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Old August 1st, 2005, 12:54 PM   #1
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How much directing is too much?

I am going to shoot a short soon, and I was wondering how to approach the directing. At what point does tweaking become interfering with the actor's job?
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Old August 1st, 2005, 01:13 PM   #2
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Hmmm

I've directed two shorts, now, and this is what I have learned from this very limited experiance. Be nice. Never settle for anything less than EXACTLY what you want. Have a word with the actors and your crew at the start of the shoot and ask them to trust your vision. Beg if need be. This is really important, because if you spend all day explaining every little thing to everybody on the set you will never get anything shot. That said, try to be open to input from the other people that are there.
To sum up: Be nice. Be clear. Be open, but not too maliable. Do not call a wrap until you have every shot the way you want it.

More advice, use tape to mark the floor where you want the actors to be. Make a map of your lighting arrangements in case you need to reshoot. Test your gear before you shoot- especially your audio. Keep good Timecode notes on the set.

Others with far more experiance/brains will probably have better advice than mine.
Good luck,
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Old August 1st, 2005, 02:04 PM   #3
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I think one of the most important things you can do as a director is to know when to take a break.

Your crew and actors can only take so much, but that's not to say you can't get the results you want. You can be picky as a director, but when you notice your cast and crew getting stressed or inconsistent, it's time to take a break. Even 5 minutes can be enough time off for people to take a breath and get back to business. Five minutes of no work is much better than an hour of useless takes.
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Old August 1st, 2005, 02:37 PM   #4
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I'd recommend doing more rehearsal if you feel you're doing too much or too little tweaking on set.

One of the things that causes actors a lot of stress is the dreaded two-step process of "learning" what the director wants, and then turning around, and nailing the performance in front of the camera.

Rehearsal should be used to "learn" what the director wants, so when the shooting day comes around, the actors and crew can focus on nailing the performance.

Personally, I prepare twice - First, by myself, so I can learn what I really want, and the second time, with the actors or volunteers, so they can learn what I want, and also have input into the project.


FWIW, here's some advice that was given to me:

Quote:
As a film/video director, you are the actor's audience. You are the emotional connection to their performance. A theatre/stage actor can feed off the audience's reaction in real time, and know if his performance is working or not. In contrast, an actor on film or video doesn't have that connection, except through the director, so it's important during their performance to emotionally react as an audience member. Show how you are reacting emotionally using your body language, and facial expressions, skip the verbal reaction until later. It can help the actor if the director is overly-obvious with his/her reaction in the beginning.
*** Check this thread out for some more info.
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Old August 1st, 2005, 04:36 PM   #5
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Emre,

Good question...

The first thing to embrace going in to directing the actors is that they will never say the lines they way you hear them in your head. You have to know that, and you have to be open to the fact that what they bring might actually make it better. At the very least, them saying it they way that they feel it is going play better than them saying it the way that they think you want them to.

That said, you still have a lot of direction to give, because it is your vision that the movie is about. One of the most effective things you can do to help bring the actors in to your vision is to ask them questions. "Why do you think this character says she doesn't want to go to the movie? Is it because she hates movies? Or because she has no money? Or has she seen it already and just doesn't want to say that?" Things like that. Help them find the motivations for the characters. Ask them first and get their natural instinct and take it in. You may like it more than what you had in mind. If not, then come back to them with a suggestion. "What if she actually has a date with someone else that night, but doesn't want to say so?" You walk down the path with the actor and find a place at the end that you can both believe in.

I have said it before, but I think that "Directing Actors" by Judith Weston is the best book out there on this topic.

In short, when you see that the actor is thinking more about what you told them, rather than about what the character would actually be feeling, you are giving them too much.

Good luck
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Old August 1st, 2005, 09:38 PM   #6
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Definitely do breaks, but get started immediately when you show up. Sometimes, 2 hours pass while setting up, etc., because one is not ready. So, BE PREPARED! Spend 2 hours on pre-production for every hour of shooting. It will take 1 to 2 hours to shoot one page of script.

Follow your vision, but be flexible. Someone may have a better idea. Give some control of the character to your actors; line readings (you say it and they repeat it) are a bad thing. It's a collaborative art; if you want 100% total control, take up painting. I tell my students and fellow directors that.

Above all else, stay cool: director becomes dictator pretty fast. I used to be too loose and run the camera (don't do that) and give no direction. Bad. I then did multiple takes and was adament about everything (don't do that, either) and was a dictator. Bad!!

My new style is to rehearse, have a shot list or storyboards handy and block out, all ahead of time. Then, we just shoot. I let the actors do what we both came up with in rehearsals, then if they need extra help, I give them motivation. Need to be really sad? Easy: remind them of some personal tragedy. That always works. Sometimes actors can turn it on and off, other times you need to motivate them.

Also, keep control and, if possible, get a line producer to help run the set. You'll be a shrink before you know it, even on a one-two day shoot! Let people do their work/magic, but watch the DP. He/she may be out to make a brilliant shot and take forever, all for the sake of their reel. I know very few DPs who do that, but it does happen.

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Old August 2nd, 2005, 12:31 AM   #7
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You're directing too much when the actors start to bleed. All right, it's late. You gotta cut me slack.
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Old August 2nd, 2005, 01:51 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Gibbons
Never settle for anything less than EXACTLY what you want.
hmmm...for some, that might invite the possibility of not getting through the day's work. Unless you have flexibility in either your schedule or your budget, you have to be prepared to make some compromises along the way. The best defense is to be thinking several steps ahead, and be able to come up with alternate game plans in case things aren't working out.
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Old August 2nd, 2005, 04:21 AM   #9
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I always have a clear mind about how a character says something, but if I talk with the actors, I usually just talk about motivations.
Why is the character saying what he's saying and how does he feel and what does he want?

