The Actor’s Director: A Journey Through Acting Classes
It all started with a book.
This book to be specific.
You see, I’ve been looking at this short film production more and more like a solid, structured business than a passion project. I’ve done the ‘follow my dream’ route before to ‘seek out like-minded individuals to get something off the ground’ and consistently fell flat on my face. Alone with unfinished projects.
It was never the ideas that didn’t work — for goodness sake, the argument must be made that the ideas never got far enough to prove otherwise.
It’s always the execution. Always, always ALWAYS the execution of the project.
I’ve matured enough to say you can have all the starry-eyed idealism and hope all you want to get something working, but if you can’t meet payroll or properly guide and manage other human beings to execute a plan, from experience, your ideas will go nowhere.
I have more time at survival jobs supervising and managing people than I have directing people. There is a layer of important experience that I can transfer to this film work, but it’s not truly directing actors to get them to where they need to be for a character. Administratively, this project is marching in lockstep. That’s the human resources, understanding how to hire (audition/cast) groups of people to gather and do a task (the film project) side of me with some 25+ years of being a manager in one form or another.
But what about getting the actor to perform emotionally?
Regardless of the little experience I had here and there directing voiceovers or short projects, the admin side of my brain said ‘you need training’. If the goal is to not just do this one film and actually have a career as a gainfully employed director, not knowing any director friends, it was time to buy a book. That’s when I bought Directing Actors by Judith Weston.
You can even check her out in this interview:
I don’t have enough Post-it notes and highlighter fluid to mark the wealth of information that’s in this book. From page one, it’s set to engage my craft as a director to properly communicate with actors.
But there was one nugget of information that absolutely, positively made sense to me.
Ms. Weston advised her readers to go take an acting class.
At the briefest first, I was like: ‘Ha! Fuck that. I’m no actor.’
I know actors, and it’s important to also know, I have a shit memory for more than a handful of sentences. I have ZERO clue how they retain full lines of dialogue off book (acting term to reciting without a script).
Then it dawned on me. Of course. How in the hell would I know how to get the right tone from actors without sounding a schmuck with more or less things like “can you do it with more attitude” or “give me less this and more that”?
So, the admin side of my brain was like, ‘that’s a logical step considering you want this long-term. Plus you want this film to be polished on every level.’
The immediate next step was to find an acting school. I made it simple for myself and googled: Best Acting Schools in Atlanta
First on the list is Nick Cont’s Professional Actor’s Studio. At the time of my selection, it was a random choice based on his place in the list.
Turns out, the universe had other plans. There are, maybe, three places I’ve been where I felt ‘this is where I belong’:
DragonCon, a movie theater, and any location where my children are with me.
Without a doubt, Nick’s Actor’s Studio was where I felt this DNA equivalent to the right square-right hole. Kind of kismet to be truthful. Considering I am an introvert of the highest order, and going out places more than a movie theater, convention, or out to dinner is asking a lot, being at the class had me in a state of ‘this is where I was supposed to be’.
Hard to explain and I can’t wrap my head around it because I’m telling you: I have no interest in being an actor. I do not and will not go out for auditions. I will not get headshots. I will not look for acting representation. I reject it. I’m BEHIND the camera.
Still, this is where the education begins to be a director and for about three hours, I sat in on a free class and found a mentor in the instructor Scott Oakley. He is a genius in his craft, for sure.
Student actors had scenes they were to study and present in front of him and he would report what he saw, what they did right/wrong, and more importantly, where to find the emotions to put into it. He was relentless. Driven to get more out of them. All the while I’m sitting there, near tears because he was exactly where I needed to be. He was firm, honest, caring, and patient. Some of the actors he taught, those that allowed themselves to open up, were incredible.
I asked all sorts of questions and felt like an ass because the man had a lot of work to do. He was even patient with me.
Look, I’m too old now to think I can get away with a successful short film by just pointing and telling the actors to go there and ‘just say your lines’. And I know the lines in Predawn are NOT Shakespeare by any length. Still, what if I can get the actors to bring out things the same way Scott brought things out of his students?
Hell, he moved me and I wasn’t even part of the class. The fuck!
So yeah. I told Scott and Nick I’m joining his class.
I think I came off with too much ‘you have no fucking choice. You’re my acting school. You’re my mentor. Deal with it.’ kind of vibe but, well, it is what it is. I left there feeling I need to come back.
I’ve got three months before the shoot of this film. I’m not expecting to become a master director before then. Not at all and that’s not the goal. For Predawn, it’s laying the groundwork to communicate with the cast effectively to produce the results we’re all looking for. For my career, it’s neverending learning to be a better director beyond and past this one short film. Cause, you know, I’m zeroing in on the next short to work on.
In fact, it reminds me of something Bruce Lee said in an interview. When it comes to hitting something, you’re not just punching at it. You’re aiming to punch a few inches through/behind it.
I’m not just going to this class to hit what I can for Predawn.
I’m trying to smash miles and years through a whole career. It’s an ‘in it to win it’ strategy that makes sense. At least to me.
I’ll be going to the school until I graduate or whatever the equivalent to be deemed an Actor’s Director.
Talk about fork-in-the-road divergence. If you were to tell me a year, two years ago I would be going to an acting school, I could have easily said “fuck out of here” with authority. But when we sit around and talk about the things we need to grow in whatever we’re doing, I have to say, this is that kind of stuff.
No comfort zone whatsoever but at the same time, it’s perfect.