Today guest is the legendary writer and educator Judith Weston. Her book Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film & Televisionand The Film Director’s Intuition: Script Analysis and Rehearsal Techniques is a must-read for any film director.
Judithconsults one-on-one with directors and writer-directors of film and television as they prepare to bring their projects to life. Some of her students include Alejandro Iñárritu, director of The Revenant, Academy Award winner for Best Director, and Birdman, Academy Award winner for Best Picture and Best Director; Ava DuVernay, nominated for 16 Emmys and six Critics Choice Awards, and Selma, nominated for Best Picture Oscar; Steve McQueen, director of Best Picture Academy Award winner12 Years a Slave; Taika Waititi, writer-director of Jojo Rabbit, Thor Ragnarok, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and many more.
Literally thousands of film and television directors, screenwriters, writer-directors, and actors around the world have attended Judith’s workshops or consulted with her in preparation for their projects. Judith’s reputation and influence are international and well-established.
After 30 years of teaching workshops and classes, Judith, in 2015, closed her studio space and shifted her focus to one-on-one consultation for directors and writer-directors.
Her ground-breaking book Directing Actors was published in 1996. Judith’s second book, The Film Director’s Intuition, was published in 2003. Both books are written from the point of view of film directors. And directors all over the world have come to rely on them. But so many others have told me they have found them helpful—screenwriters, actors, professionals in film, television, photography, theater—and really anyone who wants to live creatively. She recently undertook a thorough revision and updating of her signature work, Directing Actors (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSION), in order to make it available as an Audiobook. Judith herself is the narrator.
Enjoy my insightful conversation with Judith Weston.
Right-click here to download the MP3
- Judith Weston – Official Site
- Judith Weston – Facebook
- Judith Weston – Twitter
- Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film & Television(FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSION)
- The Film Director’s Intuition: Script Analysis and Rehearsal Techniques
- Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible– Get a Free Screenwriting Audiobook
Alex Ferrari 2:01
I like to welcome the show Judy Weston, thank you so much for being on the show.
Judy Weston 3:41
Alex Ferrari 3:42
I appreciate I truly truly appreciate you coming on the show. Because your book directing actors, it was such a big part of my early directing education because a lot of the things that are in your book, they weren't teaching to me in film school, especially the film school I went to they really didn't focus a lot on the directing aspect of things. So your book was like a treasure trove, and still is a lot. I mean, there's nothing that's gone stale, all these techniques, you know, actors are still actors, directors are still directors, and your book was so instrumental in helping me in my directing career. So first of all, I want to just as a fan, thank you for writing it. Thank you, thank you for writing it and putting it out into the world and and we'll talk more about the book and the new version of it that just came out and other things. But before we get into it, I just want to ask you, how did you get in? How did you start on this journey on helping directors, you know, direct actors?
Judy Weston 4:36
You know, I was thinking about this, I knew you were gonna ask me this because people always start interviews with this and I'd listen to some of your others and, and, and, and I realized when I was thinking about it, and I realized how much I just like talking about myself and talking about my work. What I'd like to do is do the work and you know, help people like you say, but it I mean, the short answer of how I got into it as I was an actor, you know, I was an actor. And I began to see that some directors were good, and some were not. And I began to notice certain things. And I think it was the second I come up from theater. So in theater, you do a lot of rehearsal, and you have a lot of collaboration. And you never view your Will you never argue about changing lines in theater, but you can argue with your director all you want. So that's, you know, that's different about theater than film. And, but I loved I love getting into television and getting into film, I loved it right away. But the second job, I got the first job I got, I had the, like, maybe the best director in the world, and john Cordy. And the second job I got was for an afternoon special. I was living up in San Francisco, and they used to, that's where I'd gotten started acting, and they used to shoot up there was great place to shoot. Right? And, and cast the smaller roles from the local people. So I got this job as Miss Palmer, the, you know, the teacher, right after school special. So, and I, you know, so happy at my second job, that was very exciting to get a second job very soon after my first one. And I bounced up to the director on the first day. And I said to them, Oh, thank you. I'm so happy to be here. What shall we do with Miss Palmer? And, and he looked at me, like, I had two heads. And he said, Well, just do what you did in the audition. You were great. And, and I just thought, okay, okay. There are directors who don't know how to talk to actors, or who aren't interested in talking to actors and aren't interested in hearing ideas, or talking about or even talking about ideas, you know, even expressing their ideas are having ideas. And they're, they're kind of piecing things together. Like, it's a jigsaw puzzle. So, um, so I filed that away. I mean, I was an actor, I, I wasn't interested in teaching at that point, I wanted to, you know, work as an actor. And, but I, but I had been told by my acting teacher, Jeanne Shelton, you know, one of my major mentors, a mother figure, if you will, that I would, we had a special relationship and, and she always told me that someday I would teach. So at a certain point, when I started teaching, I remembered, you know, I remembered this, I'm sure, very wonderful. I'm sure you did a very good job with this after school special. And, you know, Miss Palmer that and I thought, you know, directors really need to know more about what actors do. You really, really need to know more about actors. And so I started out, I was just doing an acting class. For directors, I just said, I'm going to make it you know, once a week for eight weeks, people will, you know, they won't mind signing up for that. And, you know, I'll just teach them some acting. And I had, I had been teaching a class called acting for non actors. So I discovered that I was good at that I was good at getting people to, I was good at getting a performance out of somebody who never acted before. And, and so that and I thought, well, they'll figure it out themselves. If they get in the actors, shoes, they'll figure out for themselves, what's going on with actors, and they'll have more empathy, and they'll be able to communicate better. But people still kept asking me questions they kept asking me and the main questions were always, why do I need to know this? And how can I use it? And, and at first, I always I had the idea. Well, it should be obvious, it should be obvious you I'm teaching you about verbs. So it should be obvious that you should use verbs when you communicate with actors, but it wasn't so. So that was just fantastic. I always learned much more from my students than then I'm sure I ever taught them because they, you know, they, they they kept, they kept at me. Why do I need to know this? How can I use this? And so I thought, well, I got to figure that out. And so and they really pushed me to figure out exactly how, you know, precise ways that the tools that actors use, like, like backstory, emotional, or what I call emotional history, emotional history, verbs, objectives, you know, what the character wants from the other character imageries subtext imagery, the things that are going the memories and the and the ideas that are going On in the characters mind, and how those, you know how those could be directors tools, as well, you know, in addition to actors tools,
Alex Ferrari 10:09
