We all have seen scenes featuring directors with their berets and megaphones, yelling orders to their actors. It should come as no surprise that yelling at your talent is not the best way to elicit a good performance.
Think of it this way — a seasoned director is more like a Conductor than a Drill Sergeant. Of all the heads on a set, the director must keep his or hers the coolest. The director must be the one that keeps all the details in mind, while simultaneously getting the best performance out of the actors. This can be especially challenging when using inexperienced talent.
1.Give Guidance, not Orders
It’s important to remember to never yell on your set. Each production set has its own “feel” and you as director are in control of that “feel” for your crew and talent. When someone yells at you how do you feel? You would immediately be startled and on the defensive. A video set is really no different than this example. If you come on the set and start barking orders and yelling, your crew and talent will be on the defensive and as a result, you won’t get their best performance. Remember you are a Conductor so it’s your job to guide everyone, not order them around. The ultimate goal is to draw out their best performance, so be patient and just let it happen.
2. Performing on-camera is stressful
For inexperienced talent, performing on camera is a very stressful thing to do. And if that wasn’t bad enough, you are also asking these folks to do a presentation that could have a lifespan of many years and be seen by a huge number of people. Add to that your crew watching them under the glare of hot lights and video cameras. Think about how well you would perform in a situation like this. So what can you do to help things along and get a great performance out of these people? If your talent gets stuck during a take, a good way to get them going again is to have them mimic your presentation.
For example: you can read their lines and tell them to “say it like I say it.” In this way, you can easily project to them the proper pacing, inflection and delivery without giving any verbal direction at all. If you are using a teleprompter, make sure to write the script in a conversational tone using contractions, such as can’t instead of can not, as needed to help readability.
3. Start gently, then speed up
Don’t start right into the meat of the work– instead start the take by rolling the camera and asking your talent about their favorite hobby or their car. They won’t be expecting this and it will set them at ease to discuss something they have intimate knowledge of rather that those lines they have been practicing in the shower all week. Once they seem calmer, you can start directing the real scene and you will definitely get a better, more relaxed performance.
4. Rehearse those lines
Rehearse with your actors and always roll the camera during the rehearsal. Many times the rehearsal becomes the best take because there was no pressure to get it right and the talent just did it naturally.
5. Earlier takes are better
The performance level is always better earlier in the shoot than later. As the shoot wears on the talent will become fatigued and start to overthink the process. To combat this, aim to have the most important shots covered earlier in the day. Save some of the easier shots or lines for later after your talent has already expended some energy. Plus, getting those tougher shots out of the way will give your talent a sense of accomplishment to bolster them through the rest of the shoot.
Save some of the easier shots or lines for later after your talent has already expended some energy.
6. Finally, know when to say “uncle.”
After take 30 you are not likely to see a better performance. This could be as good as it’s going to get. One way to avoid this issue is to rephrase your direction slightly. You can also skip a shot for now and come back to it later. These two tools will almost always reset the talent’s thinking pattern and get them back on track. A thousand things are probably going through your talent’s head during a shoot… “is my shirt wrinkled… did I get that spinach out of my teeth… I did unplug the iron at the house, right?” It’s your job as the director to give your talent a safe place to act.
Shooting with people new to the production process isn’t always easy, but with a little patience and flexibility, you can still come out with great results. Use these tips on your next shoot to ensure you get the very best performance from your inexperienced talent.
John Cassinari is Executive Producer at Imagination Unlimited, a video production company headquartered in Orlando, Florida. He also taught advanced video post production editing at the University of Central Florida