How To Write A Directors Notes For The First Time

Putting Your Film Vision Onto Paper

I recently became jobless and what opened up for me, after I managed to navigate the 5 stages of grief, was a whole lot of time to work on myself as a filmmaker. This included discovering what skills I needed to develop to become a better Director and something that I didn’t even think about was reading scripts. It seems so obvious when you say it aloud but my mind has always focused on the on-set aspects of the role, talking actors through scenes, making sure to know how to be a decision maker and a leader. But of course no one even gets to the set without a script.

And scripts don’t often turn into films without the Director having a vision for that script. So how does that happen? Well… with Directors notes. A Directors Notes or Treatment is a document that explains your film, why you’re making it and who you’re making it with. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor’s short film script to create my very first Directors notes without pressure and with constructive guidance. So I thought it would be valuable to share some of the things I picked up during this exercise with anyone else out there who is writing a Director’s Notes for the first time too.

Connect With The Story

This is the most important of the things I learnt because as a Director if you don’t connect to the story than what is even the point at trying to make the film in the first place. However, don’t discount that sometimes it takes time to find that connection. At first I wasn’t 100% sure I did connect to the script I was working with, then as I wrote my notes it became apparent how there were actually quite a lot of themes within it I personally resonated with. Having a solid connection to the script you are writing notes for will help immensely because ultimately your notes are the basis with which you will sell your vision to others and your connection to the story is the foundation for that.

Be Able to Summarise the Themes and Topics

When it comes to summarising your film to people knowing the main themes and/or topics it explores will become important. This part kind of reminded me of writing film theory essays at University, but having the skill to critically view a piece of work and extract the key elements will become invaluable when it comes to writing about your own work. You may not even think your script has themes or an overall message, but 9 times out of 10 it definitely will and discovering and honing in on these will create a ‘why’ for you making the film in the first place. This may also help you define your audience for the film too. You may have written your script with some key message in mind and if that’s the case this section will probably be a lot easier for you. If you’re working with someone else’s then you may need to revisit your connection to the script to reveal those themes as I did.

Figure Out How You Want It to Look

This is the most fun part of the notes for me where you get to envision the feel and tone of a project. Plus I’m a sucker for a Pinterest mood board. I did a mood board for my first university short film before I even knew what Directors Notes were. I don’t have enough in depth knowledge about how every camera works to be able to lay the look of the film out equipment wise, but if you already have a cinematographer you’re working with and want to get specific about equipment that’s definitely a viable option. Just knowing the style of images you want to portray should be enough for the Directors Notes though. Is it cold or warm in tone, will you use soft light or harsh light, is the look going to be super saturated or are you filming in black and white? These are all the fun little details you get to start thinking about in this section and it can be where you truly get to express the ‘visual’ part of your vision. So have fun with it!

Screen grab of my University Short Film (The Coat) Mood Board
Screen grab of Mood board for my first Directors Notes

Check Them Over With Someone Else Not Connected to the Project

I didn’t really do this per-say but having someone who isn’t connected to the project read over your notes to see if they understand the kind of vision you are trying to achieve would be invaluable. I was fortunate enough to share my notes with the writer and have her confirm that I managed to pick up on everything she was putting into the script, which was such positive feedback for my first go at a Directors Notes. If someone else can read your notes and pick up on those things to then that’s another good sign you are on the right track. Also this is the document you will use as the basis to pitch the idea to others whether that be production houses, crew & cast members, or funding agencies so testing it on others to see if they would be interested in coming aboard the project is a good way to gauge your films make-ability.

These were the main things I learnt through writing my first Directors Notes. For the layout and how I knew what to include in the first place I used this really helpful article from No Film School.

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