So I'm going to give you I'm gonna tell you a story of when I first directed my first short film in college, please do your stories. So when I first when I got a group, I went to an acting studio, and I went there and befriended a bunch of actors, I said, Hey, guys, we're doing a short film. And it's, it was shooting in an apartment, it was some college, you know, like a bunch of college kids sitting around talking, it was, you know, the experience of that I had at that point in my life. So we got all these actors together, and they came over and, you know, had all my technical stuff, I was shooting with the cameras, and I had like, little crew together and everything. Then the actors started doing, they went outside to they started, like, kind of yelling and going like trying to shake something out of themselves, like bla bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, I had never seen anything like this before. And I'm like, Oh, my God, these people are crazy. And at that point, I realized all these people speak a completely different language than I do. They don't, they don't we are, it's like Earth and Mars and Venus. You know, it's like it literally, it's just speaking another language. And I was able to communicate with them. And I was empathetic, and I was able to get, you know, to a certain extent, there was some result that directing and there, there was some other things, you know, on the nose stuff that you do when you're a young director. But that was the first moment I realized, like, I need to understand how these, these collaborators speak, just like I had to learn cinematography, language, music, composing language, production, design, language, all the other departments. As a director, you need to understand their languages, but actors specifically because they're such an integral part of the storytelling process. And then that's when I picked up your book, and I started learning more about it with other too. But I feel that there's so many directors, so many directors that that run, when they get an actor like that, are actors like that. They're shocked. And they just don't know what to do, let alone with all the pressure of trying to actually make a movie, let alone a bunch of actors yelling and screaming and doing things that they've never seen before. Right, right. Did you ever take an acting class, I did, I took a couple acting classes. In my, in my day, I realized that I do not want to be an actor. Because it is I when I took the acting class, I realized, first of all, I became I became so empathetic to what an actor does, and how they do it. And the exposure that they put themselves out there to do what they do good actors, at least, to do what they do. And from that moment on, I was always very kind to in castings, and things like that, but from what I became your, your kind of person I tried, and that matters, that counts. I try, I try. But I always realized that even in castings, which are brutal, I mean, I've seen casting directors shred, you know, actors, you know, and if I had any sort of power in this situation, I made sure to stop it. But I've seen it, I always made sure to be extremely kind and courteous, and, and just just empathetic to what they do. Because it's, it's so it's such a sad thing, because you as an actor can prepare and do everything. And you might be awesome. And you might know your lines and everything, but you walk into that room, you just not might be you're not what they're looking for. And it's nothing, it's nothing personal. It's not you, it's not a judgment on you, your talent, I'm looking for someone who's six, five, African American, or and you happen to be five, eight, an agent and like it doesn't, it doesn't work, you know, it's your acting is fantastic. But it's not work for the part, or I have something in my head that it's not matching what's walking in. So I became very empathetic. And I think that's one of the keys of a good director is to have empathy for what they're doing. I think that's the starting point, then you build that relationship. Is that a fair statement?
Judy Weston 14:00
Oh, I think that's very important. I mean, you know, one thing that I used to tell my acting that the class I taught was called acting for directors, I taught it for 27 years. And this workshop was and was limited to 12 people, 12 directors, and I used to tell them, right in the beginning, I used to say Do you realize that actors think of people who are not actors as civilians, that they feel in a completely different world. And you know, that they're, they're in a fight they're in a battle. They're in a you know, they're, well not not a battle. It's fun, you know, they love it, but so they're not going to get killed, like
Alex Ferrari 14:49
I use. I use the analogy of battle all the time. I always say I always tell people I have shrapnel constant. I have a lot of shrapnel inside of me from this business. So I completely understand
Judy Weston 14:59
That but but But actors, you know, they feel like people who are different from everybody else on the planet. And that includes everyone else on the on the film set,
Alex Ferrari 15:09
Which says a lot, because we're crazy.
Judy Weston 15:14
But not it but but actor still, actually sometimes I sometimes I make the analogy to, it's it's like, like teenagers, you know that that not that actors are more childish or more, you know, less mature or less developed than, than adults but, but that, but the way that adults think they like teenagers but they really don't, that teenagers are too out of control. They're too, they're too out of control. And, and adults think, you know, they love their children, and they, but they really don't like teenagers and, and that I think that actors feel that way, sometimes on a phone set that, that people, you know, they love them, they, they need them, but they don't really like them. They don't really like, you know, they're there, that they're that actors are loud, and they hug too much and things like that. And, and, and they mean, they, you know, can be temperamental, and, and if they're not temperament, you know, if they don't express the temperament, they're feeling they shut down. And, and you can't get them back just by dialing up dialing a knob. So, you know, it's so they bond together, you know, they, they hang out together, and they feel more comfortable. And, and it's, you know, you have to get invited into that. And, and to as well as to respect it and to see it as a craft, and not just like, you know, a childish thing that we're running around. And, you know, being to advertise
Alex Ferrari 16:53
It and pretend you're pretending
Judy Weston 16:56
Yeah, but but to it, but anyway, it can be just so exciting to, for a director to understand enough about actors that, that you know, how to invite yourself in, and or get invited rather, you know, and that's, that's what we, that's what we mean by trust, is that, you know, as is. And one thing I want to say about, because one of the questions, directors always asked me, where they would always ask, How do I get actors to trust me? And? And my answer is you to get if you want someone to trust you, you must trust them. That's the, that's the, that's the secret. And it's a very simple one. It's hard to remember it sometimes. But it's a very, very simple one, and has to do a lot with my principle of opposites. I think opposites are, you know, crucial in so many ways. But if you want somebody to trust you, you must trust them. And, and, and, you know, directors are often young directors are mistrustful of actors. They're, they're sort of instantly in damage control. They're, they're looking around saying, but as soon as the actor does something strange, they're thinking, Oh, she wants to ruin my movie? And how can I? How can I? How can I rein her in to keep her from ruining my movie? And I don't know, actress are not like that at all. They really, really want to help. They really want to, you know, they want to be they, they they want to be engaged with the director, they they may want to fight, but it's, you know, it's ideally, they're fighting over ideas. They're fighting over interpretations. And, and, you know, not not over. I mean, actors know, that they're that the director is the leader. And I don't, I don't I don't think of it that way is that as most of the actors I know, they're not fighting for control. They're fighting for ideas. And, and, and and Excuse me, I know you want to say something, but but it's always always good to treat people as if they're fighting over ideas and fighting over the work. Instead of fighting for control. It's always better to keep go to keep the focus on the work and not on the ego.
