Working With Actors!

“And, go!” That’s what my good friend used to yell at his actors right before a take. He later learned that it probably wasn’t the best choice of words, not the worst, but certainly not what the actors always wanted to hear. And after meeting and working with a wide variety of thespians, I’m convinced most of them at least deserve a softly served “action.”

As the director you have many creative decisions to make, but the ultimate goal should be to get the best possible performances you can out of the cast. But you don’t want to set them up for failure. And that starts in the audition room.

Auditions and Casting

  • Look into local online callboards, a lot of performers are signed up to theater and film forums that send alerts directly to their email. Craigslist is another good option, it may attract some crazies, but hey, maybe that’s what you want!
  • When you create your character breakdown list, and if it’s important to the script make sure you include age, size, race, sex, and any specific character notes. That way the actors can decide if it’s something they feel they can pull off before the actual audition. And most importantly, remember to ask for a headshot and resume.
  • It’s very important to stay organized during the casting process, make sure you keep a detailed schedule for all appointments. This is essential if you’re seeing a large group of actors in a given day.
  • During the audition try to give each actor at least 15 – 30 minutes. Make sure they are comfortable, this will help to get the most authentic performance out of them. That means no matter how badly you may want to intimidate them, it won’t benefit the production!
  • Don’t rely on your notes and shady memory, always tape the readings.
  • Don’t immediately typecast actors as they walk into the room. Give them a shot to read for more than one part, they may surprise you.
  • And if there’s time, let them give their own interpretation of the scene, anything goes!
  • Finally, remember to explain the call-back process, they should have a time frame for when you’ll get back to them. Always let them know if they do not get the part, closure is a must. You don’t want them sitting at a computer refreshing their email every two minutes for the next week wondering if they got the part of “Angry Customer #2.”

Directing the Actor

  • Language is key when working with your actors. Don’t patronize them by simplifying a scene down to being “sad” and “happy.” They won’t know what to do with that kind of feedback. Try using action verbs that get to the very root of the process. It mostly revolves around the classic question, “what’s my motivation?” For example; “James won’t be honest with you about where he’s been, as a worried mother make him feel your concern.” It creates a pathway for the character, not the actor.
  • Know the scene. Show up to the set with a plan for that specific scene. You must know the characters mindset, what they want, how their going to get it, and how it’s going to transition into the next scene. The characters go through an arc in the overall story and it must be apparent from scene to scene.
  • Trust your actors to deliver the goods. Once the research for the character is complete it should naturally come to the actor, and that also means letting them explore the limits of the character, with or without the script.
  • The great thing about film is that you can concentrate on individual scenes and get all the essential information to your actors for that specific scene. Try not to fill their head with useless information, keep to the topic at hand. Work on the meat of the character, and don’t forget to load up on emotional veggies!


Oh, and I don’t know if you’ve heard of this director before, but I think he knows a thing or two about working with talent.


Meme E

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