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Filmmaking from the Inside-Out

Lesson 6 of 10

Collaborating with Actors


Filmmaking from the Inside-Out

Lesson 6 of 10

Collaborating with Actors


Lesson Info

Collaborating with Actors

I'm excited for this segment this is to me one of the more bewildering and off and least discussed topics twenty when I speak to filmmakers, young filmmakers and why you or u s c u c l a they never bear down and talk about collaboration on as you know, a lot of the collaboration technique you can't have on the set because that's it's kind of too late so let's let's break this into stages the first I guess stage of the aircraft is actor collaboration it's a curious topic because we never assume actors have to collaborate with one another you know we're always talking about actors collaborating with the director that cinematographer how do you audition? But what about actors collaborating with one another? Does that happen? Yeah, I mean that's one of the things we were talking about before and having like and appreciation understanding of what kind of an actor you're dealing with, you know, I like if if if someone is in the actor's studio method right versus you know meisner or if they h...

aven't had any training at all right? You know, or you're dealing with someone who's older or your you're acting with a pet I mean, you know, you're under all these different things and I always encourage doing table reads so you can kind of gauge you know what everybody else is doing what they're you know what they're acting I mean to me it's it's crucial to collaborate I really don't like when you know when we're when I don't feel a sense of collaborating because they didn't feel awfully lonely, you know, acting by yourself what I think of the words actor and collaboration together the first scenario envision is a rehearsal you know, this is this is another word as you grow up and keep working in film and needs redefining back and drama school it's hey let's meet at four o'clock on saturday, you know, but in the film world that's different just a quick anecdote that lead into a question of freedom. I got a movie with ridley scott and the first thing he wanted to do, which is a kind of drama school mentalities he wanted a call ridley scott I said, what do you think? You know, what are you thinking of? But the real world is different. You know what she's a preparation. What are your thoughts on best practices for preparing to collaborate, whether it's with an actor with the director it's different? Well again, if you're doing example like that, you know, the best thing to do is to look at movies of ridley scott and kind of see who does he cast in this film? What kind of acting does he tend to you know gravitate towards what kind of movie or you in what is the tone of the movie love that what's the world of the moon be a love that yeah, one of the rules you don't show up you know when I think of released got you know again you don't show up and yeah, I'm gonna ridley scott you know it's like I'm in it ridley scott movie talk like this the entire you know, I don't know you know, just so so feeling is if you're in collaboration with with the director even before he talks to you or you know, get the direction we're going talk explicitly momentarily with filmmaker neil labute, a writer and a filmmaker but I want to talk a little bit just to go back actors collaborating with one another. Another example is you know what I think of strasbourg or school training it's the same thing you're all hanging out together in your old doing things together, but film you're really alone wolf when you get cast in the film, do you? How much premeditation do you put into a who else is in the movie o one hundred and fifty percent and what does that look like? How what does it matter to you who you're acting within the movie that's the question it's really important? Because again you're you're wondering, you know how hard is my job going to be if obviously there's a great sense of relief, you know I'm doing a movie the robert de niro you know think I'm think I'm going to be in good hands, you know? But yet you still have to show up then you have a whole another set of problems loves which is you know, how do I not let my fear get away for me? How do I not get intimidated by working with with the big star? But I like to know, you know right away and again develop a report not every actors like that I mean again is a director you need to know that when I was on the set I remember being in again this is like, I'm learning on the job, but you know, when I did the the film goodfellas, which is one of my second film, I felt like I was very much like joe pesci he jumped around and he made jokes he's saying songs and that's me that's me on the set that everybody likes that sometimes people like quiet and you have to respect who you're working with their styles of you know of working and if you feel that you don't have a report with that person boy, you have to figure out a way to develop a report, you know, because I think that that shows on screen we don't it's an interesting reality and maybe conundrum, but you can you can describe what if the characters don't have the chemistry, the characters, not the actors, can that lack of a connection actually working to your advantage? Well, again, you have to look at that, you know, each project is very different, you know, I was using example, the scene in cape fear, and I don't know robert de niro, and yet, of course, I know robert de niro, so that's a challenge, I have to say, he's, a complete stranger to me, I do not know him, and so in that instance, it was very important for me to knot, but spend time with him not, you know, because he I needed to feel is if there was some, you know, distance between us, you know, sometimes again, you get to a point of obviously of experience, you know, where your you're working and conflict with people, and you don't, you don't need all of that, but I find that a little bit of it is important because you're going to be, you know, acting with them on some things you want to let them know some things you don't want a left, no that's really interested, and then we look at the kind of almost the polar example not that the nero is in a unique example I was thinking daniel day lewis you know and daniel is one of those rare actors is you know how rare it is that can almost dictate the schedule when daniel day was tends to work he tends to say I wouldn't work in chronology right which is you know is an actors like ok great now you know it's like sometimes this idea of how an actor works confected everything right but you bring up an interesting point again oftentimes it's not like you know it took daniel day lewis a very long time to get to be daniel day lewis so what if here the actor that's got five lines you've got hired as a you know, a general and you know and I got five lines daniel day lewis and how do I develop a report we someone who there's