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Working with Actors - What You Need To Know!

I worked with a (somewhat famous) director once whose entire vocabulary for working with actors was to scream, right after the camera rolled; "Give ME something GOOD this time!" Meaning last time, the actors hadn't, in his opinion. As a producer, I've sat with actresses, in tears, over their working relationship and lack of collaboration with the director. I've watched as a director would do ten takes of a car pulling up (really) and just one take of a performance with an actor. Another time, a director refused to let an actress wear a dress she wanted to wear in a scene (that she felt most comfortable in) forcing her to wear something else she did not feel good about. The director explained to me that he needed to do that to show her who is boss.

I think most directors want to have as good relationship with their actors as possible. The problem often breaks down in communication. Directors, whether starting out or experienced, seem to, as a group, spend way more time focusing and learning about THE CAMERA rather than THE ACTORS. Face it, a camera can't talk back. A camera doesn't have feelings or emotions.

But many directors never put in the same amount of time to develop a language to effectively communicate with the actors. Each actor requires something different from the director to be their best. I believe it is the director's job to figure out what that is and how to create a situation where the actor can do their best work.

Keep in mind, the JOB of director started out as the most experienced actor in the company, the one who could help the other actors be their best.

Too many film sets seem to center around the director as king rather than that the director is hosting a party and the actors and crew are his or her invited guests. When you are hosting a party you endeavor to see that your guests are comfortable and happy. It's a very different arrangement than that the actors and crew are servants to serve your vision.

Consider this - in the days of the old studio pictures, like MGM, Warner Brothers etc, the director was one of the last people hired. the Art Director, Casting Director, Director of Photography, were often brought in by the studio first, and then the producer would assign the (Actors) Director.

There's no question that actors can be (and should be) a bit terrifying to directors. The work they do is often mysterious and the stuff of ether. At the same time, there is a tremendous amount of work, skill and training that goes into being able to deliver a real and believable performance. Directors, as a whole, need to do the same amount of work to become better at communicating and giving actors direction that is actable and does not require so much translation on the actor's part.

The better a director becomes at this, the less afraid of the actors that director will be. Remember the director who did ten takes of the car pulling up and one take of the actor? It was because he was terrified of the actors.

Finally this, movies are about the intersection between the actor's performance and the camera, and that the two come together at a moment of unexpected surprise, when something happens that no one has expected -- and the camera happened to be rolling at that time to capture it.

A director has to create an environment where those surprises and accidents are "safe" to have the space to happen. If you as a director are too ridged about what you want, there can never be moments that are BETTER than your best thinking.

It's not easy being a director, but the more you know about how actors work, the better you will be at helping them to be great. The camera will take care of itself. There's a whole camera department focusing on it. You're the head of the acting department. ONLY you can do that.

I hope this helps.

If you want more, read and devour Judith Weston's brilliant two books, Directing Actors and The Director s Intuition. Required reading in my mind.


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