Many young directors, especially those in film school, find working with actors intimidating. Often the actors are also learning how to work with directors. It’s true that you learn the most on set, but you have to at least be prepared for the difficult road ahead. When working with professional actors, young directors can’t afford to pay to rehears for long periods, sometimes they end up walking onto a set without even meeting the actor before the shoot.
I’ve set out to investigate how a director should work with actors during rehearsal and on set to produce engaging performances. The aim is to look at different acting styles, the rehearsal process, directing on set and communication between actors and director. Effective communication is achievable through the “actor’s vocabulary” and the key is not to over-direct but rather to build a relationship with actors based on trust.
Regardt Van den Bergh is of the opinion that trust is extremely important between director and actor. He says that if you don’t have time to do proper rehearsals you should at least get to know your actors and even befriend them. The second most important aspect of directing according to Van den Bergh is communication. When looking at the different styles of acting and rehearsal technique we can clearly see that effective communication is key to provide actors with your vision.
Van den Bergh says the actor should be left to interpret their own role, and it is unnecessary for the director to intellectualise with the actors. He believes a professional actor should do this preparation since it’s his job. I feel the actor should prepare, although the director clearly has a space within these preparations. Intellectualising with the actor during rehearsal and keeping it extremely simple on set is what most actors want.
Van den Bergh states that things like beats, pace and style are things that are important in the script, but not on set.
Morgan Freeman says that the best quality in a director is “Silence.” But Freeman is a professionally trained actor who is very capable of working with the script. I am concerned that this way of working leaves a huge communication gap between the director and actor. It is of no use if the actor is working in a complete different direction as the director. The “beat” and “need” system creates a language between director and actor that can quickly and effectively relay information without over-analysing on set. Freeman is a natural actor. One who doesn’t progress from beat to beat. This is why he prefers “silence” from the director.
I asked Van den Bergh how to direct professional, older actors as a young independent film-maker/director. He stressed that you should stay confident in yourself. Allow the actor his space and ask him how he wants to be directed. Van den Bergh explained that professional actors usually give the director options of how he can perform a scene on set. The director then simply chooses without having to intellectualise or give reason. Ian Gabriel, on the other hand, uses the beats extensively.
Michael K. Williams uses a combination between Meisner and the Method. He uses Meisner to find the meaning behind the text, what the screenwriter intended in each beat and subtext. He uses the Method technique to add emotion to the performance.
It is interesting to note that Williams prepares without the director. He likes a director who knows what he wants and a director who doesn’t over-talk. He argues that over directing takes you out of the character and makes you conceptualise the performance too much. It is also important to him that the director cares about the scene, not just the picture and shot. Scene development, character development and conflict is important. “Most importantly”, Williams says, “know your beats and direct them”.
How do I direct these beats? Read about directing actors during rehearsal here: https://wicuslab.com/directingrehearsals/