The Dos & Don'ts of Directing Actors (According to Actors)

If you've never worked with actors before, the idea of directing them can be pretty daunting.

What do you say to them? How do you give direction? How should you conduct yourself on set around the ones you've hired to pull off such an emotionally challenging task? Well, the best people to ask are probably -- actors. RocketJump Film School did just that, asking a handful of different actors what they look for, hope for, and expect when collaborating with directors.

Check out the video below:

In case you couldn't watch the video, here are the things they mentioned:

Don't bring up other actors

No one likes to be compared to anyone, so don't tell your actors to "act like" or "be like" a certain actor, or give a performance similar to one of theirs, because you're not inspiring them, you're actually just insulting them.

Create a positive environment

Making movies is stressful, but as the director, you're in charge of making sure that everybody has a healthy, safe, and positive working environment. This doesn't mean that you have to be Mr. Smiley all the time, but it does mean that you behave professionally and allow your actors to work in a space that gives them the security to be vulnerable. 

Communication is key

When do your actors need to be ready for their next scene? What is their motivation? When's lunch? What do you want them to change about their performance? These things and so much more you need to communicate clearly and often to your actors so they know what's expected of them.

Everything matters

If your actors bring up an issue with the script or ask you about a detail of their character's backstory, don't just shrug it off as something meaningless. If they're bringing it up it matters, and just because you haven't given it much thought don't mean that it doesn't. Let your actors know that you haven't really thought about it, but that it's something you guys can take a look at at a convenient time.

Line readings

Don't tell your actors how to give their dialog. There are some who don't mind when a director gives them a line reading, but seriously -- you hired your actors for a reason and they're there to do a job, so let them do it.

Know what you want

The director who bumbles around and doesn't really know what they want isn't the director that inspires confidence in their actors. Know what you want -- even if what you want doesn't work. Kevin Smith says that directing is just about being able to answer questions:

All you have to do is be able to answer questions; that's what the job is -- You're always kind of open to suggestions, so really the direction job solely comes down to your ability to answer questions at a moment's notice and turn the ship on a dime if you have to.

Keep your direction clear and concise

Don't give your actors a 10-minute monologue about their backstory, which then turns into a speech about what their motivation is, which then veers off into a discussion about energy conservation and blah blah blah. You're literally giving directions, so make them simple to follow, or else your actor is going to just get lost.

Encourage your actors

Be a good human. That's a great lesson to learn as not only a member of the human race, but as a director as well. A leader of a team, whether it be at an office, a retail store, or a film set, needs to be encouraging to their people. A "Good job," or a "That was great," or a "You got it," will not only help show them that they're on the right track, but will also help remind them that they're an important member of your creative team.

This RocketJump video has a ton of great advice and insight from actors, so I'd suggest taking out a pen and paper and giving it a thorough watch.

What advice do you have on directing actors?     

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Your Comment


I work with a director who does a quick end of day chat with her actors to discuss the day, and talk about where the actors feel the characters are going. The depth of the characters really increases as the shoots continue.

Also, advice for actors: don't add us to your monthly / annual news letter. I don't know who told you to do this, but stop.

February 5, 2016 at 11:16PM

Zack Wallnau
Cinematographer & Tinkerer

Cast the right actor in the first place. Cast an experienced actor. Your job is not to teach acting, it's to guide them in the direction of the scene (if they need guidance). But before you hire someone for talent, hire someone who's known to be easy to work with. Nothing is more draining than working with difficult actors who like to question every direction you give. Not fun. Actors are awesome when you find the right ones. (I know this from having been a casting director's assistant and from doing some acting when I was younger)

February 6, 2016 at 3:54AM

Jeff Rivera
Writer | Producer

A lot of this is good advice, but one thing that I will most likely keep doing for the things I direct is line reading. Since I do mostly comedy, emphasis on certain words is often key to the joke. I'm really really particular about the tone of the delivery because the delivery often sells the joke (at least for me it does).

February 6, 2016 at 7:02AM

Dantly Wyatt
Writer, Director, Content Creator.

If you can't cast talent that you trust to portray the characters you want to portray, then perhaps you should be in the scene yourself.

February 8, 2016 at 5:03PM

Head of Creative

Ehh.... as the writer and director of whatever I make, I trust the talent to be able to do it like I ask it to be done unless something better comes up during shooting. With me it's a balancing act. I may find someone that can do it correctly but may not look right for the role or find someone that looks right but needs coaching on the delivery. One of these two will win based on what I'm trying to achieve.

February 9, 2016 at 12:55PM, Edited February 9, 12:58PM

Dantly Wyatt
Writer, Director, Content Creator.

"Would that it were so simple"

February 7, 2016 at 1:08PM

Andrew Klein
Camera Department

yessss clutch comment. Hail Caesar! was so good.

February 8, 2016 at 9:18PM


I realise this Directing Actors set may be outside the budget of some at $600.60, but it took years to make and looks pretty definitive to me, and his previous stuff is excellent.

February 8, 2016 at 10:47AM

Saied M.

Directing actors is pretty simple. Just be nice, be respectful, and try to keep it fun. They won't like everything you have to say but guide with a loving hand.

February 22, 2016 at 11:41AM

Gordon Ian Green
Producer, Director, Writer, Editor

An actor that accepts line readings is 100% not a good actor.
They are not playing the part, they are just trying to imitate you.
If you now how the part should be played then play it yourself or let the actors do their job and allow them to find the emotional truth in the scene.

March 4, 2016 at 11:57AM

Joe Sand
Actor, Writer, Director, Editor

Oh wow- are they all that annoying?

March 4, 2016 at 4:21PM


Thank you for the great read. I'm always looking to add one more tool to my arsenal, and directing actors can be damn tricky. If anyone wants another good read, I found another great article on The Baram House explores the same topic. It's called A Streetcar Named Desire (1951): Directing Actors. If anyone is interested.

February 16, 2020 at 4:05AM

Benji Bal