9 Things You Must Know Your First Time Directing

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I recently decided to direct my first short thriller called “Hide/Seek,” a SAG-AFTRA film (that I also wrote), which will be filming April 4–8 in my hometown of Guilford, Connecticut. (You can learn more and visit our Indiegogo page here.) Now I have spent lots of time on sets, both as a professional TV and film actor for 15 years, and as an on-set coach for the last three years on the CBS show “Blue Bloods,” but nothing has prepared me for this. It’s a whole different beast. I think it’s important for actors and first-time directors to really know what goes into a small project like this, and so I am documenting the process from casting, through pre-production, and all the way through principle photography so we can all learn about this crazy, behind-the-scenes process.

Here is what you need to know for the first time you direct your own film.

1. Be prepared to get tons of submissions.
I received 3500 submissions for four characters, through online casting sites such as Backstage, as well as through agents and managers. I called in 60 actors, called back 25, and chose four to be my leads. It was overwhelming. As an acting coach, I already know a lot of actors, and so I mostly brought in the people I knew, and whose work I was familiar with. Kimberly Graham, my casting director, also brought in some actors from workshops and such. Can you believe some people still have black and white headshots?

2. Go for the best actors.
I didn’t care if an actor was union or not, or had an agent or not. Because it’s a SAG-AFTRA short, I allowed both union and nonunion actors to submit. For a short film like this, I just wanted the most talented, dedicated actors. You can have the best equipment in the world, but if the acting isn’t good, the film won’t work. I didn’t care if an actor had been on 20 TV shows, or only had theater experience. I just wanted someone to bring my lines to life in a unique and interesting way.

3. Make the actors feel comfortable in the audition room.
This is such a huge part of the process, and because I’ve been there, I know how much better the performance will be if the actor feels comfortable and creative. Try to make it the least awkward as possible, and give them very specific direction. All directors should learn how to effectively articulate their thoughts to actors.

4. Pay your actors.
This is huge. Whether or not the actors I cast were union or not, I wanted to give everyone the same union rate. Actors deserve to be paid. Bottom line. This is a five-day shoot, and they will be working so hard, and should be compensated accordingly. And I will definitely be giving them their footage, by the way.

5. Decide on a budget.
Do you want to spend $200 and film your friends in your backyard, or spend $15,000 and get a top-of-the-line crew?

6. Get a great line producer.
This is your best friend, and the person who helps you stick to your budget, tells you what you can and can’t do, and the caliber of equipment you can use on your shoot.

7. Create a crowdfunding campaign to help finance your film.
I highly recommend using Indiegogo or Kickstarter. This allows anyone to contribute to making your film, and you can offer great rewards in return, instead of just begging your family for money or maxing out your credit card (don’t). Because I’m an acting coach, I can offer audition coaching, taping, business consultations, and other actor-related perks to make the donation process more worth it.

8. Prepare to spend every moment working on this film in pre-production.
It’s not just about yelling “action” and “cut” during principle photography. You will spend all of your pre-production time discussing wardrobe, props, catering, lodging, transportation, budget, camera equipment, location scouting, tech scouting, meeting with potential editors, interns, doing social media, writing blogs, doing table reads, rehearsals, making offers, looking at weather patterns, and making sure every tiny logistic is taken care of so that the shoot goes as smoothly as possible.

9. Be confident in your talent.
This goes for actors and directors. You run the entire show, and everyone working on the film is looking at you for direction and answers. Believe in what you are doing, and so will everyone else.

Get all of your directing questions answered by peers and experts on the Backstage Community forums!

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.

Matt Newton
Matt Newton is one of the most sought-after on-camera acting coaches in New York City. His clients include Tony winners, Emmy award winners, Golden Globe nominees, and well-known actors from film and TV.
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