Too many video directors today are obsessed with technology. They play the game of camera specifications and always demand the latest new toy off the video assembly line. Some are actually convinced that the glitzy gadgets of the video playpen will assure them the power to create magnificent, compelling programs. Sadly, they are very wrong.
Probably the best advice I’ve ever received about directing came some years ago from a veteran motion picture cameraman who had successfully switched to feature film directing in mid-career. The advice was this: no matter which medium—video, film, theatre, etc.—and no matter what kind of production—news segments to feature films—as long as people are involved, a good director must have a knowledge of the craft of acting.
For someone whose training (a BA degree in journalism) had always emphasized the technical side of video production, this advice initially threw me for a loop. Acting. Learn acting. No one, including all those j-school and broadcasting professors, had ever told me this. A knowledge of the actor’s craft will fundamentally change your approach to directing any kind of program in which people appear on camera. I guarantee it, the film director assured me.
I took his advice and can now, with good conscience, say: HE WAS RIGHT!!! At the very minimum, every video director should study acting. Period. No matter where you are or what kind of programs you direct, do it.
Admittedly it’s easier to study acting with a choice of great teachers in cities like New York and Los Angeles. But some level of acting classes are taught in nearly every city in America. And many books are available which can start a beginner on the right track.
I was lucky enough to study with an excellent teacher who offers a class which is tailor-made for video directors. Judith Weston, who is based in Los Angeles, teaches “Acting for Directors,” a workshop of basic acting techniques for directors, writers and producers with no previous acting experience. The class (www.judithweston.com) will teach you to communicate with actors and inspire them to do their best work.
There are many great books on acting. Names like Stanislavski, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler and Uta Hagen have written among the best. But, on the subject of directing, I’d like to recommend two personal favorites. One—On Directing by Harold Clurman—was published in 1972, and—On Directing Film by David Mamet—was published early in 1991.
Mamet’s philosophy of directing follows that of Ernest Hemingway’s theory on good writing: “Write the story, take out all the good lines, and see if it still works.” Clurman, the legendary stage director and drama critic, focuses on the process of directing for the stage. His insights and methods, however, apply to all media. Their advice will change your life.