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Actor/Director Film Lab

Lesson 12 of 16

David Morse Interview

Robert Milazzo

Actor/Director Film Lab

Robert Milazzo

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Lesson Info

12. David Morse Interview


  Class Trailer
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1 Shot Sizes Duration:16:46
3 Camera Movement Duration:14:06
4 Actor Critique: Speed Duration:19:09
5 Actor Critique: Motion Duration:10:35
6 Actor Critique: Size Duration:14:49
7 Dynamics of Rehearsal Duration:11:53
8 Dynamics of The Shoot Duration:18:51

Lesson Info

David Morse Interview

Our next guest coming up in the course is david morse david what's interesting about david I've had david in other classes he's such a good guy and it's interesting talking about life choices david doesn't live in new york or l a so want to broach that with him as well he was I think I can tell people he listen philadelphia, I think I can say that we'll find out when I say that if you clicks off then that was the best thing to say but what I also love but david is david started on stage he's me nominated actor from I think was nominee of her house and may be sent elsewhere but definitely house and he's worked with some really fascinating megalomaniacal filmmakers I don't know if you can hear me up gausman tree or we he and I have had some really fun conversations about working with what was the trigger terry gilliam michael tamino so we'll examine collaboration a little more furtively with them what do you feel like before as we close out and move towards david what do you feel? Do you...

