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Nina Foch: Directing the Actor
Have you been confused and frustrated when directing actors? I think every director and actor has been frustrated with each other at one or more points in their career but don’t worry Nina Foch is here to help. I’ll get to who she is in a moment.
For a filmmaker, directing actors can be a daunting task. Actors seem to have a language of their own which us directors have a very hard time understanding. For those masters like Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese, directing actors is second nature.
They are able to understand the language of the actor. They are able to make a scene come alive. No matter how well a scene is written, if the director cannot communicate with his or her actors then all is lost.
What to do? Enter Nina Foch, the legendary film teacher from the gold standard of film schools, USC School of Cinematic Arts.
As I was looking for filmmaking courses online I came across this gem of a course that I couldn’t believe was available to us mere indie film mortals. A master class from USC School of Cinematic Arts called Directing the Actor by Nina Foch.
Who is Nina Foch?
Nina Foch was a Dutch-born American actress of film, stage, and television. Her career spanned six decades, consisting of over fifty feature films and over one hundred television appearances.
Stanley Kubrick, Cecil B. DeMille and Robert Wise? Crazy I know.
Nina Foch: Hollywood Legend
This American-Dutch actress was born on 20th April 1924 and had a very strong presence on the stage, film, and television. At the tender age of nineteen, she signed a contract with Columbia Pictures and became one of the favorites in the studio.
Throughout the 1940s and the 1950s, she established herself as one of the best leading ladies of the Hollywood industry. The actress ruled the screen for five decades having fifty feature films and hundreds of television appearances under her belt.
Hailing from an artistic background, her mother, Consuelo Flowerton was an actress and singer from America and her father was a Dutch classical music conductor named Dirk Fock. Although her parents divorced when she was a toddler both of them always encouraged Foch’s artistic talents. She enjoyed playing piano and art as well but her major interest was in action for which she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
As she had signed a contract with the Columbia Pictures, her debut was a horror film produced under this company. She played Nicki Saunders in the movie The Return of the Vampire in the year 1943. The film was by the director Lew Landers where Nina Foch shared the screen with the great Bela Lugosi.
Later on, she was again cast in a horror flick Cry of the Werewolf in the coming year. She has a very central role in this one as she played the werewolf herself and is known as the first-ever film made on werewolves which had a female werewolf in it.
One of her most memorable roles was surprisingly in a B-movie classed named My Name is Julia Ross, released in the year 1945. In the move, she takes up the job of a secretary for a rich family and ends up being involved in a plot of murder.
She was also a part of the musical An American in Paris which was released in the year 1951. The movie went on to receive an Oscar for the Best Picture with Nina still remembered in that remarkable role of hers.
One can never forget her role in the 1956 epic movie The Ten Commandments where she played the pharaoh’s daughter who found baby Moses in the bushes and adopts him. For this particular movie by Cecil B. DeMille, she was honored with a special award by the American Jewish Congress.
She also acted in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960). The film which finally ensured her entry into the Oscars was Executive Suite which was released in the year 1954. She received a nomination in the best-supporting actress category in this film by Robert Wise.
Apart from these, some of her other finest works include A Song to Remember, I Love a Mystery, Escape in the Frog, Johnny Allegro, and The Undercover Man to name a few.
Work on the Television
During her films, she was also regularly a part of the television series Houseman’s CBS Playhouse 90. Some of her greatest works on television include The Americans, Your First Impression, and Mr. Broadway.
She has been a part of a number of television series where she proved that she had quality acting abilities. She had a very long career span and some of the most credited TV shows in the latter part of her career include NCIS, Bull, Just Shoot Me, and Dharma & Greg. She even portrayed the elderly mother of Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard.
Her acting skills ranged widely, therefore, it is hard to miss a type of role which was not played by Nina Foch. If she has been cast as a werewolf then we also have seen her portraying herself as the victim of a heinous crime.
Also, we find her to be a part of a numbered radio programs where she featured for an episode or two.
Although she appeared in a limited number of plays this shows where she managed to polish most of her acting skills. She gave 423 performances for her play John Loves Mary as Lilly Herbish on the broadway. This proves the popularity of that playback during the 1940s era.
Apart from this, she was also a part of the Twelfth Night, King Lear, A Phoenix Too Frequent, Measure for Measure, and The Taming of the Shrew. She gave up on stage plays after the year 1955 and dedicated her whole time to television and films.
