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What is your favorite part of filmmaking?

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What is your favorite part of filmmaking?

Kirk DeMicco

Los Angeles-based writer-director; Space Chimps

By far my favorite part of directing animation is working with the actors during the recording sessions. We spend years writing, planning, and storyboarding animated films, and it's not until an actor says the first line in the booth that you know what you've got. It's also interesting to watch how the actors approach voice-recording. Some may play with the line as written, experimenting with a variety of takes by stressing different syllables or words. Others like to put it into their own voice by adding or changing a word or two in the line. Still other performers throw the whole thing out and completely ad-lib something. We like to record what was written so we have it to take back to editorial, but it's in the ad-libs and improvs where you really find the characters coming alive, mostly because it feels more natural for the actors and they can put themselves into the role. In animation, all actors have is their voice, unlike live-action projects where performers can express themselves with physicality.

I think voiceover work also demands a great deal of imagination from the actors because they are in this fish tank-like room in their street clothes, and you're asking them to act, say, like a chimp flying a rocket ship. It's hard work. They spend up to four hours in a booth, running in place, shouting their lines and adding vocalizations, like falling down stairs or hitting a wall. There's not a lot of downtime, because we don't have to change cameras, as they do in live-action filming. We just keep the tape rolling until they want to take a break. The real magic is when you take their work back to the editorial booth and cut the takes against the picture. Only then can you see the scenes come alive, and you can say, "That's our movie."

Sanaa Hamri

Los Angeles-based director; The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Desperate Housewives

Collaborating with my creative team. From the cinematographer to props to producers, it's rewarding to see one's vision built upon. I always find that when you have a great creative team, they are able to take your direction and run with it. I am always positively surprised and get excited as I am presented with various versions of costumes, visual references, and sketches. Let's not forget that this creative team includes the actors. The relationship between actor and director is key. Most seasoned actors know that the director is their guide — a sort of "omni" friend who only wants the best of them. I love guiding the actor gently yet intensely through their character development. This process is rewarding, especially when the actor trusts in the vision.

Neil LaBute

Los Angeles-based writer-director; Lakeview Terrace, The Shape of Things

My favorite part of the filmmaking process has grown in various directions over the course of my relatively short career. While I've always loved the quiet of the writing process, I continue to feel extremely creative during the collaboration with actors. I like the responsibility of trying to create a safe, reasonable environment for them to do the nearly impossible task of being creative on cue in front of a group of onlookers — both crew and public. I trust actors and admire their talents, and I think they can sense that in me as well.

The role I've become most happy with over the years, however, is the relationship between the editor and the director. I've had the great luck to work with one editor virtually throughout my career (Joel Plotch), while also turning to a few other amazing talents when the chance arose (Claire Simpson and Steven Weisberg), and this lonely, mysterious process has continued to intrigue me. While it's true that you spend six months hunched together in a darkened box, the results are truly inspiring; together, you and your editor fashion something new and fresh from a pile of celluloid. Without question, it is here that I now feel that one's real film is born.

Joshua Michael Stern

Los Angeles-based writer-director; Swing Vote, Neverwas

Directing is a compulsion more than anything else. My favorite part is all of it. It is an all-consuming affair that begins at the conception of the idea and doesn't end until after the DVD is released; and even then, the drift of "what was" or "could have been" continues with you. It all comes down to telling a story that engages the audience — no matter the genre — makes them feel, and that hopefully says something. This might be oversimplified, but it is why I direct.

Being a writer, as well, the creation of the story's concept and then its realization, first to page and then to screen, is truly the magic of the profession. It's the almost surreal reality that you can have a simple thought and then 12 months later you are sitting at a premiere, having turned the seeds of the thought into a huge film with all its complications and depth. For better or for worse, it is your vision with its inspiration and missteps; it all comes down to you.

As a director, you must have your mind on every detail yet be completely open to collaboration. Your actors are your partners in this endeavor. They need to have a say in the arc of the character they are to play, because it doesn't matter what you do; if they are not selling the story, the movie will not work. The actor is the audience's guide to your vision.

To reach the author, email sarahkuhn@backstage.com.

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