Film Industry Tips

How to Direct an Actor for Film

how to direct an actor for film

How to direct an actor for film. Preparing them to enter your world.

As a film festival we receive lots of films everyday from projects where it is clear that the directing of the actor(s) has failed. This post on how to direct an actor for film, describes the many tricks we’ve learnt as filmmakers, and actors in previous lives, which we will now share to help our filmmakers create better work and draw fantastically real and breathtaking performances from their talent.

How to direct an actor for film.
Drawing out reality within a narrative of action and drama.

The schools of thought…

Uta Hagan
Michael Chekov

The list goes on…

They’re so many acting schools of thought, that all believe that they have the gold nugget on how to director an actor for film, but in essence all of them have really one particular aim, one solid goal, one absolute target.
To stop the actor from looking like he, or she, is acting.

When we look at how to direct an actor for film there are no real rules, targets, but nothing cemented which specifically say: do this or do that. Of course there are no real rules. An actor and director relationship, along with their working practices, always take many forms, and come in lots of different shapes, sizes, styles, and deliveries.

Aside from this they’re are still mistakes — carelessness, lack of knowledge and the boundless breaking’s of respect that happen within the tiny, to the more massive of projects – and these mistakes are happening daily on film sets around the world.

So with that in mind, here are our top 7 tips in how to direct an actor for film – that you may implement to hopefully avoid poor performances and improve the quality of your work overall.

1. How to direct an actor for film. Audition
– audition well.

A huge subject in itself, casting, is a very important part in the creation process. Getting this right can make or break a project. The main elements of casting are chronologically broken down into the following processes…

The talent pool. Where you get your actors from is important.

When we look at how to direct an actor for film, it’s best to actually find those actors who we work with best. All of us are different. So, try to spread the risk by asking different sources to provide you with CV’s. It is very important to see a showreel first, look at the work the actor has done previously, see how far they have gone before in creating detail, and an emotional. Approaching acting schools, and acting/theatre clubs, websites like casting call, mandy, spotlight – many of these have options for finding the right people.

The time and the space. For every character in your film, it is important that you see at least four people for that single role. Making sure you have a comfortable environment to cast, where people can relax, and where their are no time restrictions would really help. Give plenty of that time to an actor, allow their initial read to be mistake ridden, give them some notes, and watch what they do.

The script work. Discuss the script, always discuss the script. What did they think about it? Did they like the character? What do they feel is missing? Or more importantly what do they think needs to be taken away?

Standing it up. Get the actors blood pumping, give them a section of the script where their character is stood up, get them to walk around as the character, see what kind of physicality the actors interpretation of your character has, this will give you great insight!

Get to know the person as best as you can. Where have they just come from? What part of the city do they live in? Have they had any auditions this week? How are they finding the business? Help make them feel at ease.

Recalls should be tough. Always have a 2nd round of auditions, and make sure you get your actors to learn the scene and prepare it prior to the audition. Have a reader in the room for the recalled actor to bounce off of, get them working together physically, using actions and transitive verbs to create change.
Check availability. Always make sure that the actor is free to attend additional auditions, rehearsals and the actual shoot days, pointless booking an actor who is about to go on a Shakespeare world tour.

Get the yes’ & no’s out as soon as possible. As soon as you know a yes, send it out, book them in. As soon as you know the No’s do the same. An actor waiting for a phone to ring is the worst. When you send respect out, you get respect back!

2. How to direct an actor for film. Involve them at the very beginning in the story development stages.

When we have analysed how to direct an actor for film the script work sticks out very prominently. Work with the script, make edits with the actors, discuss the plot points, the importance, discuss with the actors the creation of their character.Why is this person doing this particular thing in this particular moment.

3. How to direct an actor for film. Create the characters with the actors.

Meet up a few days before the first rehearsal to build the character. Discuss emotional journeys, background, wants, needs, inner thoughts..etc. Do this with all of the actors central to the narrative.

4. How to direct an actor for film. Rehearse.

Meet up and read the film through, from start to finish. Discuss points, and where possible introduce the cast to the sets and locations, show them some ideas, camera angles and ask for their input. Rehearse again at a later date, and request that all of the actors at this stage are OFF BOOK, which means that they have learnt their part in the script to the full.

An actor not off book at rehearsal is something that must be flagged, because it eats up time during the shoot, it always interferes with morale and it frustrates everyone, including the actor who will be embarrassed and ashamed – don’t be too hard on them, but don’t ever employ them again.

To prevent this from ever happening — Make sure you can get a rehearsal in without the actors reading from their scripts. Very important.

5. How to direct an actor for film. Cast and crew join as one team.

There is nothing worse than the guy holding the boom tutting to themselves because we’re entering multiple takes. Team atmosphere, and group love needs to be established early.

This is so the people supplying the creativity inside the takes have as much freedom as possible to win the scene and welcome in total discovery. To take risks and nail the shot. Actors who feel out of the clic will have a torrid time trying to forge a performance, the aim of everyone on your project is to create, so make sure that everyone knows everybody, no one is missed a hand-shake or left out of a joke. Film sets can be very warm friendly places to some, but to others they can be very cold and isolating. Make sure everyone, including the extras and the interns, are made to feel part of the project – and important parts too! It will only benefit the end product.

6. How to direct an actor for film. Give the character a life.

Now it is down to the nitty-gritty, the actual direction within the project. You don’t have to be a master of an actors preparation to get this right but by taking a step back, the project will take a stride forward…

Here’s a classic example of two conflicting directors preparing an actor for two similar scenes. See if you can guess which one of the two directors stands the better chance of getting into a Lift-Off Film Festival…

Direction number 1:
“Okay, so you come into the apartment, pour yourself a glass of whiskey, grab your phone, and text your mother back. When you come in stand here, then drink, then sit here…try and look quite moody.”

Direction number 2:
“Okay, remember the scene from rehearsals and what we found out?”

The director waits for the acknowledgement… Gets it.

The director continues…

“It’s 9pm, it’s dark, you’ve just been driving in the rain for 4 hours, you need to relax.. Go for the whiskey, pour it, take a sip, the maple texture reminds you of home, take in the apartment, recognise it is not home, think of home, take a seat, text your mom.”

Sensitivity to the reality of the moment from the director, to the actor is required in each and every moment, while the characters life is captured on the camera. Respect the world, and allow for the actors creation to live, and breath within it.

7. How to direct an actor for film. Give the actors their notes in private.

Actors are sensitive to their work, if they are serious about your film, and serious about their performance then you must give them space to create.

The golden rule in management… “praise in public, correct in private” stands very true on the film set, a good director is one who respects the actors process, and once an actor picks up on this, knows that their notes are protected by other peoples ears, they will find freedom in their performance very quickly.

When it comes to learning exactly how to direct an actor for film we must always consider that no two actors are ever the same, motivation and care comes in all shapes and sizes, depending on how flexible you are as a manager will determine how successful you are in your directing life. But fundamentally learning quickly as you go is the key required to win.

That’s it, if you follow these steps and allow for the actor to feel free and safe your film will be wonderful.

Once it’s done, be sure to submit it!