Director’s Guide To Prepping A TV Show by Daniel Stamm

Film Courage: When you sign on to direct a TV show, how much prep time are you given?

Daniel Stamm, Filmmaker/Television Director: Contractually I think they have to give me the script 24 hours before shooting starts. So that’s not a lot really. And it has to do with the fact that I am not expected to have creative input into development for the script. I am being hired to direct what’s on the page. I would say in real terms how that plays out is I have about a week I would say. And I’m coming from a screenwriting background so I have opinions on the script for better or for worse and if I’m right or not is a different thing. But I have the feeling that I’m kind of failing this episode if I’m not voicing my suggestions which I just write up, send to the showrunner and whatever of them they want to incorporate great. Whatever they don’t want to incorporate great. That’s the only time I ever suggest that…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).

Many viewers have asked about the questions Daniel referred to in this video. Daniel has generously provided these questions along with (noted in blue) sample answers for a non-existent project.

36 QUESTIONS BEFORE DIRECTING A SCENE

(with sample answers)

Daniel Stamm, June 2019

1 – Scene number?

* 45

2 – Draft (Date)?

* 3/9/2019

3 – Scene summary? 

* Wedding rehearsal dinner, losing the poodle.

4 – Function / The scene is ‘as if’… / “Make this scene important to me.”?

* Jane’s family mistrusts Jack so much that every casual conversation is basically an interrogation scenario, and he always has eyes on him, as if he’s under surveillance.

5 – For long scenes: Can the scene be broken up into manageable chunks? 

* a. Jack’s arrival b. Jack being bullied c. Jane’s speech.

6 – How is this scene reflecting the theme of the overall movie?

* Overall theme: ‘Family is a state of mind’; Jack is trying to win over Jane’s relatives, still thinking ‘family’ is something he has to accept/be accepted into whole sale. The failure of that will contribute to his later realization that it’s okay to mix-and-match & cherry-pick.

7 – What’s fun about the scene?

* watching Jack’s commitment to remaining calm and collected getting chipped away at.

8 – Question mark(s) within the scene?

* Will Jack and his ex bump into each other? Will Jack remain calm? Will Roger’s seduction attempts pay off?

9 – Central image audience is going to remember / thumbnail for DVD chapter / image we are working towards?

* Jack finally losing it, screaming at little girl, nose to nose, veins popping (profile 2-shot à la Alien 3).

10 – What are the crucial facts the audience needs to understand in this scene? What’s risky? Things to make sure?

*Make sure the audience understands that Jane’s ‘balloon’-joke references Roger’s previous ‘community theater’ remark.

11 – What are each character’s objectives in the scene?

* Jack: prove to Jane that her family will not break him; Jane: make her family love Jack; Roger: prove his manliness to his brother; Little girl: find her poodle.

12 – What are each character’s conflicts in the scene? 

* Jack: trying to remember anger-management mantras; Jane: nose bleed; Roger: overcoming social anxiety, Little girl: overbearing mother.

13 – Whose POV are we experiencing the scene from?

* From Jack’s POV.

14 – Whose scene is it? Who or what are we told something about? (as opposed to POV)

* Jane’s family, especially her brothers.

15 – Progression in character arcs & relationships?

* Jack realizes Jane’s family will never accept him, decides to stop trying & grows from a child begging for acceptance into an independent adult; Jane appreciates her oldest brother for the first time in years.

16 – How are the location and production design a character in this scene?

*Tasteful opulence, reminding everybody how much Jack doesn’t belong. 

17 – How is the lighting a character in this scene? 

*Practicals on the tables create bright orbs of light, supporting the ‘police interrogation’ feel during specific conversations; bright spotlight during speech is literally putting Jack ‘on the spot.’

18 – How is the sound a character in the scene?

*All the marble and the sheer size of the hall create echoes/an acoustic hollowness that underscores how stiff & sterile the world of Jane’s family is.

19 – Possible activity for each character and what that tells us about them?

* Jack trying to fix his tie throughout (he’s a fish out of water in a costume), Jane is dealing with her nose bleed, Roger can be drinking furiously, the little girl is spreading treats.

20 – How do you want the audience to feel at the end of the scene?

*Relieved; proud of Jack, in love with Jane, sorry for Roger, disgusted with Jane’s family.

21 – What’s the overall tone/energy/rhythm of the scene?

*Breathless

22 – What’s the way to shoot this that reflects best what is felt?

* Lots of POVs of Jack (prey about to get attacked), handheld to emphasize he can’t find stable footing in this environment. Long-lens shots of Jack from far away & several angles, as if he’s getting stalked by predators. 

23 – What are 2 possible other approaches to shooting this?

*Having a steadicam relentlessly circle around him so we feel his confusion and vertigo.

24 – What’s the fastest way to shoot this scene?

*Instead of Jack moving around, keep him seated in one place and let people come to him.

25 – What would it be like to shoot segments of this in one shot?

*See above: circling steadicam, or dolly move parallel with Jack, shooting conversations in profile 2shots. 

26 – Add an interesting idea or composition / camera movement?

*Add low-angle POV of the poodle sitting under the table; pivot camera increasingly, mirroring Jack’s losing his balance and restraint.

27 – Ideas for transitions into and out of the scene?

* In: match cut on wine being poured into glass; out: hard cut to black.

28 – Anything that needs to be researched?

*Dress code for upscale wedding rehearsals, music.

29 – Experiences from your own life or other movies that would be helpful?

* (Poodle:) Yoko losing her turtle in 4th grade; (wedding rehearsal:) FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL.

30 – What are you nervous about/unsure of? Any tweaks to the dialogue that would help

* Is Betty’s jargon slightly over the top?

31 – Questions to ask writers/producers/showrunner?

* How broad do they see the comedic tone during the chase sequence?

32 – Questions & notes for department heads? 

* Costume: what’s the appropriate fashion? Production Design: keep color palette de-saturated, provide table lamps for camera; Camera: create interrogation look; Props: utensils need family crest engraved; Make up: test nosebleed effect.

33 – Does the scene need rehearsals in advance? On set? What do you need to rehearse? 

* Improvise the moment right before the scene starts with Jack (him getting the speeding ticket); have little girl and dog meet and get to know each other.

34 – Where are the beat changes in the scene? What are potential action verbs for each character? (‘to attack’, ‘to persuade’, ‘to flatter’ etc) 

*See attached scene (not included in sample questionnaire).

35 – What could the blocking look like? 

*See attached floor plan (not included in sample questionnaire).

36 – Storyboard the scene with stick figures! 

*See attached storyboards (not included in sample questionnaire).

 

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