Directing Actors

From time to time L&D managers find themselves directing actors. It’s usually because it’s a low budget piece – or just some little pieces to camera that don’t seem to warrant hiring a director. You can also find yourself working closely with a video director. Either way I thought it’d be useful to share some tips on the business of directing actors.

Here are the golden rules:

There should only be ONE director. Other people should input with comments regarding the performance, but this should all be passed through the designated director. This makes things a lot less confusing for the actor.

Never give “result” directions. A result direction is one in which you tell the actor how feel or how to be. “Be happy”, “be angry at him”. Actors DO rather than be. Actors are active.

Which leads me to active verbs:

• defend
• tease
• understand
• flirt
• complain

These verbs are something an actor can work with. So instead of telling the actor that he should be angry you might say that he is complaining or defending himself. Explanation of the context to this response is also useful. “You’re defending yourself because your colleague has lied about your behaviour and you stand to lose your job over this”.

Use adjustments:

• Play it like mother and son
• It’s like you’re playing poker and know you have a winning hand
• Just before the scene you’ve had a row with your partner
• You’re in a hurry

NEVER give a line reading. Don’t give an example of how the line should sound. You have to bring a performance out from an actor, not impose it. To do this you have to do a little letting go of your expectations. A performance can’t be exactly what you imagined and remain spontaneous and thus engaging. It might well be better than you’d imagined.

The whole process is a little like counselling a disconsolate friend. The worst thing you can say is “cheer up”. That is an outer direction and just serves to make your friend feel self-conscious. Better to help your friend to understand the bigger picture: ask questions, use metaphor and talk about what action they can take to change their situation.

In summary:

• There should only be one director
• Don’t give result directions
• Use active verbs
• Use adjustments
• Don’t give line readings
• Remember actors DO they don’t BE

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