Wednesday, August 24, 2016

15 Observations from writer/director Billy Ray

My WGA mentor Billy Ray ("Shattered Glass, "Captain Phillips," "The Hunger Games") invited me to an AFI screening of his new Amazon episodic "The Last Tycoon." Afterward he gave a master class in what it takes to be writer who is transitioning into directing. It's the first time this year I've attended a screening Q&A and had to whip out my notepad to write down all the advice. He even had clips ("Body Heat" and "The Godfather") to illustrate the camera subtext.

1. goal of a writer/director is to beat the page. If it's a faithful rendering of what you wrote down, then you are failing.

2. everyone knows that the camera captures subtext which means it must be stuff the character DOES NOT want to reveal. Make sure the actors know this when you are doing close-ups.

3. to get an actor to do something give them a verb, but also remember to give notes to the other actor in the scene to incite something in them.

4. in auditions get your lazy ass up and go out and grab the actors, shake their hands. Don't let the casting assistant just usher them in or you'll begin to feel nothing.

5. never engage in power struggle with actor in front of ppl. Clear the set or go into an office.

6. right before you yell "action" ask the actor 'do you know what you want?' so that it's at the top of their minds and not the blocking, camera, and the million other things.

7. right before you yell 'cut' give it five seconds. Tell the actors that. There will always be something in those quiet extra 5 secs that can be used.

8. know an actor's 'bag of tricks' and force them out of it. So if it's actor who overuses their hands make them do the intense angry scene with their hands folded or under their arms, make them fight against that urge and it creates natural dynamic tension.

9. change off-camera dialogue actors are responding to so that they keep it fresh.

10. change your socks at lunch. When you're on set and standing all day, your feet will start to burn. New pair of socks means new legs for second half of day.

11. ambition got you here, but paranoia keeps you here.

12. shake everyone's hand on set and thank them. It will take the crew about 2-3 days to realize you're not an asshole.

13. always deflect credit for anything good on to other depts and take blame for anything bad. You're the director! You get too much credit anyway, give it to others.

14. as a writer/director you must reject 'a film by' credit if offered. It's egotistical and a lie. Woody Allen doesn't use 'a film by' credit. Movies are a director's medium. We all know who directed the freaking film. You don't need to then stamp the entire thing as your 'creation.' And you don't get any more money for doing it so turn it down. 'A film by' credit is satan's ass crack!

15. Read "Directing Actors" by Judith Weston. It has a lot of the stuff in here. Write them down on notecards and have them in your shirt pocket on set so it looks like you're pulling from your own notes.

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