September 17, 2013

Ron Howard on Filmmaking: 'It's All About Taste and Judgement'

Ron HowardRon Howard has been a presence in Hollywood, either as an actor or director, for decades. As a child actor, he was beloved as the character Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. As a Hollywood director, Howard has worked in almost every genre, from family films like Parenthood to thrillers like Ransom or his newest, Rush. Howard sat down to give a few thoughts on filmmaking to BAFTA (The British Academy of Film and Television Arts), and when as consummate a filmmaker as Howard speaks, we would be wise to listen. Click below to hear Howard's thoughts on acting, editing and the role of a director!

Howard is not only one of the few child stars to successfully make the transition to an adult career in the industry, he has done so in rather stunning fashion, directing dozens of film in his career. Starting his career working for the legendary low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman, Ron Howard has made films in almost every genre imaginable. Some of his thoughts on the art of filmmaking:

Key Qualities of a Successful Director

When it comes to directors, Howard wryly notes:

You know directors, some of them -- some of us are sweethearts, some of us are jerks, some of us are talkative, some are very quiet. None of that really matters very much -- although, you know, I always think it's nice to be decent to people, but that's me. It's not imperative. The big thing is taste -- taste and judgement. That's what it's all about. It's understanding, you know, what exists in the possibilities in the story you're interested in telling, and how many of those details can you capture, how can you sequence them in the editing? What does that add up to?

Indeed, Howard has a reputation as a nice guy in Hollywood, but at the end of the day, being nice isn't what matters as a director. For Howard, the most important element is "taste" and "judgment" and that the crucial question for all directors at the end of the day is, "What did you get? What does it mean?" To Howard, it doesn't matter how you get there, only that you get there.

He also makes the point that a director's main job is to have the taste to make the decisions that will affect the final film. Very rarely are they able to control every aspect of a film, but a director is able, by the people they work with and the way they explain their particular "vision" to everyone, from the DP, to the actors, to the Costume Designer, to influence the film -- to direct it, as it were.

On Acting

Howard advises anyone, from directors to writers and producers, to do some acting work, whether it's taking classes or appearing in plays. By being an actor, he says, the director will have a better view of "the story," and an appreciation for one of its most important parts.

On Wanting To Direct

Howard says that, even as a child, "I had it in my mind -- that I might one day want to be a director." He used the 8mm camera he received as a gift to make short films, and it is here that he discovered and began to "grasp an understanding of the power of editing."

When Ron Howard's speaks, I think we should all listen. He always proves to be interesting and informative. What is your take on Ron Howard's thoughts on filmmaking? Let us know in the comments below.

[via BAFTA Guru]

Your Comment

34 Comments

Let me be the first to say Rush was just incredible, i couldn't believe how good it was, by far the best 'mainstream' film of the year, a tiny bit heavy handed perhaps but Oscars surely will follow. It deserves to be widely seen when it opens in the states, phenomenal piece of film making.

September 17, 2013 at 5:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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andy

Yea, "taste and judgement" are great for someone like Ron Howard... who can simply say what he likes while his his crew makes the movie for him. The rest of us, who actually have to craft the product ourselves, should probably look elsewhere for advice.

September 17, 2013 at 7:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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bwhitz

You mean like back in the day when he opted to take the director-role for Grand Theft Auto with only the pay for being a relatively unknown actor in a cheapest possible Roger Corman flick... yeah. He has no Idea what a low budget director has to go through...

September 18, 2013 at 9:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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This makes no sense. Taste and judgment are important no matter what budget you're shooting with. In fact, it may be MORE important in a no budget student film because that's all you have.

September 18, 2013 at 11:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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roccoforte

+1 ed. Bitter senseless comments help neither the commentator nor readers.

September 18, 2013 at 8:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Maxim Drygin

Yep...when I'm making my own stuff, I can't always know what makes something great, but I know what makes something lame or awful...so just steer as far away from that as possible and that does help.

September 19, 2013 at 2:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Muh

wow dude, what's your problem?

