Problems with working with actors


New member
Hi I'm a film maker who's just finished his first feature.

When it comes to everything else a director does I think I can do it rather well.

The only thing that concerns me is working with actors.
After coming off the film I did (which by the way was not as fun experience) I was told by people that the performances felt flat and there wasnt continuity between scenes and they're right. e.g: one scene he'd be panicked from having done something then in the next was calmer than he should have been.

As everything was shot completely out of order it was something that got by me.
Certain scenes I felt I was on the ball and I knew what I wanted but others it was as though I was more focusing on the visuals and almost letting the actor get on with it instead of studying them to see how it fit in the grand picture.
Guess it's knocked my confidence a little and I'm thinking maybe I'm no good at that side of things and make bad desicions when directing actors.

As I said the film was a nightmare it was a four week shoot that should have been six with very little money and one of the actors (the one people thought was flat) would not be told what to do even when I did catch him doing somethign I felt was wrong.
I also was brought on board to direct this as the previous guy left and didn't really like the project at all, I felt it wasn't 'me' but couldnt turn down the opportunity.

When I was filming because it was such a nightmare shoot I left the script behind most of the times to work out setups I also got to do no rehearsal time with the actors and pretty much one 'successful' take per setup before being forced to move on.
Some people have said the guy was a bad actor and he should have realised himself from scene to scene he wasn't keeping the continuity up the other actors I worked with were fine it was mainly this one guy but I still feel that was all my fault as I should have seen it.

I also felt that sometimes I didn't trust my own desicions as sometimes I'd think about the desicion later on and realise it was wrong.
What made my idea of the way this should be portrayed the right one?

Is this side of it all down to preparing or casting? I've heard Ridley Scott say if you cast right 90% of your problems are over by that does he mean if you cast right you shouldnt need to babysit your actors they should know this themselves etc. Also in terms of preparing is it normal to make script notes so for instance. if you're shooting out of sequence you make a note on a page mentioning in the previous scene he was very angry and so should be in the this scene, etc. Or is that proof I don't know what I'm doing?
Is it also normal to do various things like try emotional ranges from scene to scene in different takes to safeguard yourself against such eventualities.

I also don't know if this was simply it wasnt my script and I didnt like the project so I couldnt get into the charaters and thus identify what they should be doing from moment to moment but still shouldnt a good director be able to adapt to each film?
I did also feel like I didn't understand the script and wondered if I should have done something like this:
I found this perhaps it could have helped me realise what was going on as we were shooting it.

Is there something I can learn to combat this as I used to be a terrible writer, my stories were good but my dialogue was terrible but now it's come along in leaps and bounds so I'm a good learner.
I only wish my abilities to work with actors and to identify good performances matched my abilities with visuals and everything that goes around them.
I just need to know if I have an inherent problem or I just need to prepare much more.

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the key is to get real actors. They are trained to offer seamless continuity by repeating the same action, business, and delivery each take. Most first time filmmakers utilize resources and that means friends and family who have never done it. This is why their films get laughed at, not because of the shots or the editing.

Number of things you should do:

a) Work as an actor for a bit. Get to see how they think, feel...enables you to relate to them.

b) Understand human dynamics. Each human interaction is a transaction, usually status based. Read Keith Johnstone's "Impro." Will help you to create real scenes.

c) Use management theory; one element states that your employees are more effective when autonomous and self directed. Let them act out the scenes until it feels right to all. Don't necessarily script everything.

d) Don't try to do it right in one take. Give yourself the space to do it in as many as you need. Use digital cameras if you're on a tight budget.

e) Is there rehearsal? Rehearse. Do the actors understand the function of each scene? Is the script not right - there is a hope that during filming it will all fall into place - bad idea.

f) Honestly, is your lack of confidence causing you to be dictatorial or a bad communicator? Don't do that. Be honest about your own weaknesses. Directors should be in control but quite often many are not prepared to take on that role. Use others to communicate messages if needbe. It's called delegation. Don't get wrapped up in what you think a director "should be."

g) Work with people you like. Not always possible but if you can, people who naturally relate to you will innately understand you better/easily. Choose your team carefully.

Just some of the common issues and resolutions.

These problems usually iron themselves out the more you do it. Don't give up.
Dear appleguy,

You've asked a huge question that's not easily answered in a forum. A little of my background: early on in my career I was pegged as someone who could "save" a movie. This is crap, of course. You can only make something badly written, directed or acted only slightly better. But for years I worked uncredited directing new scenes and re-editing films that didn't work. So I was in your shoes quite a lot. All the answers you've been given are good ones, but sometimes the world doesn't work so smoothly.

