Judith Weston

Studio For Actors And Directors

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Shana Feste

10/12/09
Q&A with Writer-Director Shana Feste
and CAA Agent Brian Kavanaugh-Jones

Writer-director Shana Feste (THE GREATEST), and her husband, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones (Film Finance agent at Creative Artists Agency), came to Judith Weston Studio to speak and answer questions, at a free event on October 12. Shana has taken many workshops at the studio – including multiple sessions of the Actor-Director Lab, plus a lot of one-on-one consultation with me – both before shooting her first film THE GREATEST (which was screened in competition at Sundance this year), and again recently, as she prepares to direct her second feature, LOVE DON’T LET ME DOWN [later released as COUNTRY STRONG].

Brian works at CAA in the packaging and representation of independently financed films and international co-productions. Most recently, he was involved in the financing and selling of Darren Aronofsky's THE WRESTLER, Gus Van Sant's MILK, and Kathryn Bigelow's THE HURT LOCKER.

Shana was in the middle of casting and pre-production for her second film, LOVE DON’T LET ME DOWN [COUNTRY STRONG]. In fact, on the evening of the event, she had just learned that principal photography was to start in two weeks! So it was incredibly generous of her to take time out of her schedule to share her experiences with getting her first film made, and taking it to Sundance.

Shana is proof that you can have success in Hollywood without compromising your talent or your soul – she is smart and tough, without sacrifice of her warmth, openness and sensitivity. Brian, her husband, is a financing guy of integrity, taste and depth, and he’s a really good person too. It was lovely of him to offer to come on the same evening, and he was amazingly open, frank, and supportive about the business side of film. They showed us clips from THE GREATEST – which were stunning! Everyone must see this film when it is released in March. They were completely frank and down-to-earth – a delightful couple. A typical comment from those who attended was this one, “It's so rare to spend time with a director - and an agent! - who are so generous and forthcoming about their experiences making a movie. A rare and precious experience.” It was an evening all about art, business, and love – what could be better?

THE GREATEST was accepted in dramatic competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, where every screening was sold out. Under Shana’s direction, A-list veterans Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon gave luminous performances, and Pierce Brosnan especially went into emotional territory unlike that of his previous roles. Shana also launched the career of newcomer Carey Mulligan, who has gone from THE GREATEST to projects directed by Michael Mann, Jim Sheridan, and Oliver Stone. The whole cast, which included Michael Shannon and one of our very own Lab actors, Cynthia Boorujy, was wonderful.

THE GREATEST will have a North American theatrical release in March. Although it isn’t possible to see THE GREATEST yet (unless you were at Sundance), some of you have seen scenes worked on in class, so you know her work is deep and emotional, a moving, intelligent exploration of pain and grieving, with explosions of humor and joy.

Thank you to everyone who came (and asked such interesting questions!) – and thank you so much to Shana and Brian!

  • "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