Here's a letter I wrote applying for the CBS directing fellowship a few years ago. I was not selected, but looking back on it and seeing who they picked I'm not sure I had the right qualifications. Still, I think this statement was valuable for me to write. I'm actually thinking of including it on my reel.
Approach to Directing Statement – RJ Thomas
Through my experience on set, I have learned that a director must not only be an artist, but skilled in time management and communication. The best approach lies in preparing and understanding the material. It is the only way to shape a vision, communicate it to cast and crew and take advantage of the talents they bring to the project.
Commitment to text is an important part of the process. Commitment does not mean blind allegiance to specific words, but rather to the text as a whole. In an ideal world, script changes would be made and discussed early on. But production is a fluid process and creative people will make suggestions until the camera rolls. Great ideas can emerge this way, but it is critical to know what affect an idea will have on the finished project before using it. There are times when a minor change can be a terrific asset, but there are also times when it can create major problems. What feels right for a character or the camera in a particular scene might be dreadfully wrong for the story. It is my job to decide when and if these ideas will work. The only way to do this is to have a consistent and committed knowledge and vision of the text as a whole work.
Working with actors can be rewarding and challenging. I like to give actors an overall direction and then to refine that as we work through rehearsals and they bring ideas to the table. Not only does this benefit the actor’s performance, it can provide me with additional insight into the material and the actor’s working method. If time is sparse, even the quickest table read can provide valuable insight. In series work, where character and motivation are well established, this approach can help a director get into the working dynamic of the show. It is important to go into this process as prepared and committed to the project as possible. A confident and knowledgeable director can inspire actors and draw better performances and ideas out of them. As before, it is my job to decide which ideas work and to make these choices understandable to my cast.
In the same way, being able to communicate and work well with your crew can vastly improve a project. Ideas can come from the Director of Photography, props, make-up, wardrobe or just about anyone. The key is to be alert for ideas that work and ideas that do not. Additionally, when a crew is treated with respect, they will work harder, better and faster -- all of which can improve a project.
My experience directing, in production and as a camera assistant, working with dozens of directors, watching rehearsals and setting up every shot has provided me with a unique and valuable education. In observing the best and the worst, I have learned that a strong artistic vision is important, but preparation and strong communication skills are essential. I’ve had great success applying this to the films I’ve directed and hope to refine this process in the future