Alex Ferrari 19:26
Yeah, gosh, yes. My latest movies called on the corner of ego and desire for a reason. It's not about him. It's about filmmakers. It's so there's, I completely understand what you're saying. And I'm going to give you my experience, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. I find it that actors at least from from my years of directing, actors want a safe space, and they want to feel protected by their director to go out on the limb because they do the great performances in history. are actors going out there without a net In a safe space, because they, they have to feel that there's somebody there to catch them if they go too far, or if they wander, or anything, and they need that safe space to play. And if you can give an actor that safe space, you're able to create that bond with them. And then they can grow more, and they can do more, and they can experiment more. But the second, this second, an actor does not feel safe. That's when they shut down. That's when they start trying to take control because they're in damage control for themselves. A lot of times I've seen it, it's happened to me early in my career. I've watched it on sets where actors literally have no relationship with the director. And they just, they're just like, Well, look, I'm here, I'm going to now this is about me, I got to protect myself. And I got to make sure my performance, and they just block it. And then this is all this is all but it all stems from having that safe space, having someone that you know, this person has your back. Is that in your from your experience, is that fair to say?
Judy Weston 21:01
Here's how Yes, exactly. But here's how I, here's how I translate or, or what you're talking what we say about safe space, so important for any creative endeavor. And the way I think of it in a way that I think is more easy to remember more easy to do, is its permission to fail. So one time as a student of mine, after the workshop, she created this beautiful, artistic painting, for me, and on the theme of give yourself and everyone you work with permission to fail. And that's, that's the key thing is that, you know, you can have the idea that you want to give a safe space. But if you're, if you're criticizing, if you're correcting if you're if you're in or if you're you know, if the disappointment is written all over your face, then it's so helpful to keep a forward movement to keep focused on the glass half full instead of the glass half empty, you know, focused on what what's going going well, and then kept saying, well, let's keep working. You know, let's keep working I, you know, you can say you can say something like that, I think we've got more than you can say, you don't have to pretend you like it if you don't. But you can you can say things like, I think there's farther we can go I think there's another layer we can get, you know, you can put it in that in that positive forward way. And you don't have to tell them what it is, you know, you If a If an actor isn't what you think of is there. You can ask them, say to them, you know, I think we can go. I think you can go further here. But you don't have to tell them what to do. It's, you know, you don't have to tell them how to do their job. You can you know, it? I think that's a place where directors get mis mixed up, where they think well, I don't have the language so I can't tell them how to fix what's wrong. Well, you don't have to tell them how to fix what's wrong. You can you can tell them. You know, I go back to some of the you know, some of the greats you know, like William Wyler, back moldable old super old school. Well, I'll just mention to your readers, they may never have heard of William Wyler, but
Alex Ferrari 23:38
it's Billy Wilder. Yes, of course. Ability by William Wallace. Oh, no, it's a different one that Oh, okay. Okay. Did I get that wrong? William Wyler. You might you might I know Billy Wilder, but I don't know. I don't I have not heard of William Wilder. I might be I might have heard of him. I just don't remember off the top of my head.
Judy Weston 23:57
Okay, okay. Well, Director of Well, okay, nevermind though. He directed Ben Hur. He directed a bunch of things back in the day. Anyway, a bunch of Academy Award winning movies, but he's been dead a long time. Anyway, he used to after every after every take, he would just say Do it again. He would never give any particular direction he would say Do it again. And Chrissy shot a lot of film. You know, he's he's cost the studio's a lot of money. Because he would shoot and shoot and shoot without and and then eventually though, the actress would figure it out for themselves. Exactly. Presumably the camera running
Alex Ferrari 24:48
Yeah, in like my last film I did I I basically was a lot of improv and those films and and I just kind of gave the actors a really beautiful You know, chorale to play. And I'm like, Okay, guys, let's have some fun. Let's play. And that's my first film was very experienced, like extremely experienced actors. My second film was young actors. And it was wonderful to watch how I just like, hey, let's just play. And the difference between the season the actor in the in the younger actors, because the season actors were like, this is fantastic. I've never had so much fun in my life, there's no pressure, because it was so stress free, and it was like an anti film set. And then the second one everyone was they had no idea. They were just like, this is fantastic, too. But they were more scared if they were more scared of like approval and things. And I had the pleasure of directing Robert Forster in a project. Yeah, who just who just passed. And oh, he was wonderful. He was one of the sweetest souls I ever met. And when I worked with Robert, I was a young is going back 10 years, I was a young director. He was Academy Award nominee Robert Forster, who's worked with Quentin Tarantino and many other big time directors. And he was as courteous to me and work so hard on the project, as if you will be working on a set with content here. Now, it was fascinating to watch. And even when I gave him direction, he would turn to me. And honestly say, was that what you wanted? Are you okay? Do you want me to do it again, he was kind of like coaching me a little bit on how to because I was intimidated. I was like, Jesus, this is you know, I mean, it was fascinating to to work with someone like him he was. So he comes from an older generation, obviously. But that generation of work ethic, and he's like, it was a short film he was doing for me as a favor. And he came in and he just did his work. And it was wonderful to work. When you work with seasoned actors, you realize, Oh, this is what it's really supposed to be like, with a seasoned dp or seasoned production designer, anybody? It's fascinating. It really is. One question I want to ask you, um, we talk a lot about this. It's something that you and I both understand what it is, but I really think the audience will benefit from your explanation of it. What is result direction?
