Why Great Writers and Directors Ask Great Questions Part 2


This article continues from PART ONE of “Why great writers and directors ask great questions”.

This entire video interview is fantastic and I highly recommend watching it in full, not only once but several times to really absorb their incredible advice for your own benefit and future success.

The summary of this entire article is, “If you want to become a great screenwriter, director, film producer or actor is to simply, ask great questions and listen.”

What you will learn:

  • Directing actors
  • Dealing with discouraging family or friends
  • Dealing with self-doubt
  • The importance of the screenplay format
  • The writer and director
  • Directing tips
  • How long does it take to “make it”?
  • Great casting tips
  • Story first, gear second

Directing Actors

The difference between directing an actor and directing the character is this. When you direct an actor, you are telling them, “be more aggressive”, “be vulnerable”, “I want more rage”, etc. Giving generic direction like that, will create a generic performance. But, when you direct the character within the actor, you ask questions like, “why are you here? Are you upset? Why are you upset? Do you really want to be here right now?” And so on, and when you are asking these questions and hearing the responses from your character (actor) you are going deeper into the mindset of the character and that begins to evoke genuine authentic emotions and feelings within the actor and from that you’ll get an authentic performance.

Mark mentions that after every take, it’s important to acknowledge the actors work by saying, “Thank you, very good.” Too often, most directors after each take, they may begin speaking to all the other departments to set up the next scene and completely ignore the actors. But, he suggests to acknowledge them first and then speak to the rest of the crew.

Mark also mentions that, it’s important for the director to create a safe environment for the actors, where the set is free from criticism. When you begin criticizing the performance of an actor, the actor will begin shutting down all of their emotions, walls will go up and it’ll be significantly harder to get a great performance out of them. To avoid this, simply acknowledge their work and performance, by saying thank you after each take. It doesn’t have to be much, but a little goes along way. This will allow the actor to be open and available to you as a director to get the performance you want out of them.

In Mark’s perspective as a director, there are 9 “questions” you can ask that can be looked at as a sequence that can help you with directing. The 9 questions are in one of the books Mark has written called, “Directing Feature Films: The Creative Collaboration between Director, Writers, and Actors”.

But some of those questions are:

  • What is the story about?
  • Do you understand the script?
  • Do you understand the character?

It’s important for any director to understand all these key questions about the script and story, before hiring actors and dealing with cameras and equipment.

Sometimes when an actor and director don’t know how to approach a situation within the story. One option you can try is to allow the actor to try a whole range of emotions or behaviors that way they can pick the right take that fits with the story they want to tell in post-production while editing.

Dealing with discouraging family or friends

How do you deal with family members or close friends who are discouraging you from entering the film industry as a career? (Following opinion is a mix of my own as well as what Michael is saying in the video) It’s important to note that, most of the time your family and friends care about your future and only want the best for you. And their advice, as discouraging as it may sound, is based off of fear, that you may not make it so have a backup plan to fall back on in case. So, why not go to school first, get a secure job and THEN do all this filmmaking stuff on the side if it works out.

Trouble with that is, it can be extremely difficult to, go to school, or work, then come home take care of your kids, spend time with your spouse, take care of other chores and THEN, spend a brief moment focusing on your film career, if there even is any time left in the day.

As the filmmaker on the receiving end of that message, if you are truly passionate about becoming a filmmaker and understand that you will be faced with a lot of challenges, adversities and failures for possibly many years before you become successful and earning a living doing what you love. Then, it’s important to disengage from people or environments discouraging you from who you want to be. It’s sometimes very difficult for people to truly understand and see who you are deep down inside. So, as hard as it may be, don’t tell them what you are doing if you know the response is going to be negative.

You want to stay away from that negativity. If you are not getting positive encouragement from those close to you, then find people with a similar passion as you, other writers, directors or filmmakers. Take classes, go to meetings, etc. Be around other passionate positive people who are on the same journey as you and can help out one another achieve a common goal.