September 20, 2013 at 1:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I have news for the bitter pill commenter. Ron Howard didn't get where he is without a lot of hard work and certainly knows what he is doing. I would listen to anything that man considers worth talking about.

September 20, 2013 at 4:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gary

Really. What's with all the Jealousy ? The guy's successful. You think he didn't work at it ?

September 20, 2013 at 11:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dheep'

You still need taste and judgement regardless if you are wearing more than one hat on seat mate. Your comment makes no sense.

Sounds like you have giant stick up your ass.

September 17, 2013 at 7:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Luke R

Or the lack of taste, if you're John Waters.

September 17, 2013 at 10:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Great messages for actors, directors, editors...anyone involved really.

September 17, 2013 at 10:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Its great to hear some advise from Ron Howard, he was the first director I ever worked with and he's still my favorite. He's genuine, down to earth and an all around nice guy and a huge inspiration to me!

September 18, 2013 at 2:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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David

Just started on my dream of film school this week in the UK. Thanks to NoFilmSchool and articles/advice like this. Great. Keep it coming.

September 18, 2013 at 3:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Congrats! Good luck!

September 21, 2013 at 10:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Justin Morrow
Writer
Writer/Director

No offense, Ron is probably one of the last people I'd take advice from.

September 18, 2013 at 8:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Natt

Any particular reasons why?

September 18, 2013 at 8:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

I'd love to see your reel stacked up against his. Why don't you post it?

September 18, 2013 at 11:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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roccoforte

He's like, mainstream man! Like, not at all edgy, not like US!

September 19, 2013 at 2:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Muh

Not sure how one can hate on Ron Howard. He's pretty solid and the advice is this video was pretty straight forward about what directing boils down to in it's simplest form. If you really think about it - it's pretty accurate. If you could throw your favorite directors all the same script - they'd each make a movie which resulted in their personal taste in camera angles and lighting and the decisions they made with how each scene plays out - and I bet you'd love some versions and hate others - but unless the directors and the same tastes you'd find the movies very different.

Is there some kind of movie director simulator I can download? Sounds like this is actually a fun idea now that I think about it....

September 23, 2013 at 3:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jer

Good stuff NFS! Keep posting.

September 18, 2013 at 11:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dennis

Worked with Ron on 2 films. He is underestimated as he is remembered as a child actor, and does not have the persona or reputation of a Scorsese or Tarantino. But how many directors work with A list talent for 30 years? Very few. This is why: 1) total understanding of actors, how to work with them, handle their different styles/strengths/vulnerabilities. He got Russell Crowe, a notoriously difficult actor, his Oscar. Worked with him twice. 2) know production demands and push them. He is a disciplined shooter, works with a shot list, knows when to pick up extra shots. He shoots films on budget and on time; Hollywood is lined with bodies of hot directors who were just simply too creative and passionate to work on a budget and on a schedule.

September 18, 2013 at 1:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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ed

He is mostly persona. His directing career is still built on riding coattails of Happy Days and Andy Griffith.
Huge budgets with mediocre substance. Splash is the best of the bunch and it is far from a classic.
Made in America (Documentary)
2013/I Rush ---
2011 The Dilemma
2010 Presidential Reunion (Video short)
2010 Heidi Montag Says No to Plastic (Video short)
2009 Angels & Demons
2008 Frost/Nixon
2006 The Da Vinci Code
2005 Cinderella Man
2003/I The Missing
2001 A Beautiful Mind
2000 How the Grinch Stole Christmas
1999 Edtv
1996 Ransom
1995 Apollo 13
1994 The Paper
1992 Far and Away
1991 Backdraft
1989 Parenthood
1988 Willow
1987 Take Five (TV Movie)
1986 Gung Ho
1985 Cocoon
1984 Splash
1983 Little Shots (TV Movie)

September 19, 2013 at 3:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jake Jabbs

That's a better filmography than a whole lot of other people. Sure he's not like a Tarantino or a Scorsese, but who is? Howard would have fit in with old-time Hollywood, making big mainstream dramas. There's a place for that too.

