How to find your direction

“You get lost in things as you start to figure out the mechanics of how a story can work… It can be very hard to remember what it is you were trying to do, in a bigger sense.”
- Christopher Nolan

This week I’ve been working on my next feature, which I’m both writing and directing.

To overcome the fear of starting I’ve set myself a deadline.

The film premieres December 20, 2024.

454 days from today.

I thought it’d be fun to share the process with you over the next 15 months in real time.

My first challenge is to figure out where we’re going.

Finding our direction.

This is something I’ve struggled with in the past.

I dive into a project with an idea, or an image, or a funny scene, and I start writing.

I stumble around in the dark.

I write “cool stuff,” instead of focusing on the character’s journey.

And once scenes are written I get locked into that specific vision of the story.

I wanted a tool that could help me find my way in the dark.

A reminder of why I’m making this film when things get hairy.

The North Star

This idea came to me from two sources:

Christopher Nolan talks about how he writes a simple, one page document that captures what the story is about at its core, and why he’s telling it.

This is the heart of the story.

He then revisits this page throughout the filmmaking process to remind himself of what he’s trying to make. It helps him find his way when he feels lost.

Filmmaking is intense.

There will come a time when you feel lost too.

Whether it’s 14 hours into a shoot day, or on the sixth cut of a scene that won’t work.

You’ll ask yourself - why am I doing this?

That’s when this document becomes worth its weight in gold.

I found Lisa Cron’s list of questions in “Story Genius” helpful for giving the document some structure:

  • What was the initial spark for the story? If you are coming to a story someone else wrote, what was your gut reaction?
  • What excites you about it?
  • What it is about at its core?
  • Why you’re telling this story?
  • What is your North star in creating this story?

I’m hoping this page will provide two things for me on my next feature:

  1. A reminder of why I’m telling this story and what got me excited about it.
  2. A direction for when I eventually get lost when we’re in the thick of it.

Let’s dissect these two.

You only get one shot

Wild Boys screening

The theatre is packed.

Our friends, family and supporters are about to watch Wild Boys for the first time.

Their first experience of watching the film is going to be completely different from my 1358th time.

I know it like the back of my hand.

Every shot, every cut, every line of dialogue.

I’ve agonized, analyzed and overthought every decision.

The experience they are about to have I had five years earlier.

I wish I’d captured how I felt in that moment, because now I’m just nervous as hell.

That’s where I start with my North Star one-pager.

Capturing my initial gut reaction.

Unfiltered, no judgement.

I try turning off my film nerd brain and do a free writing session. I write down what it is about this story that makes me want to obsess over it.

A voice note, or a video of yourself talking works great too.

This doesn’t have to be pretty. Probably shouldn’t be.

We’re capturing raw material here.

We only get one chance at being first time audience members to our own films.

We need to capture that feeling, excitement, and experience we one day hope our fans will have when the credits roll.

The tone I’m going for is as if I was talking to my best friend who loves the same movies as me. I imagine I’m telling my friend why they HAVE to go watch it.

This is also a great gut check for whether you should make this movie at all.

For me I need to feel at least an inkling of obsessive excitement.

If I’m going to spend months and years with this thing I better be its #1 fan.

I want my North Star to be full of excitement and positivity, because I know that’s what I’ll need down the road.

We could go on a metaphor about dating here.

But I don’t want to. You don’t want to.

Let’s not.

Where are we going?

Our second goal is to give future [FIRST NAME GOES HERE] some clear and simple directions.

This can become a bit film school/high school writing assignment-y.

Don’t let it.

Be honest and vulnerable.

You’re the only person that needs to see this document if you don’t feel like sharing it.

It’s tough questions time:

  • What it is about at its core?
  • Why you’re telling this story?
  • What is your North star in creating this story?

In answering these three question, I found that my first answer was often surface level. I didn’t get to the heart of the matter.

I forced myself to dig deeper, kept asking “why?” until I found an answer that felt true and honest.

I was looking for an answer that could drive the story from start to finish.

It’s ok if it takes a few drafts to get to the core of what your story is (or is going to be.)

With a first draft of our North Star in hand we can forge on. Throughout the process we can revisit it to give ourselves a direction check.

Am I going where I thought I was going?”

If the answer is no, you should either adjust to get back on track, or rewrite your North Star to better suit the new direction.

Either way it’s a valuable check-in.

We are Guardians

Where I’m most excited about using the North Star is when I start collaborating with other team members.

Bombarded with questions, ideas and opinions we have to navigate a course that stays true to our North Star.

We have to become Guardians of the Story’s Heart.

A director who can’t answer questions, filter ideas and guide their team to all pull in the same direction is not doing the job of a director.

With the North Star we have a clear, concise and simple way of sharing our vision.


Having a simple, one-page document that spells out the core of your story and why you’re telling it is invaluable. It provides clear directions for yourself, and everyone who help you tell your story.

Answer these five questions to create yours.

  • What was your gut reaction to the story (or idea)?
  • What excites you about it?
  • What it is about at its core?
  • Why you’re telling this story?
  • What is your North star in creating this story?

I hope this helps you on your directing journey.