Arts & Entertainment

Frost/Nixon: Staging Review

Ron Howard

Lesson time 22:21 min

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

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

Topics include: Find the Fluidity • Give Actors Some Business • Remain Flexible • Marry Acting to Staging • Make Compromise Work • Discover Your Personal Preferences


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. ...

About the Instructor

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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Ron Howard

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