John Badham On Directing by John Badham (book review).

April 16, 2015 | By | Reply More

If you’re going to learn about directing then the best way is to see what the pros have to say and Michael Wiese has several in their list that I’m going to be looking at over the next few months and they include some SF directors so you’ll also get some insight into their mindset. Most of these directors also give classes so if you can’t attend, this is the next best thing. Actually, for continual re-reading, these books might actually have an advantage.


John Badham has been directing for nearly forty years, including some films in our genre. Rather than solely depend on himself, he draws on comments from fellow directors and actors so you get a lot of insight from different perspective pointing in the same direction. In some respects, I think it might have helped had there been some contradictory or at least other options to balance things out but if you wanted something like that, I doubt if you’d been reading this book. There is reference of some differences between two directors but little beyond that.

A lot of what Badham says is plain commonsense. In any work situation, it’s sensible to know the names of the production team and by appreciating them, get the best work out of them. I suspect it also helps that directors tend to keep much of the same crew around for much of the time. The emphasis is still on getting rehearsal time with the cast so they can sort out any problems settled before they get to the set where time is money is expensive and can’t see why the suits don’t understand this even from an economics point of view. Understanding what the actors are going to do is important and a rather telling point is the director communicating simply what emotional mindset is needed for a scene than getting too philosophical about it. From that perspective, I think I understand how actors who turn directors get their message across from this now as they must have been in a similar situation and know what to avoid doing to get a certain emotion across.

For newbie directors, Badham points out all the things that can go wrong, especially in not listening to their team and taking on-board any suggestions given in case a better idea is offered. He explains that it might seem like the director is losing power over the film but really its bringing the best to the end product and I doubt if that will change any of the end credits. If that is the only lesson you learn from this book then you will have learnt a lot. It’s a shame that this isn’t always accepted in other careers as well although I do hope anyone continually contributing good ideas is given the opportunity to move up through the ranks.

There is a lot of insight into how directors and actors (I love the depiction of calling them players that Badham uses) need to communicate their ideas. Chapter 4 gives a lot of examples from a lot of different people and covers many pitfalls. Interestingly again, I think some of these techniques could be just as effective in other professions. The fact that most people can’t digest more than one solution at a time is most telling although I wish he’s gone further about what happens when there are more things to resolve and a limited filming time. Interestingly, Badham explains how high definition video gets around the problem or retakes simply because they can keep going and doesn’t waste filmstock any more. From a prose editor’s perspective, I tend to explain several problems in one go. I might not expect someone to digest them at that rate but they can certainly go through them at their own pace and sort them out at their own speed. I do think Badham has actually given me a different insight into this which will make my team wonder what I’ve been on though.

What the director has to do is get the actors to convey the emotional impact of a scene and I can see Badham’s point that you don’t have to be over-elaborate in explaining what is needed. There is also a lot said about getting actors out of their safe zones to improve their performance.

Badham also explains the difference between American and British actors. The former works out from their emotional side whereas the latter does it from the outside with what they are wearing and the mannerisms they have to adopt and work in from that. Although he doesn’t say it, I can’t help feel he’s describing the differences between method and, well, just acting.

There is much to learn for everyone here. I do have to wonder how this book will change actors who read it and understand how directors are taught to communicate with them. I guess all of that depends on the levels of sincerity and trust between both parties.

Some parts of this book also applies to us prose writers. Liking the characters is important in any medium. Likewise, understanding suspense and using it to propel the story along is given in detail. Oddly, storyboarding has some parallels to mapping out the plot of the story. It doesn’t mean you have to follow it religiously if a better idea or solution comes along but it is something to fall back on if you’re…er…losing the plot. You can also see at a glance at new solutions will affect other parts of the story.

I should point out that further into the book, Badham doesn’t rely so much on other people’s comments to support him but by then you’re so positively hooked, that no longer matters. This is especially important when he explains the beats of a scene and to understand the need for conflict of any sort to be covered. With prose, we have time to spread things out more but with film, there is a need to condense to a shorter time level and not to bore the viewer who wants something to happen.

As you should be able to tell from the length of this review, I found a lot to learn from John Badham’s book. It’s obvious that much of it is dealing with people management which is really what directing films is all about, especially when you see the end credits. If you’re learning to become a director of any sort of moving pictures then you will find this book exceptionally useful. For people in prose, you do get some insight into their medium which you might find useful in ours as well, especially with getting the most out of a scene. He even points at other books that would be useful and why, some of which I’ve even reviewed here already. Don’t miss it.

GF Willmetts

April 2015

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 262 page indexed illustrated enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61593-138-5)

check out websites: and

Category: Books, Culture, Films

Warning: Use of undefined constant php - assumed 'php' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /homepages/40/d502808907/htdocs/clickandbuilds/sfcrowsnest/wp-content/themes/wp-davinciV4.7/single.php on line 65

About UncleGeoff

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.

Leave a Reply