Judy Weston 27:16
Okay. It's best Explained with Examples. And that's how I started out the first chapter of directing actors with these examples of result direction. So for what, for one example, line meetings, that that's the simplest, that's as simple as I think that most people recognize, you know, telling the actor, let's pick a line. Let's say the line is, when are you coming home tonight? And, and the actor says, when you coming home tonight? And then the director says, Well, don't say it that way. Say, when are you coming home tonight, you know that that line lines, that's a library. So that's a that's very clearly that's the result. That's so that's the result the way you want the line to be said. And that's maybe the simplest and most easily understandable example of result direction is, is telling the actor how you how you want it to be said and, and it's and really directors really have to get away from it really. I mean, what I just did, oh, the simplest way to translate what I just did was with intention or verb, when I said, What are you coming home tonight, you know that I had the I had the verb the intention to invite you to come home, and to be welcome whenever you got here. And when I say when you're coming home tonight, I have there's I'm accusing. Right. So that's my verb is to accuse. Or you could call it an accusatory tone. I like to use the verb to accuse. And, and, and if if, if directors start to understand the difference between, you know, I just want to hear it the way I hear it in my head, versus what's going on underneath. What is this character doing? What does this character want? What effect does the character want to have on the other character? Does the does the character want the other character to feel welcome and to feel to feel warm? Or does the other does the character want the other character to feel threatened, you know, like, like you better do what you what you're supposed to do, or else you'll be in trouble. And so so that's a simple example of you know, instead of the we're asking for the result, to give some thought to, you know, what the intention is underneath. Another one of courses is to ask for mood, you know, can you make it more quirky? Can you make it can you make it funnier? Can you be angrier, those can of things, those are result directions and emotional result be angrier. be cuter, you know, things like that be more disappointed.
Alex Ferrari 30:12
So let's say instead of saying your anger you would maybe would you suggest like talking to the actor I'm like, okay, instead of this part, you obviously could say I want you to be angrier.
Judy Weston 30:24
And it's very, it's, you can say what you can say that yes, of course. Yeah, of course you can. But I want to tell anybody No, be the language police.
Alex Ferrari 30:33
Okay, can you make it a little angrier? No. But then if you can talk to them in the sense of the scene, like, you know what, instead of doing get angry, I'm like, you just found out that she's cheating on you. Go with that? Is that a direct? I mean, if that's the tone you want, cuz if he like, I, you know, what was that that line? What was the line? You just said? Are you coming home for dinner? If you say you just found out that she's cheating on you, and you say that line, it's gonna have a completely different energy behind it? Is that a good way of doing it?
Judy Weston 31:06
Here's the thing, I really think it, you know, should connect to the script somehow, of course, and it should also be a collaborative with the actor. So I always, I always will ask, I've always will start with a question. I'll always ask the actor, what do you think is going on here? Okay, instead of jumping in with telling them, what I how I want them to do it. And especially if you're saying you just found out that, that she's cheated on you, if it's not in the script? I mean, that's, uh, you know, of course, you can make that adjustment, you can make that, you know, as if you just found out that she's cheated on you. That's perfectly permissible to make adjustments that are different from the facts that are given in the script. But But I don't know, I don't feel quite right. Just unloading that on an actor, you know, because I'm still asking for a result. You know, I'm just pretending that I'm not. I it's really a little bit lengthier process of asking, what do you think is going on? What do you want from this in this scene? And, and one thing I want to find out first, by asking that question is, do they have an idea that they're really invested in? That I would be very well served by listening to? Okay, okay. So, um, you know, if they, if I say, what, what's your idea about the scene? What do you want here? What are you working on? And if they say, Well, I, and they've remote, well might say, I know, you want this angrier than what I just did. But I have this idea that I'm going to trick her into thinking I'm not angry. And then, you know, and then surprise her with, with with the disaster later on, then, you know, that's a real idea. That's, you know, that and that's, that's worth that's worth looking at, that's worth paying attention to. And then, and then you can say, I totally, and you can still say I totally understand that. That's a great idea. I really love it. Here's the reason why I think he starts out with accusation right out of the box, then you give them an you know, you give them a reason. And, yeah,
Alex Ferrari 33:33
So. So. Thank you. That was that was fantastic. I think I was very beneficial. For everyone listening. The The one thing I see when I look at a performance, especially when you're looking at shows or movies is the honesty behind it. And that honesty is something that you can smell. You can say most people can't pinpoint it. They'll just go, or I didn't really connect to that or it didn't. That's why anytime Meryl Streep just gets in front of a camera. You feel like she's g ism. It's magical, how she just embodies whatever she does so effortlessly at this point in her career. And she's been doing it for she's been doing it for decades. But her the honesty in those performances. And if you look at the best actors and best actresses and supporting over the years, there's an honesty to those performances. That is, so you just can't put anything on it. That you can't you can't define it. It's not something that can be definable. But when you don't see it, you can see it. When you don't see it in the performance, you can feel it. So it's like sometimes my wife who's not in the business, will be watching the show. And she's like, she's a horrible actress. And I look at her I go Yeah, I understand what you're saying. It's like because it's like so one dimensional. There's like there's nothing. There's no gas behind the pedal, if you will. How do you nurture an honest performance? Is that something that is Brought, the actor needs to mean how can you pull that out of them or nurture them to be able to perform to perform that way for you?
Judy Weston 35:08
So the principle that I like to talk about and promote and encourage people to embrace is the idea that it's not a collection of single performances. But it is a configuration of relationships, that the story is about relationships and not about performances. And you know, it's not about the individual characterizations. It's about the relationships. And when you talk about Meryl Streep, one of the things about I remember a long time ago, back when, inside the Actor's Studio was a big deal. And of course, I watched everyone, and I used to tape them and rewatch them and and, and Meryl Streep was on. And then that guy, that interviewer that everyone complained about?