September 19, 2013 at 2:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Muh

I hate it when people do that 'Let's see your reel!' counter commenting. It contributes nothing. What does alarm me is the complete lack of respect for someone who's carved out a 30 year career shooting films at that level. I would wager that very few of the people commenting on here have ever directed a feature film. I have and, no matter how many shorts you've made, no matter how wonderful your videos are on Vimeo, when you're 'helming' a commercial feature the pressures and sheer weight of obstacles put in your way are just a different level.

The guy may not instantly wow you the way a Park Chan Wook or a Wes Anderson can but the skill required to do what he does shouldn't be underestimated.

As always, the difference between "I don't like" and "It's shit" is one that very few seem capable of understanding.

September 19, 2013 at 6:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Agree. I'm all for the collective discussion and debate of Ron Howard's merits as a director. But, the nonsensical criticisms and diatribes are both baseless and inane. The amount of cynicism and basically "trollism" is baffling. Ron Howard is an excellent storyteller. While he may not challenge the likes of other more "cutting edge" film makers, he does bring an honesty to the material that manifests it self in his choices. Thanks to the forum contributors that prevents this forum from being no better than the YouTube comment section.

September 19, 2013 at 7:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Rob

I don't think the "Let's see your reel" thing is without merit. If you're going to criticize and not offer constructive analysis, you need to be able to back it up with credentials. I'm pretty sick of faceless attacks.

September 19, 2013 at 12:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Well, maybe, but 'my reel's better than yours' doesn't really cut it for me. Critical discussion should live separately from creative endeavour. The moment you ask someone to give time or money to watch your work then you give them a mandate to be critical. THat should be the way it works. What we're talking about here is reducing Ron Howard to a hack based on what I see as a total misunderstanding of what he actually does, and what any director does. It's a very different job to the one many think it is.

I'll stand toe to toe with any mug on the basis of reels but it gets you nowhere. An articulate and well-reasoned defence of what you believe is actually the cornerstone of all directing, or at least it should be. In that alone critical appreciation by filmmakers ought to be blinding. But of course it isn't. It takes a bigger person to admit the value of something you don't personally like. But most creatives are destructively narrow-minded.

September 20, 2013 at 8:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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To be fair, in Hollywood you fail UP.

September 20, 2013 at 4:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Robert Task Smith

I cant wait to see how peoples thoughts on Howard will change when they see Rush. Hopefully being a British independent film(albeit a well funded one) about formula 1 won't mean it doesn't do well in the U.S.

September 19, 2013 at 11:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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andy

I saw it yesterday. Very entertaining but I thought it had a fatal flaw… the way the story was structured. It used a kind of dual protagonist approach which really didn't work for me. Niki Lauda clearly should have been the main character. He had the most dramatic journey. Hell, they even gave him voiceover power and let him open and close the film. However, they tried to tell the stories of both men and spend equal time with them. This really took the wind out of the middle of the film. We never got to spend enough time with Lauda to see him as anything more than a talented bore, and we never got to spend enough time with Hunt to see him as anything more than a cliched playboy. Trying to be true and/or fair to real life events doesn't always make for the best story-telling. The writing could have used a bit more poetic license.
Despite this it was still a fun watch. The race sequences were exhilarating (and very LOUD) and Hemsworth pulled off a convincingly plummy accent.

September 19, 2013 at 6:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

I'd say look at the capsule landing sequence in apollo 13 for edits on how to sustain tension, directing actors and music. these are all mostly reaction shots, no talking or movement, mostly close ups on faces. many other followup films have imitated this sequence

September 19, 2013 at 5:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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ed

This is great and simple advice coming from a very sane voice in cinema.

One interaction with Imagine Entertainment and anybody will understand how much humility goes into making such great films.

September 20, 2013 at 4:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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B S Kumar

One thing I think Ron Howard does very well is characters. His development is always entertaining to watch. I also like his values the movies he chooses to shoot and the way he goes about shooting them. Can not wait to watch RUSH this weekend.

September 23, 2013 at 10:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Cory Ewing