January 16, 2016

How Director Ridley Scott Gets Great Performances from Actors

Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard on 'The Martian'
The Martian has already brought home a number of awards, and it was just recently nominated for a total of seven Academy Awards.

Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard must be doing something right, as the film has garnered a ton of praise, and in this Variety video, they give some essential advice about both screenwriting and directing:

While Scott is often working with the best actors out there, he does say it all comes together when you've got a good script. Once you're working with the actors, he says it's important to move on, not over elaborate, and keep it simple, and that the best actors often just want to hear which speed is best for their delivery — faster, slower, or medium. No two actors or directors are the same, but keeping it simple is important, as everyone has enough stress going on already. If you're doing the work in pre-production, once you get on set you're often only tweaking minor things. Either way — and I'm sure Scott would agree — constant communication is important, especially letting your actors know that you've got their back, and you trust the decisions that they're making.

Scott also talked about the importance of the screenplay, and how it's not all that different from musicians just being able to play music they're seeing for the first time:

If the words are good, that's the music. If you get the music right, you say "OK, just read. 'Do you want to talk about...?' No just read." I want to hear what decisions they're making, because I want to see what they're made of.

Drew Goddard also mentioned some terrific advice he got when he first started:

...anything you're writing at any given moment in this business, you're going to hear about three other projects that are exactly the same all the time. And if you worry about it, you'll never get anything done. Just concentrate on making yours unique. 

There are so many variables in filmmaking, just because you hear an idea that sounds similar to a movie you're writing doesn't mean it's going to be. Adding to that, there's no guarantee a project that's been announced will actually become a finished movie, as there are lots of films that fall apart or change well before they're ever released. If you make it your own, and put a piece of yourself in it, it's going to be a different film even if the idea is similar.     

Your Comment


I'm not surprised now that pretty much all his movies have problem with showing emotions if he thinks saying "slower, faster" to an actor is enough. He is very creative & visual side of his movies is top tier, but he is really poor at emotions. That's why even when you watch masterpiece like Blade Runner, which has amazing script, maybe even the best visuals up to date, but still you feel that movie is lacking something. That's emotions. If you really want to understand how to direct actors there are many better directors like Kazan.

January 16, 2016 at 3:49PM, Edited January 16, 3:49PM

Andy Tokarski
Director, Editor, Colorist

I disagree. He purely said when working with the "great actors" that's all they need to hear because they are so experienced and seasoned and have probably been in that situation mentally before, they don't need to over elaborate. They're also working with Ridley so they're bringing their best and have done their homework regardless. The man is 78 years old and is still making great movies.

He's also made plenty of movies with emotion such as GI Jane, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, the list goes on. Just because he does mainly plot driven movies and sometimes the characters are not the fore front doesn't mean he doesn't bring emotions out of them and create scenes that make you wanna cry or laugh. Remember there's more emotions then just sadness and he displays that in "The Martian" which is why it has such a distinctive tone and feel and is getting the recognition it is.

January 16, 2016 at 5:12PM

Brad Watts
Filmmaker/Creative Director - Redd Pen Media

I agree with Andy. If you're into visuals, Ridley Scott is one of the best, but don't expect depth and pathos in the stories he tells. Maybe it's his having come up(as a filmmaker) in advertising but, beautiful though they may be, his efforts almost always feel pretty superficial and often pander to the audience to likely keep the producers happy. The Martian is no exception and certainly the script contains that very superficiality that appears onscreen, but there's always a choice to go deeper or remain on the surface.
I can appreciate his visual efforts as he's a master at that, but so what? I'd rather see less spectacular imagery and actually be moved by a story/characters/performances and, apart from Blade Runner (where Rutger Hauer made up the last lines of the movie himself) I have yet to be moved by anything Scott has done. His films are beautiful, but they lack real humanity.

January 24, 2016 at 3:19PM

Drew Staniland

I've heard that Ridley Scott is actually a George Lucas style director, in that most of the time he just sits back looking at the monitor whilst the actors and crew do all their other stuff. Not a very hands on director like David Fincher or Spielberg appear to be from BTS footage.

January 17, 2016 at 5:15AM, Edited January 17, 5:15AM


Should the article be called, "Does Ridley Scott Gets Great Performances from Actors?"

January 17, 2016 at 5:38AM

J Robbins

:-D That was great!

January 17, 2016 at 6:57AM

Gerard M.

How actors give great performances despite Ridley Scott being the director? Come on guys. Give the man credit. His movies are great for their own rights. One David O. Russel is enough. And remember Woody Allen's credo: "Hire good actors and get out of their way".

February 11, 2016 at 7:19AM


"How Director Ridley Scott Gets Great Performances from Actors"

what? when did that happen?

January 17, 2016 at 5:12PM


Ha ha... yeah, fast, medium, or slow might work for very experienced actors, but most need a different style. The directing actor techniques from the Hollywood Camera folks is an excellent approach: http://www.hollywoodcamerawork.com/da_index.html

January 19, 2016 at 6:43AM

VFX Colorist