no way I'm gonna be able teo and so those are things that again by watching his films by studying here that I love that I love that thing that's really doable I think actors can access tone mood of these people and craft by watching their films I really like that yeah it's a great piece of information because you're trying to do it in a you know as they said develop report in a hurry you know, kind of try toe you know, imagine what kind of an act ary is I always uses and good, and I discover people all the time, I'll be watching someone in out of the blue I, like I've suddenly discovered glenn ford now he's been around has been all these bodies, like one night you're home alone and you're like, oh my god, I love glenn he's like a psychotic, easy he's really there's this movie I encourage you to watch it's called the courtship of eddie's father okay, but in this movie, glenn, for it is like he's, like a violent he's he's a very unstable parent, if you ask me looking at it, but I got together like this kind of feeling is gonna blow his lid every any minute, but I find it very exciting to watch. And so therefore, you know, you just if I'm an actor is sam, you know, like, how that's going for, you know, like it gives me, and I'm going to be working with him, and I'm only a day on the move, movie or week or whatever it gives me maybe a little bit of insight into what kind of an actor he is. You talk about working a day on a movie I heard you earlier in the course, talking about network talk about petrovsky ned beatty talks to young actors a lot about you know they're no small roles yes that baby worked one day on network was nominated for an oscar not that then oscar's a referendum is thing is validation it's a reflection of your workforce in and that was on that movie one day blows the roof off and just so that idea instant chemistry that's a challenge isn't it that's hard it's very hard because again you're on a set and it's not the most organic place you know in the world right? Right and it's you know again when you I always say it's like well, you know, when I was alone in my bedroom drinking my glass of wine and crying and it all went so well you know actually there and the lights are on me I don't know the end people are touching me my I hate my wardrobe and you know it all it's really hard to kind of remember where you know the organic place that we started I love that you know rumor has it it said is not a natural place you know it is it's I always left when actors say I want to work in movies because it's more realistic to me movies or the complete antithesis of reality yeah, you really have to work within the box you work within the conference very much jury you're all in a petri dish yeah e wanted talk about another filmmaker as we segue way into our special guest soon, who works a cz, you know, filmmakers working in mysterious in different ways, woody allen. Not not about the gossip of it all, but what do you know? Someone will only give the actor their parts, you know? And if we look at it historically, this is actually something shakespeare did. Shakespeare did it differently because they didn't have xerox machines when shakespeare, you know, so they had to just hand right. You your party? Have you ever worked on a woody allen film? And if not, have you ever thought in that audition from never thought of that lack of access to material, how do you what do you work? Well, they did. It was funny many years ago, I I had experience weirdly doing an italian, a television commercial with woody allen, way before I was famous. And which was a really interesting they remember, they asked me, like, five times. How tall are you? I can say I'm five and a half in five minutes, cut to me being on the set. And woody allen is dp, like looking at me squinting, and then somebody walked over me and said, can you like squad, obviously to tell, but I did, but then I I met him very briefly for in addition, obviously is like, you know, they were like, do not talk to woody allen, that was like, you know, so there was so much hovering around him, and then I did get cast in the movie, I did, like a one day party was later cut and again, the same thing I was given my pages, you know, that day literally given them on that day, and I found it very hard, very intimidating because, you know, he's out there in the dark, and I don't really I just received these things, and I didn't you know, you're just trying to make them better, and you end up falling for me anyway, and just sort of trying to be funny or, you know, and not really understanding the context. I wish I could understand the context of the of the film a little bit more. Did he give you notes in the work? Was he giving you any feedback? Yeah, he said, that's funny don't add that that's funny, yeah, twenty, you know, that's that's kind of what happened was like I did the, you know, I was like, I'm not a woody allen said, you know, and that was one of those examples. Ls of like where I was told eighteen thousand times do not look at woody allen do not talk to woody and so thereby temper got on the set I was parallel like I'm paralyzed I find those things to be you know not helpful we'll say do not talk to him do not you know better than anyone in this room what does that come out of mean not not to jump on the different train track here but eyes woody allen saying make sure no one looks at me or is it shows that the protectors of what I feel like in my opinion it becomes what what obviously he's you know I got a job to do in a very limited time and it's so it comes from a protective thing but then it becomes like telephone where each person adds a little bit to this scenario don't look at him don't you know the end and it becomes like it freezes you up and you don't it doesn't create an atmosphere you know where you want to do anything funny or interesting or you know listen maybe that is exactly what he wanted and ready and that's what he wants you have to respect it I personally don't find it the easiest environment toe work in midst because it's a guessing game I no I don't I don't understand the context of what my scene wass afterwards I was like oh I was we indecent girlfriend I guess like I didn't even know way I didn't make it in the movie well in the absence and again this is not a referendum on what you know and I'm just picking up a poor example that's yes kind of in the public discourse but in the absence of that we're going to be speaking with the cinematographer and an editor you know? Do you turn to his script supervisor become more important? Does do your co actors become more reflective? Surface comes to reflective surface when the director is not well for me I you know, I all gain insight from almost anybody I mean but I am a stickler in wanting people's involvement I mean, one of the most disheartening things is you know, your act being seen you look out and everyone's like scrolling or you know, the sound guys checking his facebook and you know, that's a very