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Alexey Popogrebsky on how to learn directing


Director, graduated from the theater department of GITIS, studied at the Moscow School of New Cinema

Favorite films: “The Beautiful Fig” by Christoph Honore, “Window into the Courtyard” by Alfred Hitchcock, “Killer” by Denis Villeneuve

What is watching on YouTube: editing tutorials and tutorials

In the 11th grade, I realized that I want to become a director. For me, this is the profession of a magician, an inventor, a person who collects features from different areas and comes up with a closed world with its infrastructure, laws and regulations. Therefore, at first I studied for theater critic at GITIS, and then I entered the Moscow School of New Cinema.

Natasha's advice to aspiring directors

Every day you need to learn something new. Judging by an interview with eminent masters, this process never ends. This also applies to technology (the release of new cameras, optics, an increase in shooting and video display capabilities), and creativity. It’s nice to remind yourself sometimes that you are not a genius. It is very important to maintain the ability to reflect. This is difficult, because some works can be reviewed only some time after release in order to take the picture critically.

The result depends on teamwork by 99.9%. Cinema is a collective art. When I took the first steps, I still did not understand how important it is to tell another person about the picture that I have in my head. A whole team is working on the movie - everything invented cannot be realized by the director alone. We need actors, a camera crew, sound engineers, and so on. Working as a team seems simple, but it's really hard work. You need to understand how to communicate with people on the site, how to communicate so that you are correctly understood and heard.

We will definitely meet with the team before the shootings and discuss what will happen - both creative issues and organizational ones (script, director's script, our schedule, challenging, etc.). Already during the filming period, we hold planning meetings, short meetings in order to remind or fix what exactly and how we will shoot today. People need to understand how the whole process will happen, because misunderstanding is the main enemy of good work.

Each person has his own rules and needs for fruitful work, but there are some common minimum resources that the whole team needs. Often, in my experience, they are neglected. You can, of course, make people work 10 hours without a break, but there will be no productivity. You need to look for the right timing: a person should have time to get ready for work. But not at the expense of filming. The challenge is to find a balance. In many respects it depends on the director.

Director Boris Khlebnikov in one interview said that each director has his own conditional “loudspeaker”. His words were about style identity, but for me it’s also a cool metaphor. Each director needs to find his own method of expression. Finding your own is the most important and the most difficult. His own style, his own language, this, like his own team, is 99.9% of the film.

Dasha / Daria

Future lecturer at Moscow State University with a black belt

This was my first experience in organizing a large-scale shooting and the first experience with an agency. There were about twenty people around me, with whom I had to constantly communicate, correspond, discuss working moments. I learned to talk to a lot of people at the same time. This work showed what I’m ready to advise all young directors to try to find a way to communicate, organize comfortable work with minimal resources.

In technical terms, I had a pleasant experience working with playback - I walked next to the operator and watched how about everything would look in the end on the screen. This, of course, is not always convenient for the person behind the camera, but very convenient for the director.

I tried to come up with a story based on the heroine’s hobbies: her passion for aikido, the desire to enter a magistracy. Before filming, I questioned Dasha for a long time and meticulously about her hobbies and interests. She said that she dreams of becoming a teacher at Moscow State University with a black belt. I remember this phrase. And the idea of ​​the film itself developed around Dasha’s dream. This is a story about a student who takes the first step to becoming a teacher. I was inspired by Dashin's inexhaustible energy that supports her. During the filming, we had a lot of locations, even, probably, more than necessary. But this is also a specific character of the heroine: she is an unstoppable motor. I would localize the script, but with such a versatile heroine it would be very difficult.

Documentary shooting is an amazing process. For example, the final scene where Dasha is dancing a hustle on the waterfront. Right there, I saw a young man and realized that he was perfect for our heroine. She came, agreed, and after a second she and Dasha danced as if they had known each other for a hundred years. Although they saw each other for the first time in their lives. They were able to trust - the partner, the process, the operator and us. Around there were a lot of people dancing, very free, and everything was for real. Our task was to capture this moment and pass it on to the viewer. It was pure improvisation, no staging. And everything at sunset is very beautiful.

