Judith Weston

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Vicky Jenson

6/16/10
Q&A with Animation/Narrative/Commercials Director Vicky Jenson

VICKY JENSON came to Judith Weston Studio for Q&A on June 16th. Vicky is a superstar in the animation world, having co-directed the Oscar-winning SHREK and Oscar-nominated SHARK TALE – and has also worked as storyboard artist and designer on many DreamWorks and Hanna Barbera projects, as well as groundbreaking animated TV series REN & STIMPY and MIGHTY MOUSE, THE NEW ADVENTURES. In 2003 Vicky moved into live-action, with her short film FAMILY TREE, which premiered at Sundance and went on to win many festival awards (and included in the cast three actors from our Studio - Dave Clark, Jackie Katzman, and Johnnie Phillips!). FAMILY TREE is available on Netflix on SHORTS!: VOL. 2. This past year she directed her first live-action feature – POST GRAD, which starred Alexis Bledel, Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett, and was produced by Ivan Reitman, distributed by Fox Searchlight, and premiered at the Arclight last August. Lately Vicky has also been shooting commercials.

Vicky has taken numerous workshops with me, starting back in 2001. After taking class with me at my studio, she brought me in to Dreamworks where I have since taught a number of on-site workshops. Her award-winning short FAMILY TREE was developed and rehearsed in a workshop at my studio.

Vicky was so giving and helpful to everyone, with great specific tips from the breadth of her experience - in animation and live action. And then there's just the power of her huge heart and talent and generosity and intelligence. Vicky stayed a long time after the formal Q&A to answer specific questions and requests from those who attended. She is not only one of Hollywood’s major talents, she is quite possibly the kindest and most generous person I have ever met – in or out of the entertainment industry – warm, open, sensitive. She is absolute proof that you can have success in Hollywood without sacrificing your soul.

Following are some notes (thank you to Camille Natta for taking notes for me!).

She gave advice for people who want to get into animation - start as a trainee (for example at Nickelodeon), put a book together, learn story boarding. She discussed and gave examples of her visual influences. She gave very helpful description about how an animated film is put together. In animation everyone gives you notes, so it's a good place to get used to listening to everyone’s opinion. (You don’t have to take all the notes, but it’s good to listen to all of them.)

Moving from animation to live action. One thing about animation is that there is no coverage - the director always edits before they shoot – you can’t ask an animator to draw something that might get cut out! The biggest change when she moved to live action was the need for coverage, to have more editing options. When she got to the editing room for her live-action films, she sometimes found that she wished she hadn’t said, "Cut" so soon. For FAMILY TREE, she had storyboards but not a shot list, and discovered that a shot list is necessary.

During prep on her low budget short film, she talked a lot with everyone on the project, to get them emotionally involved in the story – when you do that, they’ll come up with wonderful ideas and “they’ll jump into the fire for you.” The best way to talk to people is one-on-one. As soon as there is more than one person in the room with you, you have politics. But always remember that if someone is in the room, that means they have a reason to be there and that means you have a reason to hear them, even if their idea seems wrong.

Making the move to a studio movie (POST GRAD) after having made her intensely personal and heartfelt short film FAMILY TREE was a bigger shift than she realized it would be. For example, for FAMILY TREE, she had rehearsals and spent a lot of the rehearsal time doing improvisation - letting the actors try the lines out in their own words - as a way of investigating the subtext. But when she directed the studio film POST GRAD, the actors were more anxious about improvisation.

Judith was her secret weapon when directing animation talent such as Mike Myers, Will Smith, Robert Deniro, Martin Scorcese, etc.

She talked about Magical Realism, a genre in which she feels entirely comfortable, because there is a sense of no limits. If you want a fish to talk, it will talk.

Thank you so much, Vicky, for sharing your enthusiasm and generosity and knowledge!! xo

Don’t forget FAMILY TREE at Netflix - Shorts!: Vol. 2

  • "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
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    TANEL TOOM, writer-director, THE CONFESSION (nominated for Academy Award, Live Action Short Film, 2011)
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    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
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    BILLY RAY, writer-director, SHATTERED GLASS, BREACH; writer, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, THE HUNGER GAMES, STATE OF PLAY, FLIGHTPLAN
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    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
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    MARK FERGUS, co-writer: CHILDREN OF MEN, IRON MAN; director: FIRST SNOW
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    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.
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    DEJA PREM, writer/producer/director/actor, at Green Coco Production
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    MICHAEL TRIM, director, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, WEEDS, PARKS AND RECREATION
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    DAVID JACOBSON, writer-director, DOWN IN THE VALLEY, DAHMER
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    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
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    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
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