The Film Director’s Bag Of Tricks by Mark W. Travis (book review).

May 28, 2015 | By | Reply More

Writer Mark Travis reveals in his introduction, that his book, ‘The Film Director’s Bag Of Tricks’, that when he gives seminars on directing, he would give lengthy discussion and then explain a short-cut to make it a little easier to get something done. Publisher Michael Wiese, in attendance at one of them, said it would make a good book title and to get writing it for his next book.


It should hardly be a surprise from the sub-title ‘Get What You Want From Writers And Actors’, that this book is about people management. This also extends to production crew who want to contribute an idea to the film. With that one, I do have to wonder if these people read these books and can recognise the gentle turndown which must surely happen on a regular basis a lot more than ideas being accepted. However, what this book does teach directors is how to be tactful and not heavy-handed. I suspect, also, no director turns down a good idea if he or she hears one.

Getting an understanding on what a director sees in a script isn’t always what the scriptwriter put into it. In that regard, I suspect scriptwriters would benefit from reading this book and understand to look at sub-text and any wider implications that might be inferred and probably end up putting an emotional note in the margin as to what they think the actors need to achieve to ensure that they are in the same mindset as their director. When it comes to creativity, everyone has a blind spot but it doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to beat it.

One of the things that films can do better than prose is to do overlaps in conversations and definitely the level of body language in conveying a scene. Seeing a demonstration here did make me think a little about how I can convey the later into my own stories although I suspect it might look a…shall we say…theatrical in prose. Even so, there must be ways around this, even if it’s getting into people’s space to intimidate them.

The final part of the book has Travis interviewing six teaching directors on how they do it and gets some interesting insights and the need to remind the actors who’s in charge. As some of them have also directed on TV, I would have liked to hear how they got around long-standing cast who are said to know their characters inside out, let alone have also got a producer title.

An interesting aspect that I came away from this is insight into my role as an editor. People tend to think the role is traffic management of material and correcting mistakes. What they don’t see is the fact that I discuss things with my team and where there’s a problem, a lot of the time it’s finding a middle ground or different solution. I’ve always done that as a matter of course but it reassuring to see it is the right way to do things in other creative endeavours.

If you’re developing your skills as a director or even already one, then you will find a lot of useful insight here which can only benefit your craft. It’s also made me interested in seeing the other two books he’s written for the publisher.

GF Willmetts

May 2015

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 187 page enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), £15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-056-2)

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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