RelationshipsRelationships are created anytime you engage in a need-based interaction with another person. Each of you becomes a character in the scenario of the relationship.

Simple objectives, which are sometimes the most useful, have a physical goal. For example, if you want someone to smile or go away, these are emotional tasks. A goal like wanting respect from another person is abstract. A good way to decide how to portray this is to ask yourself what the other character, or actor, can do to show that they respect you. For example, if they stop concentrating on other tasks, look you in the eye, and listen to what you are saying, they are showing you respect. For a director, getting actors to concentrate on another actor’s feelings instead of their own is often a great challenge, but can be the difference between salvaging a floundering scene or not.

Sometimes, it may help to imagine a scene with another actor prior to the actual scene. Say you want to confront another person; you can think about the confrontation before the meeting and even rehearse what you are going to say to them. However, once you actually meet the other person, they may cause a different reaction out of you. For example, once you meet the other person, your need to be liked by them could override your intention to confront them. A Jewish tap dancer who once met Hitler in the early days of the Reich said that you could mock him from a distance, but when you met him up close, you felt much happier if you knew he liked you.

Halfway through the film Eyes Wide Shut (1999) in the billiard Scene, Dr. Bill Hartford, played by Tom Cruise, discovers that Victor Ziegler, played by Sydney Pollack, was at the masked ball the previous night. In thinking back on arriving at Ziegler’s house, Hartford shifts the focus of his thoughts based on the new information he learned about what was actually going on. However, if the actors had played the scene without emotional subtext, the information that Zeigler was at the masked ball would have been lost on the audience.

The younger man’s objective in this scene was to express his relationship to the older man. There are two options the audience could surmised from the meeting; either the younger man wants approval from the older, successful father figure, or the younger man’s behavior toward the older man hides his need to compete to take his place. Either of these options, however, require the actors to react on the other actor’s gestures and expressions and react accordingly. Their relationship is need-based for either option.

Creating Drama and Comedy Via Intention

When actors have clear intentions in their roles, it creates dynamics to their relationships and makes their interactions come alive. Without intention and passion to direct relationships, the audience may not be able to pick up on the proper dynamics of the relationship.

Actors who cannot tap into a wider range of social verbs will probably not be able to convince the audience of their intentions, regardless of the fact that the object is to get someone (i.e., the audience) to believe them. Directors can help actors by specifying not only what they want the actor to do, but also how they want the actor to affect others in the scene. For example, instead of saying, “She wants to convince him to go away,” the director can use a more vibrant verb like demand. Bold choices can bring a scene to life, so do not put emotional handcuffs on actors Committing to an intention, need, or emotional task brings the character to life instead of an actor simply trying to make you believe in an idea.

Instead of just telling an actor to be angry, a director can give them much more direction by suggesting they make the other person angry. To shift the intention to make the role more relatable by trying make the other person feel as angry as you do is easier than trying to achieve the state of being angry out of nowhere. Using verbs like this allows the actors to use their own feelings to bring emotions to the role.

Imagining Facts to Relate Experiences

Facts given in scripts are facts that the actors have to be able to imagine to portray their characters. For instance, Tom Hanks’ girlfriend in Cast Away (2000) has to imagine that her fiancé has died in a plane crash, and returns four years later after she has married another man.

Another example is when the LA Times called Aidan Quinn “method-obsessed” in the HBO documentary Project Greenlight because he asked the director about an imagined fact he had about his character. Quinn asked if his character was in the Vietnam War based on some of his character’s emotions and back-stories. It seems harsh to call this method-obsessed when it should be common sense for actors to be interested in their characters’ histories. The director’s role in this scenario would be to join the actor in his quest for additional information about his character; having combat experience in the Vietnamese war could certainly have an impact on Quinn’s relationship with his son, making it very important. This is an example of an imaginary back-story, which is a fact that is not in the script, but can be inferred as an element of subtext.

Using Facts to Create Situations and Realism

It is helpful for a director to talk to actors in terms of the character’s situation or environment. If a script gives no indication of the intent of facts of a character’s situation or environment, an actor will have to make a choice to answer the questions himself. The director’s role is not to micro-manage these decisions to let the scenes come naturally, but it can be very helpful for the director to at least bring them to the actor’s attention so that they have a place to start. For example, if a scene seems a little flat, the director could ask the actor if he has he thought about the nature of the conversation. If the actor hasn’t, he may realize that he should. The director does not need to say anymore to guide the scene. Sometimes, however, actors may require, and even ask, for additional direction. This can also be valuable to help open a discussion as to how to best manage the scene.