As an Acting Teacher
There is no denying the fact that Nina Foch dedicated her whole life to her love of acting and movies. She found some time from her career to focus on making acting easier for some aspiring students as well. This is the reason that she joined USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Not only did she work here but she also offered her teaching services at the American Film Institute for years.
She started teaching in the 1960s and continued to do so till her death in the year 2008. This shows that she dedicated 40 years of her life to helping others achieve their acting dreams. Some of the most accomplished directors have been her students including Marshall Herskovitz, Ed Zwick, Randal Kleiser, and Amy Heckerling.
All her students related that she had a deep philosophy about human behavior and thinking which was not at all easily understandable. She was more of a person who would teach something her students would actually encounter during their careers. This made her stand out as a teacher and influencing the acting, directing, and even writing of the students when they started their careers.
According to her son, she had a blood disorder named myelodysplasia which had long-term complications. She became ill a day before and couldn’t fight for long in the hospital, finally, giving in to her ailment of 5th December 2008.
She is still remembered by all the film enthusiasts as a role model, teacher, and actress who gave her entire life and her efforts for the betterment of the film industry and to provide it some gems which will take the industry forward.
In addition to acting, Foch taught drama at the American Film Institute and at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, where she was a faculty member for over forty years until her death in 2008.
Nina Foch’s classes touch so many students over the years that one of her better-known pupils, George Lucas, decided to produce a course to capture the magic she taught in her class.
Before then this class was only available to masters students at USC School of Cinematic Arts. When I took the course I was completely blown away.
Nina Foch finally cracked the code. She teaches you how an actor thinks and how to speak to them, in their language.
She teaches you how to break down a screenplay in a way I’ve never heard of before. Nina shows you how to understand the intention of the characters in every scene.
These teachings are for both filmmakers and actors. Actors in the class gain a much better understanding of how to understand character and communicate better with directors.
Take a listen to a few of her former students:
Preview Directing the Actor:
Nina Foch: Evaluating an Actor
This series of lectures are excerpts from Nina Foch’s directing class conducted at the University of Southern California. The lectures, organized into sections, cover script analysis, casting, directing, and acting. Spend some time watching Nina, learn from her and implement her ideas into your own work. You’ll be amazed at how far she can take you.
Who can benefit from Nina Foch’s Directing the Actor course? Directors? Absolutely. Actors? Yes. But, it’s equally valuable for writers, editors, producers, and anyone with more than a passing interest in the art and craft of filmmaking. This material can be used for an entire course, as part of a course, or a rich reference source to immerse yourself in your craft.
Here’s how this course escaped the hollow halls of USC School of Cinematic Arts:
For over 40 years SCA Professor Nina Foch (1928-2008) taught a distinguished generation of filmmakers at the USC School of Cinema-Television and the American Film Institute.
In 2010, executive producers George Lucas, Randal Kleiser, and Ted Braun released The Nina Foch Course for Filmmakers and Actors on Digital Download, which brings an experience that has been available only in the country’s most select film schools to a wide audience.
Take a listen to the podcast as I introduce you to the legendary Nina Foch. Enjoy!
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
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- Filmtrepreneur® Podcast
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- Six Secrets to getting into Film Festivals for FREE!
- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)
If you like this post on Nina Foch, then take a listen to:
Christopher Nolan Master Class: Directing Your First Feature
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Transcription – Indie Film Hustle Podcast Episode #36
Welcome to the Indie Film Hustle Podcast Episode Number 36.
“Believe it or not, teaching is the most rewarding thing I do. It has been the most successful thing I have done in my life.” – Nina Foch.
Broadcasting from the back alley in Hollywood. It’s the Indie Film Hustle Podcast where we show you how to survive and thrive as an Indie Filmmaker in the jungles of the film business and here’s your host Alex Ferrari.
