It is a bit of a cliché to say surround oneself with really talented people, but it couldn't be more true. When I began in this business it felt as though a starting pistol had just went off. It was all a bit of a blur at first, but over time I was able to build a core group (DP's, production designers, editors, wardrobe etc.) that shared in a similar sensibility. Stability in key positions is really important, for example with your producer. It allows for a short hand that makes the process a great deal more efficient with better results. You will inevitably be spending a great deal of time with these people, many times under challenging conditions. It helps if you actually like them.
What do you wish you had known when you were just a wee director?
Try to never forget your most basic creative instincts, when that little voice inside your head says, "I like that." It really is that simple. The difficult part is to tune out all the outside distractions of the process itself so that you are in the moment and creative. I would also say that when you first start out, you don't have to pretend to have all the answers. Your knowledge of craft will catch up with your core sensibility in good time. Rick Rubin is a great producer but doesn't play an instrument or even touch the mixing board in the studio. Does he always have a strong take on things? I would have to say yes. For me personally there is a corollary to drawing or painting as a kid. My ideas and creative notions weren't attached to a career or even anyone else's approval or adulation (OK, maybe a little bit). That was a lot simpler time and headspace for all of us—there wasn't any money or career attached to the process. If you can hold onto a small piece of it you are going to do all right in the big scary here and now. There is no right answer to this question because everyone's process is different and many people arrive at amazing results in their own idiosyncratic way.
What are you still trying to figure out about the job?
A good idea is a good idea. The trick is to know what material has the potential to be elevated and what stuff is unsalvageable. I'm still trying to figure out this quandary myself.When I work out the exact formula, I'll get back to you.
Watch some of Dante Ariola's spots
Read more from the 2009 Directors Special Report