From the preposterously prolific Mr Neil Gaiman: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” Which, unfortunately, is not the quote as I remembered it as I was composing this blog post. Anyhow, if someone can lend me some twine I’ll tie a link that holds up to half a glance of scrutiny.

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the position of directing a story that is yours, then your only job is for you to tell that story. Great, so far so tautological.

More twine please vicar… You have just watched your 8 minute master piece with a close circle of trusted film colleagues. There’s a pause for for stretching as the lights come back on and you wander up to the front and say, so what did you think? And the flood gates up and you are inundated with thoughts, ideas, outrage… anything. And every single one of those notes is correct for that person- if they were directing the film.

What is going on here? As a viewer we are always trying to work out what is happening on screen, compiling data and telling the story to ourselves in our heads. When watching a work-in-progress, in a effort to be helpful, people are especially sensitive to any road bumps they experience in this storytelling process. After viewing the film they then consciously or unconsciously thread these speed bumps together to rework the film for how it would work best for them.

Sitting there at the front of your trusted filmmaker colleagues, in addition to managing all your own doubts and defensiveness,  you have to work the information coming at you through two filters: 1) their special sensitivity 2) reworking as their film.

The special sensitivity can be dealt with quite simply: listen to a group of people, don’t let anyone person dominate the conversation, play people off against one another, take notes and then try to work out which speed bumps are relevant to your story and which ones are only relevant to the story everyone else is telling.

The reworking filter mostly has to do with the solutions people offer up. It’s easy to say that you should just put a big fat red line through all of them, but you’ll piss people off and you might miss something good. So you need to go through each and every one and consider it and the problem it is purportedly fixing. Then if you agree that it’s a problem, it’s your job to come up with a solution that fixes it, which might be the solution suggested, but probably won’t be.

So why do this? I’ve always found that sitting in a room with a group of people watching your film is the closest you can get to viewing your own film with fresh eyes and after weeks of editing, you need that. You need to be tested, you need to see if the story you in your mind is making it into the minds of the people watching it. Because if it isn’t, you aren’t telling your story and as a director, you aren’t doing your job.