7 Guidelines for Getting the Best Performances Possible

by Vanessa Daniels


The relationship between an actor and director is important to the success of a film. Both roles carry the same objective; to get the best performances possible. How to most effectively and efficiently achieve it will greatly depend upon the director’s ability to coach the actor.

(1) Speak the Actor’s Language.

Most method trained actor’s (good ones, anyway) approach scenes and moments in terms of actions and objectives. “I want to get him to give me $20, so I am going to ask him, then flirt with him, then when that doesn’t work, plead with him, and finally, threaten him.”

It is frustrating to have a director ask, “This take can you be funnier? Sadder? Meaner? etc… A trained actor avoids a state of being. It is passive and takes an actor mentally out of the scene. Give direction in the form of an action (state of doing) versus an adjective or state of being.

Example: “In this take can you try to scold him, to plead with him, to cajole him, etc…”

(2) Be the Actor’s Mirror.

Keep in mind sometimes an actor doesn’t know how he or she is coming across on camera. They may think they are conveying exactly what the director asked, but in reality it isn’t translating as such. Be able to articulate how it is coming across and how you need the scene to translate.

(3) Ask the Actor Questions.

The best conclusions are made when the actor discovers them. Instead of just telling the actor about a scene, sit down and ask what the actor thinks is going on? “How does your character feel about this? What does your character want in this scene (objective) and how do they plan to achieve it? (action)” Guide them through their own discovery of a scene, for those are the changes that last and connections that will resonate the deepest.

(4) Dangerous Stunts.

If a director is asking actors to perform stunts or risky bits within the film, remember safety first. Have a stunt coordinator perform the stunt first to show the safety of it has been well thought and planned. Rehearse it as choreography and don’t rush the process. There is no room for error in these situations. Be sensitive to the fact that it is nerve-racking to be put in certain situations while the camera is rolling. For best results cast a stunt person or body double.

(5) Love scenes.

Make sure love scenes are filmed on a closed set and only the essential people are present (sound person/DP/director). Give the actors plenty of notice about when the scene will be shot and detailed description of what is required during the audition process (not once they get onto the set). Don’t cast someone until they realize what the script will require of them and are okay with that. The actor is putting their complete trust in the director. So take the utmost care and consideration to make the actors look good and avoid gratuitous content.

Some actors prefer to do love scenes the very first day of filming when everyone is still a stranger to them on set (it makes them less self-conscious). Others may want the comfort level of shooting it further into the schedule. Ask the actors and try to accommodate them if possible. I assure you will get a better end result.

(6) Dealing with a Diva.

Nine times out of ten there is always one high maintenance actor on the set (often referred to as a diva), who will act out and draw attention to oneself most likely because the person is feeling self-conscious or insecure about something. Kill them with kindness; it is best to address it right away, and explain to them challenges and constraints you, as the director, are experiencing. They may also be looking to get a reaction out of everyone, and in this case, it’s best to ignore them. If that doesn’t work, let them quit and cast your second choice. This seems like a lot of effort and babysitting on set, but must be addressed in order to keep good morale on set.

(7) Trust Your Actors to Serve as Collaborators with You

They have been cast for a reason and within their work and observations may lie several aspects of the story that neither the writer or director ever thought of before. Their work may bring light to the script that hadn’t been shed before.


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