Welcome my Indie film hustlers to another episode of the Indie Film Hustle Podcast. I’m your humble host Alex Ferrari. Don’t forget to head over to our Online Film School at indiefilmhustle.com/filmschool with courses on every kind of discipline you can imagine directing, producing, screenwriting, visual effects, post-production and so on. Now, guys, today’s is a special episode I wanted to highlight a lady that you might have never heard of. Her name is Nina Foch. I had never heard of her prior to taking her amazing course and if you’ve been listening to the podcast in recent weeks you’ve noticed that one of our sponsors has been the Nina Foch
course that we have in our film school and I did that on purpose because I wanted to bring more attention to the course because the course what Nina Foch did. Let me give you a brief rundown on who Nina is. Nina worked, she’s an Oscar-nominated actress, she has worked with iconic directors like Cecil B. DeMille in Ten Commandments as well as Stanley Kubrick in Spartacus. She was also an American in Paris among thousands of other credits for television and film. The people who took her course which is a course that she taught in USC, University of California cinema arts program.
She taught a course called directing the actor and I actually recently took this course online and I got to tell you it changed my life. It changed the way I look at directing actors, understanding the intention behind words and the intensions behind screenplays. She teaches you how to break down a screenplay in a way that. Not only for actors but for directors as well because it. She tells you how to find the intention of what the writer had in mind when he wrote it, when he or she wrote it. It was fascinating and to watch her just masterfully explain how to work with actors, how to get in the head of an actor, understand the language of acting is.
It was amazing because for me as a director. It’s you know working with actors I know a lot of times can be frustrating because we speak two different languages and over the years I’ve learned how to work with actors better and better but it’s still something that I want to always improve upon and grow as a director and Nina really really allows me, almost gave me like an inside look of actors to understand how they think, how they understand things, how they are expressing themselves and then also on the flip side of that coin in the same course she teaches actors. How do understand directors. It’s quite remarkable. So let’s I want you to hear this quick clip from her class explaining how to win the fight on set as a director. Take a listen.
“Know that the young male in the show will you know the lead is going to have a problem and pick a fight in the first week. Something’s going to come up. It can be that their chair isn’t there. It can be that their shirt has the wrong. The tie isn’t right or something about their hair cut. It is going to be dumb shit. Dumb something. I recognize that that’s the fight you have to win. You have to take over and quietly win that fight. Then you have no trouble ever again because what that argument is about is fear and the young women can do it too and that in today’s world. Young women can do it as well. That’s about fear.
That’s about the person testing whether the director, the actor testing whether the director is the boss, is the daddy or the mommy and that’s what that is you have to recognize is that fight and what that’s about is that you need to reassure them that there is somebody that cares about them that will protect them and watch them and give them good solutions. I have to tell you I know that is an actor. It is so rare that you feel protected as most directors don’t know anything about actors.
They don’t have a clue, they don’t know how to help them, they don’t know anything. And I’m talking about working now because I’m still working a lot you know so I know what’s out there. I know what’s happening. I haven’t in the last four months that I’ve been sick but up until four months ago for sixty years this is the way I spent. So there’s very little likelihood that it changed while I was having trouble breathing at UCLA. OK So be sure you win that fight and be sure you know it’s that fight and be sure you don’t get engaged with it right. Be sure you’re on top of it and know you’re being the parent, the good parent.”
As you can tell me in that little bit of just that little bit of nugget of information that you heard in that example of the course that you know it’s something that’s happened to me multiple times on set where an actor will come up and challenge you to see if you know you’re, who you are. If you’re if you’re going to be the boss or not. And they’re testing you and it’s not only actors sometimes and sometimes it’s producers, sometimes a cinematographer, sometimes it’s sound guys.
You’d be amazed but that is you have to understand that that is a thing that you have to look out for and it was so eloquent in the way she said it. And how to deal with specifically with actors and it’s not a bad thing. It’s just the actors just trying to find out if I’m safe or not and that’s something that most actors don’t get like she said that most directors have no understanding of how to deal with actors and that’s why this course is so relevant today so how the course escaped was basically I call it escaped that this course was taught for about thirty years at USC and her students are I mean a who’s who of Hollywood from George Lucas to Edwidge from who directed Blood Diamond and Last Samurai to Ron Howard, Urana, Underwood who directed Tremors and City Slickers.
Amy Heckerling, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless. Cameron Crowe, Stephen Sommers. And the list goes on and on and on and right before, Nina already start to get older. She’s past now, she passed in two thousand and eight and George Lucas wanted to put together a course or wanted to at least document this amazing class that only film students at USC got. And this is the one and only online film course from USC Film School and George Lucas and Randall Kessler produced that they wanted to bring this amazing course to the masses. So with the cooperation of the USC Film School and Nina, they recorded an entire semester over. I think it’s over four hundred hours of footage and they brought it all the way down the condensed everything to a four hour course with over ninety one lectures or videos with the course and I got to tell you it is one of the best investments I have ever made in my directing career. I’ve it’s changed the way I look at actors and in a lot of ways changed the way I look at castings and I’ve been doing this for years guys and what she did was kind of like mind altering almost this course.
