Monday, July 06, 2015

Actors test directors

This happens a lot.  Actors will test directors.  They're curious as to how much they can get away with, how much they can trust him or her, how organized he or she is, whether they have any comedy chops,  etc.

And when you're a freelance director it's like you're a substitute teacher.  It can better utter chaos.     You have to win their trust.

One such example for me was Peter Boyle when I first began directing EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND.   Peter was a wonderful actor and a dear man, but he could be challenging.

The episode was called PET CEMETERY.   This was my first day.   There was a scene in the family backyard where they were burying the daughter's pet hamster.  We shot it on the stage.  And it was raining.  Elaborate equipment had been set up to establish rain.  We ultimately shot this scene in front of a live audience, rain and all. 

The line producer asked if I wanted to do the rain effect while rehearsing.  I said no, that wasn't necessary.

The actors reported and I began assigning their places.   Peter objected to his.  He wanted to stand in a different spot.  I explained that he had some private lines with Doris and if he stood where he wanted he would have to say them across Ray.  So he was better where I originally had put him.  Nope.  He wanted to stay in the new spot.

I certainly didn't want to get into a confrontation with him, nor did I want him where he was standing.

So I did this:  I called out to the line producer -- "Okay, change of plans.  I want it to rain, but just over Peter."   He laughed, slid over to where I originally wanted him and we got along famously ever since.

My favorite though was an actress on another show I directed.  I won't say her name.  But she preferred the direct approach, which I appreciated.  She took me aside, draped an arm around my shoulder and said, "Okay, so just who the fuck are you?"   I listed my credits and she said, "Oh.  Welcome.  Great to have you." 

I love directing... except on the first day. 

18 comments:

Johnny Walker said...

Genius. How you thought of that, I don't know. Difusing situations using comedy works brilliantly-- but it's so hard to keep cool.

I heard a similar actor story by Richard Donner. The first day of SUPERMAN and Donner gets reports from makeup that Gene Hackman is refusing to shave his moustache. Apparently he'd spent the last few months growing it, and wasn't about to lose it. Lex Luthor with a moustache.

Donner later slipped into makeup himself and asked them to give him a fake moustache. He then went to see Hackman, who immediately saw his moustache and commented on it.

Donner made him a deal: You shave your moustache and I'll shave mine. Hackman agreed.

When the job was done, Donner simply peeled off his. Hackman burst out laughing, "You got me!"

How you think of this stuff as a director I'll never know. Brilliant stuff.

Steve Bailey said...

I read a lot about Lucille Ball doing that to her directors. That sounds like either a power play or a game to me. You would think that actors as established as Ball and Peter Boyle wouldn't feel the need to challenge a new person's authority. I am obviously not an experienced show-biz person such as you, so this is a layman's opinion, but still.

norm said...

You didn't give "her " name but we are still wondering: "Who the f*** are you?"

:)

Terry Parks said...

So basically, some actors are indistinguishable from spoiled children? I suspected as much....

blinky said...

A Friday question: Season one of True Detective was great but this season, not so much. They doubled down on the style but forgot about compelling story telling and characters.
We all sit around after the show and ask " What the hell is going on?" And if I see one more gratuitous overhead shot of a freeway I will puke.
Is this a case of a writer thinking he can take over and getting in over his head? It sure looks like season one director, Cary Fukunaga, was the master storyteller not the creator, Nic Pizzolatto.

Roger Thomason said...
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David L. said...

I read a lot about Lucille Ball doing that to her directors. That sounds like either a power play or a game to me. You would think that actors as established as Ball and Peter Boyle wouldn't feel the need to challenge a new person's authority.

One of Lucille Ball's later directors commented that Ball had a lot of respect for people who were strong enough to stand up to her, and that a lot of what she would do with directors was to see if they had it in them to go nose-to-nose and say, in essence, "Because I'm the director and I said so."

Long-time television director John Rich talked about directing his first episode of Joan Davis's 1952-55 sitcom I MARRIED JOAN. Filming had started on a scene when Davis stopped everything and called up to Rich, in the booth, that she had a problem with the scene. She didn't know how to make it funny. Could he come down and show her how to make it funny? Rich was a little puzzled, since they'd been rehearsing all week and Davis hadn't said anything before. He reported that he called down to her that if he knew how to "make it funny," he'd be down there starring in THE JOHN RICH SHOW and she'd be up in the booth directing it. Everybody laughed and they went on with filming. Rich said he learned later that this was a nasty little trick Davis pulled with every director she worked with, and whoa be it to he who made the mistake of coming down on stage to show the self-professed "queen of comedy" how to "make it funny."

Tim said...

Ken, I have a Friday Question.

I live in New Jersey and I go to a Video Production School in Maine. My ultimate goal is to write comedy. However, I have also found through my school that I do really enjoy working on crews for live events, talk shows, news, sports, etc. As much as I love this, I do still want to be a writer above all else. My question is this: does it make more sense to find a crew job on the East Coast while I continue to work on my writing and submit spec scripts? I guess it really boils down to whether or not showrunners will accept scripts from writers who don't live in California. I know this is a pretty specific question but I figured it could apply to a lot of aspiring writers who don't live in the area.

James said...

When Frank Oz passes, can you quit being coy and just admit it was Miss Piggy who took the direct approach?

Thomas said...

You already said who the actress was who asked who the fuck you where. It was one of the mothers on dharma and greg. It's in an other post.

Terri said...

Roger Thomason said...

My little brown-skinned friends? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

mmryan314 said...

Without starting a hate thread- thank you Terri for your comment.

Anonymous said...
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Johnny Walker said...

I was a little confused by Roger's comment, too. I guess Ken hasn't seen it, or he'd presumably remove it.

Roger Thomason said...

Well it is hitting the fan for Cosby. His uppity attitude is being cited as damaging to his cases. Maybe if he knew and kept his place people wouldn't be so geared up for a lynching. Maybe JELLO can recover some damages from the whole enterprise and divert all the royalties that manage to survive. America has a lot of tolerance for those types behaving badly but we cannot take hypocrisy from them while they drug women and stick their thing in them while they are passed out.

Anonymous said...

And you would have to be a sicko to want to drug someone and have sex with them how trhilling could that be? Someone that just lays there and is dead weight. Think about it.

Norm! said...

People! Don't feed the trolls! That's what they want. Just ignore the moron.

B McMolo said...

Nicely handled, Mr. Levine. I remember a different post where you mentioned Thomas Haden Church's testing you and how you handled that one. (essentially, if memory serves, by threatening to punch him.) Would that have been your Plan B with Peter Boyle? (jk)

Show biz has so many layers. It sometimes amazes me anyone survives all of this intrigue and psychological testing and what not. It's so beyond what you sign up for. Guess wrong - say, angering Peter Boyle rather than amusing him - and things unfairly spiral out of control. Then again, my own non-show-biz job (as I imagine many people's) sometimes relies on guessing people's hidden motivations and acting accordingly, as well, so it's by no means exclusive to show biz.

Good on John Rich, too, from that comment up there. I'd have stammered "Uh, okay" and confusingly made my way down to the stage. (Then have gotten punched in the gut by Joan Davis, probably.)