve visited before. It’s in photographs both printed and in your mind’s eye. And yes, you want to visit them again.

If I may add to my director friend’s words, the director isn’t just able to see the world he wants to create in his own mind. He is not only able to communicate this to everyone on his crew. He is not only able to make millions see it as well. He is able to make us all believe – not just that it exists, but that we are also invited.


all photos from google searching. no intention to infringe on any rights.


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