Below, we have listed our favorite film directing quotes from the masters of cinema. These quotes explain the directors role on set, how to direct action and provide invaluable wisdom for next time you work on a film project.

The film director knows that beneath the surface of his screenplay there is a subtext, an undercurrent of intentions and feelings and inner events, What appears to be happening on the surface, he soon learns, is rarely the true substance of the action. This subtext is one of the film director’s most valuable tools. It is what he directs. You rarely see a veteran director holding a script as he works – or even looking at it. Beginners, yes.

Elia Kazan

I equate this work with painting more than I do theater or literature. Stories don’t interest me. Basically, I’m more interested in behavior. I don’t direct, I watch.

Robert Altman

The theme (the what of the movie) is going to determine the style (the how of the movie). The theme will decide the specifics of every selection made in all the following chapters. I work from the inside out. What the movie is about will determine how it will be cast,how it will look, how it will be edited, how it will be musically scored, how it will be mixed, how the titles will look, and, with a good studio, how it will be released. What it’s about will determine how it is to be made.

Sidney Lumet

The directing of a picture involves coming out of your individual loneliness and taking a controlling part in putting together a small world. A picture is made. You put a frame around it and move on. And one day you die. That is all there is to it.

John Huston

The secret of good directing is to remember that you are telling a story visually. Your medium is that of sound and sight. The screen should tell this story as much as possible – not the dialogue.

Alfred Hitchcock

Being a film director involves, above all, a lot of hard work and resolve and determination. The glamour doesn’t come until the premiere and the thing is all long done.

D.W. Griffith

What a director should be doing is making it appear as though there was no script.

John Hughes

When you are making a film, in addition to any higher purpose you may have in mind, you must be interesting; visually interesting, narratively interesting, interesting from an acting point of view. All ideas for creating interest must be held up against the yardstick of the theme of the story, the narrative requirements and the purpose of the scene; but, within that, you must make a work of art interesting.

Stanley Kubrick

Anybody can direct a picture once they know the fundamentals. Directing is not a mystery, it’s not an art. The main thing about directing is: photograph the people’s eyes.

John Ford

The role of a director encompasses the coaching of the actors, the cinematography, the sound recording, the art direction, the music, the editing and the dubbing and sound-mixing. Altough these can be thought of as separate occupations, I do not regard them as independent. I see them all melting together under the heading of direction.

Akira Kurosawa

Eighty percent of success is showing up.

Woody Allen

I believe it is the pre-production planning that is the most important aspect of filmmaking. Based upon my own experience, I can tell you that my most successful films have been those that were made when I’ve been completely prepared gong in. I’ve got a pretty good track record, but I have had some failures, and almost every time I have made a film that has not done well, I can look back in the pre-production phase and say that I wasn’t quite ready. I should have waited a few more weeks, another month, maybe even another couple of months to completely develop my project before I shot. Pre-planning is the essence of production.

Roger Corman

Directing the Action

I am not the kind of director who sits in a chair smoking a cigar talking with a microphone to 10 assistants. I need to move. To touch. To put a painting on a wall. To arrange a set.

Federico Fellini

Till now I have never shot a scene without taking account of what stands behind the actors because the relationship between people and their surroundings is of prime importance.

Michelangelo Antonioni

During the shooting of a scene the director’s eye has to catch even the minutest detail. But this does not mean glaring at the set. While the cameras are rolling, I rarely look directly at the actors, but focus my gaze somewhere else. By doing this I sense instantly when something isn’t right. Watching something does not mean fixing your gaze on it, but being aware of it in a natural way. I believe this is what the medieval Noh playwright and theorist Zeami meant by “watching with a detached gaze.”

Akira Kurosawa

A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.

Frank Capra

Problem Solving

I love leaving the door open to good ideas. I love the collaborative swirl. I get charged by problem-solving, usually under some kind of stress – the sun is going down, and we have eight minutes, and we have to solve it. Great things come out of it.

Ron Howard

John Ford said that the best things in pictures happen by accident. And Orson Welles on another level said that a director is a man who presides over accidents. It’s true. You can create your own accidents, and that’s the thing that I think you have to be prepared for.

Peter Bogdanovich

Always get to the set or the location early, so that you can be all alone and draw your inspiration for the blocking and the setups in private and quiet. In one sense, it’s about protecting yourself; in another sense, it’s about always being open to surprise, even from the set, because there may be some detail that you hadn’t noticed. I think this is crucial. There are many pictures that seem good in so many ways except one: They lack a sense of surprise, they’ve never left the page.

