10 Important Tips for Directing Actors – How To Direct Actors

Directing Actors – Film Directors have various ways of directing a film. 

Some directors are very detail-oriented during pre-production going through the script, line by line on finding ways to bring the script to life before the camera rolls. 

Other directors may be camera-focused figuring out the correct lenses for each shot that will be filmed. 

Some directors don’t know anything about the camera and director behind the monitor, and others like being close to the actors to guide the talent before they call the action on the set.

When it comes to directing a film, it doesn’t matter if you went to a prestigious film school or learned all your filmmaking skills from books, YouTube, or even an online film school like Masterclass, you will find the directing style that you will be comfortable with on a film set.

Regardless of your directing style, there is one critical skill that every director must acquire, and that is directing actors on a film set.

Directing actors is a collaborative process from preproduction to wrap. 

Whether you’re on the set of a big-budget blockbuster or an independent short film with local talent in your area, to become a better director you need to keep these things in mind when working with actors on the set.

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 needs to develop a rapport with the actors on set.

If you have never worked with your actors before the production, a film director needs to do some homework before calling the action on set.

If you are directing an independent short film, you should act like a private investigator and dig into his/her background to find out what makes them tick.

While I don’t suggest finding out what your actor’s favorite food is or what was his/her first pet’s name, you need to find out the directors of the previous films they acted in, and start calling these directors for help.

When you call other directors they have worked with, ask them about the actors in your film, and find out the actor’s process and how they like to work.

This way you can figure out how your directing style will work with your actors to make your process of directing actors on your film seamless.

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

2. Include your actors in your method

Depending on your actor’s schedules it’s important to have your actors involved in your process as soon as you can.

During pre-production, it’s important for directing actors on your film to them be involved during the preparation portion of your film.

If you are a director that prepares your film by creating shortlists, lookbook, storyboarding, and everything else you like to do before cameras start rolling, have your actors be involved in this process.

When actors see your vision through this pre-production process, it helps your actors understand the film better.

For me, I always have my actors involved through zoom calls and sharing google docs with them to have them feel more connected to my vision of the film. It makes filmmaking more collaborative and fun.

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

When you are going through the pre-production process of the film, it’s important to make sure your actors understand your vision through communication.

When you are on set, when directing actors before the camera starts shooting, it’s important to talk about the scene to your actors before the scene starts.

But, when the camera is filming, let your actors be in control of the scene. Your actors have many different acting styles to get into character, and when they are acting, let them shine.

And wait until you as the director calls cut to give them notes on the scene.

There are Hollywood directors out there who give notes to the actors as the scene is being shot, and while it might work for some actors, it might not work for yours.

4. Don't make actors wait

When the 1st Ad sends out the call sheet the night before shooting, make sure that everything you need before shooting your scene is done before the actor’s call call-time on the set.

Your actors are probably rehearsing his/her lines the night before preparing for the next day’s scenes, it’s important to have all the behind-the-camera stuff done so your actors can roll onto set-ready to shoot.

This just makes your directing more streamlined, and you never have to worry about overtime for the crew.

Trust me, when you are an actor on an independent film working for IMDB credit, 14 hour days will begin to take a toll on your crew behind and in front of the camera.

directing actors directing actors

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 need help in front of the camera and if they are doing something during a take that you want to be changed…tell them!

Time is money on a set, and there is no time to sugar coat anything. During your pre-production process, you need your actors to understand your directing skill.

This way when you are directing actors for the next take, be blunt and honest about what you need from your actors.

When you do this, be helpful in your direction and no yell at your actors, but your actors need to know how to act in the scene you are directing.

I have been part of independent film productions in various roles, and I often see first-time directors be timid in his/her directions on set.

But, actors are always looking for ways to improve his/her performance, so give them open and honest feedback and guidance.

It all about getting the best out of your actors, and if an actor needs a bit of coaching along the way, tell them. Your actors will appreciate it.

6. Avoid results-oriented direction

Have you ever watched a film where the actor’s performance is so artificial, that it took your away from the film because it made the movie boring, predictable, and unwatchable? That is results-oriented acting.

The director of the film is making the actors perform by specifying the result he/she is after.

For example, a director telling an actor, can you be a bit more hostile, can you give it more energy, can you tone it down a little, or can you enter the room with more menace.

Actors need to act without thinking about how his/her emotions will affect their performance. They don’t think about how their emotions or behavior will appear on camera. It’s a natural instinct.

Giving a result-oriented goal will do more damage than good to the actor’s performance.

It results in a performance that is questionable and directionless and it ends up becoming a guessing game between the actor and 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 am not saying that you should go grab his/her dry cleaning because they need it for tomorrow, what I mean is to know your actor’s limitations on set.

If you are directing a heavy emotional drama, sometimes your need to lighten the mood every so often.

Or, if you have an actor do three very emotional scenes, and you need them to do another take, allow your actor to take a brief break out of character to collect themselves and recharge.

Acting is tough, and if you want your actors to perform at a certain level, be conscious and thoughtful of your actor’s process so they can give the best performance possible.

8. Listen to your actors’ senses

This is an important part of the pre-production process, and you and your actors need to be on board with his/her characters.

If your actors are having trouble trying to understand the motivation of his/her character, may consider looking at reworking the script.

While you don’t want to re-write the entire screenplay to make your actors happy, have a look at ways in tweaking the script so it will make it better for the actors to understand his/her character more.

Screenwriting is re-writing. If a part of the writing isn’t making sense and the actor is having trouble getting it, consider a rewrite.

Related Article:  10 Best Filmmaking Books For Beginning Filmmakers 

9. Show respect to everyone on set

This goes without saying if you show respect to everyone on set, the more respect you get back.

Everyone on set is all part of the process of making a film great.

So, even if you are using inexperienced actors from casting calls to fill supporting roles, give them respect and trust.

If they are afraid to be on set because of the way they are treated, they will never learn what it takes to be a better performer and give up on the thought of an acting career.

I have seen this happen many times where an inexperienced actor is yelled at by the director or 1st ad, and never wants to 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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