The Film Director’s Intuition by Judith Weston (book review).

March 2, 2015 | By | Reply More

One of the other Michael Wiese Production books I reviewed highlighted that many of today’s directors were so focused on the technical aspects of making their film that they just let the actors get on with the acting without telling them what they wanted. At her classes, Judith Weston teaches directors how to understand actors so they can talk the same language about the characters that they are going to play. All of this comes together in her second book, ‘The Film Director’s Intuition’, that I suspect that actors will also end up ultimately reading as well because it gives insight into the directors. After all, part of the job of actors is knowing how other people tick or at least enough to draw out the same things in themselves for a role so understanding directors should be on their list, too. What better way than being able to ensure that they, too, can communicate what they want to the director as well. For us prose writers, this book offers an opportunity to get inside the heads of both sorts of people as well as getting some insight into character building ourselves. After all, very few writers are actors or directors, let alone both.

FilmDirectorsInstituion

From the start, this is a very intense book of knowledge. If nothing else you learn then it’s how to convey the emotion of a scene which is often a weakness in some writers. Unlike scripts, where the lines are there and up to the actors how to convey them and who use the emotion of the moment to intensify it to the viewer. Tennessee Williams is quoted explaining to an actor that it’s not himself who has to covey the emotions but the thespian himself. With prose, we actually have to do both but it made an impression on me.

Weston quotes from a lot of sources throughout this book and probably gives more time to director Mike Nicholls than anyone else but you’re certainly not short of quotes here from both directors and actors. If anything, I was surprised that she didn’t go into any explanation of method acting compared to other forms but just lumped them together.  Well, I hope that’s what she did, he says, making a note to pick up her first book, ‘Directing Actors’.

On page 38, there’s a list of daily exercises to stir up the creative juices. As I read them, I thought that I do most of them already as a matter of course although I would probably question ‘steal from everyone’ without some consideration to doing what is instinctively right. I might have phrased that as ‘learn from everything’. Mind you, I have enough ideas of my own not to do such things unless I’m in a playful mood to spin them on their end. You might find you have a lot here to learn just from this page alone.

Something that came out of this book is when actors ask the scriptwriters for background detail about their character, I used to think that this was solely a potted history but now it looks like they want to know more about the emotion impacts and traumas that motivate them for the present story. If you are scriptwriting, I would consider creating appendixes with this information for the cast to help them find the ‘now’ moments that motivate the characters they play.

Another lesson I made note of, which applies to both actors and writers, is to listen to what is said by anyone as being the most important things in the world to be applied to the dialogue. Although I think there’s room for some interpretation here, I think what Weston means is use the most vital speech than meander.

Just in case you think I’m neglecting what directors are learning, Weston places some emphasis on knowing as much about the script as possible in their heads as well. An actor has to get involved in their character’s emotional actions and the director needs to work out from that. An odd thought out of all this is Weston using the royal ‘she’ for ‘he’, despite the fact the male directors outnumber the female directors here. Must be a demonstration of me paying attention or she’s trying to tell me something.

Page 152 is another one of those lists that posits questions about a character, not so much to fill in answers but to work into the writing to give them depth that works whatever type of fiction you’re writing.

Something that Weston demonstrates the practice of analysising a script to how things are carried out doesn’t really show whether or not the scriptwriter writes that way. When I write dialogue in my stories, I might have an idea what should be said and covered but I tend to make it, shall we say, organic so it comes as part of the speech than be clinical about it. It might become condensed or focused on a particular subject but that’s true of any dialogue.

For any writer, it’s worth reading chapter sixteen as Weston gives a list of the various people types. Going through them, I can’t help feel that I’ve only touched on a few of them and think I really ought to play with others from time to time.

What is insightful and what I’ve learnt most from is Weston explaining how actors work and that rehearsal is more about getting the wrong ideas out of the way than just practicing the performance. It’s no wonder that some directors go to her classes to learn and why it can be beneficial for them to do some stage directing. In many respects, the director is the second set of eyes for the actor to make sure their performance is as good as it can get and know how to push them a little when it isn’t. As such, the actor and the director are collaborators in getting the best on screen. It is also worth pointing out that the director watching rehearsals and sorting out any problems means he should have fewer things to worry about on set where the real money is spent.

I found this an immensely rewarding book to read and because of all the quotes have a better understanding of both directors and actors needs with some eye-openers along the way. In many respects, this book deserves to be read beyond these two professions, especially if you’re interested in the mechanics of film-making and writing than this book is an immense asset, which can’t be a bad thing. That’s a cut.

GF Willmetts

February 2015

 

(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 364 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: $26.95 (US), £15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-941188-78-4)

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 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.

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