Alex Ferrari 36:05
Lifted, lifted. Yes,
Judy Weston 36:07
I know, I know, he was he was so well meaning and he put the whole thing together. So you know, you have to give him props. But he could be Well, anyway, so one time we said she was on, and he was asking her a whole bunch of stuff. And then all of a sudden, he said to her, how much of your performance do you get from the other actor, and I'll never forget the look on her face, the camera was on her, and she went red, she went red, she looked like she'd been slapped. And she said, Well, all of it, I get all of my performance from the other actor, I have no performance until the other actor is there. And it was like she was hurt to be that at the suggestion, because, you know, she's known as a kind of a technician and, you know, as making every character completely different from everyone else. And, and she used to be faulted for that, you know, not anymore, you know, now she's kind of accepted for the queen, she always was. But, um, but the idea that she crafts her performance all by itself in the laboratory, and brings it in and, and presents it to the camera was complete, she was letting us know, that was completely wrong. That was completely not what she was doing, that she creates prompts for herself, she, you know, she would give her a lot of herself a lot to work with. But then she would give herself over to the other to the other actor in the scene. It's the term that actors use for this is listening. But it's much more than just hearing, it's much more than just something you do with your ears. It's it's a, it's a surrender, it's a service, you take all of your preparation, and all of your preparation, of course, hopefully will have been honest, you will have been done done honest preparation, not just, you know, making something up because you think it would be cool, or you think it would be interesting, but something that you honestly know about life, either it's because you know about it from your own life, or from observation of other people and, and, and imagining people in circumstances that you've never experienced and research you, but you do all of that you do your your personal exploration, your observation, your research, you're imagining you do all that, honestly, ahead of time. But then when you get on the set with the other actor, you get you forget it, you you you almost let it go and you give yourself over, you respond in the moment to the other actor. That's how it looks honest. That's how it looks natural.
Alex Ferrari 38:59
That's excellent, great answer. Great answer. Now, if you're not getting the performance you want out of an actor, what are some tips you can use? Besides, you know, taking a stick out? I'm joking. No, but believe me, there's probably some directors listed. But like, What do you mean, it's a wrong thing? Not to take the stick out? No, um, you know, if there's a way to if you're not getting the performance you want, because we've all looked directors have all been there. We have not gotten the performance we want out of a certain actor, and vice versa. The actor has not been able to get the
Judy Weston 39:31
Give me an example though. Like what what were they not? What were they doing that you didn't want or not doing that you did want?
Alex Ferrari 39:38
They're either getting in their own head, and they're, let's say they're saying the line and they're saying it the same way, no matter how many different ways you tell them to change it. They still are saying the exact same way and they think in their head that they're changing it but everyone listening is going not insert you're not changing it. And I think they get caught up in their own head and then they start spiraling, they'll start spiraling down a dark hole, and then it could go, it can go dark. So if you're not aware of that, you can lose them, not only for the day for possibly for the project. So if you start seeing things like that, what are some tips or techniques that you can use to try to bring them back out?
Judy Weston 40:17
Well, that particular thing of actors getting stuck in line readings, you should find out on casting, you should not cast an actor who does that. So one of the things for casting, I have this whole set of ideas that I think are helpful for auditions. Where, first of all, you let you they come in, you let them do you say, I really want to see what you've brought in. And you know, have them do what they want. But you say ahead of time, I want to see what you've brought in. But no matter how perfect it is, we're going to work with that a little bit what I'm going to give you some some other direction. And then even if you love it, you should still work with them, give them some other direction, and make sure the lines come out differently. That's where you have to make sure that the actor can change their line reading with a different adjustment. Because there are actors who have been improperly taught or, you know, untrained or, or improperly trained, who fall into line readings like that. And sometimes the only way you can get out of that is by changing the line on them, you know, just before the scene starts, that's what, you know, some, some directors do. And so, yeah, it really it's a it's a really, it's failing in their training you and you shouldn't work with you, but you need to find it out in in auditions. Now, if they are a very good actor. And it's a total shock to you, maybe it's somebody you didn't even audition because you you know, because they either they don't audition or, or things are, are so perfect. You could take them aside. And and you could say, you know what, the funniest thing is happening. I feel like the library, we're falling into a lot. And you could you don't have to say you are falling into you say we're falling into a line reading here. And I don't know what to do about it, it feels it's starting to feel a little stale. And I can you tell me what to do. Now, obviously, this should be said with nobody else around, please. Thank you. Yeah, this, this is something that's very important to say, to all your wonderful listeners is, I believe every time you talk to an actor, it should be in private, every single time. Now, if you're saying something like I just described, which is so sensitive, that never, you know, you have to really look around, make sure no one's in earshot. Not even another actor. But But even for very innocuous and even banal seeming interactions with a director with an actor, it's really better to have privacy there. I mean, the, the absolute worst thing you could do is to yell and direction from be behind the monitor, you know, or behind the camera, the camera where everybody in the whole set can hear to say, you know, to yell it low, make it angry, you know, make it angrier, or, or, or that was horrible, whatever it is, I was horrible. And that was that wasn't it? That wasn't what I told you. You know, I mean, that would be the absolute horribleness. And, and, you know, I mean, I'm going to assume that the directors who are listening to your podcasts are aware enough that they would never do something like that. But, um, but but, you know, always go up to the actor, always go up after every take, go up to them, even if you have nothing to say, even if you go up to them, and you just smile at them and say, you know, I got nothing to say but we're going to go again, you know, that that to make a personal connection, and anything you say to them, you know, if you say, I think we should try a different adjustment. What ideas do you have that that you say that privately or even if you very specifically say I want you to really punish her this time, you know, that you you don't let anybody over here that but especially the crew, not to let any of the crew over here because here's why. Here's why is that you know, the crew then becomes an audience and they become a assess, you know, judgers, they become judgers, they hear the direction, and then they're watching the actor to say she can do that this time or not, you know, and And the there's no need for that. There. That's not what they're hired for, they're hired for, you know, they're very, very skilled at what they do. And that's what they're hired for. They're not hired to, to judge whether, you know, whether the performance and, and, and you know, and sometimes people ask me, they say, well, gosh, you know, what if it's, you know, you're shooting in a small location, a small room and the sound guy and the, and the camera operator, they're, they're close by, you know, it isn't possible to talk to the actors without them over hearing. And I have to say, Well, yes, it is, you know, you could whisper.
Alex Ferrari 45:44
Yes. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Judy Weston 45:57
It's not that hard. But But, you know, you could whisper but you could also talk to the people, though, particularly the sound Person of the camera operator that are, you know, that are going to be close up. And it's going to be, you know, difficult for them to leave their equipment and move away, you could say to them ahead of time, you know, I am going to want to speak to the actors privately after every take. And I'm, I'm not going to banish you from the room for each of those occasions, but, but I'd like to ask you to not listen, I'd like to ask you to turn your attention away. And, and allow and give us the privacy. You know, and you could say, Are you willing to do that? And they're not going to say no, of course no, then they're going to try their best. And then besides that you can whisper
Alex Ferrari 46:50
The good, always a good metric on if a scene is really powerful. If you can make a grip cry, that's generally a really good indication that you've nailed something. I've had that happen. A couple of thoughts on my Sam, like, you just made the crip cry. That was fantastic.
