|What I Really Want to Do is Direct offers a behind-the-scene glimpse of life as a movie-maker, and not the most glamorous part of it either. In fact, if you're anything like me, you probably don't even know what a focus putter is and that she (or more usually he) is responsible for ensuring the film is literally in focus. Sounds elementary? As we are reminded time and time again, it really isn't.
Roxanne Hastings doesn't want to be a focus putter for the rest of her life. No prizes for guessing what she really wants to do. She is quite willing, however, to move up from focus putter to cinematographer and eventually to director and has been doing rather well working for Damon Laporte, an upcoming cinematographer who has similar aspirations: he too would like to direct.
Partly because of this potential rivalry, Roxanne has never told him of her ambitions. Instead, she makes her case to Hank Sanford, the director of the B-film they are currently working on. She has bought a screenplay and is hoping her efforts on their current project will persuade him to produce it for her. It's pretty clear that Hank is more interested in getting her into bed than getting her a budget, but Roxanne is ever hopeful and ever professional. Even when the sleazy and vindictive director assigns a clueless bimbo to head the second camera unit instead of her, she grits her teeth and covers up all mistakes.
Opportunity comes knocking on another door. Roxanne's best friend Libby (whose professional fall and rise is told in Speechless) has written a script and wants her to direct it. Roxanne convinces her fellow crew members, including Damon, to use their downtime to help her. Although the path is not easy, she manages to wrap up this project, set the record straight on the other, sort out her man problems and decide what she really, really wants to do.
The story is simple enough, and the plot doesn't have any unexpected twists. Still, What I Really Want to Do is Direct is a riveting read. Its strongest point is its superb characterization. Assailed with the usual worries about weight, work and womanhood, Roxanne is a realistic heroine who garners a lot of sympathy for her let's-get-on-with-the-show attitude. Her backstory and her complicated personal life make her problems and dilemmas all the more plausible. In addition to her career ambitions and her romantic complications, she has to deal with her widowed father's recent interest in someone else; a Spanish director boyfriend who pops in and out of her life; and a biker landlord who is also a shoulder to lean on. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill cast of secondary characters, and yet even the most minor of them is both odd and touching, distinctive and supportive.
Told in the first person and in the present tense, the narrative occasionally lapses into screenwriting mode. While generally effective at adding a little local color and a lot of self-deprecatory humor, this shifting sometimes makes it difficult to decide whether Roxanne is describing reality, fantasy or the B movie that she is working on.
Roxanne spends enough time detailing different aspects of her behind-the-camera efforts that I shut the book feeling I'd just had a crash course in cinematography. Some readers might find these extensive descriptions annoying, but not I. The pacing and the potent voice did much to propel me onwards.
In short, What I Really Want To Do is Direct is that winning combination of good research, engaging voice and believable characters that makes readers really want to come back for more.