Ideally you want at least 2 weeks of rehearsal, but barring that...

First, character is everything, so acting is everything. It seems from your post that you had two problems: A bad actor and you trying to shove all of the actors into a place where they couldn't, or didn't, want to go.

There are two things an actor needs: trust and freedom. He has to trust you. And to accomplish that, you need to give him a lot of freedom.

A good place to start is to let the actors stage the scene, then plan your shots around their staging and not the staging around your shots. If they feel uncomfortable walking to the desk, then no matter what you do the performance is going to feel "off". But if that walk is absolutely necessary, put a prop on the desk the actor/character needs. You won't have a problem. Actors love props. They seem to feel more comfortable that way.

Always give a short synopsis as to where the characters are to that point before you start shooting. Actors need to know emotionally where they are. Since films are not shot in script order, this is absolutely necessary. It can be something very simple like: "Now remember, your husband was just shot in the head in the previous scene..." This gives the actress playing the wife an emotional hook to hang her hat on.

Bad Actors. Well, are they really bad or just confused? Clear up the confusion. Ask the actor straight out why he's angry here. Or sad. Or whatever. That will start a conversation that could clear it up for the both of you. Remember, it's all about connecting with the audience emotionally. Yes, there are bad actors--just make sure it's them and not you. I've worked with great actors who's first 3 takes were absolutely dreadful, but on take 4 were spot on. Some, it's the other way around. It's bad when you've got both kinds in a scene where one gets better and one gets worse as the takes go on. Editing can solve that though. If you've got a truly bad actor, and nothing you do helps improve a performance, the only thing left is to get tons of coverage. There's not a movie star alive that doesn't owe his/her career to a good editor. You only need 3 seconds of good in a shot to edit a good performance out of them.

Let the actor know what you're doing. If you're going to dolly in for a CU, tell them. What emotion do you need when the camera is 8 inches away? Some actors don't want to know about shots and why you're putting the camera where you are. Some love it. After the first week of shooting you'll find out which need it and which don't.

If an actor does something in a take that you really like, POINT IT OUT! VERY important. Not only does it give them confidence, but they'll start to see what YOU see in the character and start to shape the performance around it. Recently I worked with two brilliant character actors that have worked with the biggest names in the business. While the camera was being repositioned for the next set-up, I walked up to them. They gave me their undivided attention as real pros do, and all I said was "I'm so happy right now." From that point on, their already amazing performances got even better. Something I thought wasn't possible. And it wasn't any kind of manipulation on my part. I really was "so happy."

These are just a few suggestions to get you started. But in the end, casting great people and shutting the hell up is the BEST way to go. I have the view that the actor needs to come to work prepared. And most do. I've had the good pleasure most of the time of just sitting back and enjoying the performances. You have to nip the unprofessional actor in the bud as quickly as you can. I remember this one fairly well known actor that would never know his lines. It drove me nuts. On the 3rd day of this crap, I grabbed him off his mark and took him to the gaffer and said "Tom, what time did you get here today?" 6 am was the answer. I did this with 20 crew members, then turned to the actor and said: "as soon as your scenes are done, you get to go home. Everyone here may stay hours later. And every time you screw up a line, they have to stay a little later. They need sleep. They need to see their families. They need to wash clothes. They need to eat. And they need to be here again tomorrow at six. Your call time is at 10. Why are you fucking over all of these hard working people?" The next morning he was there two hours early, and he never forgot a line after that. On the other end of the spectrum is a film I'm in post in now. One of the actors played isadora duncan, the dancer. She came to the set knowing more about isadora duncan than I did, and I thought I knew it all. What an absolute pleasure professional actors are!

All my best,

Dan Selakovich
Is there something I can learn to combat this ?

Yes, practice. Do rehearsals with the actors, just you and them - no production crew, no producers, etc. Play acting games with them like the old

What's that?




Making it a game, where they have to create the scenario and whatever "that" is has to be clear. They can't change any of the words, as the challenge is for them to create subtext from the words as they are without variation. The scene is endless and interpretive.

Let them create it, then perform it for you, then you direct them by making tweaks or changes, big and/or small and start to work on their scene WITH them. This game creates a bond between the actors and the director, you learn to communicate together and you'll see how different actors need different motivations or dealt with.

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