Judy Weston 47:12
I always when I was when I was acting in you know, TV shows or whatever, I always, I was used to the theater. So I loved an audience I, you know, I like to, I'd like to have an audience. So I was always playing to the, to the, to the room, to the room, you know, to the to the technic to the crew. And so I used to like it when sometimes because I never, I never was the lead in a big in a in a television, movie or show but but I used to like it if if it's, you know, one of the crew members would come up to me and afterwards and say, yeah, you are a real actress. So I really thought you were great. So So especially Chris, sometimes it just meant that they they were irritated with the star. But now I want to be so mean, oh, no crews, no
Alex Ferrari 48:06
look crews, it's my job as a director to create a safe space. If I've had I've had crew people walk up and say that just the crew not cruel, but just dumb things, or something that throws an actor off their, their their game. And as soon as I find out about that I fire or either have a stern talking to or fire that act that that crew member because you can't have that kind of energy on set if you're trying to create a good environment for not only for the actors, but for everybody involved.
Judy Weston 48:38
I know I mean, sometimes I think it's you know, it's the crew wants attention to they want to be respected and it you know, but it's not a zero sum game. You know, it doesn't have to be if the actors are respected, the crew is disrespected, it's not zero.
Alex Ferrari 48:54
We're all in this together. We're all in this together. Now, one one area of directing that doesn't get spoken about much, but it is something that we all a lot of directors will have to deal with is directing children. Any tips on directing children? Because I've directed I've directed children a handful of times in commercials, and it's fun to say the least. But I've never had to polish a very dramatic performance out of a child or anything like that, though. I've heard some horrific stories out directors get those performances, which are illegal here in the States, but I've heard them elsewhere. That's been pretty, pretty brutal as well.
Judy Weston 49:30
I know I think I know the movie you're talking about, but we won't get into that but yeah, but uh, well, you know, I, I think you know, people should know that when a child is younger than seven and a half or eight. Then if you make them go through really difficult, terrible emotions, they will be damaged. That is the way it is, Do you have children?
Alex Ferrari 50:02
I do. And they're about their, their, their that range range.
Judy Weston 50:07
So when children are, let somebody told me this once and it just opened everything up, when children are, when they get to like seven and a half or eight, probably, then they start to have an independent imagination. They start to have independent, well independent ideation. And they can look around at the world and make up their own mind about what's going on. But when they're younger than eight, everything that comes in, is there like a sponge. You know, they they believe everything. That's why they believe in Santa Claus. They're told they're Santa Claus. I mean, it's very unlikely, right?
Alex Ferrari 50:47
Sure. There's just listlessly Santa Claus is real. Let's just put that out there. I don't know where this rumor started. It is horrible. Let's just put it out there. I just thought, let's put it into it. Santa Claus is real. Just in case my daughter's ever listened to this. So let's just put that right to this. Santa Claus is real. I'm hoping to get at least one or two more years out of it. So please.
Judy Weston 51:12
Yes, yes, Virginia. So, um, but they will believe whatever they're, they're told, because they don't have any Intel eight, eight. It's, and it's not, it's not a question of, you know, some children are more mature than others. It's wiring in the brain. It's, it's the, it's the development of the brain. So if a child is younger than eight, and and you're asking them to go through horrible things, they will be damaged that and and, yeah, you know, so you don't want to do that one of my students, Jennifer Fox, she directed this movie for that was bought by HBO, it's called the tail. I don't know, if people have heard of it, it was, it was kind of a big deal. It was about it had to do with the, you know, child sexual abuse. And the girl was so 13 and, and she'd cast an 11 year old to two. But and she talked at great length, how she avoided any possibility of any, you know, damage to the girl in these really brutal sex scenes, and, or rape scenes. And, and she, she did what whenever there, there had to be scenes, whenever it had to be shot where both the child and the perpetrator were in the same shot, she had an adult body double. And, you know, and shot it so that, you know, that wouldn't be noticeable. And when there had to be close ups of the girls face. The it was just the girl, the actor playing the perpetrator not present and and Jennifer saying to her, this is like a bee is stinging, you know, thing. So, uh, you know, that kind of thing to take it, to take it to take it out of there. So
Alex Ferrari 53:14
You got to put it, you have to put it down to their level. You can't say, Okay, now you're getting raped. And this is the way it is? No, no. I mean, I know you and I look at us like, this is funny, but but that's what that's what people will do. I've seen it. I'm like, dude, you can't say that. But to bring it down to the level of the child and just go. And I love that stinging the beast thinking thing is wonderful. It's a wonderful analogy of it, because that's how you have to direct the child. You have to speak that if you have to go through two levels of language, the actual language and the child language. So you have to kind of do both.
Judy Weston 53:51
Exactly. And and then you still do it if people are interested, you know, look up interviews with Jennifer Fox about this movie, The tale. There's really good stuff there. The other place to look for great advice about working with children is on the extras. The DVD extras of a movie called rabbit proof fence. You do know I know. I know that I know that movie. Yeah. I am blanking on the director's name. How could that be this wonderful? Australian director?
Alex Ferrari 54:28
Yes, it was an Australian film. I forgot the name of it too. But we'll look it up. Don't
Judy Weston 54:33
worry. Okay. Insert it later. Okay. Because I don't think it'll be in the show notes. I'll
Alex Ferrari 54:39
put it in the show notes. Don't worry.
