Watching an actor absolutely NAIL the scene you both worked on for hours in rehearsals can be one of the most rewarding parts of directing any performance, but properly and efficiently helping the actor get there can be very challenging if you don't know what you're doing, or just simply don't have the experience.
But you have to start somewhere right? These 3 tips for directing actors in any performance will offer you a few building blocks to start with.
If after reading, you decide you need more guidance, check out my production company's Film Directing Bootcamp online course.
Ok, let's begin!
1. NEVER, EVER, LINE READ
Every actor I've ever worked with knows this is my number one rule.
Line reading is when a director acts out the line to the actor in a weak effort to show them how they want it.
Example: Actor: (says line), then director says: "So like, that was good... but say it more like this... (says line)".
For those of you who are catching yourself thinking "crap, I just shot a film where I did this countless times", don't beat yourself up too bad because it's incredibly common for directors new to the game to do this naturally. So, I'm not attacking you, I'm just letting you know it's wrong, and here's why.
~ It's offensive to the actor.
Turn the tables and imagine an actor telling you how direct. Yeah, it would feel real weird and unprofessional right? Even if you mean well (most directors do) by line reading to the actor, it comes off as if you're saying "I know how to do your job so just do your job like how I'm doing it because I can't be in both places at once." Cringy right?
~ It paints you in a bad light.
When a director line reads, on top of showing how much of a newbie you are, it lets your entire cast and crew know that you have a vision but no way to properly communicate it.
~It wont fly in the indie professional world.
Professional indie directors find creative ways to deliver notes (I'll disclose one later in this article 😉). If you line read in the indie professional world, I doubt it'll end your career but it could build a bad reputation for you especially between actors.
2. Rehearsal Is Where The Magic Happens
The director-actor relationship is one of the most important working professional relationships to have on any film set. When the director and the actor know how to effectively communicate with one another it can save time, and as we all know on film sets, time = $$$. Not only does a great director-actor relationship benefit your film monetarily, but it also can seriously benefit the performances. Imagine being able to seamlessly work with a talented actor because he or she knows what you want from the scene and you know how to pull that from him or her.
All of this begins in rehearsals!
Think about it. If you hold a 2-4 hour rehearsal for a scene you'll shoot in a few days, that's not only tons of time saved on set, but precious time for you and the actor to build a character together. Trust is built on both ends, and when it's time to shoot the scene, the actor will be confident with his or her performance, and that will most definitely be seen on screen.
3. Call It An Adjustment, Not A Correction
Ok, you're in rehearsals directing an actor who delivers a line well... but not how you envisioned it. You need to change something right? You say: "Good, but let's make a correction" or "Great! But it needs to be different".
By saying the actor's performance needs a "correction" or needs to be "different", you're making it seem like the actor's performance isn't good when that truly isn't the case, it just needs an "Adjustment". By calling the note you're going to give the actor about his or her performance an adjustment, you're quite literally saying there's a part of the performance that needs adjusting, not the entire thing.
Remember that film directing is one of the most psychology-heavy careers someone can have for many reasons, but one in particular is being able to properly lead your cast and crew with couth and refinement. When an actor is working with you, they have a desire to impress you with their performance so when it comes to how you speak to them and what you say, the little things really matter.
One More Directing Tip!
I promised you earlier that I would give you a creative way to deliver a note, so here goes.
Without a doubt, my go-to note is called an "As If".
An As-If note is asking the actor to "do it as if something just happened".
An example is... "Do it as if you just got slapped in the face" or "Do it as if you think you offended him with your last line".
As If's offer specificity because instead of telling the actor to "be more shocked" or "be more embarrassed", you're giving the actor something that isn't a broad emotion to play off of. Almost every single time I deliver as As If note, the result is jaw dropping.
I'll be writing more on As Ifs in the future, so keep up with us and like us on Facebook!
If you're just starting out with filmmaking, check out our Intro To Indie Filmmaking course! Also feel free to subscribe to our newsletter for updates and more! Hope this post helps. Thanks for reading and happy directing!