Fail To The Top: Jon Favreau Advises Actors Who Wish To Become Directors

Everyone recognizes Jon Favreau. For some, he’s the co-star of the 1996 hit, Swingers, with Vince Vaughn. For others, he’s the asshole from I Love You, Man or the disgruntled cook from Chef.

For those who follow his work, the writer-producer-actor-director’s largest contributions are perhaps Iron Man, Elf, and The Jungle Book.

Each of these films are loved by a very different group of fans, so it’s unlikely anyone would really associate the films together, unless they’re looking to step inside the mind of Favreau.

At the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, Favreau spoke to an engaged audience about failures as an actor, which led to a career as a director. “Acting is the closet thing you’ll get to an apprenticeship for directing,” said the creator, who has just signed on to direct a live-action The Lion King for Disney.

Chef

Don’t Judge Your Ideas

Favreau appreciates the ability to improv, both on set and in the writer’s room. “I don’t judge my ideas — they’re good and bad,” said the director. “When you’re onstage, you gotta stick to a certain set of rules, just to make sure the show is entertaining the audience. It’s a skill. I feel in love with the freedom.”

Writing sketch comedy shows for the theater, Favreau learned not to underestimate practice. “We had to write sketch shows every week, but because they were short skits, it wasn’t loaded with pressure,” he said. “We had a sense of freedom, [but] I wasn’t judging myself too harshly and therefore I got better.”

I Love You, Man

Directors Should Learn To Act

The creative believes his entire career is due to treating acting like an internship for learning how to direct. “You’re actually on set watching the director do what they do. When you go to school for directing, you rarely have the luxury of actually shadowing and watching someone else who’s doing it well,” he said.

Other examples of great actor-turned-directors include Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Ben Affleck, Denzel Washington, Julie Delpy, Ron Howard, Harold Ramis, Penny Marshall, Zach Braff, Mel Brooks, and many more.

Young directors “should think of themselves as a film coach to an amazing team. Everybody is awesome and different and you gotta figure out the right lineup to get the best out of everybody,” he said.

Swingers

Hone Your Writing Process

Jon Favreau’s directing comes from adaptations, sequels, and original scripts, unless as it arrives to him in the “purest form.” He’ll spend a few weeks or a month developing an idea with an outline. Once the first act is well-written, he believes the rest of the script writes itself.

For rewrites, however, there’s much more to discuss. “There’s more craft to rewriting,” he confirmed. “More heady discussion, outlining and whiteboarding.” This is especially true with a reboot or sequel, such as when he brought Iron Man or The Jungle Book to the live-action, big screen.

Elf

Expectations And Failures

“If you see The Rolling Stones live, you have expectations. You think of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” a certain way based on how it sounds on the record. There’s the same pressure with beloved stories, especially if you experienced them on an emotional level at a young age.”

In the end, Jon Favreau believes “actors, writers, directors [are] all filmmakers.”

The point is to keep working and getting better. “People don’t understand the rhythm of failure. They don’t realize that things may turn out well in the end. Half the success is riding it — not defining yourself one way or the other,” said Favreau.

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