Someone once said that when a guy picks up his girlfriend late, and in the rain, subtext is the name of the game. Someone else also once said that writing a boring academic essay needs to have very little or no subtext. Luckily I don’t intend on making this boring so I’m just going to jump right into talking about directing for actors.
Since the earliest days of acting for screen, there have been filmmakers guiding the performance of the actors, a job referred to as directing. A director stays with the film process from the start to finish, and manages its production, but most importantly, the director works with the on screen talent to get the best and most believable performances from them. This journey starts at casting, a process in which the filmmakers select the best fitting actors to fulfill certain roles required in the film. The process can start with scouting or other methods of finding a viable cast, but the important event is in fact the auditions.
Auditions can be held in various ways, depending on the film. A comedy for example would require a slightly more open audition, allowing for improvisation, whereby an action film might need some small stunts to be completed such as riding a horse, or driving a manual gear car. Once a few options are decided on the director may choose to audition some actors together to see if they fit well together, or have ‘chemistry’ often required in films with romantic plots or sub-plots. Various exercises can be presented to see how well the individuals ‘mix’, helping the director decide on the best matchups, or choices for leads.
After the casting process has concluded, the director will begin working with the actors immediately, forming part of pre production. Read throughs, dramatised rehearsals and other exercises to prepare the actors for what is expected from them on shoot days all form part of the schedule the director needs to maintain in order to best prepare his talent.
Building a character is another important part of the development process. Even though actors play the role, it is important for the director (with the help of the screenplay of course) to create strong and memorable characters, even for supporting roles. Setting up character motivations, history and other personal details will help the actor to properly interpret the character for the performance, helping the characters actions appear properly motivated. The character long and short term goals, personality type and emotional responses help draw the audience in from event to event. Seeing how the character reacts to expected and unexpected events is the payoff the audience receives for the emotional investment they have laid into the film. All if this needs to be taken into account in every small aspect of directing a film.
During the actors rehearsals the director will also block the scene in coordination with his director of photography, or DOP, and other essential crew members. This will then be set once the shoot starts allowing the crew to quickly set up, and allow the actors to rehearse the blocking. Blocking can go from simple, to very intricate, depending on the situation. Getting a actor into the right part of the screen, in relation to another actor, in relation to light, and the camera, not mentioning the many other variables can be challenging. Thus it is important for the director to do proper planning ahead of time with his crew, and cast.
On the day of the shoot the director works with the actors, as much as possible. Even though it is the director’s job to make sure that everyone does theirs, it is his primary responsibility to get the best performance from the actors as possible, whilst maintaining a positive mood throughout the set, and keeping everyone focused and motivated. This does not need to be overstated though, a competent, positive and hard working director is all that a crew wants to see if they are expected to perform well also.
So all and all there is a vast array of planning and structuring involved, yet all of this is guided by the instincts of the actors and director, and his/her ability to line it all up into a great performance, resulting in a memorable screen experience. Actors make or break a film more than any technical or narrative pieces of the puzzle, and so it is the director’s job to ultimately choose, rehearse and lead the cast and crew with the skills they have acquired, hopefully into the completion of a successful product.