This post is dedicated to Mr. Dom Zook, not because I think he needs my help, but because he posed the question: “What could directors do to get the most out of their actors? What advice would you give a director to achieve the results they wish?” I will also say I am not an expert on the subject, but will blog anyhow in the spirit of stimulating discourse.
Dom, this is a GREAT question. First, read Judith Weston’s Directing Actors. It is a great book. Helpful for both actors AND directors.
I will outline a few tips, and then elaborate, if needed:
- Know as much as possible about the story you are telling, including each character. I recently re-watched one of my favorite films, Collateral by Michael Mann. I suggest you watch the bonus features and discover the amount of preparation Mr. Mann does for his films, and how, in turn, this allows him to get the most out of his actors.
- Make time for rehearsal, if at all possible. Even if you only have time to run the scene a few times on set while crew is setting up. Run the scene and give each actor feedback. “I like the way you did that” is great feedback, and it can be said to every actor if you are not requiring any adjustments.
- Most actors think in terms of actions. What the character is DOING in the scene is very important to the actor. And, it is easy to give an adjustment using actions (verbs, tasks, objectives, wants, needs – whatever you want to call them). For instance, if you need more fire from an actor during a fight scene, instead of adjusting with emotional tweaking (“be more upset,” etc.) go for, “punish her with your words, make her cry, etc.” If the scene needs to be lighter or funnier, go for, “Try to make your scene partners laugh.” This way, you are giving the actor something to play, rather than steering them towards an emotional state. Emotional reactions should come out of actions played, and fueled by character research and development.
- If you get into a heated discussion on set between takes, make the time to settle the actor back down (whenever possible) before the next shot. Hopefully, if you don’t get what you want out of the actor at first, you might get it on take 3 or 4 (I know, time is money…).
- If you are shooting a film, especially if you are working with more novice actors, tell them how they are framed (wide, medium, etc.).
- Keep things professional, but light, so your actors stay on task, but are able to relax.
- Ask your actors questions about the scene and what they are doing. You may not need the answer, but you should plant seeds to light a fire in the hearts and minds of your actors.
- Continue to reinforce your actors with praise when they make good choices. This will give your actors confidence. Without confidence, your actors might appear stiff.