Many responsibilities fall onto the shoulders of a director. The art of filmmaking is a collaborative effort between the directors and their team that share a unifying goal of completing the picture. One of the essential factors in accomplishing that task is the sacred relationship between directors and actors. Sometimes, the acting can make or break the film, and that’s why it’s vital to master the art of directing actors.

One true thing about filmmaking is that no one comes into a project to make a bad movie or television program. Both directors and actors are artists and work together on a mission that is bigger than either one of them. The relationship between the two can present unique opportunities and challenges from prep to wrap. Whether on the set of a Hollywood blockbuster or a short film school project, these helpful tips and suggestions will come in handy when directing actors on stage.

Knowing the Actors

Acting is a skill that many of those outside the field could not easily accomplish. The first phase in directing actors is getting to know them personally. Establishing a relationship will help actors be more comfortable with the director and collaborate on uniting a singular vision for the movie. Through collaboration, authentic connections between people develop and blossom into a long-standing partnership between directors and actors.

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro have collaborated for decades and made some of the most cinematic stories in film history. The two understand the acting process’s importance in telling a cohesive and meaningful narrative. Going through the acting process can come from having insight into their lives and discussing how they interpret the script.

Handling the Acting Process

Actors may infer a screenplay or character differently from how the director imagines it. Allowing this chance to grow will make the actor get into the character’s mindset. Additionally, it’ll bring a better understanding of their background. Another intriguing and possible fun way to expand on this idea is to interview the actor as the character.

Asking them questions about their past or attitude towards specific people and events could lead to exciting developments. This strategy could lead to better rehearsing for the actor and director and let the scene come off more natural during filming. Rehearsing scenes will help the lines sound more authentic because the actors won’t have the time to think about them.

Director David Lynch once said, “I let the actors work out their ideas before shooting, then tell them what attitudes I want. If a scene isn’t honest, it stands out like a sore thumb.” However, it’s important to note that the environment of the set is crucial and needed for that honest level of acting.

An Encouraging Environment

Reassuring the actor is essential for any director wanting their best work. Everyone in front and behind the camera should feel empowered by the knowledge that they are the best at what they do. Gaining the actors’ trust and encouraging them helps with that empowerment. Focus on the performance rather than the technical.

Actors want the director’s attention to feel confident in their performance. They want to contribute to the director’s vision and it becoming realized. Additionally, part of that encouraging environment is adding the right atmosphere.

Calling for total silence, making the set upbeat, or taking an actor out to a quiet place to do the last preparations can be valuable. This technique sets the mood for the upcoming scene. It allows performers to become more into the mindset of their characters. Even comedic actors may benefit from a simple and lighthearted set. For this purpose, the director can better approach the filmmaking process.

Be Flexible

Part of acting is being adaptable to the performance. Actors like to understand their character and the idea of some “wiggle room” for the scene. A director should have a plan for how they want each scene to go but be able to be spontaneous with different takes. Actors are hired because they are the best at creating a performance worth seeing.

The director’s job is to steer or alter their deliveries but not shut them out from bringing something new or significant in their performance. However, be wary of allowing the actor to go too far in improvising or losing the original vision of their character.

Be Direct

Actors love direction. It helps them better interact with the scene and their acting partners. A director should never be afraid to tell actors how to perform their roles. Some first-time film directors can be a little timid when it comes time to direct actors. However, great actors actively want feedback and guidance. Directors should be kind but blunt and honest about what they want.

Japanese director Akira Kurosawa stated his third personal rule regarding directing actors. “The third is that when you explain to an actor what he should do, you must also make him understand why he should do it that way – that is, what the internal motivations in the role and the actor are.” Directors and actors share the goal of making an actor’s performance as perfect as possible. If they need coaching, so be it.

Be Respectable

Respect is vital in any working environment. A director is expecting to respect their team as much as they are expecting the same. A director yelling or raising their voice on set will create unnecessary tension and is counterproductive. Actors have feelings and emotions just like everyone else. Actors tend to act out or even become uncooperative if they’re being disrespected.

Another way of showing respect is being mindful of an actor’s time. Like everyone else, actors do not like waiting long periods doing nothing. Therefore, directors need to stay true to the actor’s call times. In addition, actors tend to spend time and energy getting into the character, which undoubtedly affects the quality of their performance. Furthermore, directing actors becomes more manageable when they receive suitable material.

Materials and Resources

The more material and resources acting can get, the better. For example, director Quentin Tarantino has been known to give his actors books, movies, and music to understand their character’s motivations better. In addition, a director can provide actors with other types of material, like shot lists, lookbooks, or storyboards. If they’re open to it, it’s a great way of preparing for the role.

Also, sending actors the script as early as possible never hurts. Consequently, the act will allow the performers plenty of time to learn their lines, and the scene-blocking process will move quickly. Lastly, a director can pair this tactic with a character profile. The profile will better explain who the actors are portraying, their background story, and their motivation. The better a director can prepare an actor in pre-production, the more time they’ll have to play with on the day of filming.


It’s important to remember that the director and the actor share the same goal of telling a story to the best of their abilities. As a result, many have put their egos aside and allowed filmmaking’s collaborative nature. Every director has their style of working with actors, and no number of tips can fully prepare them for every situation. Yet, never forget that working with actors is one of the joys and trials of any film director.