Tag: actors

[BOOK REVIEW] Secrets of Screen Directing, By Patrick Tucker

Meeting Patrick Tucker is an experience that you will never forget. He is a tutor at Raindance and is teaching masterclasses on directing and screen acting. A master of his field, he has directed over 200 theatre plays and around 200 television programmes for over 40 years, and he has taught screen direction all around the world for a large period of his life. His expertise in the theatre has given him a golden touch for getting the best out of his actors. As well, his prowess with the camera itself comes from an early background in physics.

When I took my very first class at Raindance (a very enjoyable Saturday Film School), he arrived as a guest lecturer to educate us on the most effective way to use our actors in front of the camera. He is a man who taught us as a consummate professional, as well as being highly entertaining. I am very happy to be able to review his book Secrets of Screen Directing as through it, I have picked up many tips and ideas for film direction. As someone who constantly reads about cinematography and working behind the camera, it is a fantastic advantage to be able to learn more about filmmaking from the adjacent viewpoint of a director (and a skilled one at that!).


Patrick Tucker, Hands-On Directing


The content of the book itself concerns the skills and attributes needed by directors to get the best results possible for their work. Going from planning, to production and editing, this book focuses on the craft of storytelling, the career of a director and much needed practical problem solving methods. For example, the book’s introduction discusses a foundational truth of filmmaking: that the concept of truth can obscure the artistic and dramatic tension of the screen. Rather, Tucker expresses that an excellent artist bends the truth to fit their means. Furthermore, he discusses the importance of counterintuition in order to find more effective practices in screen directing. However, these discussions are just settings for the main course! Throughout the book, Tucker explains how to use the 180-Degree rule effectively, how to create and perform different types of shots, getting the best out of the cast and the crew on a shoot, as well as working well with an editor, plus much much more.

Throughout the book, Tucker expresses all of these complex concepts using common sense ideas weaved together with varied examples from cinematic history. He also uses handy diagrams and examples to further illustrate his points. While these are simple drawings, they are an easy guide for understanding the set-up of shots, how they are achieved, cutting from one shot to another, and other practical functions. The book has a wide range of examples from film/television and most are cited with a time code pointing to  the scenes relevant to the chapter. This is very useful if you feel the need to do additional research on the topics that are discussed in the book. There is also a brilliant appendix which outlines phrases and ideas that will be useful for those starting out in the industry or simply need to learn more about the technical details.


Patrick Tucker Hands-on Directing


While the book has an obvious focus on screen direction, Tucker discusses how to work with DOPs and other crew members. Unfortunately, there is a little less information on the relationships between crew and director that I would have personally liked, compared to the information about how to direct actors. However, it is also possible that there is simply not enough space in the book to be able to talk about every little idea that a director must learn in order to be an effective filmmaker. Furthermore, I also understand (especially considering Tucker’s perspective) that this is the director’s burden- that you can’t expect to always be friends with your crew and you must know when to be a tough taskmaster, or just “a good Mummy to them all (the producer, of course, is Daddy)”.


Final Thoughts

However, the positive aspects of this book far outweigh any small gripes. It focuses on immediate and simple solutions – it is a great resource for filmmaking students, early career directors and amatuers looking to find more out about the role of directors. The combination of experienced advice and practical examples has created a fantastic guide. One which is both a great handbook for screen directing, and an interesting exploration into filmmaking.


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Breaking the Mould: Three Actors Who Refused To Be Typecast

We often know something about a film based on who’s in it. Once they’ve found a niche, many actors enjoy occupying that role again and again. Being typecast like this has its appeal. It can mean regular work. Think of Tom Cruise and the amount of leading action roles he’s had in his career. By being typecast as this kind of character, he virtually guarantees being considered for any large-scale action project.

But being typecast also has its drawbacks. It can limit the possibilities of an actor who has an established image. However, it’s not impossible to break that mould. Increasingly, actors are crossing between genres and “types” of characters. Jennifer Lawrence’s still short career has seen her in low-budget horror films like House at the End of the Street, science-fiction thrillers like Passengers, and in a more romantic role like Silver Linings Playbook. The point is, we don’t necessarily “know” what role Jennifer Lawrence will take next. And many actors have followed this flexibility in recent years.

But what about actors that don’t consistently change their roles? How and why do they change from their perceived character “types”? Looking at three examples, we’ll see how actors, with a history of being typecast, broke the mould.


