Directing Department

Department overview by Olivier Ducastel and Emmanuel Finkiel, Heads of the Directing Department.

"La Fémis is not technically speaking an art school (and even less a university) and nor is it a purely practical institution. It lies somewhere between the two. It’s there, in this middle ground, that we feel it’s important to explore. A technician isn’t always able to comprehend the whys and wherefores of their job.

If it’s true that the director is the project manager of a film, very often but not always borne from a personal desire, to which he or she must give shape through his or her specific point of view, the department’s approach to teaching is designed to provide each student with the skills and tools necessary to explore the specific language of film while giving each student the room to find their personal style.

Undoubtedly the role of director demands an ability to master or at least work with a considerable number of disciplines. And each step, each decision made is a junction where the chosen direction can determine the fate of the film. This is probably why, for anyone prepared to take a leap into the adventure of making a film, the gap between one’s first intuitions and the final result can be immeasurable.

To start with, you should never be put off by learning or re-learning the basics. Always remember that at the very beginning the director faces the world, reality; at the most basic level the essential skills are seeing, listening, perceiving. And then there are the means to the end.

By learning the language and technical skills, studying and exploring cinematography and sound production, discovering methods for writing and analysing editing, gaining experience, asking questions, meeting working filmmakers and technicians, critically analysing films and ultimately producing films or fragments of films during the entire programme accompanied by a precise and comprehensive assessment of the completed assignments, the four years in the Directing Department should allow each student to find his or her path towards their personal approach to filmmaking with others and for others.

What’s more, the professional reality waiting for the student on completion is for many the chance to make if not feature films, then at least a full-length fiction or documentary film.
We also see, sometimes at our expense, the fundamental importance the screenplay has in our production system.

And since a filmmaker is the one who devises and writes (or ’reads’ i.e. takes on an existing screenplay, which ultimately entails writing the structure of the film), particular, in other words ’vigorous’, attention will be given throughout the programme to the full-length film approach: analysis, structure and anatomy on the one hand and the screenwriting process on the other. Directing students will be invited to write two full-length scripts during the four years of study. This will require them to apply the working processes that will allow them to manage on the front line several operations, several development and exploratory workshops, planning and producing, devising and writing. Which is of course what happens in the real world, and not always during normal business hours."

The programme:
In year one, you will learn the foundation skills that will allow you to make, along with the students in other departments, short films, quick exercises and a five-minute film. This period is the common core syllabus during which all students will follow the same training and tackle the same exercises. The final months of the year will be set aside for starting the specific training department by department.
While learning specific cinematography and sound production skills and how they combine together, you will start studying full-length films and writing your own screenplay (the final draft of which is to be handed in at the end of the second year). The end of the year will be devoted to a directing workshop in the studio, where you will be asked to direct a film shot in digital using an existing screenplay with a crew made up of students working in their chosen specialisation.

The start of the second year continues with writing and devising the full-length film. Next begins the major exercise of the year: the documentary film including a pre-production phase. We make it clear that this is not just an exercise in making a documentary film, but a time to observe and experiment with the documentary process, which is a natural corollary of any cinematographic process, of any shot even. In January, we introduce half-day sessions for students to explore and discuss different documentary films and get to grips with the huge diversity of documentary styles and gauge how they can be applied in the making of any film.

Then the second half of the programme begins. At the start of the third year students get down to writing their second full-length screenplay, which is to be handed in at the end of the programme and counts towards their degree.
In parallel, most of the year is spent writing and directing the third-year short film, which is an opportunity to collaborate further with students in other departments. You will also have the chance to go and study at a film school overseas (either at the FUC in Buenos Aires to make a documentary or at CalArts in California where students spend time developing their full-length film).

The programme’s fourth year is the time to finalise your screenplay and devise and produce your final short film at the school, your end -of-year project that is the most unrestricted project of the entire programme.

We feel it is useful and important for each student to keep informed throughout the programme on key film trends by attending screenings and analysing films that have left an indelible mark on world film history. Discovering, watching, watching again - and again - the films that shed light on your vision of the world, that make you think, evolve and ultimately help you find yourself. Dissect them like medical students explore a cadaver and analyse them like poets.

The School will regularly organise special sessions with these objectives in mind under the direction of Alain Bergala. We also invite to the School members of the crew who worked on the production of the screened film. And we cannot insist enough on the fact this is a compulsory and not optional aspect of the programme.

So, over these four years, at the same time as the more extensive periods spent on writing full-length films, you will also have to produce short films that you can consider as fragments, works in progress, experiments and not just completed productions, even if each film you make should have its own coherence.
You may find the time to make other films during the four-year programme or take part in the films made by other students, but do remember that all classes and sessions are compulsory and we expect a full record of attendance and punctuality from all students.

You will meet plenty of filmmakers and technicians working in the industry with whom we encourage students to foster friendly and formative relations. Each filmmaker invited to lead a core exercise such as the documentary or the third-year film is considered the workshop leader. It is the visiting filmmaker’s method that will be followed within the framework put in place by the School in terms of duration, technique and budget. They may call on the assistance of editors, assistants, screenwriters or collaborators in other fields.

Generally-speaking, all the filmmakers participating in the exercises or who come to present their work are invited on the basis of their corpus of work and talent. They come from different backgrounds and cinematographic styles and even, whenever possible, different countries. It is their responsibility therefore to pass on to students what they feel is essential in terms of approach, method and process. These sessions will allow you to discover and explore a variety of ways to ’think’ film.

Your projects will be assessed during analysis sessions with members of the School, participants in your workshop or guests invited from outside the School.

We hope to establish a two-way relationship that is sufficiently trusting for you to come to us if ever you have questions or doubts, at any point during the programme or after."