Have the right story
A lot of people are saying that when a movie is being made, a lot of the value of the movie really turns on the story and the acting. According to a certain school of thought, you only need to have the right story acted out the right way and regardless of who directs the movie, the movie will turn out fine.
I would love to believe this, but I also am a veteran of movie productions and I can tell you, whoever’s calling the shots is going to have a massive impact on the final product. There’s a big difference between a Ron Howard directed movie and a Stanley Kubrick directed movie. Directions impact actors. Actors impact the final product. Of course, all of this plays out in the greater context of the story. But believe it or not, directors also have an impact on the story.
If you look at Apocalypse Now, the vietnam war classic produced by Francis Ford Coppola, the same guy who directed The Godfather series, you would be blown away by the script. It’s as if the script started out as a very flimsy outline, like some sort of skeleton, and then it got fleshed over and reshaped over and over again as the movie was being made in the Philippines. It really was amazing. In fact, it got so heated and it became so dramatic on so many different levels that Francis Ford Coppola said he was going crazy.
There he was in the middle of the jungle in the Philippines, 1976, shooting a movie that was over budget, had all sorts of problems and he couldn’t find the right actors, Marlon Brando wanted too much money, and so on and so forth. In fact, it got so frustrating for him, but he said that making this movie about the Vietnam war actually captured the essence of Vietnam war. He said he went in there with too much money and technology and slowly went crazy.
It really is mind blowing because that story alone highlights the importance of having the right director. Somebody could have just gone with the script of Apocalypse Now and could have come up with a straight to video and all too forgettable movie. Even with Robert Duvall and Marlon Brando, it could have still been a pile of crap.
So no, directors are not overrated. They actually play a major role in the greater Hollywood cinematic ecosystem. Sure many of them might have very obnoxious egos, some may be so lazy and formula driven that it makes you think twice of the utility and usefulness of directors, but they’re not overrated. It really all boils down to getting the right script handled by the right director with the right acting crew to produce a classic.
The right director can turn what would be an otherwise mediocre script into something truly worth watching. It’s all about sensibility, pacing, and mixing the right cinematic ingredients in a way that truly transports the viewer to a whole other level. This is not easy. It is also not very common.