Most of the questions I'm asked either in the classroom or by first time feature directors is always about how to work with actors. What do you say to them? When you don't like what they're doing, what do you do?
First, if you haven't done so already, go to my last post and click on the link and watch the almost 2 hour video - all of which will do wonders for your directing head. It's workshop stuff, all show, not tell. You'll learn a ton from a few masters - Barnett Kellman is a comedic wizard, Larry Moss is amazing and I don't need to say anything about James L. Brooks.
So, what do you say to actors when you're not in love with what they're doing? First thing is, yes, say something! What do I mean by that? Well, I know many young filmmakers go on to do a 2nd take, and a 3rd and sometime more without ever saying a word. Without ever giving direction. Do not do this. It's a waste of time and confusing to your actors. Why do more takes if you're not going to talk about what you don't like about the previous take?
So the first tip is when you are not happy with what you are seeing, after that take, talk with your actors. Explain what's not working, but best of all, give input - have an idea. Offer a way to make it better. Never, and I mean never just say things like "that was good, but you should be angrier." Okay, so you feel the character should be angrier, instead of just telling your actor to be angrier, explain to them why the character is angry. They'll get it this way.
Or you're watching the take and after cut, you say be drunker. Again, stay away from just saying be more this or more that, or less of something. Be specific and give examples. Remind your actor that the scene takes place at 3:00 in the morning and they've had a lot to drink. They will understand this and "act" drunker.
So in this manner, you have explained to your actor the situation, and where the character is at emotionally or otherwise. This works much better than just "telling." And keep things simple. Don't say too much. Have an idea and articulate it in a few words. Don't go on and on. Be precise. And be prepared!
What do I mean by this? Well, before your shoot day, go over the scenes you'll be shooting and know what it's all about in terms of emotion and what the characters want and must overcome. Understand the essence of the scene - if you don't, you will not be able to give direction to the actors. This is a must! If you don't understand the essence of the scene, you will then resort to saying dumb things like "faster, slower, more, less."
So a lot of how to work with actors really depends on work put in before you begin shooting. In the next post I'll continue on this and we'll discuss what you can do before production starts. Making indie films can sometimes have an advantage over big budget films. Because there is so little money and people in general are freer with their time, one great way to be a better director is to spend time with your actors prior to production. Eat with them. Have drinks with them. Get to know them!
This is a pic from my first film SLEEPWALK, with actors Drea de Matteo and Ivan Martin. We are clowning around, which we did a lot. We did, because we got to know one another prior to shooting - we'll go into more detail in next post.