Q&A with Television Director Norman Buckley
NORMAN BUCKLEY, director of tremendously successful television shows (multiple episodes of GOSSIP GIRL, CHUCK, MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, GREEK, MELROSE PLACE, 90210, PRIVILEGED, THE MIDDLEMAN, ROCKVILLE CA, THE O.C.), came to the Judith Weston Studio, for a free event on Wednesday April 14.
Norman has taken a number of classes with me and has been for years one of the most generous supporters of my classes and books – a lot of people who have taken class with me were sent by Norman!
Norman came to directing from editorial. His first job as an assistant editor was on the 1983 film TENDER MERCIES, and he established himself as an editor of many films, television series, and made-for-TV movies. It was while he was editor on THE O.C. that he started taking classes with me, in preparation for a directing slot on the show. From there he has become a directing mainstay on delightful and popular shows GOSSIP GIRL, CHUCK, MAKE IT OR BREAK IT, GREEK, the new MELROSE PLACE, the new 90210, PRIVILEGED, THE MIDDLEMAN, as well as web-series ROCKVILLE CA. He has recently begun directing commercials as well.
His blog The Buckley Bulletin offers Norman’s wide-ranging, rich, and incisive observations on film aesthetics. He traces the connections from Degas to Picasso to advertising executives; from THE O.C. to REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE; from GOSSIP GIRL to Edith Wharton. I love his blog – an exploration of the authentic emotional, intellectual, and artistic underpinnings in popular culture. Norman, who also teaches part-time at UCLA, is a fascinating, warm, sweet, enthusiastic, and loving man who says of his work as a director: “I learn more about my own psychological development by studying others.”
This event was so helpful and practical and energizing and inspiring - his generosity itself was an inspiration. He screened several scenes from GOSSIP GIRL, bringing us into his process and work ethic - invaluable to everyone there! I loved how he so thoughtfully divided his attention equally into things that were helpful to directors, and things that were helpful to actors.
Following are some notes (thank you to Allie Smith for taking notes for me!).
In episodic television, there isn’t much time for rehearsal, so he arrives on set PREPARED – with ideas of what he thinks will work – plus back-up choices – plus back-ups for the back-ups!
He has faith in his preparation, so he doesn’t worry if the actors seem “off track” – he lets them go and has faith in his preparation, that they will come back around.
When actors resist he’s prepared to hear them. This creates trust. Keep a vibe on set of safety. Make sure the actors are seen and heard.
He will not push an actor to do something inauthentic.
Besides preparation, the other most important ability for a director is to be able to LISTEN. To be a good listener, you must be genuinely interested in other people’s ideas and feelings.
FOR ACTORS (AUDITIONING):
He wants to see what an auditioner brings. He doesn’t mind if they hold the sides. But he wants them to make clear choices.
Actors should make eye contact with everyone in the room. Norman says that, as strange as this may sound, some actors come in and only relate to the casting director (because that’s the person they know). This is a mistake. Actors should take in and relate to all the new people, director, etc, that are in the room. When they don’t look at the people in the room, it makes them look ill at ease. They should acknowledge the people in the room, interact with the people in front of them.
He is open to questions from the actor, but doesn’t like it when an actor starts with meaningless small talk.
Actors should have a POV [a choice] even if it’s wrong. They should have a POV and also a willingness to be flexible with that POV.
Be prepared, obviously.
He looks in casting for whether actors can hit marks with ease. He wants actors to be precise, and says younger actors are often better at this. [I interpret this “precision” that Norman talks about to be something that is based on fearlessness – JW]
He loves to see joyfulness in actors.
Actors and directors alike loved this event and got so much out of it. Thank you so much, Norman, for your generosity and knowledge and wisdom and kindness!
"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