Hat tip to Zoo O for sending me this LA Times article. It’s about Scott Cooper, the first-time director of the new film Crazy Heart The critics can’t stop effusing about the performances of Jeff Bridges and others in the film.

And who is this first-time director who has gotten these great performances from his actors, and where did he come from? Turns out, he’s an actor.

From the LA Times article:

Scott Cooper, who after working in TV and film for more than a decade as an actor has suddenly made a splash as the rookie writer-director of “Crazy Heart.”

And, it turns out there is plenty of good precedent for actors turning into great directors:

For years, thousands of young Hollywood wannabes have been paying top dollar to get a film school education, figuring that it is the best way to break into the movie business. But it turns out that if you want a career as an admired filmmaker, one of the shortest lines to success is to put in some time working as an actor. If you study the Oscar history books, it is nothing short of remarkable how many great films over the last few decades have been made by directors who began their careers as actors.

The article presents an impressive list of luminary directors that started out as actors, such as Clint Eastwood and Sean Penn. It mentions some less famous ones as well, such as Tom McCarthy, who made The Station Agent, and who was two years ahead of me at the Drama School, in the acting program.

The article suggests that the experience of acting is invaluable for putting a film together:

Having often spent years working out scenes in acting classes and observing great filmmakers on movie sets, actors have a keen eye and ear for the right rhythm and tone that help form the creative architecture of a good movie.

Scott Cooper himself concurs:

“I think actors make good directors because they understand behavior,” says Cooper, 39…

More than once I have been approached by a filmmaker about taking my classes. They say something like “I learned a lot in film school about blocking a scene and placing the camera, but I didn’t really learn very much about acting.” And these are the more conscious ones. I have also encountered filmmakers who are completely ignorant about acting, and don’t even know they’re in the dark.

The article talks a bit about how Cooper went about making the movie, and apparently, he kept his mind very open:

During filming, Cooper was a sponge, listening to anyone with a good idea, especially one that lent more grit to the story. In the opening of the movie, we see Bridges pull into town in his woebegone ’78 Chevy Suburban, emptying a Sparkletts bottle full of urine in a parking lot. “That came from Stephen Bruton,” says Cooper, referring to the recently deceased country singer — a mainstay in Kristofferson’s band — who worked on much of the film’s music with Burnett. “He said he’d often drive 300 miles between gigs and he needed to find a way so he never had to stop to take a

[leak]. So, man, that felt so perfect. It went right into the movie.”

I have written previously about the director/actor relationship, and I would wager that Cooper’s open mind comes from his life experience as an actor. He undoubtedly worked for many directors who thought they knew best and didn’t need input from anyone else. In the post I wrote, I invoke William Ball, the founder of ACT, to show just how wrong-headed this attitude was. Unfortunately, it is about as pervasive as it is misguided. So pervasive is it that Ball dedicated his book, in which he argues for the urgency of directors behaving respectfully and with deference towards actors, “to the well-being of actors everywhere.”

You just don’t get a steady stream (no pun intended) of great ideas like the urine bottle above unless you give heed to the ideas of other people, as well as your own. So aspiring directors out there: take some time to find out how the other half lives. No question you will be the better for it.

Andrew Wood Acting Studio