In Televisual’s Summer issue, we asked five of the best directors in the industry right now about the art and craft of high-end TV and film directing.
Here’s the interview with Louise Hooper (The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power; The Sandman; Inside No.9; Treason; The Witcher; Flesh and Blood; Cheat; Lucky Man; Cold Feet; Vera)
I’m attracted to a project by a brilliant writer and producers with great taste. There has to be a click or connection. It might be the scope and scale of the world building that tantalises my tastebuds or the script’s central premise. Does it dive deep into the human condition? Is it a story I want to read, direct and watch myself? You have to feel excited and desperate to make it, already starting to imagine the cast, the locations and see the images play in your head – if not, run a mile!
My father, John Hooper, was a brilliant DoP and inspired me to get into this glorious industry. For me, the DoP is my partner in crime, my lynchpin, my favourite ally. I relish creating a new visual grammar and aesthetic together, pushing each other creatively and enjoying the process of the day – blocking, choosing lenses, getting excited as the shot comes together. It’s a really satisfying partnership.
I love working with actors. I have no filter, so I won’t say one thing and mean another. It means people trust your honesty and you can build a great working relationship. I enjoy discussing character and story beats and encourage an actor try out different approaches to a scene. I will always have a suggestion up my sleeve for the choreography of the scene to reflect emotional gear changes, power shifts, and that uses the set or location to best effect. I reiterate that this is just an idea and they are free to find their own blocking, but I find actors enjoy this jumping off point, so that we can then develop the shape of the scene together on the floor.
I am super hands on. Some directors stay by their monitor which is fine, but I have to engage and bring everyone in the crew into an idea, discuss what we want to achieve together, look at visual references and play out the movement of a shot. That’s where the humour and passion comes in. If a set is tense and dry, no one wants to speak up. You engage with everyone directly and all sorts of beautiful ideas come to the fore.
The DoP and I always discuss, sometimes shot list and definitely always storyboard big action sequences to find the most dynamic, exciting and emotional way to shoot each scene. As we know, in just one scene there are hundreds of wonderful creative decisions to make, so planning and prepping is a delicious way to play and experiment. I love being spontaneous on the day. To be honest, it’s impossible for me not to be, as you get stimulated and inspired in the moment, but the foundation will always be planned, discussed and considered beforehand.
I create a happy, inclusive and joyous set. Shouting, negativity and ego makes for misery and crushes creativity. It is my job to ensure the cast and crew feels heard and invested, that’s when you can really soar together. If you’re prepped and clear with your vision then there is space and time for everyone to add their personal passion and expertise to each shot or scene.
HoDs are the bedrock of a brilliant production. I enjoy those big meetings where I might pitch a storyboard for an action sequence and then everyone chips in from design, stunts, sfx, vfx, costume, camera, greens, the list goes on. Everyone is at the top of their game, so it’s exciting to hear their take or suggestions. It’s important to me to thank people as we go. It’s a labour of love and so many people work so hard behind the scenes, I try and give a big up to different departments in my morning hello to the crew.
It’s such a pleasure to keep honing a sequence in the edit to make it shine. Add more suspense, add layered sound design, music, tighten a fight. I used to direct documentaries so I would sit in the edit all day, writing commentary and sourcing imagery, but with drama I prefer to watch a cut, discuss with the editor, give notes and let them play.
The most important skills for a director are confidence, passion and energy. To be an exciting visionary leader that sees collaboration as a strength. Billy Wilder’s take on this question makes me smile because it’s so true: ‘A director must be a policeman, a midwife, a psychoanalyst, a sycophant and a bastard.’
Louise Hooper pic: AP Wilding
This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Televisual magazine
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