feel there have been similarities between what keith was communicating what casey was communicated? Do you feel there's any cross over there for you guys even if it's an emotional crossover that anything is there something similar in those in those two stories those two back stories yeah actually I just I guess emotionally I felt like they sort of hit a similar tone like they both were very open people and it seemed like we talked about trust at the beginning of the day um you know if I got the sense from both of those people that you would be able to trust them like almost immediately and I think that was that a really neat thing tio think about as a filmmaker and as as you're building your career like how do you how do you communicate yourself your emotions I think it's a great point and I would also say further to that and this is just a very candid revelation for working professionals to take time to kind of parachute into a class is a generosity of spirit you know? And I'm not saying people who didn't know bad and people who do a good I'm just thinking the idea you know, because I think filmmaking and film art can be often like filmmakers can think they're they're kind of guarding government secrets I think filmmakers and here's a little idealistic I think filmmakers and more protective of information filmmakers don't share information a lot I think actors are much more open about stuff going on filmmakers are very much like here's my part of land and you know I'm sure actors get like that in different ways but filmmakers are are very infrequently willing to kind of trade off and to be a fair to filmmakers and two actors, some people just simply can't put the words to it. I don't know what I do or how I do it, I simply do it, you know, some think their instruments of the gods, and I'm sure herber gallucci talk very explicitly about craft, but I mean, there are there are filmmakers and actors who feel like they serve a different purpose, and they can't put words to it. Fortunately, we have up next in our course, someone who not only can put words to what he does, I know firsthand he does so expertly and eloquently hey is acted on stage and in front of in television and in cinema and he's dropped into a few of my classes, and we're always honored to have him he's such a good guy and such a talented man on one, please welcome mr david morse, everybody hey, how are you, man? Well, just to go back in the time machine. The last time you and I chatted, we were on a stage at the lee strasbourg school, you were telling me fun, new york country or stories on dh? I don't know if you still have nightmares over those stories, but they were awesome and I were talking about, you know, some artists actors simply can't really express what happened or what they do is that something you feel is valuable I mean, being able to put words to your process into your experiences I have to tell you, since then I'm becoming the instrument of the gods I knew you were one of those actors I knew it. Oh, you are an extraordinary and some clinical man like a history book on that I want to go backwards and cover some new ground with you. You started stage was your first training ground correct theatrical tradition was that that was before st elsewhere in tv is that is that a right reading of these things? Yeah, literally. At seventeen years old I went straight from high school into a repertory theater and I did uh, six years of repertory theatre in boston ten months out of the year doing four different plays a week. You know, every night on that really was my beginning training doing all those different characters over all those years. And then I went to new york and study with a man named bill s for for a couple years and then literally probably six months after finishing with bill I want up starring in the first tv or movie first movie I ever did, but I've never done that in front of camera before bill bill is a meisner base correct bill esper essentially yes, he is out of that monster family did he ever introduce camera technique? A cz my own curiosity leads me there. Was there ever built? Is that in the espera repertoire the acting for camera? Did you ever encounter that? No, his school is bigger now. And I know it's our two year, of course, and that was a three year and now it's a three year and that was two year and we did not have that time that there are a lot of courses and teachers who teach such, of course, do you think there's a help on actor, should exhibit a help the skepticism about enacting for camera class? What do you think you can start to understand something within a class acting for camera? Well, you're definitely learned something in the class, you know, I think it's like a lot of things getting out there in the world are really doing it is a whole other thing that being in the classroom, you having having fifty people on a set, standing around behind the camera while you're, you know, the focus of all that attention and all that energy is it's when you're young, it's a very intimidating experience and there's nothing, really, I think that can prepare you for that experience, you know, just in terms of being in front of a camera and understanding lenses. Which was great for actors to be able to learn understanding whether you know very wide angle lens compared to a long lens what that does to you the intimacy of a lens compared to that wide open expanse that intimacy of ah the lens it's hard to learn that without being in front of that land so I think in that way a class could be helpful we'll talk about it it's a great bit of specificity iran to we were speaking with keith gordon filmmaker earlier on and he was reflecting on working with nick nolte and saying that nick, you know understood hey, I'm casting a shadow here hey, the light works better here has technical context helped your performance on my guess conversely, has it ever been a distraction to you? Well, yes, I would say with it yes, it helps in the sense that when when I didn't sign moves, I really did not know anything um and dick donner, who directed it was very kind to me and very helpful last of kovacs was a cinematographer on that with the with a great bob stevens was a great camera operator and they could really had to kind of learn uh, my behavior, my movement because I was so unlearned in it on dh the you know, the way I'm sort of wave my hand but the kind of movement and bob steve was kind of have to get my rhythm I'm going to go with me and eventually over the course of the movie I started to get it dick donner would make become the dailies and watch dailies and it was a really education um that's just in terms of being in front of the camera there are things in terms of the actual you know performance and from the camera which is which is another thing no on the technique can be very helpful um you know john savage is in that movie and john savage he really is and was a wonderful