JUDITH WESTON:  IT’S ALL PART OF THE ACT Image

When I was in film school, it was kind of fashionable among some of us, including me, to downplay the importance of acting in films. After all, there were so many elements that went into making a good film – a decent story and well-written characters, compelling visuals, editing, even music and production design. Was acting any more important than those? And didn’t Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen all but ignore their actors? Perhaps the best way to deal with these exhibitionists from another planet was simply to leave them alone. It worked for George Lucas, didn’t it?

And there you have one big reason that the typical student/zero-budget-film festival-flick suffers from acting that resembles a 1950s educational film.

The best insurance is to cast amazing actors to begin with, if you can find/afford them. But how can you be sure you don’t have what I call “the Lucas Touch” – the apparently magical ability to turn good actors bad and great actors mediocre?

Just what is the difference between hitman Samuel Jackson blowing everyone’s mind in Pulp Fiction and Jedi Samuel Jackson being blown off the screen by a green ex-puppet who backwards talks? And is there any 100% foolproof way to insure that your first-ever zero-budget movie will have credible acting?

Judith Weston would be the first to admit that there probably isn’t. Nevertheless, the Culver City-based acting and directing teacher has a method which she’s expounded on in fascinating detail in two shockingly readable books (Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film and Television and her latest, The Film Director’s Intuition) and in classes which she’s taught all around the world. Her method is hard to boil down to a few words – though she gives it a yeoman’s effort here – but one thing is clear, telling an actor: “Make me cry!” or “Make me cringe!” won’t cut it.

Something must be working. Over the years, Weston has gathered an impressive list of boosters ranging from “Sopranos” genius-in-chief David Chase and Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros) to actor-director Betty Thomas (Private Parts, “The Brady Bunch Movie”) and Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Blade II, The Devil’s Backbone). Of course, not all of her current and former students’ names can be found in a World Cinema Who’s Who, or even the IMDB (in the spirit of full disclosure, I need to admit that I’m one of those lesser known ex-students). But, hey, in a business where “nobody knows anything,” Judy Weston definitely seems to know something.

Get the interview in part two of JUDITH WESTON: IT’S ALL PART OF THE ACT>>>

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