Directing Actors: Common Conflicts and How to Avoid Them
Working with actors is a director's most important duty. Here are a few tips that might make that a little easier.
Like many who become interested in directing films, the thought of bringing written words to life on the big screen is an absolute thrill. You get to work with cameras and lights and do the little rectangle thing with your fingers so everyone knows you're the real deal. But what about the other side of directing: the human side where you have to direct actors?
This is certainly every director's primary task, but it's also the one that can be the most confusing and difficult to perform correctly. In this video, filmmaker Rubidium Wu of Crimson Engine offers a bunch of great advice on how directors and actors can collaborate to avoid the many pitfalls of this very dynamic, but very tricky creative relationship.
Directors bear so much of the burden of making a film. They're involved from the time the script is accepted to the moment of the film's release and are responsible for making sure that the rickety boat that most film projects are don't end up sinking. So yes, if you're directing a film, you're going to need to employ tons and tons of skills to get the thing made.
However, we all make mistakes, especially in the pressure cooker of film production. You're going to make mistakes with your DP, your 1st AD, your editor, and yes, especially your actors. But most actors you work with, regardless of experience level, are going to be forgiving of the many sins you're bound to commit on set, like not having answers to important questions right away or, *wince*, reading lines. However, you don't leave yourself a whole lot of room if you don't come to work with respect, not only for them as a human being, but for them as a creative, as well. That might be the single most important "skill" you have as a director, the ability to respect others.
More often than not, respect tends to take you much further than sheer talent and experience, so when you work with your actors, be sure to always come correct with respect, patience, and a willingness to collaborate.
Respect aside, here is the practical advice Wu shared in the video that you can use to become a better director:
- When you're not getting what you want from an actor, be patient and work through it.
- Respect your actors' territory and expect yours to be respected as well.
- Understand your actors' process and share what yours is, too.
- Protect your actors. Don't let the DP, other actors, or any crew members get in the way of their work.
- Don't allow anyone else to direct your actors.
- Don't give direction in public. Take your actors aside to give them notes.
- Don't overdirect. You hired your actors to do a job, so let them do it.
- "Get in the pool." Don't make your actors feel like they're performing for you. Instead, take part in the creative process together.
- Don't give line readings. Just don't!
- Give plenty of time to rehearse.
Wu also shared a handful of acting tips, which are not only helpful for actors but for directors wanting to know what kinds of standards they might want to put in place before shooting starts.
- Be on time.
- Know your lines and queues.
- Don't be married to your performance.
- Stay focused, even when the focus isn't on you.
- Stay off your phone.
- "Stay in your lane."
What are some other helpful tips for directors working with actors? Let us know down below.