Thursday, January 6, 2011

Workshopping The Big Deal

Back in 2007 I won a fellowship to Film Independent’s Project:Involve. PI (as it’s often referred to) is Film Independent's signature diversity program, dedicated to increasing diversity in the film industry by cultivating the careers of under-represented filmmakers.

The program offers its fellows the opportunity to attend panels/seminars hosted by industry professionals. One of the people who spoke to us was director Billy Ray. He was kind, generous and a really nice guy. He told us of his path as a director and shared his experiences directing his first film, Shattered Glass. One of the most important resources Billy shared with us was his secret weapon to being a good director; her name is Judith Weston.

He recommended that everyone in the room, regardless of what track of PI we were in (director, writer, producer, acting) read her books Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film & Television and The Film Director's Intuition: Script Analysis and Rehearsal Techniques. He was also adamant that we take her class Acting for Directors.  I took Billy’s advice and signed up for Judith’s class in May 2008.

I was shooting Love Song in early June and I thought that this four day class was going to instantly turn me into another Billy Ray.  It was a petrifying experience. I don’t know what was scarier, having to act in a room with twelve strangers or the fact that I realized that properly directing actors is not something you can learn in four days.  The class helped me a lot but it was not enough.  At the end of the class, I came to the conclusion that if I was going to be a good director, I needed to stay in class.

The next class I took was Judith’s Script Analysis class. I highly recommend this class to actors, writers and directors. After that class I started to regularly participate in Judith’s Actor/Director Lab. Below is a link to her site so you can see a description for each of her classes.

I’ve participated in the Actor/Director Lab about six times. I am so grateful to Judith for the notes she gave and to the actors for the voice they gave to the characters I wrote. 
After participating in the Actor/Director lab a few times I was getting confident in my directing skills. I was learning rehearsal techniques and getting better at communicating with actors.  After the second Lab, I had rehearsed every scene from The Big Deal. I needed a break from the Labs but I wanted to keep working at Two Lights Studio.

I lost my marbles and enrolled in Judith’s Scene Study/Master Class. In this class everyone works on scenes form the same author. Tennessee Williams was the chosen playwright for my first Master Class.  I still don’t know what I can equate the experience of delivering my first monologue to a room full of people I did not know. I was afraid, vulnerable and insecure. I was expecting to get kicked out by the end of the first class because I had no training as an actor and I SUCKED.  I am grateful that Judith did not kick me out, instead, she was nurturing and encouraging. The class challenged me and tested my abilities not only as a director but as a human being. In that class, I had to tap into the core of my being. I did this when I rehearsed my scene in private. I was not ready to be so raw and vulnerable to people I barely knew.  When that class ended I was relieved. I felt like I showed up and did the work (in private) but I did not bring it to the class. I decided to take the class again.

The second time I took the class, John Cassavettes was the author. When I read the script for Minnie & Moskowitz I almost dropped out of the class. I did not feel ready to delve that deeply into my feelings and then share it with the class.

I was having lunch in Westwood Memorial Park, a small graveyard where a lot of celebrities are buried.  It’s a nice quiet spot in the middle of the traffic and skyscrapers in Westood Village.  I like going there when I need to clear my head. Remember, I work a 9-5 job so it’s not like I can go to the beach or on a hike in the middle of the day. I was asking the universe for a sign of how I was going to fill Gena Rowland’s shoes. The next thing I know, I’m standing in front of John Cassavettes grave. I know, I know, I am morbid and weird but stay with me. I took that as my sign to go ahead and give it my all. I decided that Mrs. Rowland’s shoes are hers and hers only.  I went ahead to the first class and delivered my monologue wearing my won shoes, not worrying about doing it wrong or trying to do it right.  On the first day of class I told Judith that my goal was to be fearless and I wanted to bring everything I had to give.

The next time I took the Actor/Director Lab, I was a much better director and workshopped scenes from The Big Deal again, this time, it was all about the actors.  It was a combination of these classes that helped me bring The Big Deal to life. These classes boosted my confidence as a director and I lost my fear of directing actors. I love working with actors and I’m trying to clear my schedule so I can attend Judith’s Master Class in the spring.


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