I believe if you talk a lot about their motivations etcetera, in the end (if the actors are any good) you'll get want you want, or even more.
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Old August 2nd, 2005, 06:18 AM   #10
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Mathieu is right, as is Charles.

Motivation is key--a fantastic actor will take the motivation in the script, a fair to good actor may need motivation based on their real life. To get an actress REALLY happy, I had to push her to that level. For 2 minutes, while we set up, she and I talked about some happy days in her real life. When we rolled, it was perfect!

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Old August 2nd, 2005, 09:41 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert
hmmm...for some, that might invite the possibility of not getting through the day's work. Unless you have flexibility in either your schedule or your budget, you have to be prepared to make some compromises along the way. The best defense is to be thinking several steps ahead, and be able to come up with alternate game plans in case things aren't working out.
I've had better luck with this system than any other, but your experience is to mine what everest is to an anthill, so I wont argue. I will, however, clarify.
I strive for perfection, but realize that it is ultimately unobtainable. When I make a statement like never settle, I guess what I really mean is something more like what Dylan Thomas was talking about when he "Do not go gently into that good night." If one is disirous of the moon, one must aim for the stars. Good enough is not really good enough, but sometimes you DO have to swallow it- I'm just against easy surrender.

Another thing that I do- (once again, take my extremely limited experience and stunted intellect into account) is say the line the way I'm looking for, if the actor is floundering, but I always end with, "But you do it your way." this seems to provide the talent with a combination of security and freedom.

But, all I know is that I know nothing...
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Old August 2nd, 2005, 10:17 AM   #12
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Thank you for the answers so far. I already have ideas of my own, but it is always fruitful to compare technique. Speaking of which... how do you change your approach when shooting a feature?
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Old August 2nd, 2005, 01:33 PM   #13
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Regarding line readings: most actors dislike them for obvious reasons, and most good directors do not partake in them. However, there are times when dancing around the subject will take too long and become a distraction, when a quick line reading will get the point across. The technique I use for this involves a little bit of psychology (and there's a LOT of psychology involved in directing actors). If the actor isn't getting the point I'm trying to make, I might throw in "I'm perhaps not being too clear on this--I don't want to give you a line reading, but..." and virtually every time, the actor will respond with "no, it's OK, just give it to me".

Some actors will want to be guided more than others. Some will be more resistant to being "told what to do", and with those I tend to take a more (apparently) collaborative approach, i.e. "let's work on this together". That way I can hear what they have in mind, assess it (it might just be a better way given some guidance) and proceed from there. Even if I end up saying "I hear you, I'd like to do it this way instead", they know that I have at least considered their opinion. If you sense that the individual is getting frustrated, it may well be worth humoring them to the extent of shooting it both ways--remember, you get to pick which take you want.

In a situation where you feel you are ready to move on but the actor asks for another take, it's usually good politically to give it to them rather than just say "no, we got it, moving on". Again, you might end up with a better performance, and at the very least you are showing them respect. If you are in a pressure-cooker for time, it's helpful to explain this in specific terms--i.e. "we risk dropping this other scene because of the light".
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Old August 2nd, 2005, 06:51 PM   #14
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Charles makes a good point on the line readings... sometimes it is the only thing left. When it gets to that usually what I say (and mean) is "I don't want you to say it just like this, but the only way I can convey what I mean is to say it the way that I would say it." It does usually get the job done.

I noticed a really interesting thing about "results directing" the other day watching the special features with the original Star Wars trilogy. The actors were joking that the only direction they got from Lucas was "faster, and more intense" repeatedly. This is just about the worst thing you can give an actor, really, but they laughed about it and did what they could.

Then I was watching the original audition tapes for the main actors. Harrison Ford, a stellar actor, was able to take that direction and find something internal to make it happen, and his performance definitely improved from the audition to the movie. Mark Hamill, on the other hand, looked far more natural in his audition tapes than he did in the final movie. I think that this is what happens when a director yells "faster, and more intense" at an actor without actually giving them a reason to be faster and more intense, and the actor just tries to do it.
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Old August 3rd, 2005, 07:46 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert
If you sense that the individual is getting frustrated, it may well be worth humoring them to the extent of shooting it both ways--remember, you get to pick which take you want.
I think that Charles makes an excellent point, remember that tape is cheap. I know there is more to consider than the cost of tape, but wasting 30 minutes triaging hurt feelings is probably going to take longer than just doing the shot a different way, and like the man says, you get to make the final call.

I ran into this on a short that we shot about a week ago but with a slightly different twist. I had a friend who was interested in the project so I asked him to come down to the shoot and give us a hand. Having no background in filmmaking he was very much in a "take orders" mindset, but he would occassionally chime in with an idea or two. I could have ignored him or been confrontational about it but instead we used the ideas and guess what? There are probably two or three shots that he suggested that will make the final cut. Having only the perspective of the audience in mind gave him the ability to see something that we could not.

I think the same goes for anyone on the set, and particularily for actors who spend most of their time watching other actors and should know what works best. It's definately a balancing act, but I think if, as a director, you can keep the film true to its greater meaning or concept you can then allow the rest of the artists to perform.
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