“I was looking for work that could easily be combined with study, and did not expect that it was this work that would allow me to master in practice what is very important in the profession of a journalist. And I certainly could not have imagined that at McDonald's I would be offered to play a major role in a film about myself - because I am a TV journalist and am used to talking about other people myself. It would be easier if they wrote a script and gave me the role, but it’s much harder to show my true face in front of the cameras.

Seeing yourself from the side is like going to a psychologist. The director revealed those moments that hurt me in real life. It seemed to me that in the frame I was all wide open. Natasha had a concept to show me from two sides: focused on training and at work and relaxed on dancing and with friends. I thought that I was the same everywhere, but Natasha helped me understand that this is not so.

What really surprised me in the filming is the work of a sound engineer. He drove us off the set and recorded how the hall sounds when we are not there. He recorded all sounds and created sound pictures as an artist. I was also very surprised how the director laid out inspiration and creativity in very understandable schemes and structures: she systematized the creative process and was able to formulate all the main thoughts clearly and simply. ”

About his biennial absence

I specifically introduced a moratorium on public appearances in the last one and a half to two years. He was engaged in what was formerly called the “Missing Rooms”. The script has been heavily rewritten. Now it’s not “Missing rooms”, not even “rooms”, but a very large project with an American bias called E-sider. With him, you just need to pause for a number of reasons. First of all, because now is not the best time for co-production. This year, the Russian-American project is hard to imagine. But I can say that drama has reached a level that I did not expect from myself. This is a work of a different scale and quality than the “Missing Rooms”, and such things do not disappear.

About the work of a curator in a film school

I always wanted to recruit a group of students, but not so much to teach them, but to go all the way with them. When you go through the preparatory period, filming and post-production with the film group, you learn yourself, and people also inevitably learn something new. You grow together, develop, stuff cones. No matter how experienced people are, every film is made from scratch, this is a new experience. If people gather for whom the film is a passing one, they do not have a place on the site.

I realized that by working on the script [of the E-sider project] I changed myself and my thinking very much. Apparently, I have some sort of molt in how I want to work and what I'm going to do next. I decided that it was necessary to molt for the company. The snake, when molting, rubs against stones. Energy is released, stones also move. Let the students reading this even get scared, but the only way, it seems to me, may be motivation on my part.

My selfish interest is to grow and change myself together with those who come to us on the director's course. I do not consider myself entitled to do a workshop named after myself. In general, I do not think that this is correct, because in the workshops of great artists (Michelangelo, for example), the students were primarily apprentices of the great master. They were entrusted with some pieces, parts, or even whole custom-made works in the spirit of a master. And the person was either so saturated with the spirit of the teacher that he worked for him, or, as an initially strong creative unit, came into conflict with him. Both conflict and imitation are two sides of one addiction. This is completely wrong. There are as many successful successful directors as there are as many strategies, working methods, personal approaches.

About the impossibility to teach and incorrect textbooks

The process of teaching filmmaking, it seems to me, should not be very different from the process of creating a film. I never read textbooks on directing, but read interviews with directors and film history literature. All books that are devoted to the work of the director, and by the way, there are not many of them, unlike screenwriting or camera work, begin with the fact that you cannot teach directing. She can only be learned. It's true. If suddenly in a book it is written that this is not so, do not believe this book.

About experience that is optional

Even in the description of the professional duties of the director of the Canadian or American guilds, there is a special footnote: in fact, the director is the only member of the film crew who is not required to have an education and previous experience. A lot of examples when the directors were absolute debutants, but at the same time convinced someone to invest money in them or made a movie at their own expense, and everything worked out. Naturally, there were an order of magnitude more stories when it didn’t work out, but we don’t know about them.

Nikita Sergeyevich went up to her, hugged her and held her for a long time

About the camera in pants and potential students

If you want to make a movie and become a director, in 2014 it is a shame not to start doing it yet. If you really want it, why the hell are you sitting on a chair? Take the phone, take something. You literally have a camera in your pants. I know there are people who say that they lack something to start shooting - money, cameras, experience, knowledge. Nothing like this. So you will never start making a movie.

