Secrets of Indie Filmmaking

Secrets of Indie Filmmaking:
Some Notes on Directing Actors, Part I

People have weird attitudes about actors and what they do. On the one hand, a visitor from another planet might assume from glancing at our magazine covers and news programs that actors are the most powerful and fascinating beings on earth, so obsessed do we appear to be with them, especially a small handful of movie stars.

On the other, actors are relentlessly mocked because people imagine actors fancy themselves important, and their craft is ridiculed.

Actors are relentlessly mocked because people imagine actors fancy themselves important, and their craft is ridiculed. 

The hell with all that.

To any audience the actors are the most important part of a film. If you’re a film director or wish to be one and you are more obsessed with your equipment, you are missing a very important fact. Actors are the most remarkable, valuable, and powerful elements of your filmmaking arsenal.

Are you insanely excited to be shooting on the newest super high def camera? Do you have enough lav mics to record everyone at a party at the same time?  Managed to score the finest new LED arrays? All of these amazing tools will only more cruelly and precisely expose lousy acting if you don’t know how to cast and direct your performers.

Listen: Acting is ‘easy’ the same way playing the violin is easy if all you mean is making any sort of horrible screeching sound. Good acting is hard. Really hard.

Listen: Acting is ‘easy’ the same way playing the violin is easy if all you mean is making any sort of horrible screeching sound. Good acting is hard. Really hard. Great acting is a miracle.
It takes as much commitment and practice as any other artistic discipline, but this tends to be devalued because so often we forget that we are watching a performance.

What makes acting good or bad is an endless (and for me, fascinating) discussion, but for now I just want to pass on a couple of useful tips.

First, I think it can only help a director to take at least one acting class, to get a sense of what an actor is up against every working day.

Second, if you do nothing else in preparation for directing actors, do everyone a favor and read the truly excellent book, Directing Actors by Judith Weston. Having read an awful lot of books on the subject, this is the only one I would recommend without hesitation or qualifiers.

In our next post on this subject: Casting Tips. Meantime, we hope you enjoyed this introduction, because a discussion of acting must be ongoing and is something we’re going to return to again and again here.

 

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