When An Actor Says Everything Is “Fine” by Mark W. Travis

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Film Courage: Let’s suppose you are encountering arrogance from someone and really what you said before was that it was fear (also too, their ego). Their pride could be hurt because they are thinking “Why do you think I don’t know what I am doing?” Which is not really what you are saying, you’re just wanting to explore more possibilities and let them know that you have a class and coaching available. But how can you turn it around and have it so that they don’t feel hurt (that it’s about their abilities)?

The Film Director’s Bag of Tricks

Mark W. Travis: Okay, that’s a great question. First of all we go back to resistance and the obstacle thing we talked about before because if I attack them or approach them, that whole thing about their arrogance and they’re putting up a wall against other possibilities, the wall will get stronger. So I can’t do that.

But if I say “I know how to work with actors. I know all of that.” Usually I will say “Great…great. Let’s see how this goes.” And then, usually what happens and I’ve seen this and Elsha’s seen this many times, start working with a director and start working with the interrogation process, two things happen very quickly. First of all, they realize that the interrogation process is difficult and that’s a little intimidating. But they hang in. But the other thing that they see is what starts to come out of the characters and they start to see that they are now experiencing something way beyond what they imagined and it probably includes what they thought they wanted. It includes aspects of the character that they want. But they start to see more. They see such a rich terrain in front of them that suddenly the arrogance drops away. So I rely on the power of what I am teaching, the techniques of what I am teaching if I can take them through these skills and allow them to experience it, it will change.

There’s another similar situation, when we get into staging which we talked about before and when I’m doing a workshop on staging and then a director is like “Oh…I know how to stage this thing.” I said “Great.” And they’ll stage it and I’ll look at it and I’ll think “No, there’s much more you can explore.” But rather than tell them “No, you haven’t explored enough. You don’t get it.” I very gently say “Okay, that’s great.” And I’ll say to the actor how do you feel standing there (in the scene). And they’ll go “I feel fine, fine…”

Watch the video interview on Youtube here


Film Courage: Uh oh…fine?

Mark W. Travis: And I’ll say to the director “Okay, she’s standing there at the beginning of the scene and how do you want her to feel?” “She should feel really insecure.” And I say “Okay” and I move the actor a little bit to another place. And I said “Now, how do you feel?” “This is awful, I felt terrible over there.” And I turn to the director and I say “Is that what you want?” He says “Yeah.” And I say “You’ve got it.”

The Director’s Journey

Then he sees “Wow. You did that just by moving her?” Rather than argue about what he knows and what will work, my job is to demonstrate to the directors “Here’s how this works. You can argue whether you need it or not, you can tell me…but let me show you how it works.”

90% of the time directors are blown away. We had a situation here yesterday with a writer. This is a slightly different thing but on a script. And I interrogated the writer as the main character in the script and it took (I don’t know Elsha, what was it about 3 to 5 minutes?) 5 minutes…5 minutes later, first of all he was in tears as the character. He was shaking and in tears because of what the character was experiencing and then the writer, what he was experiencing through the character and went “Oh, my God.” And he realized he had a whole different movie, he had a whole different scenario. Now he starts to understand the power of what I’m trying to teach him. I could try to explain that to him and go I don’t need that.

Watch the video on Youtube here

So writers, directors and actors have to experience these techniques. I can write about it forever, you can see this interview, you can watch this and go “I think I’ve got it. I think I know what he is talking about.” You could even watch the DVD that you watched and once you are in there, once you are in the room experiencing it as a writer, as a director, as an actor, any of these techniques, then you will know it. It has to be experienced.

Film Courage: Mark…fine. I’m hearing that this is a word that doesn’t have a good connotation to it. What does F.I.N.E. mean to you?

Mark W. Travis: When did I use fine?

Directing Feature Films

Film Courage: A couple of times [during this segment]. And maybe I’m projecting my own worldview onto it. But (possible, probably) I am hearing that “fine” is not a good word to describe something. In fact, it means the opposite but someone’s afraid to let someone know that “I’m not comfortable with it.” “How are you today?” “Uh…oh…I’m fine.”

Mark W. Travis: Oh, I see when someone says “I’m fine.”

Film Courage: “How was that one scene?” “Uh…yeah, fine. It’s fine.” “How was the script?” “Oh yeah we did some note revisions. It’s fine.”


Mark W. Travis: Let me ask you…this is not an interview on you but…

Film Courage: Uh oh.

Mark W. Travis: When you hear someone…Karen…when you say to someone “How are you doing?” “Oh, I’m fine.”  What do you hear?

Film Courage: I hear that things are not good but they don’t want to say it, so they have to have a good…a cover that’s sort of medium instead of “Oh, I’m doing great today!” Or “Oh, I had a horrible time getting here but I’m fine.” They want to close it down. They don’t want to talk anymore.

Mark W. Travis: Yep. And they probably saying (what you are probably hearing) is “I’m fine. I’m doing okay and I don’t want to talk anymore.” Which makes you think and me think there’s a lot going on there that is uncomfortable, she or he doesn’t want to go there so when you say to an actor or someone you work with “How are you doing today?” “Fine.” And you go, okay there is something going on.

Now if you keep pressing up against that wall, you’re going to get a lot of resistance. Now your job is to “Let me see, can I get to it? Can I find another way?” And this has been pretty much my whole career. Find another way to access the truth?” With that individual or with that character, with that writer, director, or actor. How can I get around the barriers that are automatically there because we’re human beings and we put them up? We protect ourselves. Can I find another way appropriately to get around that and get to the truth, not only so I can see the truth but so that the person who said “Fine,”…let’s say it’s an actor who said fine. My feeling is that there is also a part of that person who wants to reveal that, you know? That’s there committee, there’s another voice who says “Don’t talk about it.” In other words there’s a little war going on in there that we all experience. So if I can get to the truth and some how find a way, not only so I can know more, but so also he or she can have the opportunity to reveal it or even learn something about themselves, quite possibly.

