The Director's Chair Issue #47 – Oct. 18, 2004 (The 12 Biggest Mistakes Directors Make)

by Peter D Marshall

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THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR
Free Monthly Ezine for Film and Television Directors

October 18, 2004          Scene 5 – Take 7
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Published once a month.

Publisher: Peter D. Marshall
Email: mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com
Web Site: http://www.actioncutprint.com

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Dear Friend,

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CONTENTS
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1.  Introduction
2.  Action-Cut-Print!
3.  33 Ways to Break Into Hollywood
4.  Filmmaking Tips Forum
5.  Special Interest for Filmmakers
6.  Featured Film Book
7.  Feature Article – The 12 Biggest Mistakes Directors Make
8.  Back Issues of The Director’s Chair
9.  Share This Ezine
10. Suggestions & Comments
11. Subscribe & Unsubscribe Information
12. Copyright Information

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1. INTRODUCTION
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Welcome to Issue #47 of The Director’s Chair (October 18, 2004)

1) This month’s Feature Article, “The 12 Biggest Mistakes
Directors Make,” is reprinted with permission from the book
“Notes On Directing,” co-written by Frank Hauser and Russell
Reich.

Even though “Notes On Directing” was written primarily for
theatre directors, this book contains precisely the kind of
craftsman-like guidance about working with actors that film
students and film directors rarely get a chance to learn – and
from which they stand to gain a lot.

This book is also highly recommended by Dame Judi Dench, Sir
Ian McKellen, Sir Tom Stoppard, and Edward Albee.

2) If you are a subscriber to The Director’s Chair, I have
created a Special Interest section in this ezine for you to
promote your films, videos, websites, workshops, festivals,
books or other film related information that filmmakers from
around the world would be interested in. If you would like to
promote something that others would find interesting, please
email me at mailto:promote@actioncutprint.com

I will evaluate all submissions and pick only the ones I feel
would be beneficial to other filmmakers.

3) VOLUNTEERS NEEDED – If you would like to contribute articles,
tips, links of interest, industry news, interviews, special event
dates or other resources to The Director’s Chair please email:
mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com

—–

Enjoy.

Peter D. Marshall

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2. ACTION-CUT-PRINT! –  A Website for Filmmakers
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If you are a Film or TV Director; a working professional who
wants to Direct; a film student who wants to learn more about
Directing; or a “student of film” who just wants to know more
about Filmmaking from the pros, Action-Cut-Print! is for you!

Take a moment now to visit http://www.actioncutprint.com where
you will find over 1200 Online Resources for Filmmakers, a Film
and TV Bookstore and Film Directing Workshops.

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3. 33 WAYS TO BREAK INTO HOLLYWOOD
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Got a script you want to sell to Hollywood? Good. Then you need
a map that will guide you through the relentless obstacle
course designed to keep 99% of the screenwriters on the planet
out.

“33 Ways to Break Into Hollywood” is divided into five categories:

A. The Standard Routes — Do these first.
B. The More Aggressive Routes that can get you through back doors.
C. Outrageous Routes that have produced surprising results.
D. Networking Your Way to Success .
E. High Probability Methods — Strategies Top Writers Use.

You’ll get solutions, links to articles and sites that can help
you, and strategies that you can use today to increase your
chance of breaking in.

There’s no charge. We’re simply introducing our site to you.
Go to http://www.scriptforsale.com/33ways/signup33.htm to download.

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4. FILMMAKING TIPS FORUM – http://filmmakingtips.blogspot.com
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Share Your Production Experience!
Ask Filmmaking Questions!

I have personally worked in the film and TV industry for over
30 years, and I know that there are many industry professionals
out there who have a lot of production experience and are just
aching to share this knowledge with others!

Well here’s your chance!

I have just created the Filmmaking Tips Forum at
http://filmmakingtips.blogspot.com This Forum needs volunteers
like you who can contribute filmmaking tips and also help
answer filmmaking questions.

