Working With Directors

Working With Directors

By Alan Gordon

A famous director whose name escapes me at the moment used to have a nasty habit of shooting a gun off on the set of his movies. When asked why,  he said that it was his way of creating tension on the set.  Apparently he felt that he needed that tension to get performances from his actors.  Elia Kazan got to know his actors on a very personal level and then used that information to provoke real emotions from them.   Another director had nasty habit of constantly screaming at his actors.  When he was asked about his habitual screaming he stated that he didn’t know how to talk to actors so he yelled at them!  Apparently he hadn’t developed any other way of getting his point across.  John Houston rarely directed his actors.  For him it was all in the casting.  If the person was right for the part he just pointed them in the right direction and let them fly.  Some directors are known for doing take after take until they get the results they are seeking. Clint Eastwood is known for creating a very comfortable atmosphere on set.  For him a relaxed actor is a productive one.  Some directors rely on improvisation to achieve the desired results.  And others have great technical ability and a very keen visual sense but are not “actor’s directors”.  Robert DeNiro has done some of his best work with Martin Scorcese.  The same can be said of Brando’s work with Kazan.  Some actors and directors have a shorthand for communicating.  They have such a keen understanding of one another that they develop what amounts to an instinctual way of relating to each other.

Which of these styles works best for you?  Over time, and given the opportunity to hone your craft in a variety of settings you will find out which directors are best suited to your particular style.  An overly aggressive director may inhibit your impulses.  An overly quiet one may not provide you with the information that you need to bring yourself to life.  Paul Newman was known for his attention to detail.  He needed to delve into every aspect of character to the power of 1o and needed a director that would support his way of working.  Kazan said in his autobiography, A Life, that all he needed to do was provide Brando with an iota of direction and his creativity would flow.  The wonderful character actor Pat Hingle was once given a direction he took exception to.  He turned to his director and said,  ”I didn’t do it for Jack Ford (John Ford).  I won’t do it for you.”  Jack Lemon had to trust his director.  If the trust was there he would go the extra yard.  If not, he would tune out.   Trust for me is the by product of working with someone that speaks from a point of knowledge and experience and is able communicate in a clear and concise manner what they want.

As you gain more and more experience and knowledge you will be able to discern those that “know” from those that don’t.  I’m not suggesting that you will always have the power to choose every single person you want to work with.  More often than not those things are out of our control.  But being able to distinguish the real thing from the pretender can be a great asset.   If you have a solid craft and have developed a very specific way of working, one that has netted you positive results, you will always have your craft to fall back on and no one will be able to pull the wool over your eyes.

About Alan Gordon:
I offer ongoing classes in Meisner technique, scene study/audition technique/cold reading, monologues and private coaching. For detailed information on my studio visit
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