Working with Actors

by | Jan 22, 2018

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Directing is an easy task. You simply find a production you want to be part of, effortlessly select talent to be a part of it, come up with a few ideas regarding how you want it to go, and boom! You’ve just directed a film project or a play. A piece of cake, right?

Ahh, if only that was all it took. Actually, directing is a creative and demanding process that asks a lot of the individual endeavoring to tackle it. The ability to work collaboratively, the skill of possessing a respect for the ideas of others while still being capable of lending feedback and direction, these are just a few of the traits a good director possess.

One of the most important skills a director must have, however, is the ability to work with actors effectively. Here’s a list of tips and tricks, from one group of artists to another, that will hopefully help us all to make the most totally radical, hip, far out and “with it” film and theatre the world has ever seen. Can you dig it?

Honesty + Kindness= Everybody Wins

As an actor, your number one priority is to make something meaningful. You want to help create a really engaging commercial, you want to pour your heart out into a scene and give the audience something to think about, you want to make your grandma proud. It’s pretty safe to say that an actor wants to do a good job.

The great thing is that as a director, you can really help with that, thus making your final product the best it can be. And the most effective way to help with this is by being honest, and simultaneously being kind about it. It is nice to tell an actor they did a good job on a scene when you actually fell asleep during it, but it’s not kind. Furthermore, it’s definitely not necessarily helpful (plus, if you’re working with experienced actors they’ll probably know it sucked anyway).

It is GREAT to say that something is not working, or that you’d like to take a different approach. The key is to do it in a way that lets the actor know you value them as a person. As Ben Affleck said “I think as an actor you want two things: You want to feel the director believes in you, supports you. And you want the director to tell you the truth”.
That pretty much sums it up. 

Give Room to Create

Actors are artists too. They got into this whole crazy mess because, like you, they want to create. And if you find good actors, they will blow you away! It’s been said that 90% of directing is casting. That holds true, and if you’ve got good actors you can sit back and offer occasional ideas and suggestions without micromanaging. No one likes to be constantly told what to do.

There is nothing more stifling to an actor’s creativity than a director who is giving constant line readings or other such things. Instead, try giving more broad suggestions or try asking questions. Rather than saying “I need you to have this exact facial expression right at this exact moment *demonstrates*” try asking “What would your character think about this moment? Are they getting what they need from the other character in the scene?”

Approaches like these can get gears turning and facilitate change while still giving an actor their creative liberty.

Have a Vision

If you don’t know what you want, your actors won’t either. As in, your ideas and goals for the project you’re working on have to be at least somewhat fleshed out before you dive into it. If you want to make it more of a collaborative thing, that’s great too.

The point is that you just have to have some sort of plan. Clearly knowing what you need out of a scene and articulating that in a straightforward way assists actors in knowing what they need to do as far as their contribution to the production. By supplying a basic structure of an approach, you give your actors a framework to build upon. This not only brings fresh, new ideas to the table, but also helps you keep your work focused in a positive direction. Actors get to contribute (see #2). It’s a win-win.

Respect Means Everything

At the end of the day, most problems can be solved through communication and mutual respect. Furthermore, actors are more likely to give their best performances when they feel that you respect them, their time, their training, and their craft. The golden rule applies here too. If you were in an actor’s shoes, how would you like to be treated?

A professional and amiable demeanor means good vibes on set or in rehearsal, better networking, and overall just a good time. Nothing’s more groovy than that.

Everyone directs differently, and obviously, everyone is going to take a different approach to working with actors. These guidelines can be a good place to start.

A professional and amiable demeanor means good vibes on set or in rehearsal, better networking, and overall just a good time. Nothing’s more groovy than that.

Sources for this article

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

What approaches do you take when it comes to working with actors?

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