The key to communicating like a pro

The number one skill a director needs to master is communication.

Funny enough, it's also the number one thing I’ve experienced directors sucking at.

Back in TCTA #4 we talked about the Art of Giving Notes. A big part of a director’s job is giving notes in some shape, way or form. One of my main points was that we need to be kind and we need to be honest.

Today let’s talk about the one thing that brings kindness and honesty together - clarity.

Clarity wins every time

I used to love coming up with clever shit.

A twist on a word play. An unexpected connection. A reference for the initiated only.

The script for Wild Boys was so packed with Lord of the Rings references it was embarrassing.

Still, when my best friend commented that he liked the Gimli reference late in the third act, I was like -





And completely useless if you’re trying to communicate as a director.

Our jobs are to get ideas from ourselves, via our collaborators, onto a screen and into our audience’s heads.

That’s leaves a lot of room for error.

When we are clear we make everyone else’s jobs easier. When our DP understands our vision, they can craft an image that supports the story. When an editor understands a character’s intention, they can figure out the best way to cut a scene.

You get the idea.

We have to resist the urge to satiate our egos with cleverness.

Stop showing off how smart we are and get the message across without any bullshit.

I find writing helps me with clarity. Writing down my ideas exposes the flaws, how surface level my thinking is and where I need to strengthen an argument to get the meaning across.

A tool that’s helped me with simplicity and clarity is a free, online word processor called Hemingway. Paste in your writing and the app will tell you what school grade it’s appropriate for (aim for 6 or lower) as well as some useful tips on how to simplify and strengthen your writing.

Playing the game on hard makes everything easier

In her book Dare to Lead, Dr. Brené Brown argues that being clear is kind and being unclear is unkind.

It’s unreasonable for us to hold our department heads accountable for standards and expectations we haven’t clearly established.

In my day job working in post production on Hollywood films and tv shows I’ve seen countless examples of directors throwing blame and bad-mouthing people because they didn’t deliver what they envisioned.

In every instance their egos or inaptitude prevented them from acknowledging their own part in the mess.

Most people working on movies want to help the director. They come pre-filled with trust.

Unkind behaviors like what we just discussed erodes that trust in seconds.

If you want to be a creative leader, {first name}, you need to do better.

Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind.
- Dr. Brené Brown

I’ve seen both sides of this:

  1. The director who avoids hard conversations because they want to be nice and well liked.
  2. The director who makes everything a conflict and behaves like an absolute ass.

Being a great communicator requires you to tackle those hard conversations without being an ass.

To achieve this we need to start way before the need for those difficult chats arises.

Remember directors are Head of Vibes.

We set the tone for how we want our productions to run.

When we show up willing to put our ego aside, with an open mind, leading with curiosity and generosity, our teammates follow.

This is hard work.

A lot of times it’s terrifying.

But it is totally worth it.

Embrace vulnerability

We ask our cast and crew to create something and share something they pour their souls into.

Especially when we work with actors we talk a lot about vulnerability.

Actors show up with an amount of courage most directors can only admire.

We are asking them to trust us with their vulnerability.

To earn that trust we need to be vulnerable in return.

Brave directors lean in when their instincts tell them to throw up walls.

They listen more than they talk.

They ask questions rather than giving orders.

And when they share their vision they do so with clarity.

In the end this comes down to becoming comfortable with being yourself.

We can all tell when someone is putting on a mask and when they’re being authentic.

In the long run it will always be easier for you to be yourself.

But in the beginning it’s scary as hell.

Let’s make authenticity a daily practice in our work.

It’ll not only make us better directors, but I have a sneaky feeling our films will be better for it as well.


Clarity is king.

I hope that’s clear by now.