actor yeah truly uh he had done some amazing performances before we did inside moves together in the deer hunter and onion field hair on stage as well and I really learned from him kind of the hard way the power of simplicity of not blowing all your emotions everything in front of the camera which I at that time thought I got to give everything got to give everything on dh he really understood how how far and how meaningful simple things can go and your heart into his heart into our hearts is an audience that was a hard lesson for me to learn because I had to learn it there in front of everybody but important one to learn what's interesting we were talking earlier about the general again subject to change general anatomy about how things were filmed essentially large to small master shots to close ups you know one of the mysticism zehr wives tales or because he miss to debunk or not is the use of energy do you feel there's a strategy of energy usage foran actor meaning save energy for close up or you know happy is there is there strategy and do you think in those terms now or is it simply in your bones you know how you're going to use your energy and your craft? You know it's one of those things I it's a boy I love being in the moment with another actor I love the experience of the alive uh was somebody I just I feel like there's something bigger than the two of you that happens when you are you are experiencing that together you know you mentioned dancer the dark bjork was always be york had no interest in close ups, you know, master shots no justin matter she was just alive and you couldn't ask for anything more and of course the way large shot that was very much in the spirit of that I've worked with actors who really save everything for their time on camera it's no fun, you know, it doesn't mean that the film was bad, but just the experience is an actor is not rewarding and I honestly don't think you get the best work on the other hand uh doing the green mile with tom hanks and michael clarke duncan ah, we would have seen together a very big emotional scene for michael clarke duncan or if his with this role of coffee you know, we're talking about the afterlife and how painful it is for him to be on earth and that we really wants to pass on and it's ok? And that probably took I don't know, sixty eight hours or longer to shoot the scene that the whole day I was there, you know, scott behind tom in this scene for the whole day, watching this whole thing take place at tom was absolutely beautiful off camera, just giving everything he could to michael because it was such a important scene that michael on do you watch michael in it? It just couldn't be lovelier or or or deeper what truthful? And then the camera turned around on tom, who have been giving all this stuff off camera all they it just wasn't there in the same way it was when he was given all that stuff for michael, it was still great, it was still good, tom was just, you know, it's, a wonderful actor, but the same time he had sacrificed a kind of energy or emotion or experience that it just couldn't have after, you know, six hours of being off cam so it really is a tricky thing you know you you do have toe pace yourself if you do have to gauge that experience you know but at the same time you want to give what you can give and his truth please you can while you're doing it what would an extraordinary story to be so precise and there's so much there about the off screen of it all the time in the off camera of it all you know we were talking earlier about I could've been a contender you know brando and steiger and the history books tell us that brando wasn't even there for steiger's close ups I mean the history books tell us that he was his therapist every day he had to leave the set of a certain time and steiger was so mad at him but the later on steiger said you know that anger was good again there's that thing too right david that you don't deny what's going on you have to kind of manifested no I mean the idea of integrating performance into a set is that is that on your mind when you work not denying the actual stimulation in the moment in the room with you for better for worse absolutely I think you have to start from right where you are you know you can't suddenly make this leap to somewhere else you know from take to take you are where you are on dh that's valuable, I've really, really come to feel I really was very much of a perfectionist for much of my early time working and television and film st elsewhere, you know, if I just felt like this team was going on, I could just feel it going, not in the way I felt that should be going all right, imagine it going, and there was just something in may that it just felt like you I would wind up stopping it some, either by blowing the lines that even a purpose it would just happen. Um but whenever it that that's, that sense of perfection or holding on to that idea was harmful in a way. And I've really got to feel that what's most important on film as we catch the unexpected moment you truthful woman, you know, way the audience doesn't care if they don't know what my ideas really, you know, they don't know what's written on the page. All they care about is what they're experiencing. It's that voltaire quote the perfect is often the enemy of the good, you know. This is this is this is it I mean even the most perfectionistic of filmmakers let's say karasawa who used to wait for the wind to blow a certain way you know they're they're they're happy but you know I don't mean to diminish what you're saying by saying happy accents but there's an acknowledgment of what is going on that I think you fight it to your peril um you know to sound a little grand about it I want to before we get to any questions in the room I want to switch gears because there is a context that is a slightly I guess externally I always view television is a different context because there is a different clock you know the clock of production the clock of of you know you're getting new directors on new episodes you know there's a kind of bible in place do you find to me you know you've excelled in every medium on tv has not changed to me how articulate your work is but within tv do you find what what is your entry point there do you find the almost machine like process of production do you have you found a balance for your art within it or is every show a different challenge as such what about tv acting I guess is the general general question well the question is so general yeah because it's been like me look at the range of television right now um, you know, I did that syria's tremaine david simon, and, uh, you know, down in new orleans that that you know, that's an experience it's not going to be the same as doing house as much as I like doing house it's not the same thing, you know? So I'm starting trouble, then let's go down that path, when when do you start to integrate your