Film & TV

Frost/Nixon: Staging Review

Ron Howard

Lesson time 22:22 min

Reviewing the staging exercises, Ron talks you through what he was considering while blocking the actors and planning for each shot.

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The first approach that I took was similar to what I'd done with the movie. I mean, I thought about it. I didn't go back and look at my notes or review that scene, but I remember how we staged it more or less, and what the energy was, and the sort of the stylistic and tension of that scene. And so I thought we'd just approach it that way. And I'd take a moment here or there to explain sort of what the coverage might be, the way in which a handheld scene can come together, what can be sort of discovered by the camera operators versus what needs to be staged for and more designed by the director. But you know, that's meant to have a kind of a fluidity, as much movement as possible. During the-- whatever it is-- 2 and 1/2 page scene or so, the actors are in three or four different places. And so I wanted to show that kind of staging fall into place, utilizing the instincts of the actors, the preparation of the director, the point of view of the director. And then, what could be done with the camera? As I was going through all of that, I was just reminded that in each and every scene there are so many undeniably valid ways to approach it photographically and in terms of the staging. I mean, today I thought of four or five other approaches that might well have worked. And again, this is the challenge for a director-- is to make some sort of overarching, holistic, decisions about the story and the way they'd like it to unfold so that it begins to narrow some of those options. But when you see movies that you love, television shows that you connect with, it's good to understand not only the writing, not only the characters, not only the themes, but also, what is there about the presentation that is working for you? And the more you understand it just on that basic level of a relationship-- again, the director is the first audience member. So if you make yourself an audience member and start to understand what it is that you like about it, you can carry that sort of focus into your work when you begin to make a film. You begin to see frames and falling into place, acting moments. You're watching the monitor, or looking through the camera, or however you're shooting it, and you can begin to relate it to your experience as a viewer. And it keeps it immediate, and it also keeps it very exciting. Salvatore Totino, a cinematographer I've worked with a half a dozen times, also operates. He was one of the key operators on Frost Nixon. And there are times when we'll finish a take, and he'll lower the camera, and he's got tears in his eyes because he's not just worried about the frame lines. He's an artist. He cares about the story, and the actor has created something in that moment, and Sal's been able to capture it with the light, with the lens choice that we've discussed, in a way that reaches him in a very spontaneous way. Business is often an actor's best friend. ...


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Ron Howard made his first film in 15 days with $300,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online directing class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes his craft like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.



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Comments

Ella D.

Giving actors "business" is definitely so important! A trained actor should know to create business for themselves. Meryl Streep in that old woody Allen movie Manhattan is queen of creating business in every scene. Anthony Hopkins is known for staying on set and fidgeting with props to make them personal. Business is key.

Wendy J.

Another point I wanted to make in regards to clichés in scenes are things like that stupid one person clapping business. Or (thank God it's almost over) the waving of cell phones. I think I'm going to puke if I have to see one more "love" scene in which a woman is thrown against a wall and penetrated by a man she met in a bar or lovers who have just made up after a fight. If boys and young men think a woman gets any satisfaction out of that kind of sex they are (for the most part) mistaken. And the same goes for those stupid scenes where everything on a desk or table is swept onto the floor and the woman is spread like a tablecloth. Seduction is far more sexy for at least 50 percent of the population. The art of foreplay seems to be lost to most Directors these days. Or are they simply too lazy to choreograph the heat that comes from a fire that is allowed to burn for a while. Even lovers who meet for a one night stand want to be wooed and (to use an old fashioned term) courted, if only for an hour or two. There could be slow dancing, long tantalizing glances, titillating conversation, provocative smiles, soft touches on arms and legs, kisses that start tentatively then become passionate. Love-making can be portrayed as starting on the sofa and ending on a rug in front of a fireplace. Or the man can romantically pick the woman up and carefully take her to bed. Not to say this never happens in movies, but mostly it seems like sex scenes now portray the equivalent to a man jerking off in a vagina instead of a couple sharing passion because they are mutually attracted to each other or madly in love. And once again, shouldn't Directors and Screenwriters make some attempt to show sex that pleasures both sexes, not just the men?

Wendy J.

Do Director's think of ways to avoid using business that is so clichéd it becomes distracting or annoying. I'm really tired of characters going to a decanter and pouring a drink. Who does that in this day and age? Do very many people have alcohol sitting on a sideboard as if it were the 19th century? Do so many people really drink so much alcohol? Isn't it more likely they'll get a drink of pop, or water or make a cup of tea or coffee? And if they go about the business of getting coffee they have more business that can be undertaken - there's milk and sugar and stirring and blowing on the coffee. There can be shots of the milk swirling, waiting for it to cool down. Many people have fancy coffee machines now, French presses, etc. And many more people are drinking specialty teas. Scenes are much cozier with a cup of tea, a bit more sophiticated with a latte or cappuccino maybe? Or there's hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows. Don't we have some social responsibility? Children and teens see so many adults portrayed having a alcoholic beverages as a matter of course it makes them feel they are being "grown up" by sneaking a beer or drinking at parties. We have managed to discourage smoking by cutting back on adults reaching for a cigarette as part of TV and movie scene business, I'd like to see us doing the same with the treatment of alcohol.

Matthew B.

Thought of this Class after I went to the Movies today myself. Saw "The Tomorrow Man" with John Lithgow and Blythe Danner and really noticed the Photography angles and staging more than I ever have. Thanks Ron !

Joseph N.

I have been glued to these past lessons watching Ron direct and share his style of work. This recap was very encouraging and helpful. Seeing and hearing how to direct from Ron's perspective is amazing.

RJane @.

Ron, thank you for showing us how to direct with different perspectives by framing the characters and their performance. @RJanesRealm

EK T.

Good review. Having seen the staging lessons, it is easier to envision what he is talking about here, but clips would still be helpful. On the other hand, Mr. Howard gave us a lot more than I have seen in similar classes.

Graeme R.

Excellent advice, putting the more sophisticated staging options in perspective. If you can afford the time and money, go for it, but simpler staging will still tell the story.

Elizabeth B.

I had exactly the opposite experience from Lee Smith...I felt Ron gave so very many choices for everyone from studio to indie beginner.

Lee S.

These staging episodes were very disappointing. They are geared to a studio production, not a more modest production that most student directors experience. Specifically, most student directors do not have the luxury of shooting everything with A and B cameras. And what about sound? Was that a single system with a wireless feed to the cameras? Is Ron depending on ADR? Again, not a production situation for most students. He kept whispering to the camera operators. I rarely saw a clean take from start to finish. There were also many points where focus was lost, soft, or seemed to be on the wrong character. Then in the steady cam sequence there where several points where the framing was horrible; there would be a medium shot that cut the actor's head almost into his eyes. There actors here were also very good. What about communicating with inexperienced actors? Several times Ron used result oriented directions which are ineffective and confusing to new actors. He should have taken Lucas' advice at the end and staged everything with one camera and dual system. The earlier episodes on script and preproduction were good but these on staging missed an opportunity to address what most students need.