Judy Weston 54:40
Yeah. And um, and it's a wonderful movie. Well, as you know, since you've seen it, it has three leads children. Their ages are nine, seven and five. That's really dangerous spots. Dangerous spots and Um, anyway, he goes, he goes into great detail, he does a commentary on the whole show, working with them. And then there's an extra, you know, little feature add about the casting, and the, you know, rehearsal with with them, which is fantastic. Now, some of that, it, there's a 40, the 40 minute featurette is on the YouTube, so you can find it. Rabbit proof fence making of featurette. And it's really, really helpful. You know, and as I listened, I listened to it a number of times. And, and if I boiled down what he did, he looked for, for children who had who could play an objective, and who had imagination, and who were not afraid of the camera. And, you know, that's, that's the main thing and it took a long time to, to find them. That's the other thing, if you have a dramatic lead. This was a drama rabbit proof fence. You must take all the time you need to find your lead. I had read, you know, beasts of the Southern wild, what, which is wonderful movie quarter. And they found that little girl. I mean, you can't imagine anybody else in the world playing that role. Well, the director said in interviews that he met with 4000 children 4000
Alex Ferrari 56:39
Spielberg, I mean, as a Kubrick for the shining, he met I think around four or 5000 kids at the time as well. I mean, they all do the good ones, you have to just keep looking until you find the right one.
Judy Weston 56:51
I was just listening to I can't remember where I where I heard this. But somebody's talking about the director of To Kill a Mockingbird. So now we're at, you know, Lisa, Southern Wilds just a few years ago, rabbit proof fence was I don't know, maybe 10 years ago, something like that. And but it Kill a Mockingbird made a long time ago. And and what this director used to say for the rest of his life, people would say, Where did you find those children? And he said, I searched for six months. So this is something that has always been true. That, that you have to, you know, to find a child that has the imagination, and the and the commitment, though, there's an objective, you know, the objective has to do again, with listening. It's like, I want something from you. And I'm paying attention to you as to whether or not I get it, you know, are Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 57:54
And I think also another element of that is this true connection. You know, as a director, you're looking for a connection with your actors on a, you know, on a different level than just performer and director, especially with children, there has to be a rapport. There has to be a comfort level, there has to be that intangible thing when you're working, especially when commercials are different. But But if you're working in a, in a narrative scenario, there has to be some sort of thing there. Because if there isn't, that's the thing, you're going to fall back on when the things get really rough or tough. In the in the scale of just making a movie, that connection, that rapport is so so important. I remember watching Spielberg some behind the scenes of close encounter of the Third Kind if you remember that that scene with a little boy, that you remember the little boy in close encounter that. I bet they Yeah, yeah, there was a there's a little boy in close encounters and the the scene where the aliens open the door, and we don't see the aliens yet we just the door opens and the little boys there. And then one to get there to direct them. Spielberg had one scene, a guy dressed up as a werewolf, jump out really quickly. This kind of jarred them. And then he was like, scared for a second. And then Spielberg jumped out as a bunny rabbit dressed in a bunny rabbit outfit. And he knew it was Spielberg because he's the director. And he jumped out and then he just started to smile. And that's how he pulled the performance out of that child. And that's why Spielberg, Spielberg, and he did that back in 7776. It wasn't like, older Spielberg it was young Spielberg. That's just genius.
Judy Weston 59:38
Now, I was gonna say it's young Spielberg, but yes, yeah, he seems like a kid himself.
Alex Ferrari 59:44
Yeah, and still is some it's too many too many ways. Now, I could keep talking to you for hours today, but I'm going to ask you a few last questions. I asked all my guests. Yeah. What advice would you give a filmmaker or director trying to get into the business today?
Judy Weston 59:59
Okay. Do you mean other than go to film school? Yes, I think people should go to film school. I, you know, I'm not one of these people that says film school is unnecessary. Film School may be out of reach financially. For some people, that's certainly understandable. But I don't buy these people who say, Oh, you know, let's say they, they can afford to go to film school and they and they say film, school is a waste waste of time, I don't buy that. I think it's very important not to just try to be a filmmaker all by yourself, you have to, you have to work with other people. That's one of the best things about film school, even, you know, hopefully, you have good teachers and a good curriculum. But even if you don't you have other people that you're working with, and you can learn from them. And, you know, film is a collaborative, collaborative medium. And it's, it's good to start practicing with that, it's good to start practicing with the idea that you have to trust these other people, you have to communicate with them, you have to listen to their ideas, you have to learn from them. So I I'm a believer in film school, I think, I think it's a good idea. Now, I know, some people can't afford it. And now I am supporting political candidates that are trying to propose ways that anybody who wants to go to college can do that. But,
Alex Ferrari 1:01:27
But there's a lot of affordable, there's a lot of affordable film schools out there can even even community colleges have, you know, there's so many options out there
Judy Weston 1:01:35
even, you know, even in Hollywood, there's Santa Monica College, there's, there's la CC, you know, there's, there's community colleges, so I'm, I'm a, I'm a believer in that I'm a you know, and, and a big part because of the community because of learning from other people, and not just thinking about how do I become a filmmaker, but, you know, how do I build my community? How do I build my, my, you know, my relationships, and my, and, and, and my, my, my tribe? How do I, how do I find my tribe, so I, I, that that's what, that's what I feel now, if you're, if for whatever reason you feel like you can't bear, I do reject the idea that film, school is a waste of time. But if you feel like for whatever reason, you can't bear to go to film school, you know, the school is just that disorienting to you, or whatever, then you have to find some other way to make connections, I mean, networking as a part of it. And, and, and being you know, finding people to collaborate with and, but you know, you start whatever way is right for you, if color is your thing, then figure out how to tell a story with color. If, but, but I do feel that all directors should take an acting class at some point, I agree with you. And and and if you end it, not an end to not do it, because you're going to decide whether or not you're good at it. It doesn't matter if you're good at it. It's it's a question of, of, you know, exposing yourself taking a chance you have to have a teacher who's not going to criticize you. That's I mean, when I don't teach that class anymore acting for directors, but part of what made it work was that I was very supportive, but but, you know, anyway, I was taking an acting class and do find your tribe.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:42
I will I'll tell you, I had the unpleasant experience of having to act in my last movie, playing myself no less. That's the only reason I took the job was because I was playing myself. And man, I hate when I was editing it, I made sure to cut myself out as much as humanly possible. So I do truly believe I agree with you 100% actor a director should definitely take an acting class so they can feel what it's like, why
Judy Weston 1:04:09
you should take a class, you know, yeah, I like Quentin Tarantino put himself in Pulp Fiction is what's industry. Well, for some
Alex Ferrari 1:04:18
Mr. Wolf, it was he knows. Jimmy he was Jimmy
Judy Weston 1:04:23
Koch some colleague of Mr. Wolf i think but but anyway, Jimmy Yeah. And you know, it was a little bit of a dead spot but you know, and otherwise, you know, almost perfect movie but but so I don't think you I don't mean that directors should go in front of the camera, but they agree.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:42
Agreed. No director should not be in front of the camera. I'm not saying that at all. Please. No, no, no. Okay, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Judy Weston 1:04:51
Yes, I prepared for this because I heard you ask other people. It's this everyone is different. That's been the hardest lesson for me. Because I am a very inward person. I'm an introvert. And I don't think I hopefully I don't sound like one in this interview, but I am. And, and so, so much is going on inside my head. And it tends to be sort of impossible for me to understand that the same kinds of things are not going on in other people's heads. So that's where I've made a mistake a lot of times, is, you know, jumping in when I think other people, you know, I think there are certain assumptions that everybody has. So to really, really listen, because everybody is different. And as far as how that applies to directing and teaching, every actor is different. And every, every client that I work with, I'm not teaching workshops, now I'm doing one on one consultations, with film directors preparing to, you know, to make their movie, and, and every single client is different. Every single script is different, every single, you know, and to be insatiable, about, you know, turning myself over to them, listening to them, finding out what they need, instead of imposing my idea about what they need. And I have to learn that every day. It's still it's always a struggle, because I have very strong ideas.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:30
Fair enough, fair enough. Now, what is the biggest fear you had to overcome? Just getting into this business in the first place? Or or being an actress or or writing your first book? or teaching your first class? What is that biggest fear?