work into the new process, you know, again not to sound too general about tv, but if, as you suggest tv, each organism is different, is there an assessment period for you is an actor? We say here's, here's, here's how my work will function, or is it just all organic and in the flow of the work itself? Well, again, it's different appear if you're a guest on the television or if you're a regular on the telephone, right, right? You know, if you're a regular, really, you know your character better than anybody, and I will say that even the writers don't know your character as well as you do you know where your character has been? You know, the history, you know, you just know so when the director comes on but really doesn't have much experience on the show. And try starts telling you, you know things about your character when you should be doing it's hard not to be a little defensive and protective, right? And even if you're perform, you know, even what you're doing, and sometimes there's sort of this self defense acting, your whether you want to do it or not, uh, you may not trust ah, a director, too two over yourself to, you know, to vulnerability that you, you you might not normally that you would desire to do, you're not sure you can trust them with it. That's a word that comes up about one every five minutes in this class. This idea of I always I always reconciled that something actors and directors both need actually equally is trust one to trust. Another last question for me, and then we could see if their questions in the room you've worked with externally. Looking at some of the filmmakers you've worked with just a bounce back in the film, whether we've talked about lars, whether it's, terry gilliam, michael trevino, michael apted, kathryn bigelow, and just amazing bob zemeckis. And you mentioned dick donner. What? When does trust happened? Do you have to present naturally trust or is that something that the I mean that's a great quote I mean, in the sense of you're only there for a limited amount of time is your stink instinct as an actor to trust early and trust often or do you do you kind of have tio take in before you can trust you know, I I really want to give myself to a director that that is my instinct to do that. I really want to have that kind of experience it's I want to serve whatever their vision is, I want to help them make the best movie they can make or television they can make that that's my instinct I won't name the film of the director, but there was there was a film that I was very excited about doing where the director literally said, I want you to put yourself in my hands we're going to do some very dangerous things here, it's going to be challenging for everybody in this role in particular, I just want you to give yourself into my hands and we're going, we're going go to the in his literally in his words go to the edge of the cliff together I thought this sounds exciting, the reality of working with him and not just of me but the crew and actors it was very abusive um and I just felt blindsided by the whole thing um and that happens that that's the reality of their directors out there who then there's many of them out there unfortunately who are not kind who are abusive on feel like that's a way of getting good work from people by by treating them that way on the other hand, this I did a couple movies that sharp and directed um who I would trust with my life either you know he is an actor has gone places he knows what it's like to go places and an actor that are very exposed and he's willing to go there with you on but if you know if it's if it's a place that really compromises you he'll get it and uh they won't let it be on shown um or you know, you talk about whatever so he's someone that I absolutely I absolutely trusted and that's sort of the range of experiences that I've had any questions for mr morse of in the middle yes go ahead please I love the thought of losing herself in the moment and life of a scene, but my question is how do you kind of keep that and balance that as your shooting a scene as you're getting input as your kind as your conception off that moment is changing? Yeah um I just you know, just because you have a technique is a part of us every year you're obviously it get my hands on here you know, technique is it's sort of like being on stage tio there are things that just by being on the stage, you learn over time about being in front of an audience uh and it's the same thing about being in front of a camera it's just, you know, take some time it takes to be in front of a camera, you know, having that camera a foot away from your face or it's hidden out somewhere you can't even see it if you just become aware of the technique and then that you become a little freer a cz you've learned that to just let yourself within the confines of what of that shot is too just really be and go in that moment. Um, I just did a movie that with will smith's about concussions and football and there was a scene in there with the director literally he just wanted me that just go every seat, just go he didn't want me that there were lines there it wasn't worrying about the lines he wrote of the scene was good. Um, just because of the characters play on his mental state, he didn't want be limited by camera or somebody had written no, everybody else was kind of with their lines and I was the one was just going and everybody had to adjust to whatever was happening it's very liberating it's very exciting and at the end of it all you don't know what the hell you've done if they totally suck but you know, something alive has happened and and you just in that case have to trust that the director is going to take that and make the best use of it and that that's ah that's a good down the different capital but you put you played mike you're playing mike webster in that film concussion correct just a geeky fam moment was on speakers if this isn't a question but gosh, that sounds like a difficult a complex role e I mean, I'm a sports fan so I was watching this journey that mike went through said journey what was that like being in that in those footsteps of my mike's footsteps the responsibility that I felt that I think anyone should feel to his family to their memory of him people loved him a community a hole in the whole world of people that just adored him and that's what he meant to the pittsburgh community not just a steeler community but the community of pittsburgh it was big and I played gin up the george washington and I feel you know, if he was, you know, obviously a real figure in all of our minds and our history and there's a lot of people have feelings one way or another about way who he was not he behaved there was no question of mike webster was he was just so alive I don't know how I did or didn't do it but I'm like its heart yeah I'm laughing because I know mike and the role was in great hands you know that's why I'm laughing because you're disarmingly humble any last questions for david yeah hi david how you doing good and you know obviously if I had a great career so far and still working hard there any kind of pearls of wisdom when you look back over your career that you could pass on uh the pearls of wisdom I was just asked this doing something else by young actress who was just terrific and she said that exact same thing to make now I don't have any process wisdom can I can reverse the question a little bit were you ever given advice that has found has been fruitful for you? Did anyone ever give you arm you with information that you actually thought was really helpful in your journey? Well ok, I think this isn't even really my my rosa wisdom when I was studying build esper one of the things that he encouraged us to do even though we're studying acting he said go we read the great books go to museums going to the great arms go listen to great music you know don't just limit yourself to the experience of acting bring everything you can into your experience with your arctic you know bring all of that uh into who you are and what you do and I think that probably was the best advice the you know preachers the best painters really learned a technique and then they let it go you know they technique is is helpful uh it's a guide when you need it but then you you know hopefully it's in your bones enough you could just let it go and be open to the expressive creative emotional moment on good things come from that I love it you know right before last tango in paris brenda was that marlon brando was just to end on this brenda was asked what was the greatest piece of direction you ever got and he recalled right I think it was the night before the day before last tango in paris was shot that he and berta luci went to the loo and they were staring at the paintings and britta luci pointed tio a painting and said marlin I want you to act like that painting you know and again it's it's not simply as you suggest the precision it's the feeding your mind it's it's it's the articulate life and I got to say david my my the result of painstaking experience with you you are one of the great gentleman of the craft one of the great artisans and just the generosity with which you apply your experienced tio the students is is stunning, and I just want to thank you, man. It it never floors me this's it always floors me. This is incredible. And your curse is that I'm gonna ask you to do this again at some point. So thank you so much, david. I really I really appreciate it. David morse, everybody. Thank you. Thank you, david. Okay, just genuinely salt of the earth guy he's still thinking that's and he's not even on skype. Any more thoughts about that that's about david? Yeah, I mean, just what you said incredibly grounded, I think. Yeah, on you won't want for a better phrase, you know, we've been round block quite that yeah, yeah, I love that. I love the fact that he was very honest and saying, talking about television, that he can get defensive about his character. I thought that was really interesting television, you know, television, in a way, filmmakers, I don't even use the word in terms of tv and then you're you're kind of a director. We didn't get into this with keith, but you know you're a director stepping on a show with a preexisting star or multiple stars, you know, a preexisting show runner who is a star in enough? Her or his own right? And then you're dealing with a bible of existence. So I like the fact, and I understand the fact that david would feel the ownership of something and he would have to, you know, it's funny for filmmakers, I sometimes look at the opposite effect when I'm having that an argument when I'm saying this is my point about the script and the actors saying, well, this is my point I got to believe is the filmmaker I know more about the script than anyone. That doesn't mean their ideas not better than mine. There's also a difference between information and ideas, you know, stanley kubrick. You may have heard that name in this course before he once said there's no such thing as a bad idea there's only a better idea. So it's not about again, we talked about the difference between craft and taste. There's the difference between, you know, opinion and kind of the empirical. So in terms of empirical data, the filmmaker needs to feel they know that empirical data better while keeping your mind open. You know, we talked earlier in the course about no conclusions. That's kind of it too, there's, the empirical and the some subjective in the objective. So I love the fact that I think it's very candid because you could see in david at least I felt in david someone who's a gentle man, but also says, yeah, I he's not without ego, you know, every human being has ego, you know, we were we were concocting some ideas for slides, and the word ego kept popping up. I don't think ego is a bad word at all. I think every human being has ego, but again, there's a difference between egomania, you know, an abundance of ego and the self the ego and I love and I'll get that filmmaker out of him privately, you know, get it, although I love him recalling that thing about the film, you know, and I will say, one one film it's not is dancer in the dark and bontrager because I've gone through that, I thoroughly scrubbed that experience with david, and it was fascinating it's it's worthy of its own course, you know that process.

Class Description

The relationship between the filmmaker, the actor, and the camera is an integral part of every production, but is rarely discussed. In Actor/Director Film Lab, Robert Milazzo explores cinematographic craft and collaboration and its relationship to acting and performance.

In this beginner-friendly class, both filmmakers and actors learn new ways to work together to bring their best work to life. Filmmakers develop new skills for effectively communicating and collaborating with performers. Actors learn how cameras capture performance and how to adjust their work to suit a production’s technical realities.

Actor/Director Film Lab equips those who work on both sides on the camera with insights that improve their working/artistic relationships, while strengthening the quality of their professional film work.

Special Guests:

  • David Morse, Actor 
  • Kasi Lemmons, Writer/Director/Actor 
  • Keith Gordon, Writer/Director


Philip John

I thoroughly enjoyed and became a better craftsman by watching and partaking in this workshop. Congrats Rob you're inspiring and down to earth made this experience a real pleasure. Cheers Mate Phil from Sydney Australia

Carlos Sandoval

I´ve seen a couple of lessons so far, and this is really a great class. Robert know his subject. Just by listening to him talk about Cassavetes and other fascinating filmmakers that rarely get mentioned nowdays, I get on track. The best.

Laura Latimer

Great Class - Thank you!