How to Work with Directors on Set as an Actor
One of the worst reputations you can have as an actor is that you cannot work with directors well. From the outside, you appear stubborn to them, unfocused, and unable to follow simple instructions.
Taking direction is one of the most important qualities you should have as an actor to work with directors. All the talent in the world cannot save you once you’ve built up a reputation for being difficult on set and argumentative with your directors. Whenever you are given instruction, you can either respond with aggression or defensiveness for your bruised ego or you can breathe, listen, and interpret the direction given.
Allow us to walk you through on how to work with directors better.
Here’s How You Work with Directors on Set
Have you ever asked someone to help you hang up a picture or a poster on a wall? Your partner stands behind you and gives directions like “A little more to the left” or “A little higher on the right side” or even “Half an inch down and then it’s perfect.” Every time your poster-positioning partner gives a direction, he or she isn’t making comments about your personality or your abilities as a poster hanger. The comments are meant to guide you to hang that poster perfectly.
It’s the same as your work with directors. Your director is merely trying to guide you to the best possible outcome. It is not an attack on your talent, ego, or your personality. Any direction you receive is based on the director’s interpretation of the story. Let’s get started with tips.
Don’t take “correction” personally.
To work with directors well, know that taking direction with ease and composure is an incredibly important skill. Inability to take direction is simply a lack of self-awareness, which is the ability to realize what you did, identify the problem, and do something about it. You may have spent hours working on the script, made a range of bold choices, known your character and their journey back to front. When you get corrected, it doesn’t mean what you did was wrong. It’s just the director trying to help you see their version of the story. Your approach was based on your interpretation of the story, which is also valid because interpretation itself is subjective. This in turn leads us to the next tip.
Remember that the director is in charge.
Remember, you are there for one reason: to fulfill the director’s vision, not yours. It can be easy to forget since it may seem like your job is simply acting your part. But keep in mind that the director controls everything that happens onstage or on set. They are the person in charge. Directing you is their job in the first place. Acknowledging this fact will make it easier to work with directors.
Criticism is part and parcel of the industry.
From film critics and literary critics to the press and the haters, critics are everywhere in the entertainment industry, so if you whine about this all the time, you’ll find yourself quitting sooner or later. Instead of viewing criticism as an attack to your ego, look at it as an opportunity, a chance to step outside your existing performance and try something new. Even a manager or agent—particularly one that is seriously considering representing you—will probably give you some critique when you meet them. This is not because they want to put you down. It’s all because they have experience in the industry and therefore have a pretty good idea of how you can improve as an actor. Just listen to the critic. Resist the urge to justify, excuse, or defend yourself. If you’re not ready to analyze the critique, analyze it later. Once you have figured out what action you should take, do it. Learn from it. This takes fortitude, but it will surely work as a tremendous advantage to you, especially in your work with directors.
Whenever the director gives you instruction, do not overthink what you did “wrong” or explain yourself defensively. Instead, listen to the direction, internalize it, and then do what was asked. If there’s something you didn’t understand, it might help to repeat the instruction to the director in your own words. This gives the director the opportunity to clarify it or correct your understanding. Your director will appreciate your attentiveness.
They’re rooting for you.
All of the people on set (producers, assistant directors, cinematographers, etc.) are not against you. In fact, they are silently rooting for you with every direction the director gives you. In their minds, they are all thinking, He’ll get it, I know he can or She’s almost there, just a little more and we’ve got a perfect take.
Always remember that whoever is watching your performance wants you to succeed and that the direction given to you is meant to get you there, not tear you down. This is a project they all want to end up well after all.
You will improve so much faster when you get ego, pride, and the insanity of taking direction personally out of the way of your performance. Work on attitude, professionalism, and consistency, and you’ll work with directors smoothly in your next projects. You’ll get there somehow. Good luck!How to Work with Directors on Set as an Actor by Holly Bissonnette