The Craft of the Director: David O. Russell

May 19, 2016 A Special Projects Committee Event

On May 19, DGA members gathered in the Guild’s Los Angeles Theater for the special event, The Craft of the Director: David O. Russell. Hosted by the DGA Special Projects Committee, the evening was the second in this new series of conversations with master filmmakers that feature an in-depth discussion about the directing process, illustrated by clips from their work. The series was inaugurated in 2015 with The Craft of the Director: Christopher Nolan.

To kick off the evening, DGA President Paris Barclay welcomed the attendees to the event with the two-time DGA Award-nominee.

“We are all familiar with David O. Russell’s body of work,” said Barclay. “He satirized the first Gulf War with Three Kings; examined mental instability with Silver Linings Playbook and drug addiction with The Fighter. As the educational arm of the Guild, the Special Projects Committee is committed to great events like tonight, we invited David to talk about his directing process and provide insights on his approach to the craft.”

Russell then sat down for an in-depth conversation moderated by Special Projects Committee Chair Jeremy Kagan. The evening was illustrated by clips from Russell’s work, followed by his insights on production design in his 2013 feature American Hustle; casting and script in his 2010 feature The Fighter; camera movement and creative collaboration in his 1999 feature Three Kings; and performance in his 2012 feature Silver Linings Playbook.

Music and the rhythm or structure of a scene was an important topic for Russell.

“I play music that is in the scene as [the actors] walk the scene so they have a feeling of rhythm” said Russell. “Rhythm is everything. My actors will sometimes say to me, ‘Please give me a line reading’ because they want to hear the rhythm of how I'm hearing it. I thought it was verboten, you're not to do that, but rhythm is character. How I talk tells you something about me and you can get to the heart of the character from the inside, from what my emotional story is at the moment; or from the outside, from how I dress and how I carry myself and how I talk… When Bradley Cooper was running through town in Silver Linings Playbook I told him a rhythm that was in his head, which told him what his energy was… It made him feel that he had this... manic desire to put his life back together and to find his ex-wife and so that's in his eyes.”

Born in New York City, Russell started as a writer before making his first documentary short about the Hispanic immigrant community in Boston. He earned critical acclaim in 1994 with his first feature film, Spanking the Monkey, which won the Audience Award at Sundance and two Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay. His other works include the feature films Three Kings and Flirting with Disaster. He garnered Academy Award nominations in both writing and directing for his 2012 feature Silver Linings Playbook and DGA and Oscar nominations for directing his 2010 feature The Fighter and his 2013 feature American Hustle. He has been a DGA member since 1998.

About The Special Projects Committee

Special Projects is the educational and cultural arm of the Directors Guild of America, providing its members opportunities for creative exchange to advance their craft and celebrate the achievements of directors and their teams.

Pictures & Video

photos by Howard Wise

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David O. Russell
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Amercican Hustle NY Q&A
Director Q&As in Los Angeles and New York
DGA Q&As 2012
Director Q&As in Los Angeles and New York