disheartening thing that we have to work in right now but sometimes actors I mean I said this before about not taking things personally the number one person is yourself you again if you have this background of confidence you don't think things personally you go you know what? I'm gonna listen to music? I'm gonna do my thing, I've done everything in the world like I've gone on a set and I'm like I got to get everybody to like me you know, that's a disaster that's like, not goingto work, you know, because everybody's got their job and they're worried about things I might personal thing is to ask a lot of questions. I enjoy asking questions because it set me at ease. I want to know oh, how'd you have we put this fit together? How did we do this? How does that sound work? Maybe we can do this on I I like to engage the crew because I find that especially if I'm going to be doing something difficult. A big emotional scene I want to feel is if they're engaged, um and involved it's, not just me, you know, acting and they're shooting it. And, um and then we all go home. Like I said from you know how ashby, my first movie said it was ever on temple of art, you know, it's not always going to be like that, but a live but you could make it that way in your mind. You don't, you know, and I throw in the towel to everybody. Does this get me off this picture? I I was actually just that the biltmore state with their shop being there, just a small anecdote, I mean, that class, that film being there again to be geeky aside, masterclass and performance, it's, a master and ashby's films were master quest on editing to think you can't learn editing from a film is to be slightly ignorant to films like yeah, you know that I've even network I watched again. This is exquisitely edited. Also, just another is aside look in the genre of actors, you have peter sellers, who is a comedian, you know, untrained, if melvyn douglas coming out of the studio system, you have jack warden, you know, this fantastic character actor. And then you have surely mclean again, like different student films that mixed you would talk about charles bolton before one of my favorite as an acting petri dish is night of the hunter. Yeah, you have, um, lillian, get shot of a silent film tradition. Yeah. You have robert mitchum out of a ball busting, you know, rock star, the old hollywood tradition. You have these kids, you have children, and you have an actor directing them. What was an actor? So I think that's another way that you could use you. You did such a masterful job of showing how cinnamon history plugs into what you can learn those of the films I learned the most from about four minutes, yeah. With the traditions meet yeah how you handle that network again? You had bob duval who would never really done anything they've done away who'd lived this kind of rock star life right and bill holden so you have this you can learn about acting but watching oh my god absolutely she's a swatch robert duvall and network it's I mean it's a scary it's scary good so powerful I think you know it's it's weird to say because it comes down to taste I think that's his best performance in the stats like it's his most screwed and you know it's like it's all him you know this guy you know it's amazing well, the whole tone of the film is like at a ten you know, everybody is and I think I personally again think of that film quite a lot in terms of being a perfect film writing a group directing acting agreement astonishing sound the movie opens with sound she you know and that you being the only now the sound and it is fantastic even the voiceover which could be perilously cliche in general yeah it's amazing he ethically pitched well talk about as we said going into our first guest I want to talk about one of the one experience you had working on stir of echoes because david koepp yeah I wrote it and directed it and I won't talk a little bit about that working with the director who was a writer traditionally any recollections do you think writers make more suitable filmmakers or do you think there's this kind of schism between the craft of writing in the craft of making a film? Well, you know again david is was probably, you know, so well school because he had come out of, you know, writing traffic, a little movie called jurassic park, so so, you know, he had, you know, this is like we we go to the you know, he comes from the spielberg background, so lots of things were storyboard in traditional storytelling. However, it wasn't, you know, this this hard genre, but it was extremely well written, you know, because he's a great writer, I think for him it was a bit of a of a passion project, more like his things that he likes a little bit quirky on dh, the writer of it, I can't in his first name, matheson I think it's like that he came in, he wrote twilight zone wrote some some very interesting things, but it was kind of a mix of john of genre, but in terms of working with him is ah, as a director, uh, he, you know, was a wonderful director and a great director and and where again we ran into some problems were technical problems you know we had rain problem and that's one of the movies where a couple times you know because we were a smaller budget we had some location issues and we really had to punt um at the you know at the last minute and got into some problems but you know he was hearing watching you talk about cover sets you know I was thinking about this watching earlier parts of the course it's interesting someone in your azan actress that tradition you are really sensitive to the process let me play devil's advocate for a moment do you think that got in your way is their eyes there is there an argument to be made that an actor can think too much I mean of course you can and but I also don't think that you can deny who you are and you know that was my journey and I was you know I started out sort of sitting behind the scenes and when I you know it kind of galvanized for me when I was working with gus pins in and we were doing two films in the sense we were doing one film it was a documentary which he is interviewing me and then I would go act in another movie that was to die for with matt dillon and nicole kidman and it was almost jarring because remember not everybody was in the little documentary it was all aside weird people you know, we were all in on the indy it was like that was the bill and then that was like the gust indie film on and then we had the buck henry you know slick, fantastic dialogue script so working behind the scenes with, you know, a much smaller crew doing the documentary stuff we had that time teo teo to find out like, what does that lens? And and I was talking to him I said I love the way is the's overhead shots, you know? And the more we would talk, it would say to me, what would if you were doing this see, what would you do? And I said, doing overhead like, you didn't drugstore cowboy and got me, you know? So he got me more invested in that it was ok to be, you know, like