Judith Weston

Studio For Actors And Directors

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Brian Roberts

2/1/12
Special comedy night with Director Brian Roberts

Comedy can be taught! That’s what BRIAN ROBERTS proved to us when he came to the Studio on February 1, 2012. This was a wonderful opportunity both for directors and for actors – more of a workshop, really, where Brian gave away all his comedy secrets. His famous Comedy Lexicon (included below). Plus a step-by-step break-down of a script, a step-by-step approach to setting up camera, demonstrations of blocking, and even a mock audition. It was invaluable - so informative - inspirational – and funny!

Brian has directed many episodes of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, THE DREW CAREY SHOW, MADtv, THE HUGHLEYS, SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH, KING OF QUEENS, and many, many more – and currently directs constantly in Canada and the US. He is a two-time Emmy winner and last year a Directors Guild of Canada winner, who started out as a writer and editor on THE SIMPSONS.

Brian took his first workshop with me in 1998, and is kind enough to credit my workshops and consultations with giving him tools and confidence for working with actors. Besides his full schedule of directing and writing, he teaches workshops in comedy and loves to get people turned on to their own comedic potential. He is a huge-spirited, very smart, funny, loving man.

THANK YOU, BRIAN!

COMEDY LEXICON

I. IDENTIFY THE ELEMENTS
It is helpful when you are reading a script to identify what the purpose of each line of dialog is. With the exception of physical bits they all fall in three categories.
1. SET UP
the premise for a joke so that the punch line can land. Do not get in the way of the set up with additional words as this can ‘hurt the joke’. Set up can be called the ‘feed’
2. PUNCH LINE
The funny that follows the set up.
3. PIPE
Necessary exposition for the purpose of the story. ‘laying pipe’ can service to set up jokes and situations as well as propel the story forward.

III. RULE OF THREES
Look for lines of dialog with three elements. The first two are expected and the third delivers the surprise

IV. FUNNY WORDS
Words that have a k, c, t, p or hard consonant that sounds foreign to an audience should get a laugh

V. PHYSCIAL HUMOR
1. SIGHT GAG
a. seen
b. unseen
c. unexpected
2. STAGE BUSINESS
Can be as simple as ordinary (filing papers) or out of the ordinary (putting a book in the refrigerator)
3. PRATFALL/ENTRANCE/EXIT
Kramer and the art of the entrance. Identifying the character right off the bat.

VI. VERBAL JOKES
1. ALLITERATION – punchable “hot tub too”
2 PATTER AND PACING – punchable/accentuated
3. MISLEAD – usually part of a set up or rule of 3’s
4. CALLBACK – reference to an earlier joke – the Nakamura
5. ECHO - punchable
6. IRONY - understated
7. UNDERSTATEMENT - understated
8. BLOW – the big joke at the end of an act break or scene
9. BUTTON – similar to the blow, but can happen within a scene that has a few scenelets
10. TWIST – when you think that a sentence is leading somewhere and it doesn’t
11. ‘JOKE ON A JOKE’ OR TOPPER – an extended button or blow that has to top the blow.

VII. REACTION/CHARACTER BASED JOKES
1. DEADPAN
2. SLOW BURN - I didn’t read your book -
3. DOUBLE TAKE

VIII.PLAYING THE COMEDY IN MULTICAM
1. HONEST WITH THE CHARACTER
a. Playing the spine
b. Playing against the spine
2. HOLD FOR LAUGHS
3. MOVING ON A JOKE
a. The ‘give and go’
insults, quips, dropping unexpected information
b. holding for the reaction
4. THE TOUCH
a. Light touch
b. Punching or hitting it harder
c. Understated (duh)
d. Stating the obvious
e. Oblivious or unintended
5. THE RHYTHM
a. Patter
b. Pacing it up (shorter/faster/funnier)
c. Think Yiddish deliver British
6. TRYING TO BE FUNNY
a. Pushing
b. Don’t struggle to be the funniest
c. Discipline and playing your part of the ensemble
7. KEEPING IT FRESH
a. Stay in the moment and make it sound like the first time
b. ‘freezing’ a performance:
Identify your objective and intention (verb) and stay with it
8. TIPPING THE JOKE
a. Telegraphing
b. Laughing ahead of the joke
9. LISTENING
a. Cue biting
b. Reacting and staying in the moment
10. THE LINE READING
a. Result oriented and inorganic
b. Last resort
c. Idicating

