3 Qualities Actors Want in a Director

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When it comes to communicating, the first thing most actors will tell you is that they want someone who can see the big picture, who motivates and inspires the crew and talent, and who can communicate their vision.

So, aspiring directors, take note! To truly get along with your actors, you need to learn how they think (might I suggest taking some acting classes?). Not only will this ensure easy communication on set, but it’ll also likely guarantee you’ll get the best performances out of your actors. 

Here are a few specific qualities you can apply to your directing to really get amazing performances.

Actors want a director they can trust.
Director Fritz Lang was rumored to have had live explosives on his sets, real guns and bullets in scenes, and little respect for his actors. Brigitte Helm, who played The Machine Man in Lang’s“Metropolis” received cuts and bruises because of her wardrobe, even catching on fire once. 

Yes, this was back in the 1920s but there are still directors who work this way today to “get a performance” out of their actors. But that’s not acting, and it definitely doesn’t create a trusting environment for creativity to come to life.

READ: 5 Tips for Creating Your Own Film or Series

As a director, do what you can to keep the set as safe as possible. The more you can create a healthy working relationship, the better. Get to know your actors and be liberal in giving them feedback about what you liked about their take on a particular scene. Laugh with them, create memories.

Actors want a director who can communicate well.
“That was great, do that again” is something I hear from directors a lot—I think I’ve even said it as a director a time or two—but it’s not helpful. Yes, we should be encouraging actors that their performances are great but don’t just tell them to do it again. If you need another take and don’t want them to change their performance, either remind them of the direction you just gave to get them to that place or tell them you’re “going again for safety” or “for technical reasons.”

“I want you to be happy, but sad.” This is an actual piece of direction I received once. Imagine my confusion when, suddenly, I had to be both happy and sad in the same instant. It doesn’t work.

When giving direction to actors, do not give them an emotion to play. Give them the reasons behind an emotion. If you’re going for the emotion, you’re going to miss out on the inner life of the character. Even if you get an actor who still makes it work, that requires a lot more energy for them to figure out exactly what you mean. 

Actors want a director who will let them play.
Be a director who offers room for the actors to be co-creators. Yes, you have the overall vision, but when you give them room to explore different levels of the character, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by what they have to offer.

Most of all, have fun on set. As the director, you set the tone and atmosphere for the cast and crew, so why not making it a place where creativity can flourish?

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Charis Joy Jackson
Charis Joy Jackson is an actress, casting director, director, and producer. She’s been working in independent film for 10 years and teaches an intensive three-month acting school.
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