Creating and Talking Tone with Your Team

Creating & Talking Tone with Your Team

March 11, 2023 A DGA Special Projects Committee Event

Tone is probably the strongest element that defines a project and yet, surprisingly, is a topic that is frequently the least discussed on a feature film, pilot, or first season of a television show. On March 11, DGA members interested in learning more about techniques for determining and subsequently communicating this ever elusive but critical aspect gathered in the Guild’s Los Angeles theater for Special Projects Committee event, Creating & Talking Tone with Your Team. In a conversation moderated by Director Valerie Weiss, Directors Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, Karyn Kusama and David O. Russell spoke about what has worked and not worked on their productions.

Following a welcome from DGA Special Projects Committee Chair Jeremy Kagan, the panelists discussed the topic of tone and how it is implemented throughout their projects and shared their ‘secret sauce’ on how to achieve tone through different methods (i.e. music, casting, opening shots, etc).

After thanking the Committee, Weiss began the event by introducing the all-star panel of Directors who she said have made a career out of “navigating the topic of tone expertly.”

Kusama spoke about how tone for her is defined by sound, light, color, the feeling of a conversation, and how all these notions contribute to establishing it on screen. She also shared her experiences working on her feature, Destroyer, and how imitating light naturally was pivotal for the opening shot to set the tone of the film.

Dayton & Faris recalled how humor and finding your team of collaborators are important to establishing tone in a project. They also emphasized the significance of identifying the music for a project from the very start to ensure that it properly catches the feeling of what they want to convey.

Russell shared his experiences gleaned from working on a different range of projects and revealed how for him, casting is crucial to defining tone. He also explained that he feels that the energy and connection of working with the same actors is pivotal when communicating tone in a film.

The panel ended with some thoughts on the types of projects and genres the panelists want to pursue in the future with most expressing an interest in tapping into more comedy.

You can listen to the panel by clicking the podcast episode embedded below. You can find more DGA podcast episodes here.

See video from this event in the gallery below.

About the panelists:
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie FarisJonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Dayton and Faris’s directorial credits include the feature film Battle of the Sexes; the MTV music documentary show, The Cutting Edge; episodes of Mr. Show with Bob and David and Living with Yourself; the pilot and additional episodes of Fleishman is in Trouble; and numerous commercials. They were nominated the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Theatrical Feature Film in 2006 for Little Miss Sunshine. Dayton and Faris joined the DGA in 1996. Both currently serve as members of the Independent Directors Committee and have served as alternates on the Western Directors Council.
Karyn KusamaKaryn Kusama
Kusama’s directorial credits include the feature films Destroyer, The Invitation, Jennifer’s Body, Aeon Flux and Girlfight; episodes of The Mysterious Benedict Society, Dead Ringers, The Consultant, In Treatment, Halt and Catch Fire, The Outsider, Billions and The Man in the High Castle; and the pilot and additional episodes of Yellowjackets. Kusama has been a DGA member since 2004 and currently serves on the Independent Directors Committee and has served on the Western Directors Council and the DGA Negotiating Committee.
David O. RussellDavid O. Russell
Russell’s directorial credits include the feature films, AmsterdamSilver Linings Playbook, I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings, Flirting with Disaster and Spanking the Monkey. He was nominated the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Theatrical Feature Film in 2010 for The Fighter and again in 2013 for American Hustle. Russell has been a DGA member since 1998 and serves on the Theatrical Creative Rights Committee and the Negotiating Committee and has served as an alternate on the DGA National Board.

Valerie WeissDirector Valerie Weiss (moderator)
Weiss’s directorial credits include the feature films, Mixtape, The Archer, A Light Beneath Their Feet and Losing Control; the movie for television, An American Girl Story: Maryellen 1955 Extraordinary Christmas; and episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Echoes, Monarch, Outer Banks, Why Women Kill, Suits, Impulse and Echoes. A DGA member since 2016, Weiss serves as the Director Category Representative of the Women’s Steering Committee and on the Sustainable Future Committee.

About the Special Projects Committee:

Special Projects is the educational and cultural arm of the Directors Guild of America. It provides opportunities for creative exchange with programs for members and industry colleagues to celebrate the history and achievements of its members, advance their professional skills, and prepare them for the technological changes of the future.

Pictures & Video

photos by Elisa Haber

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