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Arts & Entertainment

On-Set Directing

Mira Nair

Lesson time 20:39 min

Bravery and humility are crucial to Mira’s process as a director. Learn Mira’s advice for preparing for life on set, including how to create harmony with the crew and actors and conserve your creative energy.

Mira Nair
Teaches Independent Filmmaking
The Oscar-nominated director teaches her methods for directing powerful performances, maximizing budgets, and bringing authentic stories to life.
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Cinematographers are the gorgeous right hand, and left hand, and eyes of a director. First, I am inspired a lot by what cinematographers do. So it's their work normally that propels me to find them. And I was lucky enough, again, in my earliest years of making films to, you know, find Declan Quinn, a cinematographer with whom I have collaborated for, I don't know, six, seven movies, Fred Elms, who's an extraordinary cinematographer who shot, you know, even as early as the Cassavetes movies, and David Lynch movies, and then shot "The Namesake" with me. And so on. So cinematographers, firstly, just must take my own visual ideas much further. In my world, I like to work with cinematographers who are worldly, who are aware of the world beyond just what they live in and know. I often take cinematographers into worlds that are foreign to them, Calcutta, India, Delhi, wherever. In "Reluctant Fundamentalist" we shot all over the world. So they must be at home in other places, and they must have a great humility, and actually love for other worlds. But mostly what I look for in a cinematographer is an aesthetic and a visual sort of-- to be a poet of light is how I like to put it. I also want to work with people who value really the sacredness of the frame, who really take it as seriously as I do. And normally cinematographers, of course, do, you know. I am also someone who is hands on. I am with him or her, the cinematographer, shoulder to shoulder. Once-- you know, the frame is vital, which is why I don't use, somehow, the steadicam as much. Or I don't use day players in the camera zone, you know, because they do not come from the fabric of what we are trying to make, you know. They just come and go. And so it's important for me, even in second unit cinematographers, anyone who is capturing the image for the film I am making must be part of the nucleus and the team who create the vision of the film from the get go. [MUSIC PLAYING] When I'm looking for the right cinematographer for the film I'm about to make, I'm first, of course, drawn by the quality of work that I might have seen of a cinematographer versus another. And I'm hungry for that, and greedy for that. I look at films. I look at things people do. And I'll forget-- I'll never forget, you know, what an image might evoke in me. Or just the same way I do about a performance of an actor. But I remember. And then I try to find them. And I talk with them. The first thing I do is sort of talk about the visual sensibility that I come from, that I bring to it. Of course, my films are there to speak for it. But I usually share visual materials like a lookbook or images of the time perhaps that I might be filming or so on. But then I, of course, share the script. And the conversation that I have with the cinematographer about the script is very telling, is very revealing of how they might want to see it, without necessarily knowing how I see it, you know. But that is the...

Harness the power of your roots

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mira Nair approaches directing with the “heart of a poet and the skin of an elephant,” spurred by rejection and fighting to bring uncompromising stories to film. In the Golden Lion-winning director’s MasterClass, learn to make a big impact on a small budget in film production, evoke the best from actors and nonactors, and protect your creative vision so you tell the story that can only come from you.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

oh i so so enjoyed this wonderful woman's guidance even though I am a photographer I now get alot more from her to improve my want to pull from people emotion...and seeing how she works all aspects of her craft and the collaborative way in which she works inspires me to better mine. thank you Mira....The Ugandan School looks like a hidden gem!! I will pass it on.

One great artist. One great filmmaker. Always wanted to learn with her. Finally, I'm doing it.

Her insights are invaluable! The way she speaks about working together with others, as well as the importance of telling your own stories.

I would love to have seen Mira breakdown a scene shot by shot like Ron Howard did in his class.


Cindy V.

Mira, as you suggest, we must act on our instincts! I didn't act on instinct on a film where I placed the camera in the wrong position. Rather than correct the mistake, I allowed the filming to continue and found myself with unusable footage in the editing room. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience.

Elena S.

Wonderful to hear her beginning, i.e. being Director/AD/Producer in her early projects. That's were I am at now so wonderful to see how that learning can take you further. Also, walking on to set as a blank slate - open to what may happen. Love that mind set. I am going to work on applying that in my own work.

Frank T.

She is so brilliant so brilliant. Very practical information, and lessons that she has learned that she’s willing to impart. Love it!


This is the point where you really have to trust your crew. it would be great to see all of this from the First Assistant Director's perspective.

Eric W.

that was wonderful thank you Mira I cant wait to show it to my Father(Wayne),who is a talented Director and Acting Coach congradulations on all of your accomplishments,cant wait to see another one Any hints?

Andrew Kyle B.

"If it's wrong for me now, it will be wrong for me in the editing room." That's dang good.


Listen to your instincts and be humble. That is a lesson many directors should apply. I love Mira, Thank you.

Roberto M.

oh yeah preserve energy. I usually do the opposite, die at the end of the day and resurrect the day after. Good advice , I should also do it in the rest of my life. THANKS

Jerry K.

My 3 takeaways from this lesson: Energy is not limitless;. Preserve your creative energy. Listen two your instincts. Excellent advice! Thanks, Mira!


Solid information in this lesson. I am enjoying hearing another female director share her insights!