Vince Vaughn – Brawl In Cell Block 99 (2017)

Now, when I hear the name Vince Vaughn I think of his serious face trying to maintain some sort of stability while events in films like Dodgeball (2004) and Wedding Crashers (2005) are humorously delving into chaos. I’m probably not alone for jumping to this comedic image. But in Brawl in Cell Block 99, he ditches all that. Who would have thought shaving your hair and getting an eight-inch tattoo of a cross on the back of your head could make you so intimidating?

Bradley Thomas is not Vaughn’s typical role. He’s stiff and threatening. His movement is slow but powerful, as if he’s carrying heavy artillery for his limbs. Both his and his wife, Lauren’s, (Jennifer Carpenter) dark past are hinted at. Together, the couple try to create a quiet, peaceful life – maybe because they have previously lived through a stormy and dark one.

This role is so different from some of Vaughn’s most known characters because of this darkness below the surface. In Couple’s Retreat (2009), for example, Vaughn also finds himself playing a role where a complicated marriage is key. But here the tension created in the story is released through light-hearted comedy. Brawl In Cell Block 99 is a different direction for Vaughn because he struggles with darkness and there is very little relief from that struggle.

Speaking about this role, Vaughn recalled, ‘I had just as much fun playing a good character as I would a terrible character – it’s enjoyable to allow that in yourself’. It’s not simply that Bradley Thomas is terrible: he is extremely violent, but not needlessly violent. Vaughn’s role as Bradley Thomas lets him explore this complicated combination of terrible and good all in one. And it is a compelling struggle to watch.

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Elizabeth Taylor – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1967)

Elizabeth Taylor is known for being a leading beauty. Her glamorous roles are extensive. Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Cleopatra (1963), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) are just some examples where her beauty is at the centre of her films.

This made it surprising when, in 1967, Taylor took on the role of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. At the time, she was thirty-three years old. The character Martha, however, was somewhere in her fifties. But age was not the only question mark hovering around this casting choice. To play the role, Taylor gained nearly 30 pounds to inhabit the life of a fifty-something woman on the brink of emotional collapse. Many were surprised by this decision for Taylor (held-up as one of the most glamorous women in the world) to take a grittier and sadder role.

Interestingly, Harry Stradling (cinematographer) was replaced early into shooting for reportedly trying to “beautify” Taylor. Stradling was clearly tempted to uphold Taylor’s image as a glamorous leading lady. But this role was different – and the decision to replace Stradling shows how much Taylor and the film crew resisted her typecast image as a beautiful, glamorous figure.

In her A&E Biography, Taylor says that she views her performance as Martha as her best. This shows how important it is for some actors to break from the mould of typecasting. The challenge of a different role: where Taylor is flawed, drunken, ugly, is the challenge she looked back on with most affection. Resisting typecasting can be the ultimate challenge with the ultimate payoff.


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John Travolta – Pulp Fiction (1994)

The year before Pulp Fiction, Travolta starred in Look Who’s Talking Now (1993): the third instalment in a series where babies and dogs humorously provide narrative voiceover. These light-hearted romantic comedies are far from the world of violence and crime in Pulp Fiction.

Vincent Vega is a heroin-taking hitman. This dark role was a move away from certain types for Travolta. Prior to Pulp Fiction, we were used to seeing him dancing his way through conflict and danger in Grease (1978) and Saturday Night Fever (1977). His early career is dominated by charismatic and charming roles. However, Vincent Vega is more complicated than that.

Although we see Travolta’s dancing skills, they don’t keep him out of danger. Vincent Vega is unsympathetic. He kills without questioning the moral complexities of his actions. And (spoiler) his death is abrupt and unceremonious. It’s the first time Travolta’s character dies onscreen since his breakthrough roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease. So it’s a departure from his typecast role as a charming, loveable hero figure.

But the role was surprising for another reason. Approaching Pulp Fiction, Travolta believed his best roles were behind him. Looking back, he says, ‘I never imagined that one project could give me that kind of second career, where I was offered the ‘A’ scripts again and the Oscar contender type scripts’. He thought he’d been typecast out of the biggest roles in the film industry. That changed after he took on the role of Vincent Vega. Breaking the mould meant he showed filmmakers another side to his ability. And it paid off.

Filed under: Acting, Film History, Filmmaking, In Our OpinionTagged with: , , ,