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John Badham on directing

September 26, 2014

Director John Badham reveals his approach to blocking scenes without storyboards.

John-Badham-Dracula

Instead of a review this week, I thought I’d share with you a fantastic insight into directing which I inadvertently rediscovered just recently. While leafing through my vintage back issues of Fantastic Films Magazine, I found a fascinating interview with director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever) which was published in January 1980, following the release of Badham’s 1979 remake of Dracula starring Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier. In response to a question from interviewer Steve Mitchell regarding the usefulness of storyboarding dialogue scenes, Badham had this to     say about his approach to blocking scenes with actors …

“[Storyboarding is] a waste of time. That’s what that is. It’s totally unnecessary because if you have any respect for your actors at all they wind up blocking their scenes. I mean within the very careful confines that the director sets for them. But you do it in a fashion that you say to an actor, well, the scene starts here and you come in the door here and you wind up sitting on the bed and whatever happens in between is up to you. Now the actors start to rehearse and they begin to work it out and the first thing you’ll notice is that they go all over the place. They go in this room and into the bathroom and back into the closet and the fireplace. They go at each other with pokers, I mean the things the actors do … “Oh my God the director’s letting us do what we want.” And they’re all over the place. “Okay, great, do it again.” And about the third time you’ll notice they’re going to about one-tenth the number     of places because now they’ve started to work through the problems themselves,     not consciously knowing what they are doing. They’re beginning to restrict their movements and do less because there’s no need to do all this stuff. Suddenly they have created the scene along with you and now a suggestion or two put in and they really understand the scene much better. They are more willing to go along and if you walk in and say, during the scene I want you to come in the door, I want you to sit there and during the third line I want you to come over here and stand up, an actor will do it. If you’ve storyboarded that he’ll do it and might even be happy doing it. It won’t be very good. It will be very mechanical. I can guarantee you that I can stage a scene where he’ll come in and sit on that line and move on that line and do exactly that but I’ll never tell him to do it. He’ll find it out for himself that it’ll work out fine. And if he doesn’t do that he may even find something better than what I had thought of.”

Badham’s approach makes a great deal of sense as it allows actors the freedom to find their flow in order to successfully project organically natural performances.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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