And you know I don’t want to make this into a big plug. You know if you know if you go to our site and download it. I just want to share this information and you know highlight things. Indie Film Hustle I want to highlight things that help filmmakers survive and thrive in the film business and this course is so monumental in the way it handles a subject matter that is not taught out there and there’s no real good books on it out there that I know of. Nothing like what she does and you know the two have worked with Stanley Kubrick, Cecil B. DeMille, Least Rosberg. You know she is, she’s such a unique soul that I wanted to highlight this, this course and highlight Nina herself she is now by the way her course is taught in a very unique way. Her unique teaching style which is what she’s famous for. It’s right in your face. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t give a crap. She just tells you how it is and sometimes it’s not nice and not pretty but she just tells you straight up to your face and at the end the day you understand that she’s trying to help you and trying to get you to understand what she’s trying to teach you. Because someone with sixty years of experience
you have to listen to. I mean it with that kind of credibility and as they say Street Kred I mean you’d be a fool not to listen to it. So I definitely want you guys to get a hold of this course. It’s if you go to indiefilmhustle.com/USC that’s indiefilmhustle.com/USC. And I’ll take you to our page where you can download Nina’s course and I’m telling you it is a course that will change the way you look at things as far as a director is concerned. In the black arts of working with actors in a lot of ways.
It really opened up my mind in my eyes to what it’s about and how you can actually understand actors and work better with actors and actors you understand what we go through as directors a little bit better. The casting process is broken down better and also for writers just her story ideas the way she knows how to break down scripts and get the essence of scenes and the intention and that’s the big thing the intention of the work and an intention of the scene. So if scene about this and you read it and it looks like it’s just about. Oh I’m just going to get you know a glass of wine. It’s not about the glass of wine. It’s about a million other things and she explains that to you by how she breaks down scripts and how she’s broken down scripts throughout her career and it’s mind altering. It really really is guys.
So definitely check it out indiefilmhustle.com/USC . Well worth every penny. Trust me. Now if you want the show notes of this episode please head over to indiefilmhustle.com/036 . And I will have a coupon code for the course so you can get it at a discount. So definitely check it out. I wrote a beautiful article about her and all of her teachings and there are some videos there you can watch from all these directors were talking about her as well as some samples of the course. So definitely check it out guys. Now if you’re a fan of the show. Please don’t forget to head over to filmmakingpodcast.com and leave us an honest review for the show on iTunes. It really helps us out a lot and it really helps to get the word out on what we’re doing at Indie Film Hustle. Keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I’ll talk to you guys soon. Thanks for listening to the Indie Film Hustle Podcast at indiefilmhustle.com that’s I N D I E F I L M H U S T L E .com
HOW TO DIRECT RON UNDERWOOD TALKING ABOUT NINA FOCH
I remember my first day with Nina Foch was 1975 in her AFI class directing the actor and it was just like a whole new world opened up to me because I’d always been sort of afraid of actors, because I didn’t know exactly how you got them to perform consistently with what you wanted. And she sort of opened the door to me of how actors think. And it was really incredibly valuable. I remember one of the first projects or first assignments was to bring in a personal item that was important to you in some way. And you learned about partnering and what it was to partner and it was just an inanimate object. And it was incredible how open and honest people’s work was in this first exercise because Nina Foch sort of pushed you to really go to some different kinds of places, than we were used to at that age. Nina Foch was so open, so honest in a way that I just wasn’t actually used to people being. I never had a teacher like that before that. And dealing with real life. I just felt like what she taught in her class, extended way beyond acting and it was about life and why people are the way they are. What is a full life? What is honesty in taking integrity, all of those things that is so much about a good performance, about being honest and true and trying to find truth in whatever the material is? And it extended way past acting to me. I went into withdrawal at the end of the year when I didn’t see Nina Foch anymore.
