Directors techniques when working with actors

TheTakes - Tips for building a miniature set

Somehow for many directors it’s easier to direct a camera than to direct an actor. Not many admit it, but even the big masters get cornered sometimes by the simplest actors’ questions (beware of the famous “what’s my motivation?”).

It’s easier to deal with technicians than with actors

because the latter implies dealing with complex human emotions. But at the same time it’s the emotion that comes first and makes the audiences “click” with the movies.

Common director mistake - getting too technical, not spending enough time with actors and therefore, not being able to speak their language - results in the film falling flat in the emotional moments. Be assured - no editing, stunts or special effects will be able to conceal that. Inversely, believable acting and genuine emotions will save even a low-budget, technically imperfect movie. But how can one achieve that?

First and foremost, do lots of rehearsals. But even if you’re limited in time, there are some methods that’ll help the actors connect to you, their respective characters and each other, improving the overall film quality dramatically.

Have some alone time.

Gain the actors’ trust by encouraging them and devoting them time even if you’re really busy - nothing is more important than these guys after all. Call for a total silence on set or take them out to a quiet place to do the last preparations. Set the mood for the upcoming scene. A good technique here is to have an eye-to-eye reading - just ask the actors to say their lines by looking at each other non-stop.

Use action verbs.

A common mistake is the so-called result direction, when the adjectives are used.

Saying “Be sad”, “Be happy”, “Be angry” will lead to actors to make faces and play an emotional state instead of actually experiencing it.

Even the best of them are not robots and can’t just follow your command - you’ll have to help them. The best way here is to use more action verbs, like “convince”, “insist” or “discourage” to make actors go through a process that’ll help them get where you want them to be. A great lesson in directing was given to Martin Scorsese by Robert de Niro. In the famous Taxi Driver scene when they’re together in the cab he said: make me lower the counter!

Set personal goals.

Give one to each actor and don’t tell it to the other. These are great for rehearsing, can be extreme and add spontaneity to what’s happening in the frame. Examples of the goals for both actors: “make him hug you - resist all contact”, “irritate him - calm her down”, “make him want you - use any pretext to go pee”. Yes, even that - don’t be afraid to set extreme goals! They can be adjusted to more pertinent ones when you get to the actual shoot.

Do the exact opposite of what you want from the scene.

Go crazy. Ask the actors to sing their lines, or say them as if they got a speech impediment. They might hate you for it, but these tricky exercises will help them gain inner freedom and look at their characters from a fresh angle.


Which means to interview the actor as the character, asking him questions about his past or his attitude towards specific people and events. This will make him get into the character’s head and understand his background better.

Give them an object to hold on to and play with.

Actors feel much more at ease when they’re not just sitting or standing, but smoking a pipe, writing in a notebook or taking sips from a glass of whiskey. It gives them something to do and connect to the character better. Needless to say, the object can’t be just a random something and has to be relevant to the story.

Attribute physical tasks.

These will help the lines sound more natural because the actors won’t have the time to think about them. So make them act while doing something else (like breaking free when held down or holding on to a piece of cloth that’s being pulled out from them). This doesn’t have to happen in the actual scene, but it’ll add more depth to the acting after being done in rehearsal.

Use manipulation.

But with caution. You can squeeze more natural performances from your actors by not telling them what exactly is going to happen during the shoot.

Bergman was the one who used manipulation to the point when actors couldn’t stand him, but this really took them to places.

Don’t overdo that, though. One rather famous actress told an instructive story about the danger of manipulation. She was supposed to be riding the horse, and the director asked one of the crewmembers to frighten the animal without telling her. That made her lose the trust in the director till the end of the shoot.

Work on the voice intensity, not it’s volume.

If they actors get too theatrical, don’t tell them that (this is the worst they can hear from a director) - just ask them to keep the voice down. They often think that shouting will help them convey an intense emotion, but it won’t.

Invoke their memories

so that they can connect better to the character. Ask an actor to find something in his personal experience that’s similar to what his character is going through. Living through a sad memory, for instance, will help him show loss and

Do one take for safety.

Takes the pressure off, makes the actors believe they did well in the previous take and accomplished what the director had asked them for. Sometimes those takes are the best and are the ones that get in the final cut.

Tell them to never stop acting before you say cut.

It’s also a good idea for them to start acting before you say “action!”.

comments powered by Disqus Blog
Hey There!
What is This?