Jump to content


Photo

Do you have to be an Actor before becoming a successful Director?


  • Please log in to reply
14 replies to this topic

#1 Mavis Yang

Mavis Yang

    New

  • Basic Members
  • Pip
  • 2 posts
  • Student

Posted 13 May 2007 - 07:21 AM

Hey, I'm a student attending college and I seriously need some advice as to the necessary conditions of being a Film Director.

I've heard from experienced advisors that if you do not know the qualities of acting in the first place, how are you going to order and direct other actors in films? If you have no skills regarding the way of expressing the appropriate emotions, actions, behaviours that actors can do, what gives you the right to order accomplished actors around and request them to act in the way you want? I thought of this question deeply, not knowing the answer to that. Must I really learn how to act? Take the skills of Acting in a course? All of these before i'm able to embark on a directing career? I really have no idea.

That is why I'm sincerely hoping someone here can enlighten and advise me the right way, the necessities- to become a successful film director.

Thanks.
  • 0

#2 Brian Dzyak

Brian Dzyak
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1517 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Encino, California USA

Posted 13 May 2007 - 08:58 AM

Well, your question contains two different qualifiers. One asks what it takes to become a Director. The second asks what it takes to be a successful Director.


The truth is, to become a Director of any sort, all you truly have to do is declare it, then go out and direct something. Now, of course, for that to happen means you're likely directing something that has very little budget and will be just an exercise for yourself. If it is technically good enough and is actually "good" (entertaining, emotional, funny, etc.), you could consider submitting it to film festivals as a kind of calling card in hopes of working your way to becoming a...

Successful Director. Now, the word "successful" means a lot of things to a lot of people, so it really depends on who you're asking. Let's assume though that what YOU have in mind is a CAREER as a Director. I'll presume that your teacher's idea of "success" leans more heavily on the artistic merits of the work and less on the marketability of your project.

Now, this isn't to say that marketability (financial success) and artistic merit can't co-exist. Hopefully they work together so that you are creating a work of art that is also attractive to a large enough segment of the population to make the investment worthwhile.

Now, back to the question about working with Actors. Sure, absolutely, the more you know about what EVERYONE on set does, the better leader you can be. Do you have to know how to turn the camera on or how to pull focus to be a "successful" Director? What about knowing how to design and manufacture a costume? Or know how to be a precision stunt driver? The answer to all of those things, of course, is no. A Director doesn't have to know HOW to do those things but