So I called her up and when I started getting some jobs to do and she said well you can come over to my house and we can work together on the. And so I continued seeing her professionally through many many many many years. And I love those. In the midst of crazy pre preproduction, which it often is? I just have this idyllic time that I would spend in Nina Foch’s living room before making films. And we would talk about, go through the script, breaking it down and talk about the actors who I was casting. What she knew about them, and giving me advice about how to work with different actors and so she always was helpful beyond the class, in terms of just giving me advice about working with various actors, specific actors, and also the material like this character really needs. Before I got into the Hollywood filmmaking. I was doing educational films, and that’s what I did right out of school and after working with Nina Foch. I would go with my little educational film script to Nina Foch’s house and we would break it down. So it might be about how to use the reference section of the library, but we were working and I was learning about acting through these films because I did films with casting and drama because I was using them to learn the craft. And it was great having Nina Foch guide me through all of those.
I knew so little about acting when I started working with her and I really feel like everything I ever learned came from her. So I’m a total disciple. I always break down the script the way Nina Foch taught me because that is so useful. And even if many actors don’t need anything. They don’t necessarily require it but you never know when they will. And if you’ve already thought it through. You don’t have a lot of time for discussion on the set. Certainly doing episodic shows. And yes I have had actors come to me and say I don’t. I don’t know want to do with this and it’s only because I’ve done that homework in advance that I have an answer right away, because if you don’t have something right away. It’s going to be harder to convince them, but if you come up with something. It helps them to know that you’ve got t for sure. At least in Mighty Joe Young it was a lot about partnering with a 05:35 object does it, wasn’t that just because it was a special effect. And I think I got everything that I knew about it certainly from Nina Foch and I passed on what I could. Nina Foch would always say that you have to watch out on the first day of shooting with your male lead because there could be some testing going on.
Jack Pallet, I had heard horror stories about Jack actually before casting him and we really wanted him for the role, but I heard such bad things about him that we decided not to offer the role to him. I was just a little freaked out about things that hurt. Finally we just couldn’t think of anybody better than Jack for it. So we offered it to him, had a great meeting down at the Four Seasons, no problems. First day, first scene, first rehearsal. It was in a coral, it was his entrance into the movie and he comes into this coral where a cowboy as been harassing Helen Slater and he throw his knife down at the cowboy crotch and Billy 06:57 eyes that you never do that. Billy says yes. Yeah make sure you don’t do that. And then Jack as to look over Billy and Billy says oh I’m sorry I thought we were on the same side. And Jack didn’t look at Billy after the rehearsal at that point. The rehearsal and like, said Jack after that at Billy’s line if you can just give a glance over at him. And he said I don’t do glances. I said oh well that’s okay, just a look over at that time is fine and he just went ballistic and really, really, he had just a violent reaction. He said he was going to walk off the show.
We were in this coral and the whole cast and crew just moved away and let Jack and me alone in the coral. So it was a good metaphor for our little showdown, first day. And Jack I said, I really hope you don’t walk off this film. He said I walked off better films than this. And I said there was a whole generation that hasn’t seen your work and it would be great if you do this because I think they will really appreciate you in this role. And he just sort of stormed off finally. We got everybody back and I wasn’t going to reverse it again because I done all of the shoot and see what happens. And he did the glance, it was great. And later in the day he was sitting next to me and took his cowboy hat off and he hit me in the leg and said first date jitters. And I never had any other problem with him, and he was great for the rest of the film. And you really have to be sure of yourself and do your homework. So that you’re not grasping at straws because you want to set the right tone and setting the right tone was very important and Nina Foch always trusted from day one to be ready and I think that what I got from her. She was always so honest and actors who have been around are very intuitive and you can’t BS them. They are honest, they know honesty. And you have to be honest with them and not try to pull the rug over their eyes because they’ll see-through it and I always got that from her that actors deserve to be treated with honesty.
It’s interesting too. There have been actors who I’ve worked with who studied with Nina Foch, like Charlie Martin Smith or various people who even knew from the way I approach things, they would say, did you study with Nina Foch. I miss Nina Foch so much. She was always, she was a dear friend who I just enjoyed talking with because she’s always had a very strong point of view. And never kept it from you. So it was always just fun to talk to her. She has so much passion and she would start talking about the movie she saw last night or somebody she ran into and it would be. I mean there was no sense of any frailty coming from her because she was a strong, strong woman with a great point of view. I always, I will always miss that but always treasure having memories of her.