Tags: /

Programs Thu 9.5.2019

Guest Post: You Can’t Become a Better Director By Not Directing

The below piece originally ran in August of Last year. The non-Member deadline to apply to the 2020 Film Independent Directing Lab is October 22. Below, 2018 Directing Lab Fellow Ryan Velásquez recounts his experience in the Lab..


Directing is a tricky craft to become an expert at, to gain those elusive 10,000 hours, mostly because the opportunity to hone and practice one’s craft is so rare. Writing may be the hardest thing to do in all of filmmaking. But at the very least, no one can ever stop you from opening up your laptop and logging your hours in Final Draft, writing script after script to get better.

In contrast, most of my time is spent not on directing, but on trying to get the next project greenlit. All that time writing, creating pitch decks, making connections with producers and financiers… it’s all just to get on set again, to make a movie, become a better director and then make the next one. And why? So we can finally be good enough to make something truly great. And that’s what every director I know is trying to do: make great art. No one gets into filmmaking because they want to make something shitty. They do it because they love film, they love stories and the want to make something that speaks to someone else’s soul and says, “Hey, you’re not alone in this world.”

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my relatively short time doing this, directing is like any other thing you do—whether that’s cooking, playing soccer or learning how to salsa. You have to do it more to get better at it. There’s no other secret to it. I’m better at pan-frying chicken today than I was in college, when all I knew was how to throw the stove on high heat and call it a day. And I’m a hell of a lot better at directing now that I’ve directed enough stuff to have made mistakes, learn from them, had some successes, and learn from them as well. You cannot become a great director by not directing.

Ryan Velásquez (second from right) on the set of the 2015 Project Involve short ‘Drowning’

Let’s rewind for a second. Like many people I know, I didn’t come to directing film from the theater, where working with actors is paramount. I came from making short films—both before and then during film school—and then creating a shit-ton of online branded and commercial video content. Because of this, cinematography, editing and the visual language of film has always been my strong suit. I’ve always felt more comfortable talking to a DP about what a shot should look like than an actor on how he or she should play a scene.

This is where the Directing Lab came into play. Even before I got in, I always looked at the Lab as a playground, or workshop, to gain hours working on honing my craft as a director and—this is very important!—to have the freedom to fail. Since the opportunity to direct can be so infrequent, it can be hard for me to explore my creative process on set. Most often, I instinctively just fall back on old-patterns of behavior I know work. But, I really wanted to be a better director. So, I went into the Directing Lab specifically to do that: to build up my hours getting my hands dirty with actors, in an environment that would help support and nurture. And boy, did I get all that and more.

Shooting ‘Drowning’

What I discovered was an entirely new world of emotional language in terms of communicating with actors, one that I only had a vague idea existed prior to the Directing Lab. It was like learning that Spanish existed when I’d only known English my entire life! In one workshop, I watched how speaking this new language completely unlocked two actors’ performances in a way I could only have dreamed of before. As far as my creative process goes, it was truly a “before-the-Lab” and “after-the-Lab” kind of thing.

Not to say that the Lab solely focuses on working with actors. It doesn’t. Others in the Lab came in feeling super-confident in their ability to work with actors, but wanting to get better at working with DPs—and they got that. The Lab is a place for you to focus on whatever it is that you think you need to get better at to become the director you want to be, to be able to tell the stories you want to tell. Thanks to it, I’m that much closer to being the one I want to be and telling the stories I want to tell.

Ryan Velásquez is a 2018 Film Independent Directing Lab and 2014 Project Involve Fellow. Watch his 2014 PI short Drowning below:

To learn more, please visit his website. Velásquez is also the director of our 2016 promo video, which you can watch below or on our YouTube channel:

The non-Member deadline to apply for the 2020 Film Independent Directing Lab is October 22. The extended Member deadline is November 5. To learn how to become a Member of Film Independent, click here.

Tags: /