We have a requirement on the course: the entrant must provide a portfolio consisting of any creative audiovisual work. You have to start doing something to get feedback. If you didn’t do anything yourself, you won’t have a run. Ideally, the person who comes to us has already filled a certain number of cones and abrasions. Already somewhere it hurts, itches, somewhere the scar healed, but not completely. These abrasions and bumps are the most important thing, because these are questions. We have the third set in September, there is still plenty of time to remove the sketch or try to do something even for an iPhone. Do not forget to use your near and dear ones as rabbits. Check your ideas and projects on them.

About the method of Nikita Mikhalkov, which is suitable only for him

Borya Khlebnikov once worked for a very long time as an installation assistant at the Trite company, in its video division. Including dismantled material from the set of the film "Siberian Barber". He told me about the episode when Julia Ormond was just starting to appear in this picture, and she, apparently, was doing something either too professionally, or according to her ready-made templates. And Nikita Sergeyevich went up to her, hugged her and held her for a long time without saying anything. At some point, she tensed, then relaxed and even almost burst into tears. And the game went completely different.

I already wanted to be a director then, and Borey and I shot our early work that no one had seen. It was thought: what a brilliant technique, what a brilliant method! But after some time it dawned on me. To use this method, you need to be Nikita Mikhalkov. But there are directors who come and are silent for a long time, say nothing for a long, long time. And then everything happens. This is their method. You can not use this method only because such a director was silent for an hour and a half on the set, and then an ingenious shot was obtained.

About choosing and finding your tools

In my first profession I am a psychologist. Thanks to this I know about one interesting study. There are so many concepts of psychotherapy - from the well-known Freudianism to my beloved existentialism. Scientists calculated the percentage of successful cases by measuring customer satisfaction, and, according to statistics, this percentage is the same, regardless of the concept used. For a successful result, two things must happen: the patient must find the right therapist for himself, and the therapist must initially find the right concept of work for himself, which with his personality enters into synergy.

Looking at ourselves and our fellow directors, and we are all very different, I understand that the main thing is to know yourself at least a little, and then you already understand how to achieve those very moments of authenticity. The main tool of the director is his personality. How to learn to use it? How to come to him? This is everyone’s personal path. But to help find the right questions that will lead you to him is the task of the directing course. On the one hand, a philosophical task, on the other - a technical one.

According to the situation for 2014, the director has a huge range of tools. From working methods on the site, with the actor, with the operator, training methods to real technical means, pre-visualization programs, storyboarding and so on. One director will not even take possession of all this for a lifetime, and there is no such task. But there are many of them, and for different tasks and for different directors, they can be very useful. I shot pictures without a storyboard at all, or with a completely drawn storyboard, including a picture that was entirely preliminarily shot in the form of animatic. This does not mean that for the rest of my life I will shoot animatics for my films. I just know from my own experience that such paintings need such means.

About the future training program

We arrange training so that directorial skills (and this is only one of the disciplines of the curriculum) is not a cycle of lectures or an author’s program. According to a certain drama and logic, there will be a built-up chain of classes with different directors, each of which is known. Each such training module will have some kind of practical work. This is done so that people do not just listen to the director and think about how talented he is or what kind of a fool he is, but along with him they go some way, live something, try, do, get feedback from both the master and their colleagues. We will definitely have seminars by Boris Khlebnikov, Andrey Proshkin, Valery Todorovsky, Nikolai Lebedev, Alexander and Vladimir Kottov.

About synergy and integration

The uniqueness of the Moscow School of Cinema is how integrated all the departments are. There is a full range of all tasks - from computer graphics, sound engineering and artistic production to the directing and acting faculties that open this year. It is not by chance that the directors and actors (the acting course is supervised by Ingeborg Dapkunaite) are connected last. Technique and technology have already been developed at other faculties. Everything is designed in such a way that with the advent of directors, everything is closed to interaction, to synergy.

We want to build the educational process so that students from all courses constantly encounter and intersect. So that directors are sometimes forcibly placed in conditions when they need to interact with the producers or shoot not with the operator they want, but with the one that fell by lot. There will be situations when producers with their projects will run and hire directors and cameramen. There will be situations when directors will not shoot their own assignments.

