Three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg is known for being a directorial genius, and actors who work with him often learn a tremendous amount just from watching his process.
Take actor/writer/director Edward Burns, for example.
In his new memoir, “Independent Ed,” the actor recounts working with Spielberg on the 1998 Oscar-winning film, “Saving Private Ryan.”
Burns discusses how he was incredibly nervous when he began filming — so nervous that he says he “botched” several takes. He even recalls Tom Hanks leaning in and whispering to him to calm down (“I’ve seen you act before, and this isn’t acting!” he claims Hanks said). Yet despite several uncomfortable takes, Spielberg offered zero feedback, which terrified Burns.
“Most directors would have stepped in after my first botched take, offered some notes, and inadvertently rattled my confidence. But this wasn’t Steven’s approach with us. He allowed us several takes to figure things out for ourselves. So much that he didn’t provide any direction for almost two weeks. We did our scenes in two or three takes and then moved on. No feedback. No nothing. The cast figured he hated what we were doing and speculated which one of us would be fired first.”
Spielberg started to give direction a few weeks later. But his early silence wasn’t for naught. It was a strategy to help his actors find their respective ways on their own. According to Burns’ account, Spielberg said:
“I like to give my actors three takes to figure it out. If I step in after the first take and give you a note, especially with young actors, you’ll hear me rather than your own voice.
That might rattle you, too. Hurt your confidence. Or cause you to question your choices. And who ever gets it right on the first or second take?
So I’ll give you time to find it [….] Especially in an ensemble piece where you have four or five guys acting together. It’s going to take everyone a little time to find the beats and gel.”
Burns says working with Spielberg taught him that being a director is “about knowing when to give direction.”
According to Burns, Spielberg later said he steps in when he feels actors are going in the wrong direction “… And then, only with a little note, as little as possible. I’d rather you guys find it.
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