next to the director I always that's just who I am like and I tell people that too, you know, when you're hiring me, I'm not a pain in the ass but like you are you're going to get a little bit of the, uh, you know, of the director because I am a director, I'm going, I'm going toe, you know, put my my two cents and I can't deny you know who I am, but of course I mean extremely, you know, respectful. I've never I've never been one of those actors who tells a director unless they want me to r they think that they should do and that could be trouble have been on, uh, as you know, it's, like young filmmakers, have been on sets where an actress is this isn't going to cut uh huh, to the filmmaker, you know, and that's I know there's no such thing. Yeah, I hate that phrase. In fact, hate. I'm like there's. No, there are no rules. I love that. I love that. You just yeah. That's those air again, it's, like they're ten catch phrases that people say that just need to be stricken, you know, it's not going to cut or another thing drives me crazy. Directors like he's monitor and he's like, well, the way this is going to cut is and he's no, he thinks he has it all planned down it's like you guess what is a huge difference between being on set and the way it's going to cut and sitting in an editing room. And you've got your whole story and the balances and ships and it changes. You know, uh, in the movie really, really finally comes together. Yeah and you put your whole movie together and the leading man is like they've supposed to be very strong and you really it's like oh is coming off a little bit feminine let's go back and let's find some tougher thing and that's where you're you're putting all those little nuances in the editing room so there's no such thing is it's never going to cut well let's talk a little bit about that before we get to kneel lip you thinking about scorsese and I have to be big for a second and ask particularly about this point and he seems to be one historically has story boarded and has courses pieces in his mind and the amazing collaboration he's had with thelma schoonmaker one of my favorite people in the world yeah uh since raging bull what is it let's talk about marty martin scorsese for moment what is his marriage so to say of preparation and spontaneity mean does he have a scene worked out to your experience working with him how is it played out in your experience? I would see that you know marty obviously was, you know was a mentor for me he is like the perfect example of everything you know that I am of course I'm a film lover and I was always a film lover but with those appreciation of film of film history you know he reinforced all of that gave me confidence in the sense that I was on the right path, you know that yes, I have a love of directors, of a love of writers. I love acting too, but I love the whole process, and he truly just loves the process of filmmaking and so he's involved in every aspect of it, you know, he doesn't come on the set, direct he's involved in the production design and, you know, the music casting of the actors, you know it all, you know, it has to be very court carefully orchestrated, and I think that again with somebody like him he's, not like hitchcock, where everything is, you know, very specifically drawn out, but in terms of certain sequences, yes, obviously there there have got to be sequences that are completely story boarded, and he does tend to be a traditionalist and do a lot of storyboards. We share the story boards with the actors, yes, and when would show you, you know, because he's excited about it and that you're excited about it and and, you know, and then sometimes like again, I remember, you know, on casino, he'll get fascinated. There was one of the actors who was acting with de niro and he he became fascinated by the god they put him in some crazy boots so he's like I'm going to do a point of view of the boots like his boots talking to his shoes and so you know but that you know, so he has that ability to of course it's all choreographed and then but it has that ability to have something catches I that would maybe same or it's going to say more about this guy to show what shoes he's wearing off and that is, you know, that's where again you've got the genius he can't you know, this can't be taught that, you know, well, you know a cz you suggest for him the choreography is the beginning, not the end it's not where we're getting too it's almost where we're starting from right and let's let's let's work let's see what happens? Yeah, one of the I mean, so many wonderful technical things I've learned from marty, but I always think of him and laugh because he obviously does a lot of tracking shots and a lot of pushing ls and things like that and I would think of him on the sat watching and it would be like to slow he could almost like predict in the editing room that it was going to be too slow and usually when I'm on a set, I see the director there doing the tracking shot so it's so meaningful they're moving it and I go I think marty they're going to be in the editing room they were like get to the poor get slow going to slow us down they fix it by ahead marty was a fantastic person in like no rules like put it dissolve in it I mean he breaks all the rules you know, but he can do that because he'll say I want you to freeze frame french new wave but you know and like he just does it based on somebody that is you know, done it before it seems also you know hey uses phrases like over cranking and under cranking over cranking is a term for slow motion we're used to crank the camera so fast that it more rapidly took photos on the more photos you take, the slower so he'll talk about let's under crank or let's crank secrets are chris is calling my way have a question here and of course not naming names but the viewer wants to know have you ever disliked an actor that you had to work with on set? And if so, how did you deal with that? Everyone has their pencils see everyone just sort of I'm sure on nam sharpening my yeah, this is uh you know, it's I've been really like I mean, it sounds like a cop out I e I worked with directors I hadn't liked, but I've been very lucky. Working with actors, I've almost it's the opposite, like I got, like, snap out of it. You know, because you idolize people, you're working with them, you always forget howto act, but sometimes but working with with, I've definitely had that, like working, you know, with the director and again in when that is the case, I just tried toe, you know, go back in my room and service the project and not get involved with. He doesn't like me. I mean, because that's, usually what it is like, he doesn't like me. He doesn't like what I'm doing and usually it's because they're thinking about eighty other things. They're not even thinking about you, but but that's, I find that that's more of a challenge is that you find like you're not getting along with your director, because that that could really be a problem.

