5 key skills you need for writing and directing films

09 Jun 2017

5 Key Skills you need for Writing and Directing Films

Paul Barakat is a writer, director and film tutor at the Academy of Film, Theatre and Television. 

Currently working on his feature film ‘Kairos’ Paul discussed the themes of his upcoming work. “The themes that I am working with - disability and identity - have been hallmarks of my work for the past decade. We are aiming to smash some stereotypes with this film, but ultimately, we want to tell an engaging and simple story that will hopefully resonate with people from all walks of life.”


It's not a bad life hey? What a beautiful time to be working ☀️✨👌|📷 @ellenlouiseh

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We wanted to find out more about what he considered paramount to becoming a working writer and director in the industry.  

Here are 5 key skills Paul believes you need;

1. Observation

“All writers have their own way of working, but I do think that to be a writer who constructs engaging screenplays, one must be a keen observer of human relationships - internal, inter-personal and external. Ultimately, that is what will serve as the foundation of your film. Story, theme and structure are important, but they are nothing without active relationships and fully developed, complex characters that an audience can empathise with.”

2. Revision 

“The script is literally just a blueprint for everything that follows. Just get the first draft down, no matter how terrible the dialogue or how insipid the characters are. At least you have something to work with. The real writing begins in the re-writing process. With ‘Kairos’, I had already written a few drafts of my screenplay, but after running it through some workshops last year, I determined that one of the subplots I had written was taking over the main plot, which had become much less interesting. That feedback was really important and it took the film in a stronger and much more focused direction.”

3. Preparation

“Years ago, I had a masterclass with a director who said it was critical to identify and solve dramatic problems as early in the pre-production process as possible because it will save you time and money. If you discover the problem during the shoot, it’s possible to find a solution, but it will be more expensive. If you discover the problem in the edit, that problem is now a monster that has taken flight and could be almost impossible to slay. 

I think preparation and research is the key, not because you will perfectly realise your planned vision, but because it reminds you of the critical things that need to be captured. When things on set go awry due to some unforeseen obstacle, you will at least know what your objectives are. You will be able to make an informed decision based on your intimate knowledge of the script and your original vision, as opposed to just taking a shot in the dark.”

4. Collaboration

“The students that will be most equipped for the industry are the ones who respect the process and each other. Ego can’t come into play. This is a collaborative process and those that embrace that aspect of the craft are often the kinds of people that end up working in the field. It’s also critical not just to be professional and respectful on set, but off set as well. That counts for a lot. As a filmmaker, I’m always looking for like-minded artists who will be as committed to the project as I am.”

5. Vision

“Stay true to your vision. Tutors are there to be a sounding board for your ideas. We are not the authors of your work and every opinion is subjective. Remember why you are making your film and only take advice if it resonates with you. The only exception to that rule is if your project is breaching some safety or production rule, in which case it is extremely important to follow protocol. That’s just professional practice. Honour the process and the work of your collaborators. Respect your actors and the story. More importantly, remember to have fun.”

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