Directing Actors and Talent

On The Set | By: indie

Let’s face it – unless you’ve got some kind of budget to work with, you’re going to have to know how to be a director. You aren’t going to go out and look for professional actors to star in your next film; instead you’ll probably be grabbing your buddies and telling them how to behave on camera, with promises of the fame and fortune that will most certainly be theirs if they agree to appear in your movie.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether you’re working with Samuel L. Jackson or your next door neighbor Sam; your job as director is to lead, provoke, and inspire your talent.

Working With Acting Newbies

People who aren’t used to being on camera have a difficult time pretending it isn’t there and it isn’t pointed right at them, but that’s exactly what you have to get them to do if you want to bring out a believable performance in an inexperienced actor.

It’s true that the classic line, “what’s my motivation?” is often used satirically. Isn’t that what you should be offering to the people in front of your camera, though? You owe it to them to explain who their character is, what they’re like, where they come from and why they do what they do, regardless of whether your genre is comedy, drama, action or anything else.

Comfort Is Key

The typical reaction of a person who is put in a situation where they feel uncomfortable is to do something that breaks the tension they feel. Some people can’t stop smiling, or laugh uncontrollably and get red in the face. Others goof off and turn everything into a joke so nothing gets done. More shy people may clam up and feel like they aren’t able to express themselves in any way but by delivering quiet, monotone lines.

How can you, as a director, turn this behavior around into a productive filming session? Well, if you realize that each of these behaviors stems from discomfort, that means you need to do everything within your power to make your talent feel comfortable.

Start with the no-brainers – tell them to relax, stretch, take a deep breath. Tell them to jump up and down a few times, shake it off. Notice I say “tell,” not “ask.” There are some things you should ask your talent and crew, like to bring you a bottle of water or to rotate a light so that it hits the backdrop differently. But your talent will be made to feel more comfortable simply by virtue of you sounding like you know what you are doing – whether you actually do or not!

Think about it this way: if you’re flying in a plane for the first time, going whitewater rafting, or even getting a haircut, don’t you want to feel like you’re in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing? In these situations, it doesn’t matter if they tell you to buckle your seatbelt, put on your life vest, or tilt your head to the left – you do what you’re told because you believe they’re steering you in the right direction. Take the same approach when you’re working with inexperienced actors.

Keep the camera pointed at them regardless of whether it’s on or off. In fact, tell them that you’re going to do a practice run-through of the scene or shot just for the purposes of blocking the scene, but then actually record it.

Tips For Success

Word to the wise, here: if you have one of those camcorders with a red light on the front that tells people when you’re recording, find a piece of duct tape, electrical tape, or just sharpie over some masking tape. Stick a piece of your completely opaque tape over that light so it never sees the light of day again.

You know how to use a camera, don’t you? Right, so there’s no reason for that light to exist except to tell people on the other side of your camera when it is or isn’t recording. No one needs to know!

Make That Footage Count

Even if you don’t have world-class actors working for you, and you grab the seven-year-old kid from down the street to play the page boy in your medieval film on knightly valor and conquest, you can do a lot to improve the performance of your on-screen talent.

I’m not going to start with the believe in yourself crap here, because that’s not what I’m trying to say. Well not really. Don’t be afraid to tell an actor what you want out of them. Cut film for a minute and take them aside, or take a moment out to explain a line of dialogue or an action. Show them by acting it out yourself, if it helps.

The bottom line is that people who are on camera for fun need coaxing, guidance and direction. It’s helpful for them to be goaded into the embodiment of their character, so don’t be afraid to get vocal, to be assertive, and to give them every possible chance to bring their acting to a level that’s satisfactory and meets the level you want.


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Time: September 2, 2015, 5:29 pm

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