IX. ANALYZE THE SCRIPT
1. Identify the elements.
2. Circle the jokes and decide what kind they are.
2. Make a choice on how you want to deliver the element: set up, punch line or pipe that is honest with your character, your objective and the intention within the scene as well as staying true to the type of joke it is.
SCRIPT EXAMPLE

X. AUDITIONING
1. Make a strong choice, but be ready to have a couple other choices handy.
2. You hold the power and solve our problem.
3. Never apologize before or after.
4. Don’t be bumped if you are asked to read another character.
5. What goes on in the room when you leave

XI. FOR DIRECTORS
1. Assisting the executive producer.
2. Being the messenger.
3. Hardest part is when your visions don’t match up – what to do.
4. Day players – asking a performer to completely change their spine

  • "Judith taught me how to communicate with actors in a completely new way, and what I learned from her has had a huge influence over both my work and my life. She is an incredible communicator, a gifted teacher, and a remarkable human being. I can't recommend her classes highly enough for directors and actors who want to bring more emotional truth to their craft."

    JULIUS RAMSAY, director, THE WALKING DEAD
  • "All the scary transformative moments I've had in your class really paid off. And I can never begin to thank you for all that you've done for me. I'm simply not the same person I was when I started my journey with you."

    ANDREA TOYIAS, Voice Director, Blizzard Entertainment, WORLD OF WARCRAFT / DIABLO / STARCRAFT
  • “I really wanted to thank you because I know that I could have not done it without the knowledge I got from you. You will always be one of the greatest teachers I've ever had and I'm truly proud to be one of your students. Thank you for teaching me to love my actors.”

    TANEL TOOM, writer-director, THE CONFESSION (nominated for Academy Award, Live Action Short Film, 2011)
  • “I took a seminar with an acting teacher named Judith Weston. I learned a key insight to character. She believed that all well-drawn characters have a spine, and the idea is that the character has an inner motor, a dominant, unconscious goal that they’re striving for, an itch that they can’t scratch. I took to this like a duck to water.”

    ANDREW STANTON [from his Feb 2012 TED Talk] writer-director, WALL-E, FINDING NEMO, A BUG’S LIFE; writer, TOY STORY, TOY STORY 2, TOY STORY 3
  • "Directing my first movie would have been impossible without Judith's book, 'Directing Actors.' Her insights taught me how to audition actors, how to cast intelligently, how to rehearse. When production began, I cribbed a set of Weston reminders on to a 3-by-5 index card, and kept it in my shirt pocket every single day of shooting. She saved me."

    BILLY RAY, writer-director, SHATTERED GLASS, BREACH; writer, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, THE HUNGER GAMES, STATE OF PLAY, FLIGHTPLAN
  • "Judith, you're the one that gave me the tools for success with actors!"

    KAREN GAVIOLA, director, SONS OF ANARCHY, CRIMINAL MINDS, CSI, NCIS, BLUE BLOODS, CSI:MIAMI, CASTLE, PRIVATE PRACTICE, LOST, GHOST WHISPERER, PRISON BREAK, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, NYPD BLUE
  • “Judith Weston taught me how to listen – what she called ‘listening with your whole body.’ She taught me about the power and the magic of the subconscious world. She showed me doors and windows and portals into creative possibilities I scarcely knew existed. Her wisdom changed the way I write, the way I direct actors – and, with no exaggeration, the way I look at life.”

