From guiding pop culture icons through complex dance and music productions, to helming beloved TV series, Director Jonathan Judge has been the driving force behind an amazing number of groundbreaking projects. Having risen through the ranks by taking on nearly every production job possible, he is at the top of the Rolodex when the time comes to hire a director, especially when a new series pilot needs a steady hand. His credits include Blues Clues, The Let’s Go Show, LazyTown, Johnny and the Sprites, Imagination Movers, The Naked Brothers Band, Tosh.0, Bar Karma, Zeke and Luther, The Fresh Beat Band, Supah Ninjas, Fred: The Show, Camp Fred, Big Time Rush, See Dad Run, Swindle and The Thundermans. Somewhere along the way he has found time to become a husband (to Costume Designer Chris Field) and father to energetic twin sons. He has been nominated for four Emmys and has won a BAFTA for Best Direction.
You have directed all kinds of projects, including movies and music videos. Obviously the energy level required changes a lot depending on the scene – how do you maintain control over the pace and emotional content?
“Each project has its own tone, its own overall pace. Its very important to establish that, be very conscious of it before you begin. Using music, other movies, even photographs to find that energy level you want for the project is a thing I like to do in preproduction. If it’s a project for hire then I have to communicate that level to the EP’s or the client or the band. Then you have to get that across to the DP, the production designer and the actors and finally the editor. I worked with someone a few years back who would always say “hear the music of the scene.” And I often use that especially with young actors on set – I’ll sing out the score as we rehearse so they know how I am planning on cutting this together. It helps a lot with action and comedy. The rhythm, the beat, the silences and the crescendos. Now within a scene or a commercial, that is easier to maintain – we are talking 30 seconds to 4 minutes. Over the course of a movie there will be a bunch of scenes, all with their unique energy and rhythm – some slow, some fast some incredibly dynamic. But the challenge is to keep in mind the overall picture. And often in editing you find you missed that but luckily, if you shoot smart, and get choices from your actors, you can manufacture that in the edit. And there is a built-in filter, a muscle that gets stronger the more you shoot and edit where something just doesn’t ring true on set. It’s off, and often I cant verbalize it but I’ll go over it with the actor, DP, etc. and we’ll find what it ringing false (not just in terms of emotion but in rhythm, in comedy and fix it).”
You’ve been very successful in bringing new shows to the public. What are some of the key elements you aim for when you give life to a new project?
“It’s so energizing to bring a new project to life. I love working off of a vision from the writer and creator. The early process is sitting down and hearing their inspirations and then giving them my thoughts. And then it’s a calvacade of references and inspirations – I’ll bring up clips of old sitcoms, movies, commercials, music videos, paintings photographs. The key elements to any project are – #1 the story and characters, then the look, the pace and the tone. The style of shooting, Most shows or movies have been written but no one has really laid out the overall vision of the final project. A house has been sold, but it’s only the blueprint on paper, an intangible idea of the house. And my job with the other keys is to build that house and get it to look as much like, or hopefully better than the buyer/writer/EP imagined. Many people can’t visualize – or even after you discuss what you want to do they are not on the same page. Preproduction – discussing, walking through sets, talking about looks, and as much as possible having visual references are essential. And then something magical usually happens on the set when you have a group of dedicated and incredibly talented people all working towards a common goal. Things you never even planned but because you put the key elements together and had a vision – they creatively erupt.”
Is there anything you learned in school or in your earliest efforts that you keep in the back of your mind as you work now?
“There are some key things I learned in school that I relearn all the time. Start your story 5 pages later, get CU’s of your actors no matter what. Small but technical things. But I learned, and continue to learn the most from editing. In editing you see everything you did well and everything you did not, or you failed to do while directing. You keep making mental notes: hold shots longer, start shots overlapping, get various reactions or line readings. You also start to learn what coverage you don’t need and can economize your shooting approach. I like to shoot a lot of coverage. But i also use most of that coverage.”
“Big thing to learn – if you communicate well and have the right people they will make you look way better than you could yourself. Listen to others but have a clear idea of what you want, because many people have their own ideas. Many people on set may question what you are doing, but if you know and can communicate clearly, they can help bring your vision to life.”
What do you expect from actors? Do you prefer that they come with a full game plan in mind? Or do you like to experiment on the set?
|“I like actors who have thought about the material, and are trying things. A full game plan is fine – preparation is key. But flexibility is even more important. They may have an idea in mind when they arrive on set and it might not be in my, or the EP’s or the clients vision. Then I need to be able to work with them so we can both capture that vision. I like to rehearse a little before shooting because I am rarely given the luxury of schedules which allow a lot of time to experiment on set. In rehearsal we can try everything and often I do, even if we think it’s wrong so that we can settle on what we like and what we want to do in front of the cameras. And then of course I like to play on set, to shake them up, have them try new things. I just want to make sure we got what we intended and then try something different.” What are some of the daily challenges a director faces? Besides budget and scheduling realities, are there things that might surprise someone looking to become a director?
“One cannot underplay the realities of time and scheduling on a director. If you do not get the restrictions, if you do not plan for contingencies you will not get what you want. Working inside those boxes AND being creative and true to your vision is the challenge.
I’ve been surprised at how many people who hire you do not really know what it is a director does. I think Cocteau called making a film a sinking ship and it’s a little true. You start out with an idea and a plan and you take on water very quickly. I have my best case scenario (which does happen) and then the good plan and then the worst case scenario plan – we dig in and we need to get this to tell the story. You never know what little thing will suck up your time. A prop, a late actor, rain, anything can affect your day and thus your episode or movie or video. You have to try and make yourself bulletproof with your plan but also be able to change the tires on a movie vehicle.” Wow, I mixed a lot of metaphors there.
What was your favorite TV show when you were a kid?
“I loved 3,2,1 Contact, The A-team. I loved Dukes of Hazzard and in high school I loved Moonlighting.”