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GUY AND JIM
A review of Guy Magar’s Action/Cut Seminar
and Jim Pasternak’s Directing Seminar

A few years ago, I undertook the formidable task of attending and reviewing most of the major screenwriting seminars offered around the country. Having spent the previous decade learning screenwriting, I learned a bit from the sojourn, but from the positive reader-response, more importantly, I think I helped other writers learn. If at first you succeed, try, try it again. I pitched an idea to Erik Bauer, Creative Screenwriting publisher and editor, to do the same thing for the divers directing seminars. After diving into two seminars, I realized I what I was in over my head. There were three-week courses, week-long retreats, handfuls of weekend seminars as well as classes spread out over months. Depending on where I drew the line in defining “seminar” I was going to be busy for the next decade.

Before I abandoned my Herculean task, I was fortunate enough to take two fantastic seminars: Guy Magar’s Action/Cut 2-day-seminar and Jim Pasternak’s four week-end-long directing seminar. Guy offers his seminar across the country and Jim offers a one night a week version of his seminar in the Los Angeles area. Both were comprehensive, detailed and appealed to a wide-range of students. Beginners will find an overview of continuity, visual story-telling and other basics. Intermediate students would be rewarded as both instructors proceed to go deeper and deeper into several areas of directing.

Guy takes about a dozen types of scenes—love scene, action scene, climax, comedy, one-take scene—and walks you through the script stage, the planning stage, picking set ups and problem-solving. He then shows the coverage from television programs and films which he shot and then he shows the final edited version. This process forces you to face the practical logistics of set ups, coverage and production. Seeing the raw footage and then the end result also helps the students to visualize how the pieces make up the whole. Although students don’t shoot any film or video in Guy’s class, they see his thorough illustration of the production process which can lead to an intuitive understanding of the filmmaking process.

Less rigorous about the day-to-day reality and logistics of film production and working with a crew, Jim’s class emphasizes actually shooting scenes in various styles—including fluid camera, deep focus (mise-en-scene) and subjective style. Jim illustrates these directing styles with well-chosen clips and film-school-like analysis of classic movies. While the students are shooting the scenes on their video cameras, Jim circulates around the students: coaching and challenging them. His instincts as a teacher are dead-on. He gently pushes—not shoves—his students out of their comfort zone. One time, he came over and challenged me to improve my blocking by incorporating some more ideas into my one-take, deep focus exercise. After cussing him under my breath, I rethought my blocking and reshot the scene. Of course, it was the best take of the day.

As a working director, Guy’s practical insight is indispensable. He gives detailed and specific information. For instance, he points out that one thing you have to consider when choosing a location is whether or not there’s a nearby parking lot for base camp and whether or not the neighbors will be fascinated observers or costly hindrances. Although he tells you not to take notes, I perused my chicken-scratch notes for another morsel: Regarding sex scenes, don’t schedule them the first day and always use satin sheets. Guy knows his audience well, so he would periodically “cut away” to interesting and related subplots of sorts. He quickly discussed film markets, foreign sales companies and explains why motion picture bond companies sell the kind of insurance you hope to NEVER have to use. He even spent 20 minutes giving the audience an overview of how to structure an LLC for a single film. In fact, it’s the exact structure he used himself on his own film.

If Guy’s Action/Cut seminar’s focus is practicality and logistics, Jim Pasternak’s seminar emphasizes one of the hardest subtleties of directing: working with actors. Using and referencing pointers from a well-known acting book, Jim begins to introduce participants to the language of actors. At one point on my road to becoming a director, an actor suggested the same book to me. Jim puts the students in the mindset of an actor by making them do acting warm up exercises as well as small staged scenes directed by the other participants. In addition to showing how an actor breaks down a scene, Jim introduces a thorough and detailed method to break down scenes as a director. He allows plenty of time to practice and develop the procedure. His approach takes patience and discipline to learn and apply, but it turns a screenplay into a detailed blueprint of how to work with every moment of every scene.

Guy and Jim have diverse and equally effective styles. Guy is a little more nuts-and-bolts, Jim is a little more theory and film as art. Guy seems left-brained, Jim right-brained. Guy’s a little more platoon leader, Jim is a little more mentor. Assistant Directors and UPM’s and bond companies would send their directors to Guy, whereas Film professors and critics might send them to Jim. Jim is the kind of eclectic—pull-from-all-areas-intellectual- teacher that Robin Williams played in Dead Poet’s Society. His experience as a teacher is wide and he has clearly spent a lot of energy to develop his course. Guy, the no-nonsense veteran who has more episodic television directing credits than I can mention, doesn’t mince words. He cuts to the chase: giving you his opinion which is usually a brilliantly simple solution to a complex problem.

Below, I’ve tried to quantify Jim and Guy’s seminars with 5 being the strongest score. Rather than just adding up their columns, use their emphasis and teaching style to try to figure out which seminar might make more sense for you. Fortunately, both Jim Pasternak and Guy Magar’s directing seminars are well planned and stand as independent and comprehensive classes, yet one would find only a small amount of redundancy in taking both courses. If you’ve never been on a set, but you’ve been to film school, take Guy’s class. If you’ve worked on a lot of sets, but you never went to film school, then take Jim’s. And if the start date of your directing debut has been postponed 3 months, take both classes. It’s a win-win situation.

Element
Magar
Pasternak
Overview of Filmmaking process and techniques
5
2
Logistics of set ups and making your day
5
2
Focus on Acting and working with actors
2
5
Poetic nature of film as art
2
5
Shows coverage and final product
5
3
Interactive
3
5
Talks about director’s reel and how to find work
5
3
You shoot film or tape
5
Exercises
2
5
Working in Groups
5
Instructor shows examples of own work
5
Actual production documents and explanation
5
3