Fall 2009

How to Direct Like Paul Feig

The director of The Office and Arrested Development offers some helpful hints that may improve your life on the set. First of all, dress for the occasion.


Harold Ramis
TIPS OF THE TRADE: Feig knows all the director's moves and
is happy to share them with anyone who'll listen.

When I was first asked to write this article, I had visions of sharing profound bits of advice with all of you, sharing epiphanies that no other member of the DGA has ever had about directing during all the years filmmaking has existed, from silent movies to now.

But I don't have any.

In fact, I have no advice to give whatsoever that most of you don't already know. I mean, I've only been directing professionally for 10 years now. I should pretty much be asking all of you for advice.

And so I guess the only subject I can actually write about is the one thing I'm pretty much an expert on: How to direct like me.

Wear a suit and tie, even when it's completely inappropriate — Decide early in your directing career that someone's going to figure out you have no idea what you're doing, so try to make yourself seem more legitimate by always wearing a suit and tie. It's especially great on super hot days when you're shooting out in the woods or at the bottom of a dirt pit. It's also a great way to look like an inexperienced rube at meetings, inviting jeans and T-shirt-wearing studio executives to ask you things like, "Why are you all dressed up?" and "You didn't wear that suit just for me, did you?"

Ruin takes — If you get to work on funny projects with super funny people, they really love it when you stand next to the camera and burst out laughing in the middle of their funniest takes, thus rendering said takes unusable. In doing so, you provide them with an immediate audience, positive reinforcement, and the opportunity to work with you longer than they thought they'd have to.

When you can't be on the set, make sure someone sets up your video village really far away — Actors love directors who yell. They also love to hear a disembodied voice shouting directions regarding sensitive things like emotional intent and performance adjustment from behind two fake walls and an enormous translight. They like it even better if what you're hollering is just loud enough to hear so that they have to shout back, "Wait, what? I couldn't hear you," and "Can you say that again? It's really hard to hear out here."

Don't fight the lure of the craft service table — There's lots of time between setups for you to eat things you would never in a million years consider eating at home or in your personal life. So as often as possible, head over to the craft service table armed with the excuse, "I'm just going to see what they've got." Once you're there, feel free to justify to yourself that you "deserve those two Krispy Kremes" and that you'll "burn off this enormous piece of the script supervisor's birthday cake on set this afternoon." Finally, don't forget to wash it all down with a sugary soda you're only drinking because it's free.

Time your bathroom breaks strategically — Make sure to sit around absentmindedly and chat with your actors right up until the moment the crew finishes the lighting setup. Then, when you're informed that the actors are on the set and ready to shoot, run in a panic to the restroom to take the most expensive pee of your life.

When in doubt, call "Action" — If you look up and see your actors in position on the monitors and decide the crew must have slated while you were checking your BlackBerry, make sure to yell "Action" as loudly as you can. It never makes you look dumb or like you weren't paying attention, even when it turns out that in addition to not slating, the sound department hasn't even called "speed" yet. These moments of confusion on your part instill confidence in you with the cast and crew.

Lose things as often as possible — Crews love it when you constantly misplace things like your script that has all your notes in it or several pairs of Comteks during the course of the day. Nothing makes an overworked 2nd AD happier than having to search around the set for 10 minutes, only to have you announce from a comfortable sitting position, "Oh, nevermind, they're in the pouch of my director's chair."

Never learn how to add the number 6 to the crew call — It's just much easier to ask your AD every couple of hours, "Wait, what time is lunch again today?" than to do the math yourself.

Upset sound as much as possible — Be sure to always try to do a wide shot and a close-up at the same time, even though the sound department has asked you not to do this on multiple occasions in the past. Always receive sound's plea to avoid this setup as if you're hearing it for the first time because, sadly, you sort of are since you always forget you're not supposed to do it.

Always get in the crew's way — Decide that you unintentionally want to stand exactly where the crew needs to do the most work. When you move, make sure to stand in an even worse place, like the doorway they're using to bring equipment in and out of. When you eventually escape to your director's chair, make sure it's seconds before the video village has to be moved to the other side of the set.

Occasionally upset a famous actor — Convince yourself you're really good at your job and that actors love being directed by you, then bring that overconfidence to your work with big-name performers. Only then can you walk onto the set of a new show and do two more setups than the Emmy-winning actor you've never worked with before thinks you need for the scene, prompting him to get in your face and yell, "You've gotta knock it off with this Truffaut shit, man!"

I hope this has been helpful.

Funny Business

First-person columns written by directors about their humorous experiences working in features and television.

More from this issue