By Travis Johnson

A 40 year veteran of the film industry, director Bobby Roth has called the shots on 13 feature films, 25 TV movies and close to a hundred episodes of television. He wrote, directed, and produced his first film, Independence Day (not that one) in 1976, and has recently helmed episodes of Hawaii Five-O, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Revenge. By any measure, the man knows his stuff. How lucky we are, then, that he’s decided the share that knowledge in the 10 part series, Masterclass, which airs on Foxtel Arts.

Each 20-odd minute episode of Masterclass deals with a different area of the director’s job: “Preparation and Imagination”, “Reading A Script”, “Casting”, “Editing”, amd more. The project grew out of Roth’s own side-hustle, teaching directing at Los Angeles’s Art Centre College.

“I’ve been teaching for many years and I just thought I would kind of put down, for a larger audience perhaps, what I’d been teaching,” Roth tells us on the phone from Hawaii.  “Then being a filmmaker, I thought it’d be pretty boring just to watch me talk, so I thought maybe I could get some of the people I work with to let me interview them. And then we’d find clips from the shows we do together and maybe some footage that we shot while we were making the shows.”

Indeed, Masterclass is notable not just for Roth’s relaxed, deeply informative teaching style, but for the incredible range of interview subjects he’s lined up to lend colour and illustrative examples to the lessons he’s imparting. Rosanna Arquette, Chloe Bennet, Nestor Carbonell, Peter Coyote, Clark Gregg, Frank Grillo, Anthony LaPaglia, Terry O’Quinn, Edward James Olmos, Tom Morello, Ramin Djawadi, Peter Weller and more crop up at one point or another, along with a host of crew members and technical experts, all of whom have worked with Roth at one point or another.

“The thing just kind of mushroomed into 57 interviews and ten different episodes,” he admits. “And it got bigger and bigger, and the next thing I know I shot 80 hours of film and spent the better part of a year cutting it with my son [screenwriter and actor, Nick Roth], who was merciless with me. And we came up with something that we’re proud of.”

Making the series was the culmination of a long-held ambition for Roth. “Even when I went to film school I was thinking I would be a documentary filmmaker, and I worked in the industry for 40 years before I made a documentary.” Ironically, Roth himself would have to go to school in a manner of speaking, reaching out to documentarian Thom Zimny, who made the Bruce Springsteen film The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, for advice. “I went and I talked to Thom and I asked him a lot about how he interviewed people, how he structured things, how he wrote it, because I’d never done anything like that. He was very helpful, and then my son did much of the writing and overall structuring, because he could be very much more objective. I think the show benefited from that.”

For all that his series reveals about the filmmaking process, Roth is adamant that there is still value in a traditional film school, even in this age of cheap technology and online learning. “I understand people’s frustration with film school,” he says. “And people who think that it’s not really worth it and it’s a lot of money to end up with a degree you can’t do anything with, but the two things that I learned from film school was being with a bunch of other young filmmakers and learning together and learning how to work together. I learned the importance of depending on other people and getting the best people to work with you.”

The first episode of Masterclass airs tonight, September 7, on Foxtel Arts at 7.30pm AEST.


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