Tuesday, April 27, 2010

a play reading

I invited some friends over to read a new play last night that I would love to direct. These are wonderful talented actors, each with his/her own strengths, and they did a very creditable job of reading and maintaining their own through lines, not taking on each other's tones or rhythms - very strong personalities and very intelligent reads. Coming at directing from being an actor, I found it strangely relaxing to attend a read through where I wasn't doing any of the work. I could skip all the struggling to be really good and go straight to the criticism. You know the critic that pops out, "ooh, you didn't do that line the way it was meant to be done." "Didn't fully commit there, did you?" "oops. Cheesy." "Shit, I meant that to sound better." All of that. I could just sit back and listen to other people struggle to make it come out right. And then think, "I have a better line reading for that," or, "Wow. That was brilliant. I never would have thought of that!" Or "She really got the emotions flowing there, really went all the way with it." Or, "pick up the pace!" But it wasn't me doing it, and it wasn't me I had to criticize. Such a relief in a way. And such a delight to be with friends doing something creative just for the pure fun of creating, no one watching but ourselves, no one being exploited or wanting more money. It was just giving. Almost pure art.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Letter from David Mamet to the Writers of The Unit


Read more: A Letter from David Mamet to the Writers of The Unit | /Film http://www.slashfilm.com/2010/03/23/a-letter-from-david-mamet-to-the-writers-of-the-unit/#ixzz0jH5Hx89p

Friday, March 12, 2010

Here's a wonderful description of one directing style - Robert Altman as described by Graeme Clifford and Mark Rydell. Bob Fosse had an extremely different approach. They were both looking for the best from people. I think these styles are not mutually exclusive and can actually be used together. I find myself borrowing a little from each when I direct.

Friday, March 12, 2010
delanceyplace.com 3/12/10 - styles of directing

In today's excerpt - successful movie directors can be found within every style and personality type, from highly controlled and controlling to flexible and improvisational. Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Player) was an extreme example of the improvisational approach:
"GRAEME CLIFFORD (assistant director): Altman had a preproduction speech at the beginning of [a] movie that just captured his whole approach. He said, 'Anybody can come up to me at any time and give me any ideas they have or discuss anything they want. Sometimes I'll use them and sometimes I won't. I may not always have time to tell you why I'm not going to use your idea, but I'll always listen.' I didn't work for anybody else for the next five years, and I just assumed everybody worked this way - the way he treated the crew, the way he treated actors. I stole that speech and I use it on any movie I make, but you think many directors say that? ...
"MARK RYDELL (actor and director): Bob [Altman] sent me the script [to The Long Goodbye]. I looked at it and thought, 'This part is just not well written.' So I called him and I said, 'Bob, what would you think if I rewrote this part and made it two hundred percent better? I have a concept for a character.' He said, 'Go ahead.' The character in the book was wishy-washy, really, had no character. ... So Larry Tucker and I decided to make him this Jewish gangster who was insanely brutal, completely capable of any kind of brutality, yet at the same time deeply religious, offended that he wasn't in shul, where he should have been on this night. At the same time, the challenge was to make it funny. Make it not only cruel and horrendous, but charming and funny. So we did that. And we sent the pages to Bob. He called back in five minutes and said, 'That's it. Throw out everything else, I'm inserting your pages right in the script.' That's the kind of guy he was. All he wanted was the best from his people.
"One of the first things he used to say on a set was, 'I'm interested in everything you have to bring.' So he had that remarkably paternal and constructive quality of nurturing people and giving them permission to be as good as they can be. He rarely directed them in obvious ways. His ways were more subtle. He would encourage you. 'What've you got in mind?' he would say. 'Show me. That's great, let's use it.'
"His directorial style was improvisational and permissive. And actors loved him because of it. Because they could bring their skills and their instincts, which he admired and respected, to the moment. If it came from you, he was interested. He didn't want to give you something and have you execute it because he knew that anything he gives you is by nature less good than what you come up with yourself. He instinctively knew that the way to get relaxed and realistic performances was to encourage the creative spirit of each individual actor, and he cast that way. He cast in an effort to find people who are inventive."

Mitchell Zuckoff, Robert Altman, Knopf, Copyright 2009 by the Estate of Robert B.
Altman and Mitchell Zuckoff, pp. 155, 248.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Sharon wants me to put a bio on here. Not a bad idea. I've already got bios on my website: www.DeborahGeffner.com along with lots of other stuff - photos, projects, my movies, "Guitar Lessons," "Razz & Jo Wake Up," my headshots of other people, trailers, movie clips. It's all me all the time. If you wanna know anything, go there to look. If there's something you don't see there, just ask.

Sometimes I picture actors as horses

One place I'm doing great work right now is in class. I've started taking acting classes from Richard Seyd. Google him. In most classes I have a tendency to want to be the best: "Wow, your scene was the best!" It's my competitive side, and it's sustained me through a life of auditioning. Sometimes I picture actors as horses and auditions as races. I love racing to win - love everything about it, including winning. So to be the best in class, I use all the tricks I've developed over the years of acting. As a result, I rely on my old tricks, and don't really learn what I need to learn. Richard's genius is that he crafts these "stretch work" improvs with incredible detail so as to point you within two or three degrees of the exact direction you need to work on. i.e. "not just anger, but explosive anger." Then the next week, "not just explosive anger, but punishing rather than revelatory anger." And so on. He gives you all the circumstances you need so you can work in the exact area - if you choose. Or, like a horse, learning to jump, you can balk and run around the fence at the last minute. And there's no feedback of, "You really blew your chance to experience that, didn't you?" It's more like examining where you did decide to go and why. So last Tuesday, he laid out circumstances for this scene that just thinking about made me feel queasy in my stomach. I felt that I'd never be able to express that kind of punishing, attacking, dominating anger. "I can't do this. I can't do this," I kept saying to myself while I waited outside in the hall and he gave the other actress her adjustments. And then I thought, "What a great chance. I'll be so sorry if I don't try. This person is not me; I'd never be like this, but here's this absolutely free chance to pretend I am and see how it feels." But even as I waited on stage for her to enter, the thought was yelling in my mind, "I don't know how to do this!!" And just as the scene started, I decided to take the jump. I had moments where I said something, and couldn't believe it - no! you can't withdraw your love just to get what you want! - that's awful! I can't believe I said that! I had to stand there and just breathe and see what effect it had. And the other actress was great. She went all the way with her reaction to me too. It was a great scene and a great lesson. I look at it as a part of the field I've never explored, and now I know one path through it. In a while I hope I will be able to live there. Not in life - it's a terrible way to be - but in play - to really live there. So that was the brave thing, and I'm going to call it great work and hope I do more of it.

It's time to start

"It's time to start talking." Buttercup, hopeful that I was talking about food, or at least about giving her a greenie, was very attentive. "Talking to other people besides you," I said. "There are things I want to say." For instance there's an idea from Steven Pressfield http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/notes/steven-pressfield/writing-wednesdays-28-depth-of-work/326917168391 that he got from a book by Michael Bungay Stanier called Do More Great Work about the three kinds of work we all do: bad work, good work, and great work. I do lots of good work, washing the sheets, calling my agent, auditioning, making dinner, but not very much great work. Great work is working deep, working risky - I'm-flying-and-I-don't-know-where-I'm-going-to-land-but-it-feels-really-good work. As I see it, that kind of work can morph into simply good work, as it becomes familiar or routine. It changes from person to person, from day to day. I have a feeling that writing may be this kind of work for me right now or may lead me into more great work. Fun.