Photo credit gabrieldeurioste
A film director has many endless jobs but the most significant is directing actors and making sure that the best possible performances are given on screen. There’s not a lot of advice out there about how to go about directing actors for films. I’ve read the book ‘Directing actors’ by Judith Weston, it’s probably the only book out there focusing on this specific element of the job.
A lot of people praise it but I found that it just made things complicated and never took in account how directing on the day is like – when your surrounded with many other distractions – I find that the advice a lot of people give on directing is impractical. I’ve only directed actors a few times and I’m not saying that I know just how to do it right but below I have listed 5 simple techniques which I believe will help anyone be a better director.
1. Write a detailed background for each character
Before you start to audition actors write a detailed character background for the main roles. You probably would have done this during the script writing stage although you mightn’t have thought about the characters in any detail other than in time present on screen.
A detailed character background with information on the characters past, upbringing and personality will really help the actors understand the character you’ve created. And if the actor understands their character they will be better at acting them.
2 – Remember the scene previous
Film sets can be confusing things, their never shot in chronological order. In the morning you could be filming a chase scene and in the afternoon an emotional piece. Everyone gets confused on where we are up to on the script so as a director you need to keep a sharp eye on how far the characters are within the story.
Reading through the current scene your about to film before you start and making a note on where the characters emotions currently are within the story- will help you be able to explain to the actors what situation the characters are in now.
3- Have some time alone with the actors
As a director actors won’t be the only thing on your mind whilst you’re preparing to shoot a scene (maybe they are on bigger sets but that’s sure as hell not the case on Indy productions). Everyone on the set will want to talk to you before filming begins. It will be loud and busy, so you need to find the time alone with the actors to explain the scene to them. Talk about how the characters are emotionally (and what the scene was before and how they are now), talk about what the character is trying to achieve in this scene and what is on their mind.
It can be hard to find a quiet place alone to do this. Often you will get other unknowing people come over and interrupt or even worse stand there and watch you. If you know you’re going to be in a busy public place it might be good to discuss the scene with actors at the start of the day.
4 –Block all of the action before shooting
Blocking a scene in a film is when you go over the physical actions of a scene in the location you’re filming in just before shooting. This gives the actors and the crew a chance to see how the scene will be performed before recording begins (so that the DOP can set up the lights accordingly, so that the Art Director can see how much of the location needs to be dressed, so that the 1st AD can direct the extras efficiently and so that the actors can know what their physical directions are).
Blocking the scene before shooting is very important and will save time and mistakes (which may not be able to be fix) when the shoot begins.
5 – Stay focused
When that camera starts recording and you shout action then the main thing you need to be focused on is the actor’s performances. There will be distractions – a dog might start barking half way through the shoot (but don’t shout cut, you don’t know if that sound will be a problem for those microphones – that’s the sound departments job – plus you might be shooting some good footage for the editor to use). If you focus on the little things then you won’t be giving the attention to the actors that they need. Whilst you are watching the actors perform think about whether they are acting emotionally right for the scene and think about whether there performance is believable.
It’s not always possible to just ‘direct’ as a director – especially if you are an independent one – but you must make sure that you give the time needed for directing actors – after all if the performances are not believable on screen, then that’s your responsibility.
Sometimes people make out that directing is some magical unknown art form. I get the idea that some directors understand people so much that all they have to do is say the right word, click their fingers and they will be able to direct anyone, anything.
Maybe that is true for those great directors out there but I know that it took years for them to learn their professions. Directing can be scary and you need to find a source of confidence inside yourself. I am not a ‘professional’ director just someone who gets the chance to direct once or twice a year – that’s why I find having a plan – a routine when I go on to sets helpful to me. I hope you find it helpful too and if you have any tips on directing yourself feel free to share them.
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