How do you direct theater actors for a film?

Stage actors are undoubtedly talented, but many are inexperienced when it comes to performing in front of a camera. Here’s how you can direct theater actors and get the best performance possible.

Remind them: Less is more

Theatre actors have a tendency to act large in front of the camera. It is understandable because it’s their job to project voice and body language to the rafters. Remind them that less is always more in cinema. Make your stage actors aware of what’s in the frame and what the camera sees in every shot. Their performance will look over the top, especially in a close-up.

“Film is relaxation,” Michael Cain once said. “If you’re knocking yourself out, you’re not doing it right.”

Technical support

Many times, theatre actors are used to being able to shape their performance in rehearsal. That doesn’t happen on set. Every moment on set costs money. However, there are things you can do to help your stage actors transition to being ready on the first take.

Make sure that they are aware they are expected to deliver identical performances each take. Either have your actor or script supervisor pay close attention to the continuity details. Have your actors plan their moves and practice their moves and handling of props before they come on set.

Make sure your actor is paying close attention to continuity details
Make sure your actor is paying close attention to continuity details. Image courtesy Unsplash.

Also, it can be disorienting for a stage actor with the sequence in which the shots are taken. For instance, stage actors are used to performing their script chronologically. However, on a movie set, they could be shooting the last scene of the film on the first day of shooting. Have your actors write out summaries of every scene they’re in on cards. It will be a great little reminder of the objectives of the day’s scene so they can prepare accordingly.

In the moment

While theatre actors are used to inhabiting their characters for two hours or more of continuous and unmediated live performance, film actors do their work in small units of performances. The best way to help your stage actor get used to this is to have them be in the moment.

Being in the moment is an elusive performance state for even the most seasoned actors. It means to be in a heightened state of awareness of where you are and what’s going on around you in the scene. It also means taking each thing as it comes, dealing with what’s in front of you right here and now, not what’s in the future.

Hit the boards

It’s not all on your stage actor to make the transition into film. You also have to do your research. Watch as many plays and live performances as you can. You will see the differences. Also, look at literature and online information about acting for the camera and how to transition from stage to screen. Once you have amassed what you need, share it with your stage actors and discuss it with them so they understand, too.

Every stage actor is different and needs different techniques to make the jump into film. Remember, however, film acting is less about characters showing their emotions and more about them showing they have emotions.

Read “How to Direct Theater Actors for Video” to have even more tips for helping your stage actors into the world of film acting.

Image courtesy decoradosmoya.e and Unsplash.

Sean Berry
Sean Berry
Sean Berry is Videomaker's Managing Editor.

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