7 Film Director Tips When Working With Actors

Are you a film director who doesn’t have much experience working with actors? Here’s 7 filmmaker tips to keep in mind for your next film/video project.

It is always a good idea first and foremost to enroll yourself into an acting school.

Taking an acting class will prove to be a great decision on your part because you will get a deeper understanding of the way actors approach their work. The more you understand the language of the actor, the better off you will be collaboration and communicating your vision.

Before getting started, it is important to point out that before undertaking any project, you will want to make sure it reads off the page. If it’s on the page, it makes it easier to be on the stage.

A director really shouldn’t move forward with a project until the script is as strong as possible.

Yes, there are other variables to the rule, depending on the nature of the film you are making, however, the script should always be solid. A solid script serves as your blueprint for everything else that is to come, especially when working with your actors.

There’s a common saying that talks about no matter how great the actor or director is, if the script is bad, the power of the story can only go so high.  Always be sure the screenplay is strong and tight because it determines all that follows to a large extent.

Here are some things to strongly consider and keep in mind when working with actors.

7 Film Director Tips When Working With Actors

1. Casting

As a director it may be much more beneficial and cost efficient to audition and cast actors in your film. You will want to test chemistry in terms of collaboration with the actor who is auditioning before you.

The actor can be a terrific performer but have an attitude or take direction poorly and these are things you need to consider as director. Ask yourself, “Do I want to work with this person all day everyday for X amount of time?”

When casting, you are also paying close attention to fitting the pieces to the story puzzle.

Does this actor provide the qualities needed and intended for the character to really speak throughout the film? How is the chemistry not only in working with you but also with other cast members? What is the actor’s track record with other previous projects?

It’s good to throw a monkey wrench during the audition scene to see how well the actor reacts to something completely unexpected. You are looking for truth. When the surprise happens does the actor connect to what occurred honestly?

2. Don’t Direct Your Actors

This may seem a bit crazy but it’s true.

No actor likes a director who directs for no reason other than to “direct”. A good director is one who steps back and allows the actor to work and only when necessary does the director chime in with needed direction.

Directing is about watching and guiding. The director acts as a composer motioning his/her orchestra of musicians in order to correctly harmonize the music playing in the scene.

When you step back and watch as director, you get inside your actors and partake within the experience.

This emotional connection provides a barometer for you to go by and will give you the reading as to when an actor is off key or not.

3. Don’t Ignore Your Actors

Just as it was mentioned to not direct the actor, you also don’t want to ignore the actor.

One of the worst experiences both you and the actor can have is not being connected with one another because you are too busy about other important elements behind the camera.

The actor is a priority, without the actor, there really is no film unless you are making an experimental film of some sort.

In addition to composition and lighting and movement the attention must remain on your actors if you are to gain truthful performances from them.

When you are there for your actors, they know it and they will give you their all.

Ignoring an actor can have a negative impact on your film. I’m not talking about running up to an actor every five minutes asking if they need anything. I’m talking about inside the work itself…be there.

Don’t leave the actor hanging.

Again, it’s that whole barometer thing mentioned above. You have to know when and when not to engage.

4. When Actors Are Struggling

There are times when an actor is just in utter torment. It can be for a number of reasons. This is where some of your most important skills as a director working with actors will come into play.

You must never show your own stress and angst.

Instead, always be patient and easy going with the actor. As soon as you get fired up with an actor, it can only get worse. Communication breaks down, the actor is in a worse creative state and things can easily fall apart.

The director needs to be the parent figure in this case, a therapist, whatever you wish to call yourself…the point is that you need to be the problem solver for the actor and be in his/her corner.

Assess the situation by listening. You will be surprised that just by listening the actor may suddenly answer their own problem. Sometimes listening to the actor is all that is needed and it’s back to shooting.

Truly being there for the actor, making the actor feel safe in an environment of trust, makes all the difference in collaboration.

7 Tips for Directing Actors in Film

5. Bad Actor Day

This sort of goes back to the casting part. You don’t want to work with attitudes, at least, you want to avoid as many as you can if you can help it.

Some actors have a bad attitude day. If this happens, you need to do one of two things, be patient and kind and ask if there is anything you can do for them, if they need to talk privately with you about something…let them know you are there for them.

If the actor is on a rampage of sorts, it is always advised to let the fire burn out on its own and then get back to work.

Now if the actor crosses the line and is unprofessional, which you will have to determine for your own set, they may have to get replaced.

6. Difficult Actors

This is different than an actor having a bad day. This goes deeper. It’s good to have rehearsals if at all possible to get a better understanding of the actor’s style of working.

Sometimes you can or don’t want to have rehearsals and that is fine but you leave yourself slightly open to someone who may not be your cup of tea in collaboration and by then you have to settle with getting through the project with more burden upon your shoulders.

In rehearsal, it’s not only beneficial for the growth of the work, in and of itself but also as a testing ground to see how the actor behaves.

There are times when the actor doesn’t show up on time, comes to rehearsal intoxicated, doesn’t follow directions or play nice with other actors at all…this is a good warning sign to remove the actor as quickly as possible.

7. Respect Your Actors

There are actors who do the strangest things in rehearsal or on set while filming.

Such things as it relates to their preparation for a role or something they are focusing on to get into the scene. You need to respect their process.

They are there because they want to do good work for you and respecting their creative space is important and appreciated.

Be supportive of the actor’s approach but also be mindful of keeping things moving forward for your production as well.

You are the director and need to run your team well.

In Conclusion

The best advice is to know that you will continue to grow and gain experience working with actors, just simply by working with actors.

Like anything else in life, the more you do it, the easier it gets. There will always be challenges but you will eventually develop your own way of working with actors, which will help pave the way for positive collaborations.

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