As per the title, what tactics have worked for you when dealing with difficult directors? Most directors I’ve worked with have been great – creative, collaborative & supportive… but a couple (not recently) made me learn some difficult lessons… I’ll provide a few examples & tactics I have had to resort to… Many, many years ago I worked on a short film about a boys perspective of his mother dying from cancer and the boy would retreat to this old tin shed to process what he was experiencing, so the director wanted a very special ambience for this shed… It was beautifully shot with tiny shafts of light from holes in the tin roof etc.. and I tried a lot of different approaches but nothing would be right as far as this director was concerned – after trying everything in our library, the closest I got was suspending sheets of roofing iron in the foley studio and gently scraping & tapping them, recording the gentle resonant sounds very close up… but what i recorded & edited to show the director still wasn’t right – he liked the approach but not the specific sounds I had chosen… eventually I came to the conclusion the guy was a complete control freak – he worked in advertising and was used to splitting hairs/doing a million takes of a voiceover etc so I decided it was all about him and changed philosophical tack by transferring the creative process to him. He put on the headphones & moved the mic around the roof iron, he performed the scrapes & tapping until he found a sound he liked. I made notes (this was back in the Nagra and 416 days) and then loaded the recordings, seperating out his favourite parts. I showed those to him isolated, then he directed me where to place them…. and within an hour or so the problem scene I’d been struggling with for days was solved. Afterwards I came to the conclusion that what I had done was make him own his decisions and choices. The results were very very similar to what we had previously, but his involvement was what had changed.

Another director I have worked with a few times and I find the process easier now as I am prepared for their approach, but the first time it drove me slightly crazy. I have always been someone who likes to be very well prepared – I would rather turn up to a mix deprived of sleep but with great material, that the director has signed off on etc.. But half way through the final mix this director started having new ideas – like totally different to anything we’d ever discussed for the scene over the previous 3 months. Of course part of the job is to be open to collaboration, no matter when it occurs so I would implement what i could then & there on the dub stage, and/or prep new material at night… But every day i would go home from the mix feeling frustrated – why hadn’t we had these ideas when there was plenty of time to prepare them?? At the time i had a friends drum kit at my studio and I would come home in a slightly foul mood, jump on the drum kit for 15 minutes and it altered my mood completely, the meditative act of pounding out some beats erased my bad mood & I could get to & do the fixes (I’ve owned a drum kit ever since!) The mix eventually finished brilliantly & on schedule, but the second time I worked on a film with this director I knew what to expect – no matter how well prepared I was, or how much exploring of alternative approaches we would try at least once a day in the final mix there would be a brand new idea, requiring new material prep. This was before i had done any studio and/or VFX films, where late changes are not uncommon and its a matter of expecting it to be that way eg having a sound editor on the budget during the final mix to cut fixes etc… So the only thing that changed was my attitude – the director was still the same, but I altered how I perceived new ideas, that maybe this director needed to hear the context of the final mix to have those new ideas, and that they weren’t due to a fault of mine – it was simply their process.

Also like example director #1 this person also would often not sign off on a subjective element unless they saw how I had arrived at it. Often I would have to walk them through all my elements, what I had tried that didnt work etc… and then show them how I arrived at my final version which they signed off on but again the only difference was that i had taken them on the journey of finding/designing that sound – they now understood & owned the decisions involved – it wasn’t me presenting a fait accompli, it was ‘our’ work


So who has driven you crazy & what tactics did you develop/learn from it?