Dealing with self-doubt

Sometimes Mark is confronted with a director who may be insecure of their directing abilities and so Mark asks them a simple question, “Imagine if you stopped directing, forever, would you be okay with that?” If the director says, yes, well then, clearly this individual is not that passionate about becoming a filmmaker and should probably quit. But if you said, “No, I want to direct, I have to do this.” Then, it’s that inner drive and passion that will overcome all the obstacles of family, friends, self-doubt, and a whole range of other challenges that will come your way.

Passion can sometimes or arguably every time, overcome a lack in talent or quality of your work, be it writing, directing, producing or acting. Many well-known creative artists have mentioned that there passion for the craft is what brought them more success than those who may be more talented.

Having pure passion is one of the key ingredients to achieving success.

The Importance of the Screenplay Format

The purpose of following a ‘structured’ screenplay format or formula is to maximize the emotional experience of the reader. A good story structure allows the audience to remain engaged constantly throughout the telling of the story.


The Writer and Director

A great question most directors don’t ask their writers is, “What compelled you to write the script?” Understanding the deeper meaning to this question from the writer, can reveal where the writer is coming from and the direction the script may need.

Directing Tips

While directing, every scene has a core moment, a moment near the end of the scene, sometimes even for a brief moment that reveals WHY this scene exists in the movie. This reveal can be something directly related to the characters in the movie or something revealed to the audience. In other words, something has dramatically changed at the end of every scene. So as a director, if you understand what that CORE moment is in the scene you are directing, you know exactly what to aim for and how to direct the actors.

How long does it take to “make it”?

Both Michael and Mark believe it’s not important how LONG it takes to “make it” in the film industry. They prefer to focus on what DRIVES you, how passionate are you? And so forth. Because, that’s ultimately what matters in the end. There is no average time of how long it takes for a writer or director to achieve a certain level of success. That largely depends on a person to person basis. It’s also important to be get stuck working on a single idea or movie for years and years if it’s having trouble getting off the ground. Always be working on multiple projects, and helping each of them to fruition.

Michael mentions that you shouldn’t focus on how long it’ll take to become successful. But to set specific immediate goals that you can achieve now. Such as, finishing your screenplay by the end of the month. Then setting another goal like, finding a film producer to help film financing. And so on. Slowly heading towards your ultimate goal of success and not worrying about how long it’ll take because that is impossible to know.

Mark adds, “Measure success in small little bite-sizes.”

Great Casting Tips

During the casting session, have the actor read the script with some direction and then as soon as they finish it, immediately begin talking to the CHARACTER, not the actor. Normally, the actor will be a little surprised but that shock will bring out the character in them and now they’re not acting, but behaving as the character. Actors, don’t want more direction, or how to act. What they want is to be the character. Once you’ve gone through the interrogation process after the first read-through, then we’ll do another take without any additional direction other than having revealed the character out of the actor to create a more authentic performance.

Another casting tip is to focus on finding the best CHARACTER, not the best actor who can play the character in your script. Every actor you are testing, will have their own unique version of this character. And you need to find the one that portrays this character the best.

Story First, Gear Second

Too often, new filmmakers simply want to learn about all the technical aspects of filmmaking as the main priority and neglect the basics of how to tell a compelling story. Michael and Mark suggest that new filmmakers, if not all filmmakers should focus on the story FIRST, and getting that down before worrying about which camera to use, which lens to use, etc.


If you found this article helpful, I highly recommend checking out the following books that goes into more detail on how to write a screenplay or directing tips.

Writing Screenplays That Sell

Directing Feature Films: The Creative Collaboration Between Director, Writers, and Actors

Recommended Resources

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (#1 Best Seller)

Guerilla Filmmaking

The Million Dollar Screenplay! Write your movie today!

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    Why Great Writers and Directors Ask Great Questions Part 2
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