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Debbie Allen: The Director In-Depth


The Shoot

Approaching a Scene

"The first thing that goes into shooting a scene is understanding what's on the page. What are we conveying? What is the intent of the scene? What is the need, the object, the action, the obstacle? What is the tone? Is it funny? Is it sad? Does it move the story forward or reveal character, or both? You have to examine a scene on the page first. Then you get into the basics of acting: Who are you? Who are you talking to? How do you feel about that person? Then you get to things like how can I light this, and how do I shoot it? What do I want it to look like? There are so many considerations."


The Script
A page from the script


Facing Money and Time Constraints

Call Sheet

EnlargeA detail of the Call Sheet from Day 9 showing what must be done on that shooting day


"The biggest challenge was that we had to shoot so quickly and with such a limited budget.

But out of limitations comes creativity."
"Time management is a big part of the director's job.

Everything has to be well thought out -- what do you really need, when can you do with less coverage. Even when you have a big budget, you can't just shoot everything. There are some scenes that work beautifully in a moving, sweeping master, which is how I like to work."


Pacing the Shoot

"As far as pacing the shoot is concerned, I know when I've got it. I don't think there's any reason to take ten takes unless you need them.

There were some scenes where I took ten takes and there were some where I took one.

I didn't need the insurance. I do it again if my DP tells me it didn't look good in the camera or if the actors didn't hit their marks. But if everything was working why do it again? I'm always moving forward. That's just how I am, which I can see when I look at the dailies and notice when I say, 'Cut!' I'll stop to get what I need to get but then I move on. I always know when I have it and can move on."


Directing the Actors

"I'm respectful of other artists and I think there is a way to talk to actors to let them know they are making this. It all has to come through them. A director just pushes them a little this way or that way.

You keep molding them and you can get the performance you really want and that they are able to give."

I have a lot of funny lines, but they all come out of [Quilly's] character. It's how Quilly sees the world. She always just calls it like it is. Whereas other people might be more restrained, Quilly has to comment. So by the end of the play, when she becomes very quiet, that's a real change."

"I direct actors with what I call 'broad strokes.'

I think a good director casts a film so that the actors bring a lot to the table.

Then you give your actors broad strokes based on what your idea is for what is going on in the room and the circumstances surrounding it."


Debbie Allen Directing
Debbie Allen directs Crystal Fox (as Lou Bessie), Randy J. Goodwin (as Bucket) and Eartha Robinson (as Lula Mae)



Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen (with her back to the camera) confer with cast and crew


"In the film world you don't often get much rehearsal time. Only on big-budget films do you have the opportunity to rehearse for a week or two. Usually you hit the ground running. You may get a day or two at most with the actors.

But it was not possible to do this movie, in this matter of time, without a solid rehearsal period.

There was too much to absorb. So we had about an 8-day rehearsal, a lot for a movie of this nature. It helped a lot. We were all familiar with the rooms, the props. We knew what we were doing in each room and who we were."


Casting   |   The Shoot   |   The Camera



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