View Full Version : Acting, and the Director's role

12-19-2005, 12:04 AM
Hi, this is John, coming to seek counsel among the wise, yet again.

I've been just playing with the movie game, trying to work my way up, until my projects become commercially viable. Up until this point, I've used very inexperienced friends as actors. They didn't even have to look good.

Well, I have two friends who look stunning on camera. And I mean stunning. They literally look like they're at a photo-shoot in every photo they're in. Derek, the boy, is amazing with how different he can look. Jonathan Taylor Thomas, really. He looks almost identical, but has a better voice, in my opinion. The girl, Angela, is a little older, looks very similar, though they're not related, and also looks stunning on camera, though she doesn't really look like any particular actress that comes to mind.

However, though their looks are perfect, their acting could use a little work, mostly because they haven't had any practice. Is there any specific resource I can give them, or point them to? I should point out also that they're both under sixteen years old.

Being very young, I find it probable that somebody with good looks and no acting talent is better off in one of my productions than somebody with mediocre acting talent and mediocre looks. I'm willing to spend extra time with them, getting the shot right, but as they live fairly far away (one in Alaska, one in Colorado), I won't have them in one location for an unlimited amount of time. Having them do it right the first time is preferable.

A long distance teaching guide, that can be done from Wilderness, Alaska, and yet will be somewhat effective. They both have the heart, if I can get them the material they need.

Somebody suggested sending them reference tapes and recordings of the lines that they'll need to use. Does this work?

Also, in a somewhat unrelated topic, my six year old brother is brilliant on camera, but could use a little refinement. Anything for working with very young actors?

Thanks a million guys!

~ John R. Moore.

12-19-2005, 12:51 PM
Tell them this:

Don't act. Be yourself.
Listen to the other actor.

Have them practice a couple of lines that are kind of generic so that they can deliver them according to different circumstances. For example:

I knew she always loved him.
You could see it when they were together.
She was my best friend.

Now have them deliver those lines and give them a situation or context in which to deliver them. For example - the SHE in question just died. Or the SHE in question just got engaged to HIM.

Then have them think up their own contexts in which to deliver the lines.

There are a ton of exercises like this that youy can use, this one is pretty effective and easy to implement. Have them do it as many times as they like until they are happy that they are delivering the lines in such a way as to convey the context.

Bear in mind that you cannot direct actors without an understanding of acting. Here is a very good book for you and your actor friends to check out:


Digitally Pleasing
12-19-2005, 01:09 PM
Animal Analogies work good with actors, with or w/o experience. Relate them to an amimal... if they are dominating.... maybe a lion. If they are sneaky, a mouse. Sounds silly, but it is something for the actor to visualize. I read that anthony hopkins used the characteristics of a snake in scilence of the lambs. There are many other examples of this strategy.

12-19-2005, 06:40 PM
If you find non-actors are doing unconvincing performances - ie they are obviously "acting" instead of "being" the characters - it can sometimes help to give them an appropriate prop which they need to handle or operate in some way. The distraction, or the behaviour associated with an appropriate prop can often reduce or stop the overly self-conscious delivery of lines.

Film Crazy
12-23-2005, 07:17 PM
Here's a couple of tips my acting teacher told me:

1) Acting is about "doing" something. Don't just sit there and "emote". "Do" something to the other actor, and make it a specific action (e.g., to belittle him).

2) Make sure that the actors have a clear objective. A muddy performance is sometimes a result of not having a clear objective.

Hope this helps.

12-24-2005, 06:35 AM
Hi John.

I would STRONGLY recommend that you buy two books:

"Directing: Film and Techniques" by Michael Rabiger (ISBN 0-240-80422-8)
($49.99, somewhat expensive, but LOADED with great info, including how to work with actors to get the most from them. The amount of information in this book is PHENOMENAL. It is actually a bargain at $50.)

"Directing Actors" by Judith Weston (ISBN 0-941188-24-8)
($26.95, this one is specifically about how to work with actors AND common mistakes that directors make that actually work against getting what you want).

These are probably among the most read and referenced books in my home/self-taught film-school library.

Hey, how about posting up a couple of headshots of these fantastic actors? You've piqued our curiosity now.

12-31-2005, 09:37 PM
Thanks for reccomending those books, I think I'm going to pick up a copy of each to add to the film school library of my own.

12-31-2005, 10:17 PM
Have them watch Michael Caine's "Acting in Film".. its like a 101 course that
illustrates bad 1st time mistakes that seemed like a really god idea at the time
and got the whole crew worked up, but was unusable in the edit.

01-01-2006, 01:23 PM
I just directed my first feature film (on the DVX-100a, yay!!) and I learned a few valuable lessons from the experience that I hadn't encountered in doing shorts.

