10 Important Tips for Directing Actors – How To Direct And Lead Actors

10 Important Tips For Directing Actors On A Film Set

Film A director can direct a film in a variety of ways. Some filmmakers are extremely meticulous during pre-production, poring over the script line by line and looking for ways to bring it to life before the camera rolls. 

Other directors may be more concerned with the camera, determining the best lenses for each scene to be filmed. Some directors have little knowledge of the camera or the director behind the monitor, while others prefer to remain near to the actors in order to coach them before calling the action on set.

It doesn’t matter if you went to a prominent film school or learnt all of your filmmaking abilities from books, YouTube, or even an online film school like Masterclass when it comes to directing a film; you will find a directing style that you are comfortable with on set. 

Regardless of your directing style, there is one essential talent that every filmmaker must master: directing actors on set. 

From preproduction to postproduction, directing actors is a collective effort. Whether you’re working on a big-budget blockbuster or an independent short film with local talent, you need to keep these things in mind when dealing with actors on set to become a better director.

10 Important Tips For Directing Actors On A Film Set

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1. Be familiar with your actors

When it comes to directing actors, the director must establish a working relationship with the cast. Before calling the action on set, a film director should do some research on his or her actors if they have never worked with them before.

If you’re directing an independent short film, you should investigate the subject’s background to learn more about what makes them tick. While I don’t recommend learning your actor’s favorite meal or the name of his or her first pet, you should learn the directors of the prior films in which they appeared and begin contacting them for assistance.

When you phone other filmmakers with whom they’ve worked, inquire about the actors in your picture and learn about their approach and working style. In this manner, you can figure out how your directing style will interact with your actors, resulting in a smooth directing process for your film.

Related Article:  5 Awesome Tips For Acting And Directing At The Same Time 

2. Include your actors in your method

It’s crucial to have your actors involved in your process as soon as possible, depending on their availability. It’s essential for the directing actors on your film to be involved in the preparation phase of the project during pre-production.

Have your actors participate in this process if you’re a filmmaker who prepares your picture by producing shortlists, lookbooks, storyboarding, and whatever else you want to do before the cameras start rolling.

It helps your actors grasp the picture better when they see your vision during the pre-production process.

To make my actors feel more connected to my vision of the film, I constantly have them participate through zoom calls and sharing google docs with them. Filmmaking becomes more collaborative and enjoyable as a result.

Related Article: Smartphone Filmmaking 101: Learn to Shoot Mobile Video

3. Create a relaxed and respectful atmosphere on set

12 Important Tips For Directing Actors On A Film Set

It’s critical to communicate with your actors during the pre-production phase of the film to ensure that they grasp your concept. When you’re on set and directing actors before the camera starts rolling, it’s critical to chat to them about the situation before it begins.

Allow your performers to manage the scenario when the camera is rolling. Your performers can use a variety of acting approaches to get into character, so let them shine when they’re on stage.

And wait until the director calls cut before giving them scene notes. Some Hollywood directors give notes to the actors while the scene is being shot, and although this may work for some performers, it may not work for you.

4. Don't make actors wait

When the 1st Ad sends out the call sheet the night before shooting, double-check that you’ve completed everything you need to accomplish before the actor’s call-time on set.

Your performers are most likely rehearsing their lines the night before to prepare for the next day’s scenes, so it’s critical to have all the behind-the-scenes work completed before they arrive on set.

This just streamlines your directing and eliminates the need for the team to work overtime.

When you’re working on an independent film seeking IMDB credit, trust me when I say that 14-hour days will take a toll on your crew behind and in front of the camera.

Want to Learn More About Filmmaking?

Become a better filmmaker with the MasterClass Annual Membership. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by film masters, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Spike Lee, Jodie Foster, and more.

5. Be straightforward

Actors require assistance in front of the camera, so if you notice something you don’t like during a take, tell them! On a set, time equals money, and there is no time to sugarcoat anything.

You’ll need your actors to be aware of your directing abilities during the pre-production stage. This way, when it’s time to direct actors for the next take, you can be direct and honest about what you require from them.

When you’re doing this, be helpful and don’t yell at your actors, but they must understand how to act in the scene you’re directing. I’ve worked on several independent film projects in various capacities, and I’ve seen that first-time directors are generally hesitant to give orders on set.

Actors, on the other hand, are constantly looking for ways to enhance their performances, so provide them with open and honest comments and assistance. It’s important about getting the most out of your performers, so tell them if they need any coaching along the road. It will be much appreciated by your performers.

6. Avoid results-oriented direction

Have you ever seen a movie where the actor’s performance is so fake that it takes your attention away from the movie because it’s dull, predictable, and unwatchable? That’s what results-oriented acting is all about.

The film’s director is forcing the actors to perform by stating the desired outcome. For instance, a director might instruct an actor, “Can you be a little more aggressive, give it more energy, tone it down a little, or enter the room with more menace?”

Actors must perform without considering how their emotions may affect their performance. They don’t consider how their emotions or actions will be captured on camera. It’s just a natural reaction.

Giving the actor a measurable goal will do more harm than good to his or her performance. It results in a shaky, aimless performance that turns into a guessing game between the performer and the director.

Related Article:  5 Great Reasons Why It’s Never Too Late For A Film Career 

7. Pay attention to your actor’s needs

While I’m not suggesting that you go get his or her dry cleaning because they need it for tomorrow, I am suggesting that you be aware of your actor’s set restrictions. When you’re directing a serious emotional drama, you’ll want to lighten the tone now and then.

Allow your actor to take a quick break out of character to gather themselves and recharge if you have them do three emotional moments and you need them to do another take.

Acting is difficult, and if you want your performers to perform at a high level, be aware of and considerate of their process so they can provide their finest performance.

8. Listen to your actors’ senses

This is a crucial step in the pre-production phase, and you and your cast members must be on board with his or her characters. If your performers are having problems understanding their character’s motive, you might want to consider rewriting the screenplay.

While you don’t want to rewrite the entire screenplay to make your actors happy, think about how you may adjust the script to help the actors better understand their characters.

Re-writing is what screenwriting is all about. Consider rewriting if a section of the script isn’t making sense and the actor is having problems understanding it.

Related Article:  10 Best Filmmaking Books For Beginning Filmmakers 

9. Show respect to everyone on set

It goes without saying that the more respect you show to everyone on set, the more respect you will receive.

Everyone on set contributes to the process of making a great film. So, even if you’re casting inexperienced performers for supporting roles, treat them with respect and trust.

They will never learn what it takes to be a better performer if they are terrified to appear on set because of how they are treated, and they will give up on the idea of pursuing an acting profession.

I’ve seen it numerous times where a novice actor is screamed at by the director or the first ad and vows to never act again. Show these actors respect and trust and they will learn how good actors work and how collaborative the process of making movies is.

10. Watch other film directors work

The cheapest film school around is being on set. If you are thinking about directing a film, and have time to volunteer your time on another film project before yours…do it.

Just by observing another director and figuring out how they run the set is the best education there is.

Things that you should pay attention to if you are on a set in which the director allows you to be close to the action is:

  • Do they use certain camera angles (like close-ups or side profiles) to convey certain emotions?
  • Do they appear to encourage improvisation on set?
  • How does the director direct his/her actors in a scene?
  • How does the director treat others on set, and is the crew happy?

By doing this, you can take the lessons you have learned on set, and build off of these lessons on your set. 

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About the author: Trent (IMDB Youtubehas spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

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