Judy Weston 1:06:45
Oh, gosh, well, as an actress, I was less afraid on stage than offstage. I was a shy and frightened person, offstage and onstage, you know, but on stage, I wasn't afraid. So I don't know how that happened. But, but I just was so lucky to find to find it. So my biggest fear, my biggest fear was that I wouldn't get to do it. You know, once I started teaching, I loved it so much like the first night that I taught my very first class, I couldn't sleep the whole night, I came home, and I just couldn't sleep the whole night. And that used to happen. After every tech class, I taught for a long time. And my only fear was that I wouldn't get to keep doing it. So I don't know I that would be, I think you have to find a part of the, you know, if you want to be in the business, you have to find a part of the business that, that that that makes you feel like your home, you know, enough? I think you do,
Alex Ferrari 1:07:53
And the three and three of your favorite films of all time.
Judy Weston 1:07:56
All right, I know this was coming to so I decided what I decided to do is to start with just in the last year and a half. You know, I mean, because I'm an older person and I don't know that your your reader your listenership wants to hear, oh, the 70s nothing good after it happened after the 70s in American films. But so, so I decided to think about the my three favorites of the last, I was gonna say a year, but then I stretched it a few years to include first reformed, which came out a year and a half ago, first report by Paul Schrader with Ethan Hawke. And then currently parasite is in the film is in the theaters now. Which is so have you seen it? I have not. No. All right, you've got to see it's brilliant, brilliant movie. And then earlier this year, the last black man in San Francisco. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:08:52
I heard wonderful things about that. Yeah.
Judy Weston 1:08:54
So those three movies of the last three last year and a half or you know, movies that I really want everybody to see that I that move, move me tremendously. Now, if you want to include television, then of course we'd all that's a whole other conversation. Yeah. It's so good. When they see us, you know, because that was directed by one of my students Ava DuVernay. And, and then oh, and then, you know, yesterday, I saw Jojo rabbit and I thought, well,
Alex Ferrari 1:09:25
I'm dying to see Jojo rabbit I hear it looks so amazing. And I just hope it does. I hope it's it's it looks like it's as good as it I hope it is.
Judy Weston 1:09:35
I think it surprises people a bit. I loved it. I loved it. I loved it. And that and then tyka has taken classes with me too. So um, so it's very dear to my heart and, and I love movies where you have to kind of you have to kind of figure something out about the filmmakers heart, right and, and there are what you could call their intention. Then Jojo rabbit to really understand it and enjoy it, you have to kind of find your way into Tycho's heart. And of course, I've seen all his movies. So I sort of, and I've worked with him and and, you know, some already there but, but But anyway, it's really worthwhile even if you don't know him already. And then and that's true of Ava is that, you know, they, you know, you you, you get clues to, you know, the heart of another human being. And, and it's true of parasite. And it's true of last black man in San Francisco. And it's true of first reformed and, and so anyway, that's awesome, somewhat current movies. I won't go back and talk about a woman under the influence. Well, of course, Jones has a video.
Alex Ferrari 1:10:46
I mean, it's fantastic Friday afternoon, I'm not going to mention that. I mean, well, the fantastic of if you can absolutely mentioned both those films are fantastic and should be watched by everybody. Now, currently, you just released the audio book version of your, your seminal book, directing actors, which just came out a couple of weeks ago. So yeah, that's exciting. Where can people find the book, your other book, the film directors, intuition and more about you and what you do.
Judy Weston 1:11:14
Okay, I have a website, Judith Weston, calm. I have Facebook page, Judith Weston studio for actors and directors. And on there, you can find the links for the audio book. It's on Audible, of course, but it's also on a whole bunch of other places where you can get it maybe, you know, possibly cheaper, like libraries, you can get it through libraries. But one thing I want to mention about the audio book, is that directing actors was written, can you believe this? 23 years ago, it came out? Yes. So when I when I got this opportunity to do the audio book, I went back to reread it sort of thought, Well, I have to prepare to, you know, I want to read it, I want to be the reader. So I'm better, you know, read the thing again. And I found that there was a lot that I wanted to change. So I went and changed it. I said, You know, I said I'm going to do this. And they said okay, so it's it's quite, it's updated in a very, very significant way. Each each chapter is updated in a significant way. And so I, I, I'm very proud of it. I'm very, very happy with it. And and I hope people like it and find it useful. And yes.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:41
And well, first of all, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and my tribe. And it's been wonderful talking to you. So thank you so much for taking the time. And I appreciate all the work that you do to help actors, work with actors work, the work you do for directors to work with actors better. So thank you so much.
Judy Weston 1:13:00
Thank you very much, Alex.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Please subscribe and leave a rating or review by going to BPS Podcast
Want to advertise on this show? Visit Bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/Sponsors