2009 Directors Special Report: Daniel Kleinman

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What's the best lesson you've learned about directing?
The number two best bit of advice I can give is to surround yourself with people who are great at their job, preferably better than yourself anyway. The key figure is a DP. More than likely we can all frame a shot up or shine a light on a plate of beans, but it always amazes me when a cameraman sets up a shot and finds a frame that just looks so much better than I imagined. I secretly think, Wow I'm glad he's here. When he comes up with a look that nails the atmosphere you can say to the agency, "Yes this is what I've always had in mind, good isn't it?" Same with the other departments like costume, for instance. I can just about dress myself but the expertise of someone who really knows clothes, who cares about the difference between a roll neck and a tank top will add a nuance of excellence to the visual. A great casting director is important if you don't want to go mad looking at every actor available in the world but would rather see a short list of perfect, on-the-button casting. The number one best bit of advice is once you have surrounded yourself with top people in their own field, listen to what they say and be open to changing your preconceptions of the film. If it's different to how you saw it, it may well be better, not worse.

What do you wish you'd known when you were just starting out as a director?
Through experience one learns what is realistically achievable without sacrificing quality. It may be better to rein in your creative vision and do a slightly simpler version exceptionally well than have substandard material because you took on more than you can chew. If the pictures in your head require a five-day shoot, but it's crammed into one day, for example, you may get it all shot but the odds are such great compromises will have to have been made that the end result will be too disappointing to you and your client, despite how great it was when you ran it in your imagination beforehand. Of course it's important to have ambition, to squeeze every last drop of potential out of a production, but if you can only afford an extra for a part, don't rely on them to give a great performance. But you must also balance out a desire for perfection with creating enough material to make the editing process a creative pleasure rather than a frustrating one. I'd rather have ten different good shots than only one great one—it's difficult to make a film with just one shot. It's a question of balance I wish one could intuitively know. Some people do, perhaps. I learned through making my own mistakes on music videos many years ago. Luckily by burying the careers of some of the bands whose videos I screwed up with, I performed a public service by curtailing the infliction of their ghastly 1980's oeuvre on the ears of the world. A great commercial script, for me, is one that is at its core simple, a nice clear concept that can be elaborated on. A great idea done with scant resources is more attractive to me than a vastly ambitious idea that requires piles of cash and may be a bit limp in the end anyway. But a great idea with tons of cash is always welcome.

Watch some of Daniel Kleinman's spots

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