From Ron Howard's MasterClass

Research

Seemingly small or trivial details can anchor a scene, reinforce a director’s vision, and forge a stronger connection with the audience.

Topics include: Use Research to Reinforce Your Vision • Generate Creativity from Meticulous Research • Broaden the Possibilities Using Research

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Seemingly small or trivial details can anchor a scene, reinforce a director’s vision, and forge a stronger connection with the audience.

Topics include: Use Research to Reinforce Your Vision • Generate Creativity from Meticulous Research • Broaden the Possibilities Using Research

Ron Howard

Teaches Directing

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In the last, maybe, decade-- six, seven, eight years-- I've begun a process of collecting not just a style book but also a research reel. I'll find everything around a subject that I possibly can, or I'll send a researcher out to do the same thing, and we build a reel. They could be scenes from movies. They could be documentaries. They could be TV interviews. They could be still photographs. I'll ask the various department heads-- wardrobe, production design, props-- to take their best research photos and put them on the walls. Very often, I put them on the walls near where the kitchen is in the production office, or the bathroom, or both, so that nobody can walk to the kitchen or the bathroom without immersing themselves in the possibilities for this story. It's a discussion point. And very often, a production designer will be walking down the hall. I'll criss-cross with him or her, and we'll stop and say, oh, look at this. And it's a scene that somehow might answer a question as to how we might approach a particular scene. And then, very often the next question is, I wonder how they did that? Or I wonder how we could do that? And that starts another level of research, if we don't automatically know through our own experience, of what kind of set we would need to build, what kind of environment we might need, what sort of camera work was going on there. What was the camera speed? What was the stock that was being used if it was film? What was done in the DI if it was digital? You know, how much of that is computer generated or real, in-camera effects? How could we do it? How can we relate that to the problems that we want to solve creatively? And a lot of great conversations come out of it. And it gets back to that idea of everyone, slowly but surely, pulling in the same direction. And as that happens during pre-production, as you have this conversation-- about the script, about the locations, about the casting, about what they might look like, about the schedule-- all of it provides a director an opportunity to say, yes, that works for our story or maybe be convinced by somebody that there's another way of looking at a scene that the director hadn't thought of. And everybody agrees suddenly. Now, everybody's pulling in the same direction. What happens then is the quality of the questions and the suggestions that come a director's way just exponentially improves because there's a cohesiveness about it. There's a shared point of view. There's a sort of a group intellect at work. And it doesn't supersede the director's vision. It only reinforces it and broadens it, and it's very exciting. But a lot of it comes back to problem-solving research, which feels kind of mechanical and ultimately stimulates a creative conversation. [MUSIC PLAYING} When I directed Robert De Niro in Backdraft, which was fiction, but I wanted the en...

Direct your story

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

I have taken many Masterclasses by now and this BY FAR is one of the most impressive. Ron gave hands on practical advice that really hit home and put in such a simple and eloquent way that only a master of film would. KUDOS and THANK YO U from the bottom of my heart!

Great teacher, very down to earth but also knowledgable in explaining the process of filmmaking. Recommend it to any filmmaker, starting or experienced.

Simply one of the best classes I've ever taken. Thank you, Mr. Howard.

I'll be back, I'm just going through several to see if I want to return with more depth later. Great class Ron!

Comments

Susan T.

Thank you, Ron. Sharing your insights is inspiring and assuring... Research is invaluable in the attention to detail that evokes emotion and engages the audience. Love your films and work!

Carolina P.

Ron Howard: you have no idea how much you are helping me with my first short. Thank you!

Theora

I absolutely love and have to do the research! I love the idea of a research reel. I have notebooks and clips that I have snapped on my smart phone if I suddenly see spot some inspiration... great collaborative ideas as well!

Jennifer

Research is about being prepared with credible ideas and answers towards realism. It is about knowing your story to the point you make it as faultless as you know how. Study the people who have the real life jobs that your actors are trying to emulate, to bring credibility and sense to your film.

Karl R.

The examples shared in this lesson provide anecdotes that reinforce the idea that hard work builds credibility. As a college professor, I assume that my undergraduate students despise "the R word" because they do not grasp its purpose. Working with students in an empirical research methods course, it is hard for them to initially grasp the need for a theoretical basis for answering their research questions. "Getting down in the weeds" to search for context, whether in academic theory, or storytelling (backstory, location, character development, etc.) seems a valid effort toward high quality work.

Randy M.

I totally agree that research is key and can improve the story. I try to make my scripts as authentic as possible. I was working on a scene and the question of blood transfusions came up. I had to research blood types, ABO tests, blood type compatibility, what happens if incompatible blood is mixed, the odds of two unknown blood types being compatible, etc... Those things opened the door to much more dramatic dialog, debate and made the scene much more suspenseful.

Mark

Researching is definitly important when writing or directoring a period peace, but you have to careful how fare down rabbit hole you go and to not lose site of the story.

Patrick P.

Writing my 'opinion' in this discussion, after listening to Mr. Howard, make my thoughts and words seem so shallow. Thanks again, Patrick

Brett B.

Even when making a fiction story set in today, I find it necessary to research elements in your story based on real life stuff. Like De Niro in Backdraft, research a trade that a character has, or a car that a character drives. The smallest detail, as Ron stated, can make a world of difference for the movie goer. Great lesson.

Robert A.

Yeah research Is absolutely essential!!!. Im about to do another short film pretty soon, a 1940s mystery/crime style of a film. And theres a few things I'm not sure about that I'm making sure I know. Im always about the facts being straight. Because I love my films to be great and right on the money!!!. I like making everything as great as possible!!!. Thank you Ron!!!. Onward!!!.