IFH 036: Nina Foch: Directing the Actor – USC School of Cinematic Arts

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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 SpielbergQuentin 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.

RelatedUSC School of Cinematic Arts Online Course Directing the Actor 

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.

Film Life

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 RememberI Love a MysteryEscape in the FrogJohnny Allegroand 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 AmericansYour First Impressionand 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 NCISBullJust 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.

Stage

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 NightKing LearA Phoenix Too FrequentMeasure for Measureand 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 HerskovitzEd ZwickRandal Kleiserand 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.

Her Farewell

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:

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!

Alex Ferrari 0:00
Now guys, today's is a special episode I wanted to highlight a lady that you might not ever heard of. Her name is Nina Foch. I had never heard of our prior to taking her amazing course and if you've been listening to the podcast in recent weeks, you've noticed that the one of our sponsors has been the the Nina folch ko course that that we have in our film school. And I did that on purpose because I wanted to bring more attention to to the course because the course what Nina Fitch did and let me give you a brief, a brief rundown on who Nina is. Nina worked. She's an Oscar nominated actress. She has worked with iconic directors like ces sessile B, the mill and 10 commandments, as well as Stanley Kubrick and Spartacus. She was also an American, an American in Paris, among the 1000s of other credits for television and film, the people who took her course, which is a course that she taught in USC, University of Southern California cinema arts program, she taught a course called directing the actor, and I actually recently took this course online. And I gotta tell you, it's changed my life. It changed the way I look at directing actors, understanding the intention behind words and attention 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. Or 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 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 the Rosetta Stone of actors to understand how she they think, how they understand things, how they are expressing themselves. And then also, on the flip side of that coin, in the same core, she teaches actors how to 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.

Nina Foch 3:27
You 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 as the wrong they're right, the tie isn't right or something about their haircut. It's going to be dumb shit, dumb, something, right? 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. The young woman can do it too, in today's world, young woman 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 mommy. And that's what that is you have to recognize that it's 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 as an actor. It is so rare that you feel protected. Because most directors don't know anything about actors. They don't have a clue they know don't know how to help them. They don't know anything. And I'm talking about working now I'm because I'm still working a lot, you know, so I know what's out there. I know what's happening, happened in the last four months that I've been sick. But up until four months ago, for 60 years, this is the way it's been. So there's very little likelihood to change while I was having trouble breathing at UCLA. Okay, 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. No, you're being the parent, the parent, the good parent.

Alex Ferrari 5:35
As you can tell Nina, that little bit of it, 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, on set, where an actor will come up and challenge you to see if, you know, you're, 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 it's cinematographer, sometimes it's sound, guys, you'll be amazed. But that is you have to understand that that is a thing that you have to to look out for. And Nina was so eloquent in the way she said it, and how to deal specifically with actors. And it's not a bad thing. It's just you, 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, 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 30 years at USC, and her students are I mean, a who's who of Hollywood from George Lucas to Ed wick from who directed Blood Diamond and Last Samurai to Ron Howard. araunah Underwood, who directed tremors and city slickers, Leola, Rick's who directed Toy Story Amy Heckerling Fast Times at ridgemont, high and clueless, Cameron Crowe, Steven summers, and the list goes on and on and on. And right before Nina was already starting to get older, she's passed now she passed in 2008. 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 400 hours of footage and they brought it all the way down they condensed everything to a four hour course with over 91 lectures or videos with the course and I gotta 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 mine mine altering almost this course and you know I don't want to make this into a big plug in 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 it's there's no real good books on it out there that I know of. Nothing like what she does and you know, to to have worked with Stanley Kubrick sessile B, the mill, Lee Strasberg, you know, she's, 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 of the day, you understand that she's trying to help you. I'm trying to get you to understand what she's trying to teach you. Because someone with 60 years of experience, you have to listen to you I mean with with that kind of credibility, and as they say street cred, 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 indie film, hustle, calm forward slash USC. That's indie film, hustle, calm forward slash USC. And they'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 and the black art of working with actors in a 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 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 attention of the scene. So if it scenes about this, and you read it, and it looks like it's just about, oh, I'm just gonna 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 indie film, hustle comm forward slash USC, well worth every penny, trust me. Now if you want the show notes of this episode, please head over to indie film hustle.com forward slash zero 36. 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's some videos there that you can watch from all these directors, we're 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 filmmaking podcast calm 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.

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