Center Stage:Directing for Actors

By Michael Schilf · July 19, 2010

Nina Foch made the girls cry, and occasionally the boys too. And they were never tears of joy. Trust me – I was there.

For anyone not familiar with late Oscar nominated actress, take a look at Executive Suite, Spartacus, or The Ten Commandments – she’s impossible to miss. I was fortunate to know her, not as a colleague or friend, but as a student. She was the iconic teacher of the “Directing the Actor” classes at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. It was 1998. I was center stage – like so many had been before me, and countless more had yet to endure. My assignment: act out a scene in which a character rolls a joint while delivering a monologue.

How’d I do? I killed it. And when I say that, I mean murdered, destroyed, obliterated. And Foch didn’t hesitate to crucify me in front of my peers and future colleagues.

Sure she was tough. She had to be. Hollywood is a beast. It will eat you up and spit you out before you can blink. But the opportunity to wear different creative hats and the brutally honest feedback under her constructive tutelage was invaluable.

Not only did I learn to use the script page as an interactive tool to direct actors, but more importantly, the simple exercise of exploring my acting and directing chops made me a better writer. Whether we realized it or not, Foch taught us to diversify.

You want to be a writer… then take an acting class, direct something, pull on the producer’s pants. When you learn to see a script from different points of view, it’s much easier to turn good writing into something great.