The Film Director's Intuition: Script Analysis and Rehearsal Techniques

By Merzbacher, Charles | Journal of Film and Video, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

The Film Director's Intuition: Script Analysis and Rehearsal Techniques


Merzbacher, Charles, Journal of Film and Video


THE FILM DIRECTOR'S INTUITION: SCRIPT ANALYSIS AND REHEARSAL TECHNIQUES Judith Weston. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese, 2003, 364 pp.

While Judith Weston says that she set out to write "an entirely new book"(xviii), this is clearly a companion piece to her very successful Directing Actors. In the previous book, Weston sought to acquaint directors or would-be directors with what it means to act-the psychological and practical needs that undergird a performance. Now, in The Film Director's Intuition, Weston takes the notion that effective direction depends upon an affinity for acting one step further: directing is acting. Weston believes that directors should undertake the same kind of preparation that actors do in developing a character, and that they, too, should strive to be "in the moment," the gold standard of most acting today.

This is a powerful concept. The complexity of even a modest film or video production often forces the director into a role more akin to a general marshalling an army, or a CEO managing a corporation, than to an actor responding sensitively and spontaneously to the challenges at hand. Weston contends, however, that by developing a deep connection with their material, directors can deal more immediately and intuitively with the endless stream of questions that demand their attention. Done properly, Weston believes, this kind of "method directing" will permit a person to wear the director's mantle with greater ease and grace.

Much of what constitutes the stereotype of "method acting" is predicated on the questionable notion that actors can take on characters other than their own-a concept that treads precariously along the ill-defined border between psychology and metaphysics. It is not surprising, therefore, that, having conflated acting and directing, much of what Weston has to say ventures into the same risky territory. Directors are exhorted to throw off the shackles of decorum and conventional thought and to engage in exercises aimed at limbering up their psyches and unleashing their imaginations. Concepts such as these-and the language used to express them-often seem borrowed from the self-help genre. Here is some advice from a section entitled "Three Solutions to Every Script Analysis Problem":

But-paradoxically-when you know you must come up with three ideas, and are thus freed from needing to find the right answer, you stand a better chance of finding a creative solution! Pressure to find the one right answer is a killer of intuition and creativity. So instead of stalking and obsessing over the right answer, come up with three possible answers. (81)

Your appetite for such mental aerobics may be the best indicator of how much you will get out of this book.

The peculiarly American zeal for self-improvement goes back to Emerson and his intellectual companions, and there is an Emersonian expansiveness and pragmatism at the heart of Weston's approach. Like Emerson, Weston is an intellectual hunter-gatherer, foraging (in this case) through the thickets of contemporary acting theory, popular psychology, and DVD commentaries for kernels of wisdom. The eclectic bounty of quotes and anecdotes from actors, directors, and ordinary people that is a byproduct of this restless searching is among the book's most appealing features. Who knew, for instance, that an acting coach studying George W. Bush concluded that the president "has this look as if something smelled really foul near him, but he doesn't want to be impolite about it"(146, emphasis in original)?

There is an inherent dilemma in attempting to analyze an intuitive process. …

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