1. Casting. The ol' adage about the director's most important decision being the casting of the role is very true. In my case, I had limited choices so I got lucky in those few choices being very talented. I actually only had to audition one part out of the five. I also had another luxury in that I was able to rewrite the script based on the actors. After getting to know them a bit, I could write the parts to suit them so that I could get the strongest possible performance.

2. Give the actors time. Establish the characters early in broad strokes. Give them visual examples to work with. My lead actor and I had completely different takes on who his character was. But I knew that with his personality, my interpretation would work better. He was afraid of looking too much like a pansy and wanted to play it tougher, but I told him that, as an actor, my way was much more complex and complicatied and would work better for him in the long run. I gave him numerous examples of the kind of character I wanted, and by the first day of shooting he had it down and was completely into it.

3. Don't be afraid to improvise on the day. You know what it's like to get to a line or two that your actor just can't do the way you have it in your head. I found that as the shooting wore on, I got a lot quicker at saying, "Just do it the way your character would do it." By the last week, I wasn't even directing them anymore. They were doing the lines exactly as I had heard them in my head.

01-04-2006, 10:53 PM
You live in Texas. One lives in Colorado. The other in ALASKA!!?? How good can they look? I would rather have mediocre looks and good acting chops anyday over good looks and no acting skills. If they were interested in acting you wouldn't need to be teaching them, they'd be out learning and doing it themselves. You should find people who are in your hemisphere that enjoy and want to pursue acting.

Oh---and watch out with your description of the males. Gave me a wood. Kidding.

01-05-2006, 09:31 AM
I just re-read my post and realized I didn't give any ACTUAL suggestions for your situation. Like I said, I wouldn't waste the time and effort, it's hard enough working w/ actors in your own backyard. BUT, there is a book it is called "Sanford Meisner on Acting". You can pick it up here:


That is the best book I've read on acting. It's also a book to make people realize how hard acting really is. Hope that helps.

01-06-2006, 12:39 AM
Hey, here's my two cents. I went to UCLA theater for a BA in directing and am now at USC doing my MFA in film directing... not that that means anything at all regarding quality, all that is relative... but...

...there is a lot of good advice in all these posts. many of the books mentioned are great. though be careful with "method" stuff like Meisner. There are two things about "method" acting. Number one, every actor that takes a class at one point will try and learn some form. So as a director, it's up to you to know the language they will learn. And number two, it's probably one of the most misinterpreted overused bandaids for actors out there. That is, they will talk a lot, give you a lot of philosophical technique... and what... they can still suck!

In your case, you spent a lot of time describing how beautiful the actors are. Here is my golden rule. Talent is ALWAYS more important than looks. A really good "looking" person, that you think "looks" perfect can still botch up a character. Whereas someone you think may not look the part but acts really well may in fact bring your character to a new level, or literally create the character you wanted more convincingly. Talent is everything.

Here's the thing though. Auditions are more or less a joke. I must have done thousands myself now, and you get very little out of them. Usually in one minute you get a gut instinct. Learn to hone that down and go with that. Be professional, understand what you WANT (this is huge) and communicate clearly with the performers.

In saying that, seldom will you directly tell and actor "I want this." that usually doesn't go very far.

You can do what people are suggesting. Metaphors, ask questions, etc. These are all mental tactics derived from various method based books. And to an extent, they work. But the big thing, really, is experience. You just have to work with lots of people. Most will blow, some will be amazing. Then you will build up a database of people to work with... also, over time, you will understand yourself better and know how you communicate with people... it's so amazing when it works.

So the best thing you can do is evaluate yourself. Do you understand people? That is key, you really need to know people. What they want, why they want it, what they are thinking. Seriously. This is true for everything if you want to be successful. "Is so and so angry with me right now, or is he just tired?" Right. That makes a huge difference. If he is angry, ok, why is he angry. And how did he get there? Can I make him angry again? How can I stop him from being angry? If you can answer all those questions, then you can get your performer to either be angry or not be angry, very powerful. I guarantee you if you say "be angry like a lion" you're not gonna get what you want :)

okay, I am rambling. I say all these things and yet it is still very hard. I direct all the time these days and each time is a new challenge. Sometimes I feel more success. Sometimes i feel more failure. But I always feel like I am a pirate on a ship in a big storm to my right, and a giant squid attacking from my left. And there I am swashbuckling through a crazy adventure. And I am just so happy that I get to be on the ship!

Remember, the directors main responsibilities are: 1) working with the performers (on a legit set they are the only ones allowed to directly communicate any artistic matter) and 2) come up with the shots (storyboard, shotlist, etc).

Oh, and one last thing. One book to read, for SURE is William Ball's "A sense of direction"



Jay Rodriguez
01-06-2006, 11:35 AM
zoo, great post! Very good points made.