This is how directors are taught in most VGIK workshops: you are a creator

At university, I loved taking exams last. For the time that I hung out in the smoking room and talked with those who had already passed, I seem to have studied the entire course. For those three hours that I was waiting in line. What was asked? Oh, what is it? The things that I then learned, I remembered best. I did not study directing, and I lacked what was happening not so much at lectures as in the dining room and smoking rooms of VGIK. There you talk with cameramen, with actors, from these conversations you learn a lot of things, ideas and projects are born. I recognized everything already a propos, in the fields.

About creators and employees

In the portfolio of graduates there will be two copyright works - documentary and fiction. But this is not the end of the matter. So, at the end of the first year students will shoot a commercial. As expected, with a tough script, a clear brief and a finished storyboard from an advertising agency. Получается, все снимут ролик по одному и тому же сценарию. При этом все хотят быть творцами, авторами. В жизни не всегда так случается. Нужно как уметь находить свою историю, так и, что порой даже интереснее, в предлагаемых обстоятельствах находить зерно, себя. Потому что если ты не нашел себя в своей работе, то ничего хорошего не выйдет. В лучшем случае это будет профессионально, то есть скучно. А чтобы это жило, нужно найти в материале себя.Then the viewer will forget that it was carefully shot and done by someone. Even if it's a 30 second commercial.

About soloists and team approach

In all branches of creative professions, both in Soviet times and now, soloists are taught. At the conservatory, for example, people are being trained to be either soloists or no one. It seems that directors are also taught in most VGIK workshops: you are a creator, you are an author. It comes to the point that, as I was told, in one film school the director, having come up with an interesting project and asking ten students of a computer graphics course to develop effects, received a refusal from their master. How come? Ten people will work for him alone! But in life this is what happens. Everything will be sharpened on a team game from the very first moment.

About non-directorial character

I went through a peculiar evolution from a person with a non-directorial character to an acting director. Of course, the director's character is a stereotype. But if you nevertheless summarize, then the director is the person who needs most of all, he rushes forward! My biggest motivation is to be left alone. I still don't like talking on the phone, by the way. To pick up the phone and ask for something - it was always difficult for me. But on Koktebel we had to call some kind of sheep farm in the Ryazan region, since we did not have a second director, and the director of the picture appeared later. I called another helicopter farm in Ukraine, I had to do everything myself. And what had to be done in Chukotka! If you have the motivation to do something, then you can overcome yourself. After all, Schwarzenegger said that in childhood he was a suffocator.

About a forty minute take and shutter speed

If you are shooting Blair Witch, you need the appropriate technique, if something is epic, then maybe you will choose anamorphic optics and Panavison. When I shot "How I Spent This Summer", I realized that I would need maximum mobility, the opportunity to see the material right away, because we will be in hard-to-reach places where the film does not show. Finally, I instinctively realized that we would have very long doubles. Not because I have infinitely long shots in the movie, although I also have them in the movie. Just the most intense scene in which the character of Grisha Dobrygin is waiting for a message on the walkie-talkie and which lasts two minutes on the screen, we shot with one take in 40 minutes. I felt that it was impossible to say “stop”, because now something else would happen to Grisha. And if we remove it in pieces, then it will be lost.

We turn on the camera. Grisha’s task is to sit and wait for a message. Our boom operator (the sound engineer who holds the fishing rod with a microphone) was the least fortunate. He was a strong guy and only occasionally raised his face, on which was written everything that he experiences. But he stood standing all 40 minutes. When the double was over, Grisha was already a completely different person. In a couple of minutes, he walked away, of course, and said: “Alexei Petrovich, what will we do with this shot? He lasted about seven minutes. "

I felt like stop saying

It was my instinctive decision on the site, but the camera and the recording method that we chose (we did not write to flash cards, but to hard drives) allowed us to do this. It is important to work with different cameras and understand what they give you and where you are limited. Which camera you choose is not only a picture, this is what kind of movie you shoot. Even the acting game depends on it. All these things we will go through.

