3 Tips for Directing Actors

As someone who has worked on both sides of the camera, I’ve tried out technique after technique to connect with actors. Here is a list of 3 jumping-off points to ensure a good relationship with your cast and, ultimately, the best performances in the long-run.

1. Get to Know Them- You have to trust each other

One of the things about working with actors is that there are few true blanket truths about actors. At its core, getting to be good at directing actors is about being able to tailor your approach to their specific needs, to achieve the specific needs of your film. The way to do this is to get to know them— have a readthrough a couple weeks before the shoot and schedule a couple rehearsals with all your major actors. By making this effort early on, you will start to develop a sense of how they work, where their strengths and weaknesses are, and when and if they will need validation (or focus). On the converse, the more time you spend with them, the more you can convey to them about your vision for the project, and the closer they can get to fulfilling it. It’s a win-win!

2. Make Sure They’re Warm(ed Up)

This is really a twofer- making sure your actors (and crew, for that matter!) are safe and comfortable on-set, and making sure they are warmed-up/prepared on the day of shooting. That isn’t necessarily bottomless danishes at the craft services table, but generally some type of food or coffee is a must on a long shoot day. In addition, make sure your actors have some space to prepare and warm up that is distinct from the set. Arriving on location and getting ready silently behind the camera while a take is going on will result in nervous energy from your talent.

3. Don’t Lie to Them about a Take

Unless you are an Oscar-winning actor yourself, don’t lie to them after you finish
a take you don’t feel hot about, because they can tell. Odds are, if you’re even on the brink of saying it, you already have with your body language. And to tell them that it “went great! We’re just gonna get it again for coverage” when all your vibes are saying “God why can’t he/she get it!” breeds a mistrust in your relationship and puts your actor down a rabbit-hole of self-judgment from which a good performance is almost impossible. Instead, be honest and try asking them where they feel they’re disconnecting from the text or the action. Take a second to work through it with them. Tell them to breathe (which works a lot better if you’ve already done step 1 and your actor trusts you and sees your “critique” as a tool with which to better the work), and help them reconnect to the intention.

By Ken Lumb


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.