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What to Wear: Director’s Edition

by on Feb.18, 2010, under Questions

Here’s a question I made up because I’ve never seen this issue covered:

Hey Douglas,

Amazing site!  Here’s my question:  Everybody talks about how to direct, but no one addresses the really important stuff, like what a director should wear.  Any advice?

– D.H.

Wow, what an amazingly insightful question!

For an indie director, what you wear matters, because you’re going to be in it all day.  (And possibly all night when you collapse in a stupor at the end of the day.)  It’s important to be comfortable all day long…and it’s a long day we’re talking about, especially on location shoots.  (Isn’t every independent film a location shoot?)  What I walk out the door wearing is probably what’s going to be on me all day long.  I’ve found that anything I take off during the day usually ends up lost or borrowed.  While making smart choices about what you wear on set may not seem all that crucial the first day or two of your shoot, by day 17, little choices can translate to big differences in your ability to push ahead without your body going into revolt.

Jeans? Check. Black T-shirt? Check. Stuff hanging off belt? Check.

Starting with the basics–I can’t find a photo of myself on a film set where I’m not wearing jeans and a T-shirt or sweatshirt.  A black T-shirt and jeans is the semi-official filmmaker’s uniform, anyway.  On corporate and commercial shoots, I often swap in a button-down shirt and sport coat as the pace is a lot more relaxed and the shoot usually takes place in either an office or stage.

But to focus on indie film shoots:  Wear a good solid belt to hang a walkie-talkie and/or Comtex from.  (Comtex is the headphone unit that feeds the director and script supervisor audio from the mics.)  The right jacket is also pretty key in getting through the day.  You’re going to have enough stress without topping it off with being too hot or cold.

Most sets range from fairly chilly in the dark hours when you start and finish your day to smoking hot in the afternoon when you’re sitting in a small room cooking with lights.  So a jacket that can handle those extremes–plus be water resistant to hold back rain or any fluids that may go flying on the set is really what you’re looking for.  I have a Marmont Mountain coat my wife gave me that has become my go-to jacket for any day when I might be outside.  It’s black, which is always a plus on a set because it helps hide your reflection, and it has zippered vents down both arms and sides so I can leave the jacket on (and not lose it and all the crucial stuff in my pockets) even when it’s over 100 degrees.  On The No-Sit List, I had yogurt balloons, prop hot sauce, sour cream, chocolate cake and a bunch of other stuff dumped on me in that jacket while testing or filming various gags.  The actors go back through make-up and wardrobe, but the director has to just wipe off what he can and move on to the next shot.

Film sets tend to get grungy and dirty fast.  All the attention is put on keeping the set part of the location spotless for camera, but since these are often locations that you got into that morning (or if you’re really lucky, the night before), all the dirt and junk just got shoved off the shooting part of the location to where the camera and lights are set up.  Basically, where you are going to be standing.  Add to that every little scrap of gaffers tape, black wrap, or whatever that was just dropped on the floor the minute it was no longer needed, and you’ve got a pretty messy work environment.

For me, my jacket, jeans, socks and shoes are my main defense against this grime.  Shoes need to be comfortable but fairly rugged.  You never know what you’re going to be stepping in and you don’t want to think about it.  I always liked Dr. Martens or skater sneakers.  Sock are even more important to me.  I like wool socks most days, even when it’s hot.  (SmartWool is my favorite.)  Warm toes feel pretty good at the end of a long day when you’re winding down and  suddenly realize you’re freezing.

That Marmont Mountain jacket with the zip-open sides. Don't call, "action" without it!

And then there’s that supposedly indispensable piece of director’s attire: the hat.  To be honest, I only wear one when I’m working outside all day.  On an interior location, a hat is just one more thing to keep track of.  Outside, of course, they’re essential, and a good sun hat will do more to keep you from showing up the next day with sunburned ears than a baseball cap.  So why are directors wearing caps in every picture?  Well mainly it’s about what’s written on the cap.  As often as not these stills are some advertising for whoever’s logo is on the cap.  If you want Filmmaker Magazine to do a feature story on your film when it comes out, it sure wouldn’t hurt to have a photo of the director in an IFP cap.  Going for a camera grant?  You just might want to submit a photo of you on the last shoot wearing a Panavision cap.  My advice here is have the hats you want for publicity photos–give them to the prop department and put them on for some staged photos when the stills photographer is around.  The rest of the time, wear what’s comfortable and gets you through the day.

How about the other directors and filmmakers out there?  When you’re making a film, what piece of attire can you not live without?

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