Chapter 19 of 32 from Ron Howard

Working with Actors: Part 2

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Learn why Ron always looks for moments where an actor’s instinct brings emotional truth to a scene.

Topics include: Let Actors Participate • Know Your Ensemble’s Different Styles • Your Stylistic Choices Influence Performances

Ron Howard

Ron Howard Teaches Directing

Ron Howard teaches directing, editing, and storytelling in 32 exclusive video lessons.

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Whenever possible, I really prefer to build on what the actors' instinct naturally is. It kind of gets back again to that six of one, half a dozen of another idea. When an actor is executing a move or an approach to a line of dialogue or any performance choice, if it's something that just kind of comes organically from them, that they understand it on a very honest level, a personal level. And I love building on those moments when they coincide with the needs of the scene. And that's my job. And whenever I can find those things to use, I really make a point of it because I want them to also know that I'm trying to connect this to sort of a truth, an honesty that they can build on. I think it sends the right signal to the actor that they're the collaborator as well. And the other thing is it's also a show of respect. And when you're going very, very quickly, sometimes you have to pre-block it, and hopefully, the actors understand. But they're not creating as much then. They're executing the director's plan. And great actors, proficient actors, they need to be able to do that and they all can. But you're not making artists of them. You're not inviting them to express themselves, to make creative choices and contributions that they understand. And I think the more you can create that environment where they're participating in developing the choices, I just think there's an intrinsic value in that that audiences are ultimately going to appreciate. Trying to manage an ensemble can be very, very tricky. Because often, if you get three actors going in a scene, they may not all approach the work the same way. They may not find their stride in the scene in the same way. You may have one actor who is very improvisational and another one who depends so much on thorough preparation. And as a director, you need to understand that. That's another value of rehearsing. And sometimes during the prep, I'm talking to an actor, I will say privately, I'll ask, do you have a pattern? Do you feel like that you benefit from more takes and you get better as it goes along? Or do you find that you feel like your best work is generally in the first few takes and then you get stale? And I can work with that answer either way sometimes. But the mere fact that you had the respect and the foresight to ask is meaningful to an actor. But sometimes I'll go into a scene, and knowing that actor A tends to peak early, and actor B benefits from doing a few extra takes, becoming a little more comfortable, seeing with the other actors are doing. So that means that I might do something like start with the coverage, the tightest shots on actor A first, right away. And then go to the wide shot. And then come back around and start covering actor B, because that's given actor B ten or twelve takes to sort of work with the scene and learn it. But you caught actor A early wh...

Direct your story

Ron Howard made his first film in 22 days with $602,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes the craft of directing 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.

Watch, listen, and learn as Ron Howard breaks down directing in his first-ever online class.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps, assignments, and supplemental material.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Ron will also answer select student questions.

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Ron Howard

Ron Howard Teaches Directing