Friday, October 21, 2011

Figuring It Out



As a young actor, I had the good fortune to be directed by Delbert Mann in a television movie. Because of timing constraints, my part didn't make the final cut but Mann, ever the gentleman, wrote me a lovely note with assurances that it had naught to do with the quality of my work.

Before he died in 2007, Delbert Mann directed more than one hundred television dramas and feature films. The latter included "Marty" and "Desire Under the Elms." Suffice to say, Delbert Mann knew his craft. But that's not what stuck with me.

I'd started my professional acting career at the age of nineteen, so by the time I arrived on Mann's set, I'd already heard enough screaming voices to know that sort of angst did not help the creative process.

On Delbert Mann's set, crew members efficiently completed tasks, actors huddled in corners poring over scripts, and the director flowed through everything with the calm of a lazy river.

I'd never seen anything like it. Not in the theatre and certainly not on a film set, where time is money and more money and people are usually in a state of squirrelly panic.

But here was the kicker: when approached with a question, Mann would take a second to ponder and then either give a short, clear answer...or say, "I don't know....Let's figure that out."

"I don't know. Let's figure that out"?

Good God, what was he thinking? How could he have let his guard down like that? What would happen if our leader didn't have the answer?

Here's what happened: they figured it out, the actors acted, the cinematographer got the shots, the designers made their set adjustments, and the movie got made on time and on budget.

Delbert Mann's answer was a life lesson for me. I'd never heard a parent, teacher, coach, producer or director ever say I don't know. Let's figure that out.

Delbert Mann both defined and inspired confidence.

Imagine when a child asks us why?, how?, where?, when? and why?...why?...why...?

We answer: I don't know. Let's figure that out.

CHILDREN'S WRITES: A Journal Entry
Dear Lysander,

My love, we go to forist tonight and get married, right? What if someone finds out? I'm very excited what thea do! Marry Valintines day!

Love,
Hermia

P.S. I love you
—Rebecca, 3rd grade

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