If you are thinking about directing a movie with actors there are some basic stuff you should know about. Below are some useful tips that will get you going in the right direction. Who knows, you might just be the new Spielberg...
After these magical words the camera starts rolling and everyone falls silent and the actors start acting. But what do they do? Well, not what you want them to do anyway! If that´s the case you have probably failed in directing the actors the right way.
Directing actors is not all that easy. There is no step by step manual to follow. Actors are unique individuals (no matter if it is Bruce Willis or your grandmother) and must be treated as such. You have to find your own unique style to get the results you want.
When you are giving directions you are transferring your own interpretations and ideas from the script to the actors. To do this you must gather the courage to demonstrate and act out the different scenes yourself, without inhibitions. It´s no time to be shy! Even if you are not an actor this will really help the actors to understand what you are looking for.
Listen and learn.
The best way to learn about man´s natural behavior is to observe people around you. In what way do people say a simple phrase like “goodbye”? How does a guy go about when he tries to make contact with a girl at a bar? Take advantage of everyday situations you find yourself in and take notes of what you see and hear. Always carry a notebook for writing down the good stuff. It´s time to unleash your inner spy!
It´s a good thing to take the time to discuss the characters thoroughly with the actors before you start shooting. This will give them a chance to ask questions and come up with ideas and suggestions, giving you additional improvements to the script.
Try to bring as much time as possible with the actors before you start shooting. Talk them through the script, characters and dialogue. Remember that the dialogue should be adjusted to the actor's character and not the opposite! If a line sounds crappy in the written script it will probably turn out a disaster when saying it out loud.
Try not to make the actors study their lines to hard before shooting as this could result in the actor getting a false impression of his/her character. You will then have a hard time getting them back on track. Remember that improvisation can some times be the best and most natural method.
The better you plan ahead the less stressful it will be for both you and your actors on the set. It is extremely important that you remain calm and open for new ideas during the entire shooting. A stressed director equals stressed actors.
When giving directions it´s all about putting the actors in the right mood at the right time. When they are ready in front of the camera you should avoid giving them thousands of last minute instructions. Instead just try to get them relaxed by telling them a few well picked words as guidance. Sometimes it´s better to give them directions while the camera is rolling instead (as long as your voice don´t end up in the movie).
Tell them the context in which their lines and actions are taking place, WHY they do and say certain things. Instead of saying “look that way, get angry, raise your fist” you could instead give them instructions like “you are pissed at him because he stole your car, you feel like giving him a punch in the face”. Giving the character a means to achieve a goal allows the actor the opportunity to really do something as opposed to an instruction.
As a director you should try to avoid critique and instead encourage the actors and their acting to one hundred percent. Any feedback should be positive, even when you are not getting what you need. You have to make them confident by making them believing in themselves.
When you have recorded a scene you should immediately approach the actors and give them credit. Don´t worry about the rest of the team at the moment just concentrate on the actors. Tell them what you think was good, what could be better and why you want to shoot the scene again. Try to come up with suggestions of different actions to achieve the same goal. The least helpful thing you can say is “do exactly the same thing again please”. When this is done you can focus on the technical side of things.
Thank you and good luck with your directing career!