Actors to Trust ThemselvesDue to the nature of the filmmaking industry, it can be difficult for actors to avoid playing to an image. Because they have a lot on their minds during any performance, it’s important to run a set where everyone is comfortable enough to lose themselves in the characters that they’re playing.

Teach Them To React With Truth

If your actors are unable to fully immerse themselves in the moment, they’re not getting close enough to the emotional truth of the situation. Whenever this happens you run the risk of a performance that feels false. Sometimes this is unavoidable, although the repeated portrayal of dishonest emotions can take the audience out of a scene entirely. Ultimately, the reactions of the people watching the scenes are most important.

As the director, you need to be careful when you notice this lack of emotional depth. You need to communicate effectively with your performers when this happens, so that they can get comfortable with the character once again. It takes a lot of courage to put your passion on display, so the director’s approach in these cases will greatly influence that actor’s performance moving forward.

Methods For Constructive Direction

Words are powerful, so you think carefully about the way your performance suggestions are phrased. A good writer should show instead of tell, and a good director should teach rather than bully. Encourage the actor to empathize with the character and interpret the moment emotionally. It’s not about the audience, in this case, because the audience isn’t experiencing the story’s events. They’re just observers. An actor should be immersed in the moment, and bringing the audience into the discussion fractures that focus.

Don’t pretend that you can put a quantifiable value on emotions. Recommendations like “15% less angry” do nothing to help your actor get where s/he needs to be. After all a human being is not a scale to be calibrated. If you force an actor to conjure something they’re not feeling, the result will seem inauthentic. This type of pressure can also cause frustration, which may ultimately cause disruption on the set.

Think about the characters as real people in a real moment. If you’re advising your performers to act like shallow stereotypes, the resulting performance won’t have any depth. Above all else, they need to fully commit and focus on the emotional truth of the scene. Directing to a specific result is a manipulation that stifles creativity, and shows your doubt in the talent of your actors.

Where Should A Director Draw The Line?

This doesn’t mean that actors shouldn’t be directed, but the manner in which you voice your recommendations is important. Focus your direction not on how to interpret a moment, but on why the moment is so significant. By providing your actors access to the vision you believe in, they will have all of the tools needed to honor it and bring it to life. Good direction is more about motivation and grounding than it is about micro-managing.

Let’s say that an actor asks for guidance because s/he isn’t confident in an interpretation of the script. You would be wise to assure the actor that the best results will come by searching for the reality of the scene. When asked about a specific feeling, you could say something along these lines: “I’m not sure exactly how it would feel to be in those shoes, but I trust you to capture that experience in an authentic manner.” Give your actors confidence in their own interpretation.  You can hold the door open for them, but your actors should be given the freedom to go through it however they wish.

The Element of Surprise

If directors aren’t supposed to be puppet masters, pulling the strings of actors in order to create a predetermined result, what should directors be doing? The answer is simple: looking for the surprises. Surprises mean that the writing is being elevated to a level that wasn’t even considered, the artistic pinnacle that everyone seeks. It is the director’s job to facilitate an environment where this type of discovery is possible.

When directors discuss performances with actors, they should do so in a manner that allows room for emotional discovery. For actors looking for a little guidance, describe the scene with powerful verbs to get the creative juices flowing. You will get better results by telling someone that they should “explode” into the room instead of “entering powerfully.” Use language that demonstrates the narrative intention without removing the actor’s interpretive space.

The key here is to allow your actors room for discovery. You shouldn’t tell them what the character is feeling. Instead ask them how they think the character would proceed given the circumstances. Actors come to roles for a variety of reasons, but a good actor will always find hooks s/he can latch onto when it’s time to dip into the character’s reality. However this happens, it is important to allow room for your actors to breathe when making creative choices.

Breed Insightful Interpretation

While the director is in charge of the story, the actor is in charge of the moment. By encouraging your actors to approach from a position of honesty, you work together to tell a powerful tale. This allows your actors to stay in their moment without being forced into another person’s mold.

Those who direct without freedom (demanding specific readings, gestures, etc.) don’t allow any room for those little surprises that can only arise when your players are allowed to be free. This level of control is no substitute for proper motivation, if you hope to get memorable performances.

Intimacy allows characters to tell their stories and provides the actors confidence in their message. This type of comfortable set generates creative ideas, which deviate from the traditional formulas often seen. By developing this type of environment, you encourage respect between all parties and minimize frustration on the set.