Directing Actors: Breaking Down the Script in the Classroom


A while back I stumbled across the great book, Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film & Television by Judith Weston. She is a very famous teacher based in Los Angles that teaches Acting for Directors and the Script Analysis and Rehearsal Techniques workshops(taking her course is on my list of things to do). She says that, "understanding the script and giving actors playable direction and freedom to explore and permission to make your direction their own are the main concerns of her book." She also argues that the main problem is directors don't know how to prepare.

At the moment I am using drama to lecture my students in English. I have selected innovative materials by Dramaworks, Star Taxi(freshman year) and Pop Stars(junior year). I realized that Judith's methods could be useful for my classes at university so decide to give them a try. I used another great book, First Time Director: How to Make Your Breakthrough Movie by Gil Bettman that also references her methods to help make them more clear to my students. This is the simplfied version that I came up with:

Drama – Directing Actors with Objectives

The actor’s role is made up, not of lines dialogue or a pattern of behaviors but a series of actions or objectives. We must focus on playable objectives. How do we determine an actor’s objective? Ask yourself what the character wants. What he wants is his/her objective.

Pop Stars Dialogue 

Scene 1:

Jay: Hey! What are you doing?

Nobu: Me? Nothing.

Jay: Oh yeah. What’s that?

Nobu: This? Oh! This isn’t mine!

Jay: You got that right!

Nobu: Oh wow! I’m sorry. It’s yours, isn’t it?

Jay: Yeah, it is. I thought you were stealing it!


Scene Objectives:

What does Jay want?

Jay wants to accuse Nobu of stealing. (blame)

What does Nobu want?

Nobu wants to appease Jay's anger. (pacify)


Best Scene Objectives (Action Verbs):

The best objectives are the ones that require the actor to interact in a specific way with another actor in the scene.

1) get something from the other actor in the scene.

2) do something to the other actor in the scene.

All conversations are based on actions or objectives (goals). We use action verbs to express the character wants…

Adapted from the book First Time Director: How to Make Your Breakthrough Movie  by Gil Bettman.

Classroom Instruction: First, I put the students into groups of three and get them to break the script down into the appropriate scenes. Next, the students discuss and brainstorm together to decide what objectives fit the dialogue. To help make it easier I constructed a script break down workbook for my students to record their work. Finally, rehearsal begins, two students play the roles while the third students acts as the director keeping them focused on the decided objectives. This kind of preparation makes things go much smoother on game day when I bring in my camera to record their performances.

In my opinion it's great for students because it teaches them to be cool and focused on objectives under pressure when need arises to actually function in English.

For me as an aspiring director, guiding my students in breaking down the script in the classroom is great practice for the real world. Please let me know if you find this useful. Would love to hear your feedback.