So how about it?

=> What little tricks and tips have you learned over the years
that you can share with other filmmakers from around the world?

=> What special production knowledge do you have that the rest
of us would like to know?

This is what the Filmmaking Tips Forum is all about: the
sharing of Film and Television production knowledge. And with
the rise of the New Media (HDTV, Web Broadcasting, Digital
Video) there is just too much for one person to experience and
know.

Check out this Forum now, and ask a question…or answer a
question. The Filmmaking Tips Forum is for you.
http://filmmakingtips.blogspot.com

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5. SPECIAL INTEREST FOR FILMMAKERS
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1) The Spiritual Cinema Circle

The Spiritual Cinema Circle offers a service that’s unique and
deeply needed. The CIRCLE gives you a way to bring hours of
inspiring entertainment into your life each month, while making
an important contribution to the world.
http://www.spiritualcinemacircle.com/?af=12930

2) The Writers Guild of America, Script Registry Info

Before you start sending out your spec, treatment, or pitch to
agents, managers, and development execs, secure your material
with the world’s leading intellectual property service – the
Writers Guild of America, west Registry – now just a click away
at http://www.wga.org.

It’s safe, fast, and easy! Now you can register your work 24
hours a day online – your registration request is processed
quickly and safely, and you’ll receive your registration number
immediately once your transaction is completed. Material for
registration may also be submitted in person or via mail.

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6. FEATURED FILM BOOK – “Notes On Directing”
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http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0972425500/actiocutprint

“Notes On Directing,” co-written by Frank Hauser and Russell
Reich, reveals the rare artistic secrets of the director’s
craft. Drawing on years of training, decades of experience, and
the distilled wisdom of leading practitioners, “Notes On
Directing” is filled with enduring good advice expressed in
assertive, no-nonsense language. With the impact of a
privileged apprenticeship to a great master, it delivers what
every director needs to know — and what every writer, actor,
and audience member wants them to know.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0972425500/actiocutprint

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7. FEATURE ARTICLE – The 12 Biggest Mistakes Directors Make
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“The 12 Biggest Mistakes Directors Make” by Frank Hauser
and Russell Reich, co-authors of ‘Notes on Directing’

Learning from one’s own mistakes is an important component of
getting better at any craft. Better still is avoiding the
mistakes in the first place — recognizing where others have
commonly stumbled and then detouring around.

Here, then, in no particular order — gleaned from observation and
from hard-earned personal pain from which we want to spare all
others — is a compilation of common errors in action or
perception committed by directors of all stripes…

1) Giving emotional directions

Imagine yourself as an actor being told to “be angry,” “be
disappointed,” “be sad,” or even “be awestruck.” Is there a
greater guarantee of an insincere result?

Instead, get the actor’s attention off himself. An action is
not an emotion. Give him something fun and interesting to do.
Occupy him. Vividly describe the circumstances he’s in and the
challenges he faces. Set a goal for the actor. Give him a stake
in what’s happening on stage. Give the actor a task that
involves changing an emotion in someone outside of himself.

Paul Newman once said that the best direction he ever got was,
“Crowd the guy.”

2) Applying style without reason or intention

Elements of style are best applied with intention, purpose, and
meaning — not as ends in themselves.

A character in a Restoration drama, for instance, bows with
open palms extended away from his body to demonstrate he has no
weapons. Ironically, this may also indicate he still wants
them, needs them, or has them hidden somewhere, so beneath the
benign courtesy lies a simmering threat. A woman waving a
perfumed handkerchief desperately as she speaks does it to hide
her atrocious breath.

Without intention, style is empty.

3) Criticizing and bullying actors

Too many directors choose shouting or sarcasm or, worst of all,
imitation to cover up their own ignorance about what to do or
say. They figure if they’re intimidating enough it will keep
everyone on their toes. While this technique will often get a
laugh, it will just as surely make an enemy.

