Spring 2017

Practicing 'Process' from the Inside Out

A veteran producer gets closer to the action with Unforgettable


Denise Di Novi, center, says in making the transition from producer to director, "there's relentless pressure to make decisions at a pace that keeps the machine moving." (Photo: Karen Ballard/Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Am I crazy to do this? Take this risk?" These were the thoughts swirling through my head the night before production started on my first film as a director.

I'd been producing films for over 20 years and had made over 40 films of every style, shape and size with directors at every level. But now I wanted to tackle something I'd always wanted to do. Nerves aside, there were things that made me feel secure about the transition. I had been a hands-on producer, developing and originating material, on set every day in production. I was most often a creative partner to the director, and felt my most important task was to support their vision. But now it was my vision that would be supported by producers I had worked with and trusted.

I reminded myself why I loved movies to begin with: Storytelling, experiencing life through another's eyes, crying and laughing, and empathizing with characters had always been something I was drawn to. In my heart, I wanted to step closer to being the storyteller and was fortunate to be at a place in my career where I could create the opportunity.

It didn't take long for me to get my rhythm and realize that it's the greatest job in the world. However, a few things quickly became clear. First, it's hard—not brain surgery hard, but hard in that there's relentless pressure to make decisions at a pace that keeps the machine moving.

Once shooting starts, the director is the ship's captain. Focus is essential. Making a wrong or hasty decision on the smallest detail can bite you in the ass months later, oftentimes in the cutting room. I did not appreciate how demanding the job really was until I did it myself.

Producers are problem solvers, so my past experience helped me tremendously as a director and allowed me to make things work on a tight budget and schedule to a far greater degree than if it had been my first time on a set. Having a broad understanding of "the process" and working closely with studios enabled me to get through production efficiently, but without taking away from the final version of the film.

The most startling adjustment was the solitude of the cutting room. Being on set is like the best dream version of high school. All your friends are doing stuff they love, and you get to see them every day. The cutting room was just me and my editor, and I wasn't prepared for the isolation. But, as I got through the first cut, I grew to love the process—the intimacy of being alone with the movie, and discovering with the editor what it's meant to be.

Once I delivered the movie, people asked me, "Do you want to direct again?"

My answer? Yes, yes and yes again!

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