Scorsese and cast on “the Departed”
Scorsese and cast on “the Departed”

Scorsese’s career as a director spans over 50 years. When you have such a rich, award-filled career, you can focus most of your time on both casting and directing your actors. It also helps to have the budget to hire a large, talented crew. In fact, Scorsese has had the cream of the crop to work with, including three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson, who won two of his Oscars on Scorsese films (“The Aviator” and “Hugo”). Oscar-winning editor Thelma Schoonmaker has edited all of Scorsese’s films and has also won three Oscars for work on his pictures (“Raging Bull,” “The Aviator,” and “The Departed”). Who wouldn’t want to work with him?

Of course that wasn’t necessarily the case on his first feature. Scorsese shot “Who’s That Knocking at My Door?” over a four year time period that began when he was in film school. With the numerous edits and reshoots, he credits editor Thelma Schoonmaker with making sense of all the footage. It would be curious to ask Mr. Scorsese if he thought that quote also applied to this film.

When most people think of the job description of a director, working with the actors first comes to mind; however, directors do so much more than that.

When most people think of the job description of a director, working with the actors first comes to mind; however, directors do so much more than that. They are responsible for hiring key crew members such as the cinematographer, editor and production designer. The director also interprets the script and is responsible for ensuring that the script is ready for filming and watches over production all the way through the edit. Many films have been re-worked or re-written in the edit suite.

On an independent film, you may have a crew of 5 or 10 instead of 50 to 200. You may not have the budget for a first AD,  who will create your shooting schedule and possibly your budget. Nor will you have their skills to ensure that you keep to that budget and shooting schedule. You may have an inexperienced cinematographer with a really nice camera, so you’re also creating the shot lists and the story boards. You may not have a locations scout or manager, so you may be the one getting all the permits and location releases. I could go on, but I think you probably get the point.

Don’t get me wrong, casting is obviously very important. A bad cast or actors who share no chemistry can certainly ruin a movie. As a director making a low budget, independent film, casting to type or to someone’s personality can go a long way, especially when working with inexperienced actors. But you will have to do so much more than cast. You will need get everyone on the same page making your movie — not a version of theirs. Think of a symphony. Even if you’ve hired the best musicians, you still need to conduct to ensure everyone is playing in unison

W. H. Bourne is a screenwriter and award winning director.

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W. H. Bourne is a screenwriter who is spending her pandemic time working on a screenplay that's an adaptation of a novel.


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