Side first discussed directing for game projects with me back in 2003. Clients were choosing to spend money on actors with ‘name’ credentials, but were finding they couldn’t easily get the performances they were hoping for. Scripts were also becoming more complex with three-dimensional characters and dynamic, filmic storylines. Side felt that, in order to get the performances that they and their clients wanted, they needed to look further afield and talk to directors from other disciplines.
Directing games is different to theatre, but no less fulfilling. There is a true challenge in honing direction so as to achieve results quickly and effectively without compromising quality. There is an art to listening to the client, the sound engineer and the actor all at once. I need to focus my thoughts to give clear direction to the actor, choose takes for the sound engineer and check with the client that all is on track. It’s exciting: there’s never a second when I can afford to be anything less than fully engaged; listening, processing, distilling, and explaining with purpose for the intended result. I always imagine it must be a bit like newsreaders who have to listen to various voices in their ear at the same time as delivering the story.
One of the early projects I directed was Dragon Quest VIII – it provided a fantasy landscape of larger-than-life characters who nevertheless had true character arcs to follow, and so the actors could take a journey of discovery too. Having limited experience with directing for games projects meant I had to learn specific skills and industry jargon for working in the studio, but ultimately my job was the same as in the theatre. The core principle remained: to tell a story so as to entertain and enthral the audience, by communicating well with the actors and the creative team to pull all the elements together into a cohesive whole.
When directing for game projects, I focus on the core of the storytelling itself by helping actors understand the story to be told, the producers’ and writers’ intentions, and their audience. They can then give the most appropriate, best and (dare I say) ‘inspired’ performances.
So, as an ‘outsider’ now on the inside too, I have a few tips on how to get the best out of using a director on games.
1. Employ a director who has solid and proven credentials, ideally across the art forms of theatre or TV/film – not just in games.
2. The earlier you can afford the director to be on the project the better. A director can be used for casting, actor suggestions, script feedback, editing and story-boarding for motion capture. The extra time allows him/her to be better informed and prepared for the recording sessions.
3. Get the best out of the team you’re paying for by being prepared: send the final script, character images and any animations to the studio in good time so that the whole team can prepare effectively. The more creative information they can get hold of beforehand, the better they can fulfil their jobs for you.
4. Watching a lot of TV and films does not make you a director. Directing is a professional trade that takes years of training (university degree or drama school), experience in the business and, hopefully, talent.
5. Your opinion as the client matters – it’s your game and you know it better than anyone. The appropriate person at the recording sessions, with in-depth knowledge of the game’s characters and story, will
6. Every actor is unique, and the collaboration between director and actor may be different for each pairing. Be patient as the director and actor get to know each other – those ten to 15 minutes will save a huge amount of time in the session as it will ensure good and fast communication.
7. Trust the director to get the performance you want. There is a huge shared language in the acting profession; let the director translate what you want into this shared language. This is what you’re paying the director for. In session, try not to give notes directly to the actors. It’s better to have one voice collating all the ideas and deciding how best to deliver them in a constructive way.
8. Never, never, never speak a line for the actor and ask them to do it like that. Your rendition will only offend them and result in an unhappy actor, begrudging performance, sarcasm – or all three. If an actor really isn’t getting something, they will ask you to say it in the way you want so they can repeat it.
9. Be aware when the director has the talkback on or off. A client’s negative comment can alienate the actor resulting in a worse performance.
10. A director may give a note that doesn’t sound as if it’s what you asked for – we may use an unexpected route, but we’ll get you what you want.