6 - Working With The Director

The Director is the head honcho. The creative visionary. The master storytelling. His job is to realize the entire story, and direct the other creative role players toward realizing that vision.  There is a HIERARCHY here: no matter how good friends you are or how close the collaboration is, at the end of the day the director has the final creative say and the composer needs to be OK with that. You do not need to agree with all the director's decisions, but you do need to understand that you are making HIS MOVIE. And so you need to try to understand what HIS VISION for the movie is and how to best support THAT VERSION OF THE MOVIE. 
In a sense, the composer is like a co-director, because of how much power the composer has over the emotions of the audience, and in terms of how much trust the director has to place on the composer. Many of the strongest and longest lasting creative collaborative relationships in cinema exist between Directors and composers. 
John has given movies a musical language that can be spoken and understood in every country on this planet. John Williams is the most common language through which people of all ages communicate and remember to each other why they love movies. I am the only person who can say that I’ve collaborated with John for exactly half of his life. Without question, he has been the single most significant contributor to my success as a filmmaker. This nation’s greatest composer and our national treasure is also one of the greatest friends I have ever had in my entire life. – Spielberg
Steven Spielberg - John Williams
Alfred Hitchcock - Bernard Herrmann
James Cameron - James Horner
Christopher Nolan - Hans Zimmer
Robert Zemekis - Alan Silvestri
JJ Abrams - Michael Giacchino
Tim Burton - Danny Elfman
In many other areas of the production, the director can closely manage (or even micromanage) the work of those under him, or communicate what he wants is very objective ways. But music is different- not only is it hard to articulate in words what you want music to accomplish, but the ordeal of deciding if it accomplishes those goals can be a very subjective ordeal. So when the director hands the film to the composer, along with his notes and direction, he is surrendering a massive trust. This is HIS BABY that he has worked on for (probably) years. You could ruin it, and he could need to go to a different composer, but composition is one of the last steps of the film making process and there is usually little time to redo a film score. 
This is one reason why, when a director finds a composer he likes, and who understands his vision, he sticks with him. Because he TRUSTS him to help and not hurt, to add and not subtract. 
If the composer is a valuable friend and collaborator and story enhancer, and someone the director can trust and rely upon to help him and your project, then that is priceless. 
The better you understand and know the director, the better you can grasp and realize his vision. I recommend trying to get to know the director as well as you can (without being creepy). When he's very busy in production, there's limited time to do this (another reason to cultivate LONG relationships). Get to know him on a personal level, and open yourself up as well. Find out what he's passionate about as a director and artist--his likes, his dislikes. Find out what his influences behind this project are. 
In other words, build a friendship where you can. Be a good person to him. Treat him like a person. Be understanding of his difficulties. Try to serve him where you can.
It’s really cool when you have the sort of relationship (like I have a few directors), where you can call to talk about the film and instead start talking about life, and family, and philosophy, and art and film theory, and ten 40 mins later you're like. "WELL, we should probably start talking about this film." 
Also, you may end of talking to each other and problem solving together and creating together nearly every day for 2 months, so it helps to do this with someone you enjoy being around. 
This is not say that you will be or NEED to be friends will every client you work with.. Some are very matter-of-fact: here's the project, the objective, the task, the deadline, the payment. And you do it until it's done and you get paid and that's it, and you're both happy. And that is fine too. But the special collaborative relationships are the most rewarding… for both parties, I think. 
And not all directors work the same way or work with composers the same way. I have worked with some directors who gave me a very specific task and were not interested in me pushing though boundaries at all with my own creative ideas. Some seen the creative collaboration as almost 50-50, and given me a huge amount of lee-way in the direction of the music, and there are all manners of directors in between these two extremes. 
So if you are working with a director for the first time, ask him how he likes to work with composers and what he finds most helpful or unhelpful.
Build relationships with directors who are the same stage in your career as YOU. If you are starting out, you are not going to be working with Spielberg. But you may build a relationships with someone who BECOMES the next Spielberg! 

I think that ethically, people are more important than projects. But also for career reasons, Is it more important to maintain and build good relationships in the long term than getting a project in the short term. And it you don’t get a project that you wanted, don't let your disappointment damage the relationships with others. 
This goes back to the point about composers having good relationship skills and integrity. Because a good collaboration and friendship is priceless it serves as pretty much best job security a composer can have… if there is such a thing for a composer. 
But at the end of the day, you never know what a relationship is going to turn into, so give every project your best, no matter how humble it seems to you, and don't despise the day of small beginnings or beginning directors. 
ASSIGNMENT: Get to know other filmmakers who are at the same stage in your career as you.