POV: Director, Tomek Bagiński

Directors often have no idea what to do. The job isn’t about knowing what to do all of the time, but rather about finding solutions quickly.


POV: Director

How would you describe what you do?
It depends on the moment, as well as the project and its scale. Trying to describe the work of a directors is like summarizing the Bible in a single sentence. It’s a battle against chaos in the pursuit of delivering the project.
How did you get into this job?
Like for most directors, it was my dream since I was a child, and I slowly and steadily worked my way up the chain. I wasn’t exactly starting from the best place or in the best time, so my way up was quite unusual, through animation. But the goal was always to be a director, so all I had to do was keep myself focused.
What is most challenging about what you do?
The waiting. Especially once the projects get bigger and harder to finance. What was merely a couple of weeks in advertising stretches out to entire years when it comes to features. Developing projects like these is a pleasure, but the uncertainty is a heavy burden. Your work often lands in the trash—even if it’s really good and has a lot of soul. Commercials are slightly easier, because even the hardest pitch takes only a couple of weeks of your life, but waiting for people higher up the chain to make their decisions is still hard. It is easier to lose a pitch, than wait for the decision whether your project will ultimately be greenlit or not. When you lose, you can at least move forward.
What is most rewarding?
These moments when things start to click together. Seeing the shots, the moments, actors delivering their lines, the first edits, hearing the first bars of the music—all these things that have not existed just moments before, that have been merely concepts written down on paper—that's a great feeling. Also, the dynamics of it all. Shooting a bad take can lead to great changes and amazing decisions in a matter of minutes. Something which sucked suddenly starts to shine. Love it.
What’s a typical work week like?
Depends on the stage of the project. When I'm in development, it is usually weeks of writing and pitching, plus usually I'm still in the post-production stage on one of many previous projects. Post-production doesn't require full attention, so there’s space there for new developments. When I'm shooting, I’m a lot more focused. It’s usually one project, full focus on prep and shoot. I wake up around 7-8am, go to sleep around midnight, and try to carve out at least one free day a week. Try to exercise a bit. Weeks of post and dev are usually a bit lighter, giving me some time off to spend with my family. When I’m shooting, it’s work from sunup to sundown.
What needs to happen the most in order for a shoot to run smoothly?
Prep, prep, and prep. Anything can happen during the shoot. The weather can go crazy, the actors can have a bad day, the equipment can fail. Good prep is safeguard against all of that. It also gives you confidence to make changes on set. 

Whats your best job/worst job?
I did some bad commercials when I was younger. It takes some time for a greenhorn director to earn some confidence, to learn to trust their gut—and the absolute worst thing you can do as a director is bend when you shouldn’t. I think making a couple of projects you will regret is as important as doing projects you will be proud of for the rest of your life. There are great lessons to be learned in decisions you are forced to make. And in my early directing days, I did a lot of projects I regret, including my early commercial efforts plus a couple of state-funded projects that turned out to be far too ambitious on too small a budget. Also, it takes time to learn the “less is more” approach. Not every job is worth taking. The best jobs were the ones where I was lucky to have a really high degree of creative control and an acceptable production environment, including budget, timeframe, etc.
What advice would you offer someone considering a career as a Director?
Focus. At some point, but as early as possible, you should drop other activities and focus on directing. It will take a lot of time to get into the business. Other skills can help you a lot, but other jobs can’t. They take precious time and focus and put you in the wrong place. At some point, you will have to decide what’s more important for you. Being a director has very little to do with actually doing a film. It’s more about leading others in the process of making a film and staying out of their way. That, in turn, takes a very different set of skills. A lot of designers, editors, etc. are interested in pursuing directing careers, but are unaware of the fact that they will have to drop their current jobs in order to become successful directors. In a way, they have to forget what they know, because a film is a sum of many, many elements, rather than just a single monolithic structure. And half of them won’t be nearly as interesting as the things they like to do. In general—be careful what you wish for. Being a director can be magical, but for most people, other jobs would be much more rewarding, even jobs in the film industry, so be prepared to sacrifice something. Be prepared to learn to enjoy things that are way less cool and way less enjoyable than premiering a film at Cannes. Also, importantly, learn how to nap in any situation. That’s a good skill to have.
If you had one project that you could post on AdForum to represent your work, what would it be?
There are several projects I like quite a lot. If I had to choose one, it would probably be the all-CGI teaser for "Cyberpunk 2077" It is already quite old, there are bigger, bolder, and fresher projects in my portfolio, but this one was very demanding creatively, and was quite important for my own personal development.
Finally tell us something that most people don’t know about being a Director?
Directors often have no idea what to do. The job isn’t about knowing what to do all of the time, but rather about finding solutions quickly. Listening is a lot more important than forcing your ideas. If the team is good, all you have to do is to listen to your people—a shepherd rather than a dictator.
TOPIC: Director