Production versus Direction: What’s the difference? by Dave

For a novice attempting to learn the ropes of the film industry, the difference between direction and production is often difficult to establish. Of course, this is not assisted by the commonplace title of “Director and Producer”- erroneously brandished- and I might add, probably indicative of the characteristic “control-freak”- by the likes of Stephen Spielberg, James Cameron, and The Hurt Locker’s Kathryth Bigelow. Will someone help us out here?!

"Stephen Spielberg"

Spielberg

If you run down the list of the Academy Awards you will find the award for “Directing” and countless other technical areas, but nothing for “Production” so to speak. Why? This skill, or roll, is captured in the “Best Film” category. In fact, this gives us a hint into the nature of production itself.

I’m tempted to bring in a definition of “production” from a reputable source like Oxford or Macquarie, but how about we snap one off from the realms of the common man, hey? Production. Production line. Lots of pieces combining into a finished product. Successful product. Purple monkey dishwasher! Okay, this was bound to get out of control eventually. But you grasp my vibe right?

What is Production?

Largely, to produce means to organize and create. In the minds of a cynical few, production simply conjures up an image of dollar signs- pertaining to the fundraising side of the business. This, whilst being a significant and vital part of the role, is only a small aspect of it. The role is akin to consolidation: taking raw materials, be they actors, writers, techincal specialists, or marketing and distribution variables; and combining them into a palatable dish- a sumptuous visual smorgasboard.

"Juggling"

Production is like Juggling

It would be ignorant to suggest this does not involve financial abilities. Let’s face it, the film industry is not cheap. The cliché that “you have to spend money to make money” holds true. Indeed, it is also worth nothing that the film industry is a very speculative industy. Finance is hard to come by, but a producer with a good knowledge of the market can undoubtedly benefit if he or she ‘wins’ at the box office.

In business terms the producer is most like the Chief Executive Officer. The CEO hires personnel, supervises, exercises organisational control, and manages the project from birth to creation. For those planning technicians out there, if we viewed a Gant chart, the producer would have the longest span in the chronology. Here is a link for those uniformed laypeople out there: SHOW ME THE GANTT!.

From a practical standpoint, the producer is more like the business expert, whereas the director is perhaps synonymous with a technician.

What is Direction?

If the producer is the CEO, then the director is the Chief Operating Officer- COO. Whilst there is a significant overlap in the relative responsibilities, it is easy to suggest that the director performs the day-to-day activities of the film production.

I will step out a limb to assert that the director is normally the more creative and insightful of the two- yet this argument is nullified if the same person occupies both offices, obvioulsy. The director will work closely with the writer as the two converge their visions for the one unique outcome.

"Film Direction: a creative role"

Film Direction

Often, directors have background in cinematography and camera work. More recently, actors- usually those with egomania- have taken up the role of director. I struggle not to mention Sylvestor Stallone, yet on second thought maybe he is not the most appropriate example due to his beaming desire to control every possible aspect in the film development- from acting to directing, to singing the backing track. A better example would be Tom Cruise or Mel Gibson.

A director oversees the cast and adopts the role of storyteller. Actors often discuss how “hands-on” a director is. Some are known for their ultimate miro-management and fine-toothed-comb approach but others adopt a more laissez faire style.

I was recently in discussion with Rose from artdepartMENTAL, she summed up direction quite well (in written and visual form):

“If the different departments are seeing a script differently it’s usually the directors fault. It’s their job to make sure everybody is making the same movie. What this diagram displays beautifully is that everyone wants to see things their own way through their departments eyes but in the end it is the directors job to reel everyone in.”

In deciding which role you would be best suited to, you need to ask yourself: am I more interested in getting deep into the creative and technical side of things; or, am I moreso the business man who will see the vision through from start to finish? Alternatively, perhaps you would like to stroke that egomania and just settle on doing both! Either way, enjoy.

To look further into direction, check out the World’s 40 Best Directors suggested by guardian.com.uk!

Tim Dirk also offers some criteria as to the best direction at his site. Check it out here!

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2 Comments on “Production versus Direction: What’s the difference? by Dave”

  1. Sam Says:

    Hello again.

    In reading, I thought I’d provide some helpful information that may or may not alter the direction of your article here.

    There are two types of producing, the first, executive producing. Now this is where the money is. An executive producer has little to do with the film, and a lot to do with financing the film. That’s where it’s more about business etc.

    Producing on its own is a lot more hands on, and they are often there everyday of filming, even helping the director in some cases (if say someone like Spielberg was producing). Yes there is still a lot of business in straight out producing, but there is a bit more to it that most are lead to believe.

    I also thought I’d point out that Tom Cruise has only directed one thing in his life, and that was an episode of a television show called “Fallen Angels.” You may have been referring to his producer side of things, of which he does a lot of. Wasn’t 100% sure, so just thought I’d clarify.

    Thanks!

    • filmstank Says:

      Thanks Sam,

      Yeah I think it’s worth exploring the difference between executive producing and non-executive producing. Perhaps you would like to oversee an article on this topic? 😉 Perhaps we can collaborate. Baby steps!

      I’m going to do some serious biographical research on production. This field of endeavor interests me greatly.

      Dave @ filmstank


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