6 Ways to Succeed as a First-Time Director

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Photo Source: Nick Bertozzi

As a casting director, I help bring film and television projects to life by putting together the perfect ensemble of actors. Over the years, I’ve worked with several first-time directors. I’ve put together five key elements that can help any new (or seasoned!) director.

1. Trust your CD.
You may not realize it, but casting directors have to audition for the job much like an actor does. We have concept meetings with the producer and director and give them an idea of how we’d approach their project. The team takes this meeting and our past work into consideration, makes a few calls to check our reputation, and comes to a final decision based on these elements.

Once we start working together we need to feel each other out to see how we each like to operate. Hopefully, a sense of trust is built. So when we offer our guidance—based on years of experience—we’d truly appreciate it if you’d follow our advice.

2. Be open to surprises.
You feel you know everything about this character. You’ve probably written the screenplay and lived in her skin for several drafts. But you’ve got to be ready for an actor to come in and blow you away by bringing something to the role that you’d never even imagined. I worked with a director who said to an actor, “Tell me something I don’t know about this character.” Don’t overdirect the scene so that the actor is boxed into a corner. Let them show us what they brought. Be ready for the “happy accidents.”

3. Be articulate with your actors.
I’ve worked with several directors who are very left-brained. They know exactly where to put the camera and are great with all the technical aspects of the production, but they don’t know how to talk to an actor and get what they need. I highly suggest directors take acting classes so they can understand the process and how to effectively communicate in “actor speak.” In my article “How to Make Friends With Directors,” I talk about being familiar with film history in case a director gives you a direction by referencing an older film.

4. Listen to your crew, step back, and let them do their jobs.
This goes back to your instincts about hiring the right crew. You’ve taken time to review each crew member’s work history, you’ve now hired them. Don’t waste your time trying to do it all and micromanaging every department head.

5. Always remember that this is a collaboration.
The director sets the tone on his or her set, and if you respect everyone, they will follow you anywhere. I’ve seen directors lose their entire crew on the first take with their insufferable behavior. I’ve also seen directors win over their crew by listening to them. Director-producer Tony Bill said, “I’m always open. A good idea can come from anyone on my set.”

Known for her work in film and television, producer and casting director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Waters, Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird, and Herbert Ross. While working at Fenton-Feinberg Casting, she, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as “A Christmas Story,” “Poltergeist,” “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” and “Blade Runner.” After establishing her own casting company in 1983, Liroff cast “Footloose,” “St. Elmo's Fire,” “Pretty in Pink,” “The Iron Giant,” “The Spitfire Grill," “Untamed Heart," “Freaky Friday,” “Mean Girls,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” “Vampire Academy,” and the upcoming “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which she produced as well.

Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light. The class spawned an online course available at Udemy entitled "How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp." Visit Liroff online at marciliroff.com, follow her on Twitter @marciliroff and Facebook, and watch her advice videos on YouTube. You can also read her blog.

Looking to cast actors in your next directorial effort? Browse the Backstage talent database!


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Marci Liroff
Known for her work in film and television, producer, casting director, and intimacy coordinator Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world. Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light.
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