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Arts & Entertainment

Scene Workshop, Part 1: Read-Through and Blocking

Mira Nair

Lesson time 17:54 min

In Part 1 of Mira’s scene workshop, Mira works with two actors—Madina Nalwanga and Philip Luswata—from Queen of Katwe to teach you how to direct intensely emotional scenes.

Mira Nair
Teaches Independent Filmmaking
The Oscar-nominated director teaches her methods for directing powerful performances, maximizing budgets, and bringing authentic stories to life.
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Phiona! - - Phiona! I told you, never leave the group. - I'll never be a master. I'll never be good enough. And you know it, Coach. I sell maize, coach. I sell maize. I know how to do that. But now you see me, see how chess has disturbed me. I'll never belong to it, and this will never be my place! - Here. Now, slow down. Slow down. Losing does not mean you're a failure. It just takes time. That's all. Stamina. Huh? That is the key. - I wish you had never taught me this game. - Phiona. Phiona. - Welcome to the workshop of "The Queen of Katwe," a film I made a few years ago. We are doing one scene just as a workshop of how to direct actors and the cinematographer. This is Philip Luswata, one of Uganda's leading actors, who played in the film. But today he is playing the role that David Oyelowo played, as the coach Robert Katende in "Queen of Katwe." Madina Nalwanga, who played Phiona Mutesi, the young, brilliant girl who came out of Katwe community, just 15 minutes away from here, who then rose to become a chess champion. Madina is what? Three years older than she was when she played Phiona. And this is Myles Goodall, who was one of the cinematographers of "Queen of Katwe," and who is now helping shooting this scene in a workshop format. So let's-- one thing I just would like my students here to know is that the relationship that I have with Madina would have been done way in advance of this meeting. In reality we've spent what? Years together now. We've spent years together. We have a great relationship, I think. - Right. - And we-- I have created through a series of workshops, through a series of exercises, through also a lot of work together, filming the entire film of "Queen of Katwe," and also we live as neighbors here in Uganda for now many years. And she is a part of my family. I am so privileged really to be able to say that. So I am taking this liberty of not sharing with you that history of our relationship, because we've already created one. And we are using that relationship, and the warmth, and the trust that we've built over literally years to bring to you this workshop exercise of how to make a scene hopefully work. This scene, guys, is-- we are not in Russia. The scene is written for Russia. Phiona Mutesi insists to go and represent Uganda in an Olympics chess championship. And people think she is premature to do that, but she is such a sort of smart and determined young player that she has wanted to go there. A large part of this is because you know that as a champion you would get a stipend, money for her family that would keep you all going, and alive. And that's why you're determined to get your family out of poverty, get your family working on and living on the earnings of you as a chess champion. So you've insisted on going to Russia. - OK. - We are now not in Maisha. We are not in this gorgeous garden. We are in Russia. The sn...

Harness the power of your roots

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mira Nair approaches directing with the “heart of a poet and the skin of an elephant,” spurred by rejection and fighting to bring uncompromising stories to film. In the Golden Lion-winning director’s MasterClass, learn to make a big impact on a small budget in film production, evoke the best from actors and nonactors, and protect your creative vision so you tell the story that can only come from you.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Very helpful with coaching actors and framing shots.

So interesting to listen to such a strong woman, with a great passion for stories. I have learnt so much from this masterclass and I really enjoyed the practical shooting of the scene section. Would love to see more of this in future masterclasses.

I love the soul and spirit the director brings in her approach. Mira Nair obviously takes a very real way that brings out a lot of emotion in her final presentation. I saw enjoyed listening to her and her experiences. I would love to work with her.

This was my favorite of all the classes I have taken here. It really helped me understand how to communicate with actors better and how to get less contained performances out of my actors, which is something I have struggled with.


Kerry W.

I am still a fan of Mira Nair's spirit of directing and filmmaking. But the blocking workshop portion was too much information for the actor. It felt manipulated as oppose to allowing the actors to find their motivation. Too much talk and not enough inspiration frpom the blocking. Not collaborative enough. More fear not enough trust in can become? Perhaps they should have prepped this portion. It did more complicating than educating. Still a fan though. Just my personal observation. Try action verbs or scenario's for them to connect to.

Kevin B.

Talking instructions is informative and diffidently has it's place, but, having said that, I love seeing these lessons in action. How and why the camera(s) is/are to the scene. Showing as the teacher tells in a class environment stimulates my minds eye. I really appreciated this lesson.


Wow. What a wonderful gift. Allowing us to see her actual work process. Thank you so much.

Franco E.

It's so wonderful to see a true master at work, and watch her process in action. If anyone ever had doubts as to the director's role in a scene, they should watch this lesson. Fantastic. Loved it. Thank you, Mira. :)

Saleena S.

Wonderful insight, thanks for sharing your skills. You have a sense of deep passion for your work and people and this is being transmitted to the actors at each level. They became more involved with their character through your direction. We all need that support that you share in the film through your story and it is such a valuable message , it did create emotions in me.

Ify M.

Oh my....this has really been an eye-opening lesson with a lot of insight into the work that goes into getting that perfect scene. Now I see how a directors role as a guide is so important. Loving the actors and guiding them towards the right emotions, positions, gestures. Even the cinematographer...a director is 100 percent involved. Thank you Mira for this huge insight. It has been priceless.

Andrew Kyle B.

Watching a director work is fascinating, and this is especially so because of how caring a director Mira is. You can see she honestly loves the people she works with, which makes her such a team player and helps her earn her position as the film's leader.

Karmen B.

Mira has taken the time to delve into the emotions of the characters and how to best capture that on the camera. I love how she is working with her people, actors and camerman, to bring and continue to bring out the best. Beautiful and moving to witness, not to mention the great tutoring I am receiving. Thank you Mira.

Dex D.

I have taken almost all of the masterclass classes on filmmaking; and though I have enjoyed all of them tremendously, Mira's is my favorite because she imparts so much of the technical skills she employs when staging. (Ron Howard did as well, and his class was wonderful if you have not taken that one.) But there's something about the way Mira speaks to her actors that really resonates with me. She delves into the emotional side of the scene within her staging, and I appreciated getting the chance to see how she communicates that not just with her actors but with her cinematographer. As a director, I rarely get to see how other directors work, so this was invaluable to me. As an aside, her actress is stunning!


this was incredibly powerful. This really demonstrated for me how to paint the scene for actors like no other lesson Ive had before.