What Do Actors Want From Directors?

Being a filmmaker can pull you in a lot of different directions, behind the camera, in front of the camera, and in the business office. It’s important to be a good communicator, delegator, and sometimes instigator. And unless you’re Oliver Stone, James Cameron, or Werner Herzog, it’s best to do it all without crushing (or inflaming) egos.

But you do need to see your vision through to fruition. By empowering the cinematographer, lighting and sound department, and the rest of the crew members to give their best efforts, they can help enhance that vision. This is never more true than when working with actors.

What Do Actors Need from Directors?

  1. Keep the Environment Safe
  2. Listen to the Actors
  3. Clearly Communicate Your Intentions
  4. Acknowledge a Job Well Done
  5. Do More with Less
  6. Create an Achievable Vision

Perhaps more than any other relationship on set, the chemistry between director and actor can play a huge part in how successful a film is. Do actors and directors always need to get along? Of course not: George Clooney and David O. Russell reportedly came to blows during the filming of the very successful Three Kings.

Those were two heavyweights in their respective fields, of course, and can afford the occasional dust-up. As an up-and-coming director, you’ll want to keep the fisticuffs to a minimum while still getting everything you can out of your actors. And as the leader of the production, it’s up to you to keep things running smoothly.

Actor on the set during filming, waiting for director to resume filming1. Keep the Environment Safe

As the director, you set the tone for the movie itself as well as the general feeling on the set. As they say, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. This doesn’t mean you need to be a pushover, but it does mean you should create a safe environment for the exchange of ideas with your actors.

By fostering a collaborative give and take relationship with your actors (and other crewmembers for that matter), you empower them to be more confident in you and themselves. It’s a great way to build trust and encourage important questions. You can certainly be firm but do so with a smile – not a fist.

2. Listen to the Actors

Especially during the table read, be sure to give your leads and co-stars time to read their lines and discuss their ideas and/or interpretations with you. Be sensitive to their feelings: If you do not agree with their interpretation or the point they’re making, gently guide them back to where they need to be. And that actorly question, “What’s my motivation?” is downright valid.

As the director, you need to know what your characters want in every scene as well as the overall purpose of that scene within the arc of the story. When all is said and done, you are the director and it is your vision that’s being made. Actors are essential players in you being able to achieve that vision, so guide, inspire, communicate, and rehearse. Give them wings.

3. Clearly Communicate Your Intentions

Part of being a good director is allowing others to bring a certain level of their own personality to the screen. Allowing a Will Ferrell or Melissa McCarthy to riff during a scene can lead to comedic gold—if it adds to the overall feel of the movie. And that overall feel needs to be clearly communicated to your actors.

During table readings, make sure it’s understood what you’re looking for. Allow actors to ask questions or clarify your intentions. If you’ve created a comfortable environment, this should be an efficient way to get your point across. And be confident with the direction you’re taking—your confidence is their confidence.

4. Acknowledge a Job Well Done

Who doesn’t like the occasional “good job” every once in a while? You don’t have to hand out gold stars at the end of every scene. But letting your actors know how appreciative you are after particularly grueling scenes will let them know you’re paying attention. And don’t be stingy with the accolades: Even the gaffers and grips could use a pat on the back.

It’s a way of showing that you’re all in this together and you realize how important all of their contributions are. And be genuine, don’t force compliments if they aren’t heartfelt. If your appreciation begins to feel sarcastic or strained, real compliments begin to feel hollow and mean-spirited.

5. Do More with Less

If you’ve established your vision for a scene, and your actors understand what’s expected of them, that should be all you need for a great take. This is a creative industry, and these are actors—so let them act! If you’ve done your job as a director before the camera rolls, you’ll have little to do once you say “Action!”

Just be prepared for three or four takes if needed. You’re not going to get it right on the first try every time, and small nuanced changes from take to take can make all of the difference in the world. But you never know, your actors could surprise you. Unless they’re going off the deep end, let them work a little bit before taking the reins.

6. An Achievable Vision

There’s a reason every film, TV show, music video, and commercial has a director: Chaos would ensue without one! However, a director who doesn’t have a clear vision, or can’t communicate what they want, is downright disastrous and wastes the talents and time of all of those involved in the production. Sure, that’s heavy but it’s true.

So make sure you realize what you’re asking for and understand how to get there. Inspire your actors and empower them to get where they need to be to bring your vision to life. This will give them a sense of ownership over their roles and a true investment in the film overall.

Want to be a Director and Have a Career in the Film Industry?

The Film Connection Film Directing Program will place you within a professional production company, working side-by-side with an industry professional as your mentor. Along with the technical aspects of how to become a professional directory.

Our curriculum is based on what you need to know when working towards becoming a director. The Film Connection learning system has many externs move on to the silver screen and the TV screen, but they earned their shots. Will their success become your success? Well, that’s up to you. Apply today.

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