Me and Nina Foch

At USC Film School I think the best class I ever took was a class which focussed on ” Directing Actors”. The class was taught by the one and only Nina Foch who played Moses’ Mother in the Ten Commandments and played the rich sugar Mommy in ” An American in Paris”. She also won and Emmy. In any case, she was brutal , and I mean brutal to the point of extreme cruelty. She would call people out on their cockiness or ineptitude. For my first assignment I directed a scene from ORDINARY PEOPLE. The exercise was to direct one good scene in one good take. I got two really great actors, and I thought I had done an excellent job, but after my scene screened she glared at me and said. ” You have no idea what you are doing. You couldn’t direct yourself out of a paper bag. You just think you are so clever don’t you Mr. Munoz? You think you can walk into my class and act like you are some famous movie director when you haven’t even been paid to direct anything. Let me tell you something Mr. Munoz with a capital M. You are nothing, and you know nothing about directing, but I will admit to you that you show a hint of promise, I’ll hand that to you , but you and that little clever mouse inside of you is going to trip you up. Don’t get caught up with your own brand of cleverness. Or you can kiss your filmmaking career good bye! ” I swallowed a lump that was the size of a baseball. All my class mates just stared at me with seemingly sincere sympathy. Jennifer, my class mate behind me tried to hold my hand to soothe me, but I pulled my hand away real fast. She made a lot of students cry. I never felt so small in my life after I screened that first scene. In any case the last scene I did was from FRANCES and she liked it. When I thanked her for the praise, she said. ” Oh don’t thank me Darling, don’t thank me. It’s not your job to thank me. You have a lot more work to do before you direct a Diva like me. Next scene! ” she shouted. She taught me a lot. Everyone was fearful of her wrath and moodiness, but she was the best instructor I ever had. What is the point in knowing about camera, exposure, lighting, production design if you don’t know how to direct actors ? Nina had this custom where she would invite all her students over for a delicious Sunday brunch with bottomless Mimosas. She made all the food herself, and her house was completely decorated Dutch style. Everything was white and blue. ” Well, if you survived my class, you can survive anything” she told us before our first bite. Midway back to my apartment I realized I left my back pack at her house, I drove back and when her assistant opened the door, I saw Nina with Barry Manilow singing show tunes in her living room. I never realized how tall and bean pole , and well, kinda dorky Barry Mannilow was. Like a tall brittle twig. ” Oh Alex! Darling, you forgot your back pack! Don’t worry we didn’t snoop or peak. Now remember, there is no need to be over clever when you direct ….breath in before each scene , if you relax you will do fine.” Than she gave me a kiss on the cheek and said ” Good luck”. Thank you Nina. Nina Foch passed away in 2008, may she rest in eternal peace. I would not have the rapport I have with my actors today if I did not take her class. The other funny thing about Nina. She would always arrive at class exactly on time, always with 2 or 3 ICM scripts under her left arm, to communicate to us that her relevance would never fade. “Well, they want me again.” She would say while setting her ICM scripts neatly on her desk ” Which one should I take. Well , I’ll worry about that later when I talk to my agent tonight”. Perhaps we should start the class now. Who is up first. Everyone would either tremble or have to make a spontaneous trip to the rest room.22556


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