Directing the Actor: A USC course with Nina Foch
4.5 (816 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
3,680 students enrolled

Directing the Actor: A USC course with Nina Foch

Learn directing and acting techniques from renowned actress Nina Foch in this USC Master Class.
4.5 (816 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
3,680 students enrolled
Last updated 1/2016
Current price: $16.99 Original price: $24.99 Discount: 32% off
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This course includes
  • 4 hours on-demand video
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
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What you'll learn
  • Acting lessons for Actors and Directors. Analyze scripts and manage successful castings.
  • None

Produced by George Lucas and Randal Kleiser, this series of lectures are excerpts from Nina Foch’s directing class conducted at the University of Southern California in 2002. The lectures, organized into sections, cover script analysis, casting, directing, and acting. Spend some time watching Nina, learn from her and implement her ideas into your own work. You’ll be amazed how far she can take you.

Who can benefit from Nina Foch’s course? Directors? Absolutely. Actors? Yes. But, it’s equally valuable for writers, editors, producers, and anyone with more than a passing interest in the art and craft of filmmaking. This material can be used for an entire course, as part of a course, or a rich reference source to immerse yourself in your craft.

Who this course is for:
  • Filmmakers, Actors, Teachers, Students, Animators, Singers, Lecturers and anyone with a passion for the craft of cinema
Course content
Expand all 91 lectures 03:58:26
+ Breaking Down The Script
4 lectures 13:08

How to break down the story into its simplest beats, discover the moral of the story, and find the thing in the story that everyone is trying to do.

Story, Moral, and Spine
The class breaks down the story using her technique that will work for any project. She explores the moral and the spine. Tracking the character arcs in Casablanca reveals major character changes.
Preview 03:39
Nina breaks each line from the scene into intentions and actions.
Scene Breakdown
See the film version of the scene that was analyzed in class.
"Casablanca" clip


