Passing director Rebecca Hall describes every stage of production
ANDRE Holland and Rebecca Hall on the set of Passing. Photo by Emily V. Aragones - Netflix - MAIN IMAGE

Rebecca Hall on the Production of Passing

Since the train had left the station, it was just like, Let’s get this thing done. Let’s somehow get through the day, every day. I knew that was going to be the case. But the actual feeling of that is incredibly pressurizing.

The real gift of being an actor for so many years is seeing how different directors are and how it doesn’t seem to make any difference. The one thing that remained constant in all my years of watching was that the only right way seems to be that director’s peculiar way. Their relationship with the frame. That is what it boils down to — your instincts. Is this exactly to my taste? Is this everything that I want to see? Is it giving me a feeling in my stomach? Or is it not?

And if it isn’t, you’ve got to rethink it, whether it’s about the production, the costume, what’s going on in the story, or whatever it is. That is what it boils down to. And that is entirely personal. I felt very released having that knowledge.

The greatest challenge for me is that I can’t really think in noise. And there is so much noise on film sets. Being a director is everyone asking you these questions all the time. The thing that everyone says about film directing is everyone’s coming in with a million questions and you’ve got to have answers. You’ve got to direct.

At the same time, I felt more energized and alive by the extremity of the pressure than I’ve ever felt in my career. I loved it. I love having to just keep everything rolling.

A large chunk of being a good film director is just trying to communicate what’s going on inside your head to everyone else. And that’s hard. It’s also quite boring, because you say it once and you think it’s fine. But you’ve got to keep saying it again. And again, and again. Then you’ve got to say it four different ways.

And then, once you’re sure that that’s been communicated, you work out how to make sure that everyone is doing their best work, and how to support them doing it. And I love that aspect of the group, of trying to support everyone and help them do their thing.

Rebecca Hall (R) directs Tessa Thompson (L) and Ruth Negga on the set of Passing. Photo by Emily V. Aragones/Netflix

Having a vision is important, and making sure that you articulate that to everyone around you instills people with confidence. But at the same time, show your crew that you are perfectly willing to accept that you might be wrong, or that you don’t know an answer to the question, or that you might work it out later. That helps people feel at ease. The ship is being steered. But everyone’s helping keep the ship going.

I worked for a director once — who I will keep nameless, because this would blow a nice trick — who would occasionally say to me or the other actors: We’ve got it. It’s absolutely great. This one’s just for you. It’s for free.

And that take would inevitably be the best, because the actor would feel at ease. It worked really well on me. I thought this was brilliant. Actually, it was complete nonsense. When they said, We got this, it was a straight-up lie. But it didn’t matter, because the next take was invariably going to be the one.

My father was a theater director, and I would often observe how he handled actors. He always had this uncanny ability to know the right moment to give an actor a note. It’s not just about giving a great note, it’s about giving a great note that can be heard. There are times in the whirlwind of a film set — when an actor hasn’t settled into the scene yet, or when they’re feeling uncomfortable, they’re still working out their props, or any number of things — but there are moments when a note will not be heard, and will actually have the opposite effect of the note and be a disaster.

My experience of the directors that I have worked with, who are the best with actors, is not that they have a one-size-fits-all technique, but they have an intuitive understanding of what every actor individually needs, because we all work differently. The trick is, What’s going to support them the best? What’s going to make them do the work the best?

Some actors might need a lot of help. They might want to talk a lot. Some actors might not need anything at all. Or some actors might need you to not note them until take two, so that they feel like they’ve shown you exactly what they need to give.

A lot of it is how you handle people in the moment, but then there’s a huge other part of it — that’s about how much you have visualized this thing in your head so that it tonally holds together.

Tech Box:

Camera: ARRI ALEXA Mini

Lenses: LOMO Round-Front anamorphics for a 4:3 aspect ratio

Lighting: A lot of natural light with the help of some ARRI S60 SkyPanels and 4K ARRI HMIs

Color Grading: Roman Hankewycz @ Harbor Post

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