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The Working Actor

Should Actors Ever Give Notes to Fellow Actors?

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Should Actors Ever Give Notes to Fellow Actors?
Photo Source: Thomas Pitilli

Dear Michael:
I know giving another actor a note is something that is not cool in the real world, but I had something happen a few days ago, and it bothered me. My best friend and I were reading through a scene that we were going to shoot. I wrote the scene. We read through it and recorded it several times, and then watched it after each take. After he sucked several times, I gave him a suggestion to try on his opening moment. He got very angry and said, “You’re not the director.” He’s right; we were going to have another friend direct it. So was I totally out of line? FYI: We are not doing the scene anymore.

—Iceman

Dear Iceman:
I have to give it to you straight on this one. Yes, you were totally out of line. The long-standing, time-honored rule about actors not giving fellow actors notes is not only hallowed and etched in stone; it’s also a really good rule. And it applies even if you’re also the writer.

Directing from within is always a mistake. If you’re one of the actors, you lack the necessary objectivity (even if you’re watching video playback). And your fellow actors will resent getting notes from you because it suggests you hold yourself at a higher status. That’s also why directing something in which you’re also acting is discouraged. Very few do it well, and it really upsets the balance. When I hear of someone directing, writing, and appearing in a project, I run the other way. It’s usually a disaster.

Art is subjective. That’s why we need an outside eye to make the final call on what’s good. Your judgment that your fellow actor’s work “sucked” is harsh and not an objective truth. It’s possible, as a writer, that you have preconceived ideas about how the scene should be played. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the only way. I’m sure that as an actor you’d hate for a writer to give you acting notes.

Protocol is important. It helps things run smoothly and reduces the opportunities for chaos. No one but the director should direct. And here’s the thing: That rule applies even when you think another actor sucks. It applies even if you think the director sucks. Unless someone privately requests your input, you just have to hold your tongue. Even then, you’ll do better to stay out of it.

In your particular case, there’s a perfectly legit work-around. Pull your director aside privately, and share your concerns as the writer. If the director agrees, he—and only he—can give the notes to your fellow actor.

And them’s the rules.

By the way, I have a great way of graciously dealing with suggestions from fellow actors. I emphatically thank them for the note (making sure to use the word “note”). That usually does the trick.

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