Breaking Down The Script
4 questions
+ Casting
6 lectures 11:44
What to look for in a headshot. What are the best questions to ask? On the back of the headshot is a summary of the actor’s qualifications. Learn what questions to ask to put them at ease.
Analyzing the Headshot
Learn what to look for when an actor enters the room. How to break bad habits. How to relax the actor. What is the proven subject to bring them out and get their guard down. What are the danger signs to look for that would make you not want to cast them.
Meeting the Actor
What kind of directorial notes get the best results? How to use intentions in your directing of a reading. What to watch for when they follow your direction. What to do immediately after the actor leaves the room. How to analyze the pluses and minuses of each actor.
Evaluating the Actor
During a reading of “Fargo” Nina suggests an unusual adjustment for the actor’s second read.
Casting Session I
During a reading from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf" Nina analyzes how to spot an actor who is not in touch with themselves.
Casting Session II
During a reading from "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" Nina explains the definition of a scene.
Casting Session III
+ Quick Tips: Casting
6 lectures 05:26
What instructions to give the receptionist or secretary in the outer office to get the best results in casting sessions.
Have a Good Gatekeeper
How to avoid common mistakes in the setup of the casting session.
Preview 01:25
Clues to watch for on a resume.
Sloppy Actors
Evaluating personal habits in regard to casting.
Grungy Actors
What not to say to actors and when to listen.
Don't Help
The top tips to avoid.
What Not to Say
3 questions
+ Class Exercises
4 lectures 23:12
Learn how the “Hot Object” exercise teaches the power of partnering first-hand. Nina shows how to guide the student as they connect with personal items that mean something to them.
Partnering Exercise: Hot Objects
In the first example, Nina demonstrates how to push a student to connect and what not to do.
In the second example, the exercise is a success as the student becomes emotional as he connects with his object.
Hot Objects: Examples
Entrances and Exits
Learn how to create the circumstances and places the characters are coming from and where they are going.
Airport Exercise
Generalities can kill a performance. This exercise teaches how being specific can make an audience believe in the truth of the scene.
Nina boiled down the essence of delivering a line into three specific words. When an actor follows these steps, in order, the line will be delivered more believably than they would if simply memorized and repeated.
Entrances & Exits: Airport Exercise
Here, Nina shows student filmmakers what it is like to act and receive direction. This gives them perspective on the challenges of giving a performance.
Scene Adjustments: "Jerry Maguire"
+ Video Scene Analysis
8 lectures 47:09
Learn how to make sure that every part of the scene works with no cuts, no edits, with organic camera movements from start to finish. Nina worked in live television for years, and theatre extensively before that, which made her one of the craft’s leading experts in maintaining the seamless scene.
In these scene analyses, watch Nina force her students to examine every frame, every detail, every moment, and every line of their scenes. Some of her words may seem harsh, or unfair. But, Nina always states that when you make a film, you have to live with these details for the rest of your life.
Nina teaches how to pace a scene and how to overlap blocking and dialogue.
"Eat Drink Man Woman"
Learn blocking and filling each moment. Simulating the effects of cocaine are discussed. Learn the concept “Actions Come from our Partner’s Needs”.
"Boogie Nights"
The concept of cheating is outlined. How to deal with an actor’s bad habits. What is sequential linkage?
"Notting Hill"
How do you fill each moment? How to use body language, how to discover intentions and best tips for blocking are discussed.
"The Graduate"
How do you structure and deliver a joke? How do you fake? What is the best way to block?
"Almost Famous"
Concepts discussed: Partnering, how to deal with uncomfortable actors, tips on staging , importance of playing one action at a time, finding the action, moving the furniture, and the concept of false exits.
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"
Sex is notoriously hard to direct. Nina points out tricks to making love scenes work. How to make the actors comfortable. How do you direct the way actors touch each other. How do you reveal character through intimacy? Choosing truth or beauty, how much nudity to show. Also discussed: Homosexuality and the class system in America.
"Sex and the City"
+ Directing Lessons
15 lectures 29:36
What is a scene? There are many ways to answer this question: conflict, setting, character, and a host of other qualities. Nina Foch had a simple answer to this question.
Two Truths Coming Together
Over the years, Nina discovered the best action when actors need to be sexy. It’s an elegant description of a complicated acting choice.
What is "sexy"?
Techniques of connecting with your actors so they open up and trust you.
Share Your Life
What are the top bad habits and how do you deal with them?
When do you bring up the problem? Things to watch out for.
Correcting Bad Habits
When are these helpful and when do they kill a scene? How do you find the intention of a handle? When do you delete a handle?
Dialogue Handles
How to use this technique to get closer to the truth of the scene.
Close Your Eyes and Listen
The trick to making narration work. How to break down the beats. Creating an entrance for the narrator. What is the action of the narrator?
Directing Narration
What to do when an actor says they are uncomfortable with a line. When to use and when not to use improvisation.
Stick to the Script
How to get the most out of the first read with the cast. Finding
the tone and meaning of the script.
Don't Rush the Table Read
The best way to integrate the writer without giving up control.
How do you get the most from the writer in rehearsal?
Include the Writer
The best way to bring your own viewpoint to the script. How do you integrate the talents of the actors, cinematographer and other crew?
Let the Script Guide You
The biggest advantage for directors who try acting. Picking up the language of acting. How to think like an actor so you know how to communicate with them.
Learn the Actor's Craft
What to watch out for when you start the shooting day. How to instill confidence from your actors and crew. How to be flexible and adaptable.
Be Prepared
What not to say when actors mumble. The trick to getting them to speak up in an organic manner.
I Can't Hear You
How to conceive the right blocking for a scene.
Furniture Is Movable
+ Quick Tips: Directing
6 lectures 09:38
The fight every director faces on the first day and how to win it.
Win This Fight
How to handle them on set and off.
Actors Who Drink
The trick to instant relaxation.
The Ten-minute Nap
How to handle this scenario the right way.
When an Actor Forgets Lines
The dangers of yawning.
Don't Yawn
The best way to indicate these in your script.
Marking Props and Wardrobe
5 questions
+ Acting Lessons
14 lectures 32:12
What causes this habit? How do you break an actor of the bad habit of looking down.
Don't Look Down
How do you avoid cliches and make this kind of behavior believable?
Drunk, Drugged, or Insane
Raising your voice or clenching your fists if you’re angry are not sources of power. Nina explains where an actor’s power comes from for a scene and how to generate it.
Sources of Power
How do you motivate yourself to get excited about a scene? How do you let loose and be wonderful?
Getting Turned On
What are the techniques to create believable characterizations so the audience knows where the actor has been and where he is going? How to create energy and propel the story forward.
Filling Entrances and Exits
A scene is not just memorizing lines. Learn the fundamental principle behind sequential linkage. Where does the actor find the connections that make this work?
Preview 02:02
Learn how to use the five senses to create specific connections that reveal character.
Building Logical Character Beats
Nina shows when to use this directoral technique and how to loosen up the actor so they can do the best work.
Tap Dance Therapy
What every actor should know about a shooting day’s breakdown.
Know the Setups
How to prepare for the unexpected. How to create a situation where
changes are easily adapted.
Do Your Homework
How to make each moment motivated. How to work backwards
to achieve believable beginnings.
Make it Organic
The trick of using animals and foods as a acting technique.
Lizards and Tarragon
Nina explains this technique that allows an actor or singer to create an emotional moment no matter what the distractions.
Going to a Zero
Nina breaks down the best way to relieve tension and how to achieve a complete state of relaxation instantly.
Relaxation Techniques
+ Quick Tips: Acting
2 lectures 01:06
How the feet of an actor can add comedy to a scene.
Funny Feet
Nina demonstrates how to improve a student’s entrance to a scene.
Filling the Entrance
3 questions