Class Description

Where exactly does a filmmaker’s responsibility end and an actor’s begin? Filmmaking requires an abundance of creative collaboration and parsing out who is responsible what is a surprisingly complicated endeavor. In Filmmaking from the Inside-Out, Illeana Douglas will share strategies and insights that improve communication for those working on both sides of the camera.

Illeana has a unique vantage point. Her grandfather is the OSCAR® award-winning actor, Melvyn Douglas and she has worked extensively as an actor, director, and producer alongside some of the giants in the industry, including: filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant and Robert Redford; and actors Robert De Niro, Ralph Fiennes, and Nicole Kidman. In this class, Illeana will help both actors and filmmakers develop a better understanding of their own unique roles and how they can work together to capture the best-possible performance, in-camera. You’ll learn:

  • The precise definition of “filmmaker” and what they are responsible for
  • What the actor is expected to bring to a production
  • Customizable approaches for improving communication on set
  • Techniques for capturing performance on camera

Nearly every filmmaker and actor grapples with some level of insecurity and wants to feel more confident about their work. In this class, you’ll learn strategies for improving your craft and communicating about your unique contributions with your fellow creative collaborators.

Whether you are a filmmaker or actor, you’ll learn tangible and craft-based approaches to making constructive decisions and capturing the best work on set and in the camera.

Special Guests:

  • Anastas Michos, Cinematographer 
  • Bill Pankow, Editor 
  • Neil LaBute, Writer/Director



A great insight from a veteran of Hollywood on her perspective, thoughts, ideas and genuine feeling of what each individual can gain from simply believing in yourself and your abilities. Ms. Douglas and special guests took time to give us as much useful information as possible in a very tough business of film making. Hope to have such courses again.

Laura Latimer

A great class with perfect insights. Thank you.

a Creativelive Student

This was a fascinating and useful course. Ms. Douglas' views on the craft of filmmaking helped me better understand it.