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Actor/Director Film Lab

Lesson 13 of 16

What Makes a Good Collaboration?

Robert Milazzo

Actor/Director Film Lab

Robert Milazzo

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Lesson Info

13. What Makes a Good Collaboration?


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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

What Makes a Good Collaboration?

But I love the fact you know he used the word trust before we could even get to it you know, which was extraordinary and anything else that you feel resonated yeah, well he tapped into something that I feel like I worry about as a director whose background isn't acting he's talking about sean penn right and like how sean penn like knows what it's like to go there you know and like for me it's always like I know that I need you to do this but I have no idea how to do it and I know that it's hard for you but just sort of that process of like helping and as someone who's like not primarily an actor how do you sort of help the facility that look let's think let's talk about collaboration um there's a common I think misconception and it's not only a misconception it's a defense mechanism that filmmakers are often felt are often told whether subliminally or directly if you don't if you've never acted you can't understand what an actor has gone through I don't buy that you know one of the gre...

atest nfl coaches ever bill parcells never played a down of professional football I don't I think his players would say he doesn't know what the players go through I mean that's a crude metaphor but you know the history of filmmaking is also the history of film makers we've never acted with talk about hitchcock I don't consider hitchcock it's cameo acting you know, scorsese, I don't consider score says in the backs of the back of a taxi in taxi driver acting in a sense, you know, terry malick is in badlands, but he doesn't say more so we can go on and on about the history of film is not the history of film makers who have acted that said I and this goes back a little bit what I was saying earlier in the course I think the only thing of filmmaker let alone a human being could be is one self if you don't know something, then you are within your subjective and objective right to say I don't know I'll give an example so if an actor says to me refuse if you were watching the scene, I'll be more specific here if you're watching this scene something inside you say something's not working I and this is to yourself I don't know what it is I don't know what is the take is over you're talking to one of the actor you're talking to both actors with citizens and their and you're sitting there scratching your chin and they both turned and said what's the matter and this is what's good this is kind of a question you don't know what to say you don't know what to say I feel in my experience like I can communicate I don't know in a productive way versus a judgmental way that's the thing right? We've we've got to find ourselves to be collaborators, not detectives with a scientific end in mind, you know and also experimenters so something that david mentioned that was what was wonderful about and we talked about it earlier like saving a couple of takes too to explore in expand because the one thing I'm going to answer your question more directly but the indirect answer is you also have something that the actor doesn't possess you have the ability editorially to create something because a lot of times cameras can deceive you you don't know really what you're getting until you've seen it so that's another part and parcel of the complication of your question however, I think the takeaway here in the actionable thing is if you don't know something you can I don't know let's try right? I don't know let's try faster let's try you know instead of wanting to sleep with each other and you're trying to find a way not to sleep with each other, you know you can phrase you're wonder in the form of exploration I think directors oftentimes get in trouble where there they say, I don't know with the subtext of I know I'm supposed to know, but I don't know that to me it's not even territory you need to walk through it can be, I don't know, but let's, try this, I don't know what do you think about or I don't know, what do you think to an actor? I don't know what do you think? How did you know a great tool of collaboration? I like to use with the director's? How did that feel? You know, how did that feel? And also the thing is, you know, I was thinking about lisbon treaty here, there there are a lot of the two really interesting documentaries on country, or one that was making of dancer in the dark called one hundred eyes great documentary, another one on the making of dogville called the dogville confession, and in both and both behind the scenes documentaries, there are times when von trier is being comforted by the actor because, you know, there's, a scene where he's like, really said and the coal kidman goes over and rubbed his back. Some of that, I believe that's psychology works for him and that kind of thing, but I think also there's a there's, a there's, a reality towards the poker game in the sense of if you don't know something and it doesn't seem like you're not getting what you want, simply asking how something feel, or how did that go? But I will tell you one thing about the actor and director relationship that I found always to be true, and this is what I tell young filmmakers all the time there's a tendency to do this there's a tendency to shoot an actor and you say action, and then when you cut, when you cut, you know what? A lot of young directors, you know what the first thing they do is hey guys, would you think, you know? And I actually think whether or not you've ever acted before, see, the thing is whether or not you've ever acted before, there is a technique toe working with actors so important partial to that technique action cut, what do you think? I think this impulse to talk to the crew about what they think will leave the actor feeling isolated. So we were talking about how to build trust that's one way there's two ways to direct a film from in back of the camera or in front of the camera, young filmmakers like to stand back of the cameras safer don't have to deal with the actors. I don't know, I don't I think the thing you're fearing if that's the right word is not something to go around because it's not something to kind of wish away because you wish away, you're going to increase its veracity so I think there are small, technical, physical things you can do action cut cool, hang on one second hey, what did you think? How did that feel being there? And I'm telling you something, no matter what. So what? No matter, no matter what degree of celebrity of actor you're working with, I've seen this I've dealt