In my own pursuit of Write, Direct, Repeat, I’m currently deep in the writing phase. I’m working on a couple of short film scripts and a couple of feature scripts, and ever since I began directing, I can’t resist writing everything with an eye toward directing it myself.
Because of this relationship that has developed between my writer and director selves, I adapted what is traditionally a director’s tool — the lookbook — into my new favorite obsession: the writer’s lookbook.
In filmmaking, a lookbook is a collection of photographs selected as visual references to express the director’s vision for the look and feel of the film. Traditionally, a lookbook contains photographs but you can include whatever helps you get your ideas across, including drawings or even a multimedia lookbook.
A director’s lookbook is usually shared during pre-production with the key department heads on a film, especially in the camera and art departments. I’ve found that every step I’ve taken when developing lookbooks has been invaluable for honing in on the myriad of choices I’ll need to make in order to direct the film.
THE DIRECTOR’S LOOKBOOK
My director side was already a big fan of the lookbook. I created my first one at the request of Roberta Munroe, the powerhouse Producer of my first short film, Vivienne Again. We had just moved into pre-production and she wanted me to have it ready to give to key department heads as they were hired.
As I compiled my lookbook, it was the first time I could really felt myself shifting hats from writer to director.
The first step I took was to break down my script and look for all of the specific visual details I incorporated while writing. I had built a lot of images into the script and could quickly make note of where I had made selections for the look of the film and where I hadn’t.
Next, I took my list of characters, locations, props, etc, and went to town with Google Images. Not only is it ridiculously fun to pour over images and call it work, but it was also essential for me to uncover all of the choices I would have to make to go from script to screen.
Once I had a huge collection of images, I began to cull them down to the two or three that I felt best represented my vision for the overall tone and style of the film, including costumes, hair and makeup, lighting, and framing. I organized the photos, labeled them, laid them out in a word processing app, saved as a PDF and voilà… a lookbook!
Tip: Your lookbook is intended to offer visual references and work as a jumping off point for discussions, but it’s not meant to lock any of your ideas in stone. Just as you need to let go of being precious about your script when you direct it, you also need to see your lookbook as a blueprint to help you and your team find the best visuals for your film.
Examples: You can find highlights from the lookbooks for my short films Vivienne Again, Deal Travis In, and The End of Mara on Pinterest. In addition, you can watch the films for free at my website and compare them to the lookbooks to see how those references translated to the screen.
THE WRITER’S LOOKBOOK
The transition to using a lookbook for writing, in addition to directing, began when I started working on the script for the third short film of a trilogy I’m creating. The films are all set in the same world, but after completing the first films, I had trouble envisioning them as part of the same story world and not as two individual films.
I needed to see these stories and characters in a fresh way so I got a bulletin board and started pinning up images from the completed films. I grouped characters based on their story roles, not on the films they were in, and immediately my view expanded.
From there, I added images I’d googled that referenced new ideas I had for the third film and mixed them right in with the rest. Since I didn’t know where the third story was heading, I re-arranged the board to look more like a police detective’s board you’d see on TV to further egg on my imagination to uncover the illusive new story idea.
Over a period of about a week, I built the board and to this day I’m still adding new ideas to it as I write. It absolutely allowed me to see my story with new eyes at a point where I felt stuck.
During this process, I realized I was creating a writer’s lookbook. It was in a different form than the director’s book (on a bulletin board vs a portable doc) and working toward a different goal (to assist me in brainstorming vs share my visual ideas for the film) but it was helping me to “see” my story nonetheless.
Since then, I’ve created three more lookbook boards for three more projects. Just as with the director’s lookbook, I gather photos from different elements in the script, such as locations, props, and costumes, and use these images to build a visual world for myself.
As I outline or write scenes, the images keep the style and tone of the world in focus and remind me to look for those telling details that can bring the story to life on the page.
Creating clear pictures in the reader’s mind using nothing but words is one of the great challenges for writers. Since I’m writing for film, I’m especially interested in learning how directors develop and build their story worlds visually and I’m not above cribbing tools and techniques from wherever I can.
The director’s lookbook was wisely recommended to me and helped me immensely in working through my ideas and then expressing them to key department heads. Taking those same tools, my new writer’s lookbooks are giving me one more way to train myself to think visually and get my stories and characters from the script to the screen… where they belong.