It’s all too easy for an actor to feel he is getting it all
wrong. Rather than criticizing or controlling through
intimidation, try sincerely praising actors early and often.
Instead of correcting them all the time, get into the habit of
frequently telling them what they are doing right. Francis Ford
Coppola reportedly directs this way; he only says what he
likes: “That was terrific!” or “Let’s see more of that!” Let
that be your model.

Also, be sure to tell your actors whenever they look good on
stage. They’ll trust you more knowing you are concerned with
their appearance and dignity, and it will free them to go about
their duties with less self-consciousness.

4) Failing to include all the actors

Surely you know that in the theatre, silence is invariably
taken for disapproval. Be sure to include every single member
of the cast in your note sessions. The exception here is a
critical note that should, clearly, be given in private.

When you make a change, it is not enough simply to discuss a
new idea or change prior to performing it. Even the smallest
business must be walked and spoken through on stage and in
character prior to running it in front of an audience. You
cannot know all the possible consequences in advance. Good
actors do an enormous amount of internal work based on the
circumstances you and the script have set up. If you change
those circumstances you must give ALL the actors the
opportunity to adjust. And don’t forget to include the stage
manager, who will likely be responsible for directing
replacement actors and, in your absence, ensuring the show runs
as you intend it to.

5) Being lazy

No actor likes a lazy director, or an ignorant one. You should
certainly know the meaning (and the pronunciation) of every
word, every reference, every foreign phrase.

Also, be decisive. As the director, you have three weapons:
“Yes,” “No,” and “I don’t know.” Use them. Don’t dither; you
can always change your mind later. Nobody minds that. What they
do mind is the two-minute agonizing when all the actor has
asked is, “Do I get up now?”

6) Using nudity to indicate inner nakedness and vulnerability

Some sincere directors seem to be addicted to getting actors
naked on stage, all the while denying the prurient interest of
it all. It’s all very self-justified, flimsily defended as art.

But beware the naked truth. Earnest nudity imposed by sincere
directors is rarely the reliable conveyer of inner emotional
nakedness and vulnerability they suppose it is.

More typically, when the skin makes its appearance, the
audience is ripped from the world of the play along with the
clothing. The audience is deposited in a prurient inner world
far from the plot. Their eyes no longer watch the eyes, mouths,
and hands of the performers, but are diverted, no, riveted to
other body parts. The audience and the story often become lost
to each other.

7) Mandating the revelation of real life on stage and the
repeatability of dictated, on-the-nose moments

You can’t expect both. If you have skilled actors at work there
will be some variations moment to moment and performance to
performance that make it real and therefore subject to change.
Expect and accept that.

Audiences come to the theatre because live performance — at
its best — can make us feel more connected and alive, as if we
are part of the important and real events occurring on stage
right now. As in sports, it should feel as if anything could
happen at any moment.

Such real and true moments can be a bit messy, unpredictable,
wonderful, spontaneous, dangerous…and very difficult to
repeat.

Rather than exerting your control over it all, dedicate
yourself to keeping the life between actors alive. Don’t
micromanage. Decide what you will allow to live and flourish
without all your potentially damaging or inhibiting
intervention. As Elia Kazan said, “Before you do anything, see
what talent does.”

8) Using technical solutions when acting solutions will do

The problem here is spoiling the audience. Hydraulics and
turntables can solve certain problems, albeit in a kind of
self-conscious and self-referential “look what we can do” kind
of way.

Spectacle has its value, but when we wean the audience from
simple human drama, we commit a kind of suicide. We disenable
the audience, and ourselves, from recognizing basic
person-to-person connections, disconnections, and
reconnections. It becomes instead all about the eye rather than
the ear, about cleverness and money rather than insight and
skill. Remember that the audience has come to the theatre to
believe, to respond to the magical words, “Once upon a time…,”
not to admire a laser show.

