Right-click here to download the MP3
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.
Related: USC 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.
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:
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!