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The Director's Chair Issue #43 – May 11, 2004 (Working with Actors on the Set)

Free Monthly Ezine for Film and Television Directors

May 11, 2004          Scene 5 – Take 3

Published once a month.

Publisher: Peter D. Marshall
Email: mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com
Web Site: http://www.actioncutprint.com


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1.  Introduction
2.  Action-Cut-Print!
3.  Feature Article – Working with Actors on the Set
4.  Back Issues of The Director’s Chair
5.  Share This Ezine
6.  Suggestions & Comments
7.  Subscribe & Unsubscribe Information
8.  Copyright Information


Welcome to Issue #43 of The Director’s Chair (May 11, 2004).

1) First of all, I would like to apologize to my subscribers
about no March and April issues of “The Director’s Chair.” I
just finished a very gruelling 3 months as 1st AD on the movie
“Edison” and I had no time to publish this ezine. But I did have
the privilege of working with two amazing actors – Kevin Spacey
and Morgan Freeman – along with John Heard, Dylan McDermott,
LL Cool J and Justin Timberlake (in his first major dramatic

2) Which leads me to this month’s Feature Article called
“Director Guidelines – Working with Actors on the Set.” These
are guidelines I have written down over the years and they are
in no particular order.

3) VOLUNTEERS NEEDED – If you would like to contribute articles,
tips, links of interest, industry news, interviews, special event
dates or other resources to The Director’s Chair please email:



Peter D. Marshall

2. ACTION-CUT-PRINT! –  A Website for Filmmakers

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wants to Direct; a film student who wants to learn more about
Directing; or a “student of film” who just wants to know more
about Filmmaking from the pros, Action-Cut-Print! is for you!

Take a moment now to visit http://www.actioncutprint.com where
you will find over 1200 Online Resources for Filmmakers, a Film
and TV Bookstore and Film Directing Workshops.

3. FEATURE ARTICLE – Working with Actors on the Set

Director Guidelines – Working with Actors on the Set

– Motive (Inner) Determines Behavior (Outer)

– always try to layer the performance

– no performer should be “One Note” (flat)

– should always be at least “two” things going on in each scene
with a performer

– motivate the actor to help trigger a response

– help actors to play the character and find the moments
EXAMPLE: (Director): “show me what I don’t know about the character”

– directors want ACTION not a STATE

– an actor can go “over the top” as long as you know how to pull
them back

– do not talk to an actor in states of being or attitudes
Example: (don’t say) “Give me more anger here” (say) “What would
happen if (he hit you)? What would you feel (anger?)

– make sure the actor knows his OBJECTIVE for each scene

– actors want to know why they do things (You must always have
the answer!)

– once an actor feels, he will do (always ask for the feeling)

– every actor should have at least one moment

– look for the special quality in each actor and use it

– fish for information from the actor (don’t let them off the

– every actor knows his character’s “destiny”, so you have to
work backwards to detail the behavior – to structure the
performance to lead up to the logical ending

– find the key to an actor’s performance in order to change it

– emotions have different ways of being expressed

– a good performance happens when both the inner and outer
(physical) life of a character are portrayed

– find the emotional context to trigger a response

– give an actor a place to go (restrict his freedom)

– make sure an actor does not change the INTENT of the scene

– do not have two actors playing off a different element within
a scene

– determine what is driving the scene (where are we going?)

– with “temperamental actors”, devise unusual and devious
techniques to get a performance

– do not instruct actors. Guide the performers along in their
own interpretations (never show an actor what you want by acting
it out)

– make sure actors have the conception of the relationship of
their part to that of the other actors in the story (have an
informal reading of the script)

– try to iron out differences with the actors before shooting

– preserve an actor’s ego (use tricks to get best

– the moderate approach is to work calmly and quietly with an

– guidance when necessary; encouragement where deserved

– suggest rather than command

– you need patience and understanding

– if an actor is nervous (time problem), take the pressure off
the actor (“lots of time”)

– show that you have the confidence in yourself

– use emotion and intellect when talking to an actor (don’t just
ask for the result)

– some actor’s are like children – they respect authority but
will behave outrageously if they can get away with it

– never let an actor suspect you are depending on them (lead
them into a position where you can extract their ideas)

– when a scene is flat, slowly paced or uneven, ask the actor to
do it again, but as rehearsed

– never ask an actor to do another take unless you can make
constructive criticism of the performance

– discuss with an actor the concept of the character
(background), what motivates him and the overall result that
should be accomplished

– directors should know how to interpret every scene and line of

– everybody likes a compliment; a craving to be appreciated

– most actors don’t like surprises

– actors depend on the director to construct a performance which
will appear sustained

– technical actor (portrays a character the way it was created
by the writer)

– method actor (wants to be the part through inspiration and
improvisation) Cannot turn it off like a technical actor

– acting qualities are based on behavior (limited to your
personal experience)

– an actor must feel strongly the emotions he is performing so
an audience can be moved

– reproduce emotion in a scene to stimulate the emotions of the

– Memory of Emotion (recall past experiences from reality and
transfer them to the character)

– an actor has to really believe the character and the scene
they are portraying. If he doesn’t, neither will the audience
(lack of sincerity and false emotion)

– in dealing with an actor, determine what kind of personality
he is working with, then decide how to handle it

– actors are required to be vulnerable (it is the nature of
their profession)

– make sure that each actor understands thoroughly the meaning
and purpose of the story and they understand the reasons for
each scene, each character, each line of dialogue, and the
interrelationship of their character as a whole

– each actor must understand where the scene they are doing fits
into the story

– a good actor doesn’t act (register emotions), he reacts

– an actor must “listen in character” (he must listen to another
actor’s lines as if he is hearing them for the first time)

– watch out for actor’s who anticipate lines and actions

– acting is being, not behaving (must have an honest attitude;
show it in the eyes)

– an actor’s speech and his actions must appear spontaneous

– a director should make an actor feel completely secure,
encourage the actors to take chances, try for something new, to
go beyond the accepted interpretation, separate the good from
the bad and communicate his thoughts to the actor

– actors should have a complete understanding of the setups and
the effects the director wants to achieve

– encourage the actor to fit their established characterizations
into the desired patterns and to integrate their concepts with

– actor should have clarity of choices

– be aware of habitual behavior

– praise a job well done

– give credit to anyone making a useful suggestion

– do not belittle anyone on set

– each actor should make his dialogue his own, commit himself to
a way of speaking that best fulfills his screen character

– underplaying (only giving his lines the importance he feels
they deserve and tossing them away)

– an actor’s movement should always appear to be a natural
result of the emotions and attitudes expressed in the scene

– actors are always ready to give a big performance all the
time. You have to be able to “keep it real” -be able to tone it
down (“The Pump”)

– actors can change lines and improvise as long as you know what
the intent of the scene is

– actors should not anticipate the moment

– creating the moment (make it special – share it with other
actors; concentrate on the face and the words)

– try and negotiate habitual behavior (mannerisms create
“manner acting”)

– don’t have an actor “play the result” (don’t play a weak
character weakly)

– find a different way to change a mannerism (or uses it of it
really works)

– make actors demand

– motivate the actor to trigger a response


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Peter D. Marshall
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