“The Fears and Phobias!” A personal essay to directing actors on the set

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Since we are telling a story in pictures, the images of the actor’s performance, voice and their expressive inflections are critical to what it is that we want revealed. A perfect performance is intangible. For me to be a good Director is getting the best performance from my talents that I can. I disagree when someone says that a director should most definitely have some acting background. No! A good Director get good performances out of his/her talent because he/she know from the beginning what the actors need on the set or before, without acting background cause he/she try to pull out and to confront their fears. That’s why I spend plenty of time rehearsing the actors into proficiency and fully develop their performances and discover their needs. For this reason I follow two technical parameters: First: I cast people in roles that are suited to their real-life personalities and I’ll save for myself a lot of hassles on the rehearsals and then on the set. Second: I use the benefits of technology, so I record all rehearsals and get as much footage as I can and take my time on the emotional centrepieces of a performance to discover new emotions. Then I leave the actors to prepare their work and give to them the appropriate time.

The target is to bring emotions scene by scene. As a director, I require the actors to reveal actions and reactions that move the story along. From the shooting script and storyboard, I determine what the actor is to reveal in that particular shot and focus the actor on achieving those goals. Directing my actors to BEHAVE naturally, not ACT naturally, using action verbs rather than adjectives. The same broad concept drives dramatic writing — the goal is to tell a story dramatically rather than didactically, which means characters do things rather than explain things. My cause is to know exactly what the point of the scene is; the essential moment this scene describes in the emotional lives of the characters in script. I learn from the script what the characters want, what they get, and how these experiences set them up for the next scene. I am not talking about results but I’ m talking about process!

And why, why make these things happen? Because Actors are my instruments and as a good conductor I have to know what all the instruments sound to conduct it well. I believe to them and I respect their fears. That is a good reason to lets the actors explore their characters of the script a bit and I’m open to any suggestions when we work together face to face any part of the script, to bring the emotions out of them that fit the character portrayal.

On the other hand bad acting can sink the entire movie. Never allow the actors to use the project to “showcase” their range. So I’ m locking the scenes to be sure that my actors are safe in acting and also protecting them from terrible critical review if someone of the crew try to have an opinion for the way that they act and blow my set. No reviews from no one. Separating is necessary for crew job and actors job. So the most glorious beauty shots mean nothing if the performances suck and I guide them around this before shootings.

Establish a specification of the basic character for the actor early so they can fill in all of the pieces and build a believable character for me. Mention to them what I want and leave the actual building up to them. I direct what they reveal, how much they reveal and how it is revealed, but I don’t push them out of the established character. There are several considerations in creating this basic specification, the character’s personal history, their personal growth during the story, limitations, strengths, values, temperament and speech pattern. Once those aspects can be defined, the actor will be able to approach their performance with enough information to give me a believable character that I can tweak to mine satisfaction. To have this satisfaction I do this things early enough and the actor’s visual performance will fall into place, ultimately making on-the-set direction very simple — even fun, compared to working all this out cold, shot by shot. So in conclusion to all of you out there give the actors the opportunity to do their homework and don’t shove them in front of the camera unprepared. Just like us, the actor needs to prepare their work so give to them the appropriate time.

© 2016 Emmanuel G. Mavros




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