Directing 101: How to Help Your Actors Give Better Performances

Learn how to inspire and guide actors to give performances you're both proud of.

The relationship between a director and an actor is one of the most important in filmmaking because, well, most audiences don't go see a movie for its set design and editing (unfortunately), they go to see the actors' performances. This is precisely why it'd be a good idea to learn a few directorial techniques for getting better, more inspired performances from your actors. In this video, the team over at The Film Look share five tips on how to do just that. Check it out below:

Now, not all of these tips are going to float your boat. Some directors and actors do things completely differently and that's okay. For instance, some directors and actors despise rehearsals, believing that it makes performances contrived and overthought.

However, the point of all of this is to open yourself up to new ideas that may (or may not) help you become a better director so you can help your actors give better performances. Let's go over the list: 

  • Rehearsals: Even if you're not a huge fan of rehearsing lines of dialogue, you can still go over scenes to work on blocking and understanding the emotions of the scene. 
  • Use keywords in your storyboard: If your style is to get your point across without a whole lot of fluff, you may consider applying descriptive keywords to each cell on your storyboard that express the general idea or emotion of the scene or shot.
  • Emotional beat map: Music is a powerful tool for inspiring emotions. Playing a piece of music that encapsulates the moment emotionally may help your actor not only understand what you're going for but also evoke those feelings naturally.
  • Ask your actor to create a character playlist: Since music can be so emotionally inspiring, asking your actors to create character playlists is a great way to get them thinking about their character on an emotional level.
  • Create opportunities for authentic reactions: Okay, some directors in the past have gone about this really wrong (I'm talking about you, Friedkin), but if you can come up with ways to surprise your actors or catch them off guard, their reactions may end up appearing more authentic.

What are some tips you have for directing better performances? Let us know down in the comments.     

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The single most important thing a director can do in order to get better at directing actors take some acting classes. Directors have to understand the acting process. They have to understand it from the inside.

There are things a director can do to help them prepare for the direction of actors in a scene that should NEVER BE COMMUNICATED TO AN ACTOR. For example, the advice in this article to write a word on the storyboard describing the main emotion of a scene, or to create an emotional journey map of a scene. Make adjustments on set with a verb not an adjective - tell an actor to do something, not to be something. For example say "Punish him" instead of "be more cruel".If you say these adjectives and emotions to an actor, then these things are the kiss of death to directing them. Not only do they betray a complete misunderstanding of the acting process but, on set, they will require your actor to exit their subjective headspace, adopt an objective perspective and deliver a bad attempt at giving you the result-oriented direction you have asked for. Unless you have a very experienced and skilled actor, who can reinterpret your approach, you will have sucked all spontaneity and therefore believability from the performance. Surely every director knows that one of the most insulting (not to mention ignorant) things you could say to an actor would be something like 'the attitude you played in that scene was...'.

August 31, 2018 at 1:58PM, Edited August 31, 1:58PM

Ross Brannigan
Actor, Lecturer in video production

The Film Look

Watch: 6 Directing Tips That Will Help You Get More Natural Performances from Actors
5 Ways to Get Better Performances from Actors in Short Films
The Director's Chair - How to Work with Good (and Bad) Actors

August 31, 2018 at 2:31PM

No Film School
CEO at Yes Film School