9) “Concepting” the play

Directors need to stop coming up with “concepts” that mean
omitting passages which don’t fit, altering an emphasis for the
sake of novelty, or twisting the writer’s overt intention in
order to bring out some hypothetical Inner Meaning.

In other words, directors should be more honest. Lloyd Richards
said that if you continually find yourself itching to make
changes to a script, consider whether you should give up
directing and take up playwriting.

The current fondness for updating texts, Shakespeare, the
Greeks, is basically a form of snobbery: “How amusing! They’re
quite like us!” As if there were anything to be said for
dragging Medea or Hamlet into our appalling time. Contrariwise,
if the plays are well presented in their own period we have the
far more fascinating and educative experience of time travel,
going back across the centuries and finding out how like them
we are.

10) Thinking good art is whatever the audience cannot understand

Too many audiences blame themselves for not following a story
when their negative experiences may in fact be the result of
directing that undervalues clarity. This misguided approach
grows from a romantic and narcissistic notion that great ideas
and those who think them are valued by the degree to which
they’re misunderstood. There are historical precedents for the
suffering genius, but inverting this phenomenon and
deliberately inducing confusion for self-promotional purposes
is hardly the route to winning over an audience.

Confused audiences may be lost forever, thinking theatre and
art in general are not for them. This is a crime.

11) Neglecting the audience

The object of the director’s attention is, lamentably, often
not the crowd in the seats, but someone else: the director’s
idol, a former teacher, colleagues, parents, critics… The real
audience, of course, is the one showing up. They’re paying
money; they’re in the theater; they are ready for an
extraordinary experience. Scratch on a director, though, and
you’ll often find beneath the surface that the last thing he or
she wants is a relationship with this audience. There’s a
slight self-distancing that occurs. When directors do this,
they are not likely to want to give much of themselves to the
audience at all. Directors need to confront their personal
feelings about their audience. To succeed, a director must love
the audience and want only to give to those in it.

12) Lacking self-awareness and acceptance

Young directors often don’t know or accept themselves. This
leads them to imitate the most notable stylist or theorist they
can find…Brecht, Derrida…thinking they will inherit that style
and the critical notoriety that goes with it, without realizing
the unique experiences and struggles that the idols had to
endure to become who they became. Robert Wilson’s life, for
example, isn’t mine and isn’t yours. His unique approach, for
better or for worse, arose out of his experience and unique
personality and inclinations, which can’t really be imitated
productively. Better for the young director to develop a sense
of legitimacy to his or her own experience and inclinations
than try to borrow that legitimacy from someone else.
Obviously, find out how you work best and do that:
paraphrasing, playing animals, improv (short for “improvement,”
not “improvidence”).

Learn more about this book at: http://www.notesondirecting.com

(This material is reprinted by permission from RCR Creative, New
York. Copyright 2003 by Russell Reich. All rights reserved.)

——
FRANK HAUSER is a retired freelance director living in London.
Born in Wales in 1922, he attended Oxford University during the
1940s; worked as a drama producer for the BBC; and, in 1956,
formed the Meadow Players at Oxford. He was Director of the
Oxford Playhouse for sixteen years, during which many of his
productions were subsequently seen in London and New York. An
accomplished pianist and translator, he has also taught and
directed at the British American Drama Academy, Colgate
University, The Julliard School, and the University of
California, Davis. In 1968, he received the award of Commander
of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.), one of the most
prestigious honors given by the Queen of England.
——-
RUSSELL REICH is a writer and creative director living in New
York City. Born in 1963, he served as visiting
artist-in-residence at Harvard University, artistic associate
at the Circle Repertory Company in New York, member of the
Circle Rep Director’s Lab, and founding artistic director of
the Holmdel Theatre Company. He holds degrees from Colgate
University (Phi Beta Kappa, Charles A. Dana Scholar) and
Columbia University.

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12. COPYRIGHT INFORMATION
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Copyright (c) 2000-2004
www.actioncutprint.com
Peter D. Marshall
All Rights Reserved

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