Directing Actors by Judith Weston (book review).

June 19, 2015 | By | 1 Reply More

As I commented a couple months back after reviewing Judith Weston’s second book, ‘The Film Director’s Intuition’, I really wanted to read her first book ‘Directing Actors’ and the nice chap at Michael Wiese Productions came up with a copy.


As if the title doesn’t tell you, ‘Directing Actors’ is based off of Weston’s lectures for directors to understand how to communicate with their film’s cast and get the best work out of them. You would think that this would already be part of their general education but as Weston points out, it probably gets swamped by all the other information they get. Likewise, some people are just better technical directors and need to better understand what they need to communicate and at least avoid being contradictory to what emotional content is needed. Weston goes some way to address these problems and I couldn’t help wonder if actors shouldn’t also have a book to explain the director’s perspective so they can reach them half-way. Mind you, with the emphasise on rehearsal time, much of this could be resolved before reaching the more expensive set. Seeing Weston’s demonstration of different word emphasis changes the tone of a sentence is certainly an eye-opener and not something done in prose dialogue and often requires the surrounding text and setting to make work. Short of using italics or bold to accent words, I’m not sure how that can be applied to prose although early comicbooks used to do this for emphasis.

I do wonder how much I should say here because you really do need to read the book for all the intricacies. I will say Weston points out what you do need to know. What is a little contradictory is that some actors don’t want to rehearse because they think it loses the moment and spontaneity. Then the problem to me is why does it take multiple takes turn into rehearsal to finding the right moment? I guess everything works depending on what is needed for the scene. I can see a parallel to drawing here in that its very hard to get the same lines twice without a lightbox. Indeed, Weston does supply some alternatives so that both director and lead actor and presumably other members of the cast involved in the scene understand what is meant to be achieved with the scene. I do like her descriptions of using props to change inflection or convey a different subtext. I suspect a lot of it won’t make much sense when faced with the final product but the emotional subtext is all part of the work. For those of you who are amateur directors learning to make movies and who think performance is all about just pointing the camera and filming will certainly benefit here. Likewise for the actors who should listen and react to what the other actors are saying than just recite their lines.

The chapter ‘Actors’ Resources And Training’ should be read by everyone as Weston gives insight into the three main acting techniques and how they are applied. From my prose writer perspective, I have a better understanding for character development, whether its working from the inside out or the outside in. The former is method acting and is finding the emotional memory of the part. The latter is the more British way of observation in how the character responds to the environment. The third is purely to use imagination by Stella Adler and fourth, Meisner’s Repetition Exercise of immediate experience. Don’t treat them as isolated from each other as actors will blend them. I can see, especially with the fourth, why some actors don’t want to rehearse for that moment.

When Weston moves on to script analysis, there is information here for the scriptwriter as well as the director. Stage direction can come from the writer but a lot of it comes from the script. I like how she explains how some of this comes from descriptive dialogue detail than giving an emotional detail as it is the difference between physicality and portrayal. No wonder there are acting classes where people are asked as to what the scriptwriter meant by a particular actions they write. It makes me wonder why the scriptwriter simply does more by explaining the story or at least the kind of emotional content he or she wants to give with a scene.

It’s hardly surprising that a big section is devoted to the types of rehearsal available and how to adapt to various needs. One thing I think Weston omitted was when the director has to do the set-up from a different actor’s point of view and a repeat of the scene, how do the actors keep the same emotional content or just change things a little. Having said that, if you’re a first-time director, there is so much here to assist performance that you’ll never leave home without the book. Something that also came out of this is for actors to do fictitious scenes that aren’t in the script to understand their roles better. When I started my own prose stories, I was doing something similar to get my characters’ voices so there is a transition point here even if it did look like I was talking to myself.

I can understand why ‘Directing Actors’ is such a popular book. There is a lot here to learn and apply. Don’t expect to read and put the book away. Well, not until you become very proficient. I suspect the amateur directors amongst you will up your game with learning from these techniques. Judith Weston has a most worthwhile book to read here.

GF Willmetts

June 2015

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 312 page enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), £15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-941188-24-1)

check out websites: www.mwp.com and www.judithweston.com

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Category: Books, MEDIA

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (1)

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  1. Tim says:

    “One thing I think Weston omitted was when the director has to do the set-up from a different actor’s point of view and a repeat of the scene, how do the actors keep the same emotional content or just change things a little.”

    They don’t. Each actor brings something new to the role and the emotional experience is different. You can direct them by giving them different payable actions and intentions, which she delves into in great depth.

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