Watch the video on Youtube here

Film Courage: Okay. So fine to you doesn’t mean conversations over and it’s good. It means “Hmmm, I think something’s wrong. But I think they might be willing to talk about it if I go around a different way. And I don’t keep pushing up against “It doesn’t sound like things are fine?”

Mark W. Travis: Yeah…if I do “It doesn’t sound like things are fine” then the wall is going to get thicker. And it might even be someone says something and I say “How are you doing?” And they are “fine” and okay, we are going to get back to that later. And just go off on a whole other track, but with the intention of getting to what’s bothering them. If it’s an actor, since we’re talking a lot about working with actors, if it’s an actor, then my concern will be that whatever’s really going on is going to get in the way of their work that day. If it’s an actor I’m working with that day “How are you doing?” “Fine.” Okay…this could get in the way of the work we are doing today. And let’s say I am picking up on resentment or anger or fear and these are very general. And let’s say it’s Ian (an actor I’ve worked with a lot) and I get this “Fine.” And I go “Okay, there’s a lot of this going on.” Now, as we’re working on the scene, I haven’t addressed it at all, we’re working on a scene and I start interrogating his character. Do you know where I’ll go? Anger, resentment, fear…as the character! I will allow Ian to express whatever’s going on through the character and this is when it actually becomes in a way a little therapeutic which is another whole topic because there are therapists who have been looking at what I’m doing and wonder if it’s another form of therapy. Which I will address right now…It’s not. It’s not a form of therapy because I’ve had a lot people with the hypnosis question but the interrogation is not a form of therapy. A therapy (generally) is intended to help the patient, the person, the individual, sort of smooth out the edges, get through life in a much more comfortable way and deal with whatever problems he’s dealing with.

Interrogation is absolutely the opposite. Interrogation creates chaos. I create chaos inside the character so that the actor (as the character) has to struggle with…I want them to struggle! I don’t want to smooth it out and I want the actor to experience the struggle that’s going on inside the characters, so it’s the opposite of therapy.

Coming back to your question about the fine(s), someone saying fine. I think we all hear that there is a hidden feeling, emotions, or truth behind that. And our job as directors is to honor that, respect it but not forget it.

And if we can allow the actors (especially) a way to release that through the characters, even if it’s inappropriate for the character at the time, that may be a gift to the actor.



MARK W. TRAVIS is regarded by Hollywood and independent film professionals internationally as the world’s leading teacher and consultant on the art and craft of film directing. He is known as “the director’s director.”

Fueled by the desire to generate organic and authentic performances in an instant, Mark developed his revolutionary Travis Technique™ over a span of 40 years. Not limited to filmmakers, The Travis Technique™ has proven to be an essential set of tools for all storytellers, writers, directors and actors.

Mark Travis has taught at many internationally acclaimed film schools and institutions, including Pixar University, American Film Institute, UCLA Film School, FAS Screen Training Ireland, NISS – Nordisk Institutt for Scene og Studio (Norway), Odessa International Film Festival (Ukraine), CILECT – The International Association of Film and Television Schools, and the Asia Pacific Screen Lab (hosted by Griffith University Film School, Brisbane, Australia).

Productions directed by Mark W. Travis have garnered over 30 major awards, including: an Emmy, Drama-Logue, L.A. Weekly, Drama Critics’ Circle, A.D.A, and Ovation awards.

His film and television directing credits include: The Facts of Life, Family Ties, Capitol, Hillers, and the Emmy Award-winning PBS dramatic special, Blind Tom: The Thomas Bethune Story. Also the feature films Going Under (for Warner Bros. starring Bill Pullman and Ned Beatty), Earlet (documentary), The Baritones, and The 636.

On-stage, over the past 20 years, Mark has directed over 60 theatre productions in Los Angeles and New York, including: A Bronx Tale, Verdigris, The Lion in Winter, Mornings At Seven, Equus, Café 50s, And A Nightingale Sang, Wings, Linke vs. Redfield, The Coming of Stork and others.

Mark is the author of the Number-One Best Seller (L.A. Times), THE DIRECTOR’S JOURNEY: the Creative Collaboration between Directors, Writers and Actors. His second book on directing,

DIRECTING FEATURE FILMS (published in April of 2002) is currently used as required text in film schools worldwide. His third book, THE FILM DIRECTOR’S BAG OF TRICKS: Get What You Want from Writers and Actors was published in 2011. Mark’s popular DVD, HOLLYWOOD FILM DIRECTING, is available now.


MARK TRAVIS and ELSHA BOHNERT offer workshops and consultations on all aspects of storytelling for writers, directors and actors.


MARK TRAVIS and ELSHA BOHNERT offer workshops and consultations on all aspects of storytelling for writers, directors and actors. ELSHA BOHNERT is Chief of Staff of Boyden Road Productions and the director of The Travis Story Center in Los Angeles, California. She is the author of DON’T TRIP OVER THE GARDEN HOSE (Deuxmers 2013). Her stories and poems have been published in literary journals and she is an award-winning visual artist as well, with works in public and private collections throughout the US, Europe, and Japan. Elsha teaches workshops in “Art & Writing for Healing” and is the only teacher authorized by Mark W. Travis to teach the “Write Your Life” Travis Technique™.