    MARK FERGUS, co-writer: CHILDREN OF MEN, IRON MAN; director: FIRST SNOW
  • "Judith Weston is a great teacher. She's inspired me to be interested in people more than concepts, behavior more than attitudes, process more than results. In her classes I've learned to ask more questions, to trust what is happening, and to always be willing to dig deeper. She is the kind of teacher who makes me excited about taking chances." 

    NORMAN BUCKLEY, director, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, RIZZOLI & ISLES, THE FOSTERS, THE CLIENT LIST, SWITCHED AT BIRTH, GOSSIP GIRL, CHUCK, MELROSE PLACE, 90210, THE O.C.
  • “You've taught me the essential tools so I could carry on with the visions that haunt me day and night and to embrace the process which I will continue to learn. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

    DEJA PREM, writer/producer/director/actor, at Green Coco Production
  • “Your workshop was wonderful in letting me know that many of the things I am already doing are the correct way of dealing with actors and taught me other things that add to that knowledge. And your patience and unbridled energy and passion for what you teach is more than admirable, it is inspiring. So thank you once again for this wonderful experience, one I will never forget and that will continue to help me on this path on which I am forever learning about new and wonderful things.”

    MICHAEL TRIM, director, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, WEEDS, PARKS AND RECREATION
  • "Judith Weston is not a drama teacher, she is an art teacher. She understands that at the heart of great drama is a powerful mystery. What she shows you in her workshops and her book are simple and effective tools that help you get deeper and deeper into that rich, complex and surprising place."

    DAVID JACOBSON, writer-director, DOWN IN THE VALLEY, DAHMER
  • “In your classes I learned to love actors and acting. The experience opened for me the secret door to the magic I witnessed when actor and material find each other in just the right way. What I once thought were 'happy accidents' and performance miracles are now the kernels of creativity I relentlessly pursue with an actor finding a performance. You helped me find that part I could play in the process and how to capture it.”

    FRED TOYE, director, THE GOOD WIFE, PERSON OF INTEREST, RIZZOLI & ISLES, FRINGE, CHUCK, CSI:NY, LOST, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, GHOST WHISPERER, CHUCK
  • “Judith Weston gave me the greatest gift you can give to a first-time director - she gave me confidence in my ability to work with actors. I will be forever grateful for her extremely hands on and applicable advice for directing actors and I know I will use it for the rest of my career. She has a contagious love of the process and an unbelievable understanding of human emotion. I would not be where I am today if it had not been for her.” 

    SHANA FESTE, writer-director, ENDLESS LOVE, COUNTRY STRONG, THE GREATEST
  • "Judith's method is wonderful because it is practical. She has given me numerous tools to solve problems on the set and to earn the trust of actors. Her classes and her book are invaluable resources to any director."

    LAWRENCE TRILLING, director, MASTERS OF SEX, PARENTHOOD, PUSHING DAISIES, DAMAGES, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, NIP/TUCK, MONK, SCRUBS, INVASION, ALIAS, FELICITY
  • "Every time I step on a set, I think of what Judith taught me. Every time I begin a project, I review a notebook I kept during the years I studied with her. Every time I'm in rehearsal, I'm using her techniques. Every time I'm in a bind within a scene, I go back to the foundation she gave me. I didn't go to film school. I sat in Judith Weston's workshops, took everything she said to heart, then went out and started telling my stories. I'm so grateful for that path - and for her."

    AVA DuVERNAY, director, SELMA (2015 Golden Globe nominee for Best Film, and Best Director), SCANDAL, MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (winner of the Best Director Award at Sundance Film Festival and the I
  • "Judith's ideas and principles are incredibly useful when it comes to giving clear, actionable direction to actors. To anyone aspiring to direct, I would recommend making her classroom one of your first stops."

    LEV L. SPIRO, director, MODERN FAMILY, UGLY BETTY, WEEDS, EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, ARLI$$, THE O.C., EVERWOOD, GILMORE GIRLS
  • "Everything you taught me was more than useful. I am deeply grateful."

    ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU, director, BIRDMAN, BIUTIFUL, BABEL, 21 GRAMS, AMORES PERROS