Martin Scorsese

One has to work out very clearly what the objectives of a scene are from the point of view of narrative and character, but once this is done, I find it much more profitable to avoid locking up any ideas about staging or camera or even dialogue, prior to the rehearsals. I try to leave enough time between the writing of the script and the working out of the ideas of the scene, and the actual shooting of the scene, so that I can arrive in some way as an observer looking at something that has a degree of freshness to me. It’s important to be able to respond to some extent in the way the audience will eventually respond.

Stanley Kubrick

The key part in shooting a film is not to necessarily execute what you had in mind but [to] stay loose in case you have a better idea.

Stanley Kubrick

You have to understand that sometimes compromise is your bunkmate and compromise is sometimes the best thing you can do for your own film. When you have a tremendous dream and you pull out all the stops to accomplish your dream and nothing will stop you, you become very… rigid. You only see that moment and you forget all the hundred of other details you need to think about when making decisions and directing your picture. Sometimes you can go in there loose and figure if something doesn’t work, you might even get a better,  cheaper idea with your second thought, so I always covet my second thoughts because those are the spots that are often better than the first ideas.

Steven Spielberg

A movie goes from several stages, from idea to script. As you continue shooting, you will make some adjustments. You’re constantly adjusting. It’s like a piece of music. You’re constantly trying to make it better.

Robert Rodriguez

I always get everyone prepared so there aren’t so many arguments on set. I have a policy that the first thing I do in the morning is go over to the trailers and discuss exactly what we’re shooting that day. It’s time-consuming, but it reduces the chances of ‘misunderstandings’ on set.

Tony Scott

While the original conception must always be in the background, I must not let it become too dictatorial, since, for one thing, I must be prepared to modify it when I switch from writing to directing. For another, my actors, too, have a right – to say nothing of an obligation – to draw straws, to choose among alternatives. The whole process is essentially creative. You write down a melodic line and after that, with the orchestra, you work out the instrumentation.

Ingmar Bergman

Try to know the scripts nearly by heart.I work the scenes through in advance again and again with as much detail as possible. Then, on the day we shoot, I am prepared to ditch all of that if better ideas come up. Spontaneity is the quality that only actors can bring and it’s a quality worth its weight in gold. Be prepared for the fact that no plan survives first contact with the enemy and listen really hard to the actors. Don’t impose on them. Instead, try to encourage them to be easy in their skin.

Michael Newell

I watched a couple of really bad directors work, and I saw how they completely botched it up and missed the visual opportunities of the scene when we had put things in front of them as opportunities. Set pieces, props and so on.

James Cameron

I’ve always said that if you scratch the surface of a scene that’s not working, 99 percent of the time it’s the writing. Once in a while it’s the acting, once in the while it’s the directing, but almost always it’s the writing. 

Woody Allen

Script Breakdown

What a theatre or film director is essentially doing is conveying an emotion he has, arousing an emotion he feels in a group of other people. You must from the beginning recognize what audience you are addressing and how you propose to move them. What precisely you want to make them feel. Once this is done, take care not to tell them plainly what they should believe about what they’re being shown. Leave an element of doubt and mystery. Wonder is better than information. Let them come to their own conclusions. But know yourself what you’re reaching for in their feelings. This means isolating the theme. What its all about. What it should say in the end. But “say” is a dangerous word. “Convey” is better. 

Elia Kazan

Once we’ve agreed on the all-important question “What’s this picture about?” we can start in on the details. First comes an examination of each scene—in sequence, of course. Does this scene contribute to the overall theme? How? Does it contribute to the story line? To character? Is the story line moving in an ever increasing arc of tension or drama? In the case of a comedy, is it getting funnier? Is the story being moved forward by the characters? In a good drama, the line where characters and story blend should be indiscernible. I once read a very well-written script with first-rate dialogue. But the characters had nothing specific to do with the story line. That particular story could’ve happened to many different kinds of people. In drama, the characters should determine the story. In melodrama, the story determines the characters. Melodrama makes story line its highest priority, and everything is subservient to story. For me, farce is the comic equivalent of melodrama and comedy the comic equivalent of drama. 

Sidney Lumet

So on my screenplay, on the left-hand side of the page, I will put all the ideas that refer to the scene next to it so I have some sort of pictorial reference.

Adrian Lyne

The ideas dictate everything, you have to be true to that or you’re dead.

David Lynch

When I start a picture, I always have a script, but I change it every day. I put in what occurs to me that day out of my imagination. You start on a voyage; you know where you will end up but not what will occur along the way. You want to be surprised.

Federico Fellini

What’s Your Favorite Directing Quote?

If you’ve enjoyed the article, then we would be grateful if you could share on social media and your own blogs.

Finally, don’t forget to bookmark the page and keep checking back for new directing quotes from the masters of cinema.

Related articles:

Shooting the Movie Quotes
Writing the Screenplay Quotes
Film Editing Quotes