Arts & Entertainment

Scene Deconstruction: A Beautiful Mind

Ron Howard

Lesson time 14:23 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.

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Topics include: Scene Deconstruction: A Beautiful Mind


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...

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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