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BlackmanVision Film Production
5 Tips for Working with Actors
Elle (Robyn Kerr) and JJ (T'Nia Miller) embrace in Stud Life Movie

Elle (Robyn Kerr) and JJ (T’Nia Miller) embrace in Stud Life Movie © Paula Harrowing

People always ask me how I found working with actors on my film projects, in a way as if they are expecting horror stories. It gives me pause for thought as in popular imagination actors are assumed to unreasonable divas who make directors’ lives hell. This has not been my personal experience. But while I was training to be a filmmaker, I was on placements and I had the luxury of seeing many directors and their different approaches to actors.

This is not going to be a tutorial on how to direct actors. There are many books and websites that deal with this very well. I am sharing some of the ways of being that have worked for me and are easy to implement on any film set.

  1. Actors are part of the creative team
    Actors are not pawns or robots for you to treat as objects on a film set.  They are creatives too. Many can offer interesting insights into the characters you have written and are directing. Think of your characters as having lines that you have coloured in with your imagination and back story, and the actors as providing shading to add texture.
  2. It’s OK to push actors out of their comfort zone
    Actors like all people have fears and blocks in their lives, There may be aspects of a character they can deal with, but in order to give that special performance they need to go to that place where they feel they are falling off a cliff. Make sure you brief the actor thoroughly before about the role. Be very honest about everything you expect them to do. Develop some level of trust so that you can hold him or her as they take the risks you want them to achieve.  It is your role as a director to make a safe space for actors to play and trust you with your vision of the character.
  3. Critique positively
    We all have learned bad ways of critiquing which might make the person receiving it feel attacked and undermined, even when you might think you are being pretty kind. Actors often feel vulnerable and exposed when giving you the best performance. Even so that performance might be not what you are looking for. Explain using positive words, so rather than saying “I don’t like it when you……” try “That was great, but I would like to see you try it this way…….” Every actor I have worked with very much wants to give you what you want, and will work with you to achieve that vision.
  4. Actors need you to direct
    Actors always come with their own interpretation of the role. That is a good thing. But you have a vision in your head about the tone of texture of who you want for the character. This is your vision and another director given the same lines, will make different choices. As a director it is your job to lead. Actors feel safe when you communicate with them and give clear direction.
  5. Do not cuss out actors on the set
    Being on a set is hard work, intense and usually there is never enough time to do anything. Whatever the budget. Sod’s Law dictates something will go wrong. People get tired and tempers get frayed. No matter how hard it gets, DO NOT BAWL OUT an actor on the set. It creates a bad vibe for everyone. It also can disempower the actor. Your role is to make actors feel capable. If there is a serious conflict take this off the set, and out of ear shot. Remain calm even if the red mist is rising. Take time out to breathe, and think positive. It will open your heart and mind to negotiate more effective solutions.

if there are more suggestions, please share here so we all can learn.

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