Film & TV

Scene Deconstruction: A Beautiful Mind

Ron Howard

Lesson time 14:24 min

Ron shares how he flipped the movie’s point of view at a key juncture in the film in order to underscore the realization of a powerful truth.

Ron Howard
Teaches Directing
Ron Howard teaches directing, editing, and storytelling in 32 exclusive video lessons.
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A Beautiful Mind, screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, is remarkable in that it has one uber overriding objective, and that is to make you understand what it feels like to be mentally ill, and then by extension, what does it feel like to love someone who's living within those delusions? And what's so remarkable about it is that it uses a convention of cinema. It basically creates a ghost story. It's playing closed-handed versus open-handed. You don't know the truth about the characters that you're seeing. And then the audience gets the rug pulled out from under them. It's something that we had to build to very carefully. And stylistically, I tried to work with three different looks within the framework of the movie. The first period, young John Nash is a rising genius, eccentric but ultimately brilliant. I shot that along with Roger Deakins, cinematographer, in a very straightforward, kind of a Life magazine way with a sense of nostalgia, almost, kind of an organized warmth and congeniality. The only difference was that I played a lot of it from John Nash's point of view. In fact, I had actors looking right into the lens sometimes, and played an unusual amount of it in his literal point of view. And that was a way of, I hoped, drawing audiences into a kind of a mystery and what would eventually prove to be his paranoia. But at this point, it was just sort of meant to make the audience feel his discomfort that he doesn't fit in, and they must be looking at me. But later in the movie you would that, of course, that was the beginning of a paranoid schizophrenic misperceiving the world around him. Then the middle section was shot in a very noir kind of way, like a Cold War thriller, an espionage movie. You know, lots of shadows, lots of light and dark, the color palette narrowed down, Ed Harris as this powerful but mysterious figure. But I really wanted the audience to understand it. So of course it never goes to the point of being broad or extreme, although the script actually takes you to a place where they're inserting things, you know, chips into his arm, which I think we're all pretty aware that in the 50s, that technology didn't exist. Yet we were able to make that slide by for the audience. And there a moment where the rug is pulled out from under the audience, and we dispense with the noir, and we go into something else which is much more personal and much more simple. And I kept calling it the cold, clear light of day, that the truth was harsh, it was uninviting, it wasn't a warm place, the truth of John Nash's life and his love story with his wife Lisa. So those are the three different styles. There's a sequence that's a turning point. And I build sequences usually in sort of 10-minute kinds of increments or chapters. I try to identify that rhythm within the script and I try to make sure that in addition to the overarching structure of the movie, th...

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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.


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

Great insights, especially on his personal take on things. Super interesting and very informative.

Learned more from this Masterclass than the Directing subject in Film School!

The process and difficulty of making a film is fascinating. Ron Howard did a great job of conveying what is entailed in being the keeper of a cinematic story.

Ron Howard has been one of the best instructors that I have experienced on Masterclass. He was engaging, relatable, funny and insightful. My favorite takeaway from the class were his thoughts on working with actors. The staged scene shoot was GENIUS. That kind of immersive material is Masterclass at its absolute best. I could watch that section ten more times.


Sharon K.

I love how you never want to miss the moment of the actors by having 2 cameras. Great move on the OTS show for both characters. Definitely something I will consider for my next film.

Iddo G.

Beautiful scene deconstruction. Thank you Ron, you are so clear and deep in your lessons and approach and yet so artistic. I really enjoy and learn in your course.

A fellow student

First off, Ron Howard is an amazing filmmaker, and this class has been informative and fun. Secondly, I actually just watched A Beautiful Mind last night, and it was an amazing and beautiful (no pun intended) film with some amazing performances, a captivating story, a fantastic screenplay, and great direction on behalf of Howard. It's almost as if you feel the director's presence in the film, like you can almost feel that he's there, behind the camera, directing his vision and watching it come to life. I've felt this before in other films, including the work of Spielberg, and it is a really cool feeling that I get. Thirdly, this was a another awesome lesson, and I liked his approach to making the film. I do agree that the second part of this movie had a kind of noir, espionage thriller feel to it, making this film even more unique and brilliant. Also, love how he talked about working with the great Roger Deakins.


A lot of what he is saying about directing to the peaks and valleys also apply to the writing.

J'nee H.

Great advice about film sequences and allowing the audience a break in the story arch. Breaking a movie into sequences "or chunking a movie" makes it less overwhelming of a project in the end. What a gift you have to pull all these parts together. Can't wait for your next one ;]

Ruben R.

Incredible way to explain 3-different styles of narrative breakdown - STILL playing out the larger plot all the time. Brilliant lesson on Scene - Deconstruction.

A fellow student

Howard, Thank you for these sections as you explain scene deconstruction. I have always wanted to know 'how' they were done. I wished you posted references for readings you recommend on the art of directing using camera moves to show emotions. I understand that they can be limitless. But, at least know the basics. Wide shot to close up to emphasize tension, for example. You did hint to many in the deconstruction sessions. But wanted to learn more... Thank you.

Deborah S.

I remember the first time I saw A Beautiful Mind. I had ended my relationship and had divorced my husband whom I had found was a sociopath with Multi-personality disorder. I had found the best doctors to treat him. I gathered additional incite not just from the Mr. Howards direction, but by the relationship sequencing and how each grew apart to maintain an existence and to hold onto their individual sanity. Just as Alisha came to recognize how she had misjudged his internal voice and totally ignored hers -simply because it was easier at the onset to not accept that you were wrong. I don't often have the opportunity to thank a filmmaker for opening my eyes, but you did. You also helped me have the courage to rediscover myself. I found this was paramount for the well being of my three elementary aged children. I will always be grateful for great filmmakers as many can make you realize moments you forgot to take a better look at in your life.

Adham E.

I really liked the scene that he used two cameras above the shoulders of Jennifer Connelly and Russel Crow in the hospital. This just amazed me!!!!

Rowan S.

Loved this lesson. Thrilled to hear him speak of sequences. "The Mini Movie Method" is taught at USC Film School, and probably at many other film schools. It's incredibly useful in that it employs the idea of breaking a film into self-contained, yet intimately connected sequences. Another brilliant paradigm is Eric Edson's "Hero Goal Sequences" which really makes sense of creating an exciting, emotionally fulfilling film. The best movies utilize sequences , one upon another, to build the experience and propel us to an incredible denouement which we ache for as we near the end of the film.