About the technique that shapes us

In the psychology that I studied, it is believed that all our devices are a continuation of our psyche. The psyche is not in our skull, it surrounds us. What chair, what table, what telephone, what computer is the continuation of us, which also forms us. We choose things - things shape us. When you make a movie, all the things in the frame tell a story. They are a continuation of the psyche of the character and you as the author of this film. And how the process is built on your site - from the call sheet to the optics that draws beautiful bokeh - characterizes you as a director. It all inevitably passes into the frame.

About the unbridled desire to make a movie

With Boris Khlebnikov, we shot our first film on black and white 16 mm film, for fifty some years on camera, because that was the only money. We couldn’t show it for six months and didn’t know what we were shooting, but we did it anyway. When we finished shooting, the first digital video cameras began to appear, it became available. Yes, the quality of the picture was different, but Lars von Trier managed to use the properties of this picture for completely breakthrough films. Again, the tool you choose affects how you tell the story.

About what's next

Until now, I have always shot according to my scripts, and each script took several years. Now, while the E-sider is forced to be postponed, I am reading other people's scripts. Not that I’m looking, but he must find me himself. I am considering different options. I don’t feel like passing through. There are some interesting things, but I can’t name them yet.


If you take Russia as an example, then you can unlearn a director at the Higher Courses of Scriptwriters and Directors or at the State University of Cinematography. The Moscow Film School, the Free Film Studio and the New York Film Academy also opened their doors. Within two years, anyone can get a director’s specialty. On average, training can cost from 10 thousand dollars. For Russia, the "forges" of directors are Moscow and St. Petersburg. For those who wish to study abroad, the best solution would be to visit the United States, but a good school will cost a student about $ 100,000 a year.

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Education in higher schools will allow the student to gain knowledge, experience and make new acquaintances and connections. Although there are famous directors without education - such as Cameron or Tarantino - but, nevertheless, there are much more famous directors with years of study in film schools. Therefore, when deciding to get a profession, it is better to think about a film school, and it does not matter where it is located - in Britain, Russia, Latvia, the USA or elsewhere.

There are a large number of stories when famous directors at the beginning of their careers worked haphazardly and removed their imperishable masterpieces in the evenings. You can hear about loaders, janitors, etc. who have become famous, but there are only a few such beautiful stories, so a beginner, but a confident film director, should not waste time and work in areas very far from the cinema, it is better to try to find related professions.

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So, you can get a job as an assistant operator, screenwriter, director, producer or become a volunteer at a film festival. Each such work will be a little "coin" in the treasury of your experience and ideas, and most importantly, it will allow you to start making friends in creative, "cinema" circles.

Show your work

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Some novice filmmakers, having removed their first tapes, begin to put them in the closet like trophies. This is a big mistake, because now you can show your work at various competitions and festivals, and not hide them, hoping for a favorable moment. The more contests a tape sees, the more likely it will be noticed by you, and a young interesting director will be able to make an interesting offer.

To show their work to a large number of people, there are television and movie theaters. Although there is one “but”. Large movie theaters may not agree to show a short film, and on television they will pay very little money, if at all. The only way out for a beginner is to use Internet resources. The first thing to do is open your own YouTube channel. At first, the channel may not generate income, but with the right promotion, the work of the film artist will be able to see a large number of people. To help the channel, you can open your own blog, which will more widely reveal the director’s personality and talk about his work.

Further creative way

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There are two ways to develop yourself as a director:

In the first case, the director is hired. If the work of a newcomer seems interesting, new and fresh to the producer, he can invite the newcomer as a director for his film. This is a good chance for a beginner, so he should diligently form his portfolio, which he will be able to show to other people, actively participate in competitions and festivals. It is a mistake to think that producers will see the director’s talents only relying on his charisma and organizational skills.

Another option is to become an independent director. This is a difficult way compared to the first. These films are unlikely to be rented and, perhaps, only a few people will see them, but this is the reality of an independent film artist. He himself will have to seek funding for his film, select actors, etc.

This is how the first steps of a novice filmmaker may briefly look like. Remember - your perseverance, ability to overcome difficulties, learn from mistakes and use all available opportunities for advancement will help to fulfill all your dreams and even a little more! In our future articles, we will talk about what beginner filmmakers actually do and get acquainted with several interesting examples of success.