with the first hand when they when you yell, cut the actor feels alone there's that second or two when you say cut that the act because the actor system the actor doesn't have a feedback system, the actors not watching the monitor, the actor, whether or not they're an ogre or the most generous person in the world, they're going to want a tick, a modicum of feedback, and you'll see often in a scene with two people. When cut is yelled, the actors will connect with one another, so I think is a filmmaker. One thing you could start to do you consort to building what I call an ancillary language with actors, one part of the ancillary languages just being connected to them, you know, even if it's physical do you know what I'm saying? But again, if you don't know the words to articulate, sometimes you say, how did that feel? And they may say it felt fast and you thinking you have been passed to me so I can say go slow, you know, because I think a lot of times act directors feel fear hate say they fear sounding stupid they fear sounding like they don't know acting so if you fear that what you can do is draw the words out of the actor saying, how did that feel fast great go slow saying I did an interview with them it's kind of an interview thing with the matthew modine and again so we're talking about full metal jacket and someone asked matthew what's the best what's a typical piece of direction that stanley kubrick gave and matthew thanks first I thought for a second and he said, well, he would come up to me right before the take and he would say when I say action, I want you to look really scared I mean that's kind of terrified I mean that's not out of juilliard you don't mean that's not exactly going to shift the continental plates again. I do think that a filmmaker making their first movie gets a different response, but if you say that to an actor and it's your first film, you're going to get one response if it's your sixth film and you're still in cuba rick, you're going to get a thanks, stanley, what the hell you know you're going so part of trust we can live in all sorts of bubble bubble gum but one part of trust is resume now I hate to say that I just think that's a reality check as well. How many times have we we heard actors say I'd love to work with ex director I would never met them but I mean part of that is your work is your resume and also I would say one thing every director is going to have a moment of self consciousness around an actor and every actor is going to have a moment of of suffocation around the director you know it's a system of denial because what this incredible impossible chemistry experience experiment is the actor has their contribution the filmmakers there's contribution the writer is their contribution the editor as their contribution all these contributions and what ends up happening is something that is not one person's thing it had its like a quilt and you look at that quilt and part of it is the loss of oh that's that's not ok, you know, you can you heard it and david a little bit saying he would see something say uh okay I mean that's and also filmmakers go through that too, you know, because the filmmaker is is, you know, maybe having a collaboration based journey with the cinematographer I've fought with cinematographers I've had completely different visions not completely, but there are times when a cinematographer we could we could storyboard and shot lets the whole film and on the on the set or on the day as they say on the day we couldn't disagree more, you know? So there are miniature collaborations I think, for an actor what's interesting in unique is really the one collaboration partner is the filmmaker, you know, the script writer, it doesn't exist, I know that sounds awful, but in a way the right forget writer director, but if you're working with the director who's, you know let's say michael bay or someone and the writer is a relevant, the actor is only gonna work with michael bay, you know, the actor really in a way has no no one else to turn to, so I think that also creates the mindset that the what kind of doing with collaboration this it also creates the mindset that actors need to take care of themselves principally, you know, but then there's the converse I've been on film sets and I've directed can be very lonely. I've heard terry gilliam talks a lot about how lonely a direct directing is, and I'm not trying to say what was any of these people? But you know, directing can be lonely because you're truly the only person on the set who cares about everything no other department nor should day care about everything it the band with problem the costume designers should not care about, you know, a line in the script, it doesn't make sense and at some point it's counterproductive. Okay, let's, look at some of these things here. I mean, we're kind of doing this list. Collaboration, preparation is collaboration talked about this idea of preparation, self preparation, knowing who your keep collaborators are, frankly, again thing for the actor it's it's, much more director, writer, if they're live, live person, if they're alive. You you heard david talking about he's. He just portrayed a real person and was talking about the family. You know, you'll see that sometimes the family well, be part of this process, no single authorship. You know, this kind of it's like stacking cups, you know, I don't think, david, this was david altogether don't ignore it's happening, but don't take it personally. You know, the old expression, rational minds can differ on dh this idea, what is tough collaboration, tough collaboration happens not just in film. I've ever been in a job and just have a disagreement with someone I think you know, again, we do, frankly, living in a society in the network of humanity now that there is a sensitivity that can put more oxygen in the balloon that needs to go in the blood. It is more or less and less frequent that we can simply have a disagreement and come back and be friends and it's worse from because I'm italian and sicilians never forget anything, but, you know, in this world we live in, you have to kind of say tomorrow's another day this thing is another thing it's hard, I think it's one of the hardest things to do because film is magic and science, you know you have to fall on, you have to fall in and out of love with it really quickly and it's hard it's hard to make those transitions every film is a documentary, this is exactly what we're talking about. You could have a disagreement with the roommate and have to go to a set but again don't deny it's happening. I think the great actors and we talked about mike nichols earlier about everything you go, everything you're doing is what about what you're going through at the time you don't deny it? I don't think you closed down your intended as an actor, you know, philosophically, politically speaking, I I always think you know dialogue shouldn't lead to less dialogue, it should lead to more dialogue just in a matter of, you know, civics or politics, I don't think actors benefit from turning things off, you know, there's this expression we like to use with athletes that athletes compartmentalize, I think there's some degree of that, I think there's some degree that an actor may need to compartmentalize if you've had an argument with your roommate and you're walking on the set to play someone who has no relationship to that history, you may need to compartmentalize, but take the feeling I'm not saying you may have to throw the intellect away and use those feelings, because sometimes the director will use those feelings against you and that's just welcome to show business, you know again, if you watch this documentary on the making of the shining. Q brooke is really tough on one of the actors shelley duvall and a little more less affair with with jack nicholson. And if you look at the shining that's, the movie I'm talking about her character is terrified of her own shadow. And if you look at the process, there's definitely kubrick is infusing that you may have worked on projects like this with the director is really tough on you and maybe it's a strategy point, you know, maybe it's a strategy point, every film is a documentary don't take it personally. It's hard and I'm not one to quote tom cruise at all in any way but I did read an interview once where tom cruise his least favorite expression in the businesses don't take it personally he said, I take everything personally and again I just thought that was actually really interesting perspective I just think in the terms of craft if you take something personally, what you may do to your own detriment is tuned someone out that's tricky I think you have to know when you're tuning someone out because then you're kind of isolating your stimulations and that that's different ethical contract the ethics of filmmaking this is, you know, something we serve around a lot, you know? I don't say morality because I don't think morality and filmmaking as any interplay short of killing people during the process of making a film again it's unethical concern I think you know the question of is there an ethics to collaboration I think is a sophisticated question I have a lot of young actors say to me director asked me to do this I don't want to piss them off and I don't want to dio but I don't know, you know, I don't know if actors if you've ever been in that position to me I always respond you don't have to say yes to everything you know that that's it's not only smart it's, just honest I mean, I think but I also think, you know, it's kind of like a blind date where you've decided in the first five minutes no that's a long night you're in for a long night so if something happens that not that I haven't but if you're if you're if you're in a process and you say no early or your instinct is no, I do think within that dialectic turning it off for you are saying no concretely will deny something I'm not saying you should you ever do something you don't want to do is an actor or is a filmmaker quite frankly because a lot of times a filmmaker is going, you know, this happens cinnamon you work with an experience cinematographer, and they'll say this I heard this on my first feature this's and how this is done if I had a dollar for every time I was told that I would be, you know, in a mansion somewhere, this isn't how this done another thing I was told this filmmaker not going to cut I cannot tell you even in postproduction sitting with the editor that cuts not going to work, what does that I'm thinking, what does that mean it's not gonna work like, you know, can we try it and decide so all this stuff it's not about no it's about it's about the dialectic it's about the dialogue we have to respect that viewpoint because if you keep shoving people through ah hole that only you've designed you're going toe shoot yourself in the foot ultimately you don't have to say yes to everything however I think no leave me alone is never the answer no I'm a genius leave me alone is never the answer you will see it it happens you know but this is just might take away is that yourself to be pushes for it? You're comfortable I mean again you know, going back to david morris he said something that was kind of funny he said you know, this filmmaker said we're going to go to the way said going to go to the edge of the cliff we're somewhere uh uh you know, again I think there is a kind of, you know, threshold on and to me you know, a lot of a lot of filmmakers don't a lot of filmmakers worked that way, you know, there's a great article on never herzog in new york new yorker magazine new york magazine it's about the making of rescue dawn you should all check this out google werner herzog rescued on and it was really in a way his first organized hollywood film and christian bale was in that I don't remember and you know, verner making his movies had never used a stunt man you know what a stunt man was so he was asking shot is asking a christian built into all these big studs and in the middle of shooting christian bill just started screaming said I am not going to die and making this film for you burger you know so again you know I'm all for the dialogue I don't I don't think no gets us anywhere I think what are you thinking? Maybe we could do this a different way you know to me and just end this this lesson in a more graphic way I figure it this way on a film set much like in life there two types of people there were people who would tell you the plane is on fire and the old people tell there were people who will tell you how to land the plane you know, decide which of those people you are you know, I know when I made my first feature a lot of people told me the plane was on fire um and there was no plane in this movie but I understood exactly what they were saying so you know dialogue begets dialogue it's a courageous thing collaboration it requires a self esteem which we all have it requires an ego which we all have it requires an acknowledgment that what I have to say matters and to me that's the closest definition I have to being an artist, you know, I think of marcel, just shop, you know, the front, I hate the word avant garde, experimental artists. You took a, took a stool and put a bike on it and called it art, you know, people laughed it, people effort, it's still, but to me represents what truly art is, which is it's, like a form of confidence. What I have to say matters what I have to contribute matters and that's scary. It scared because of what we're talking about. A lot of times, the artist journey is a lot of no. What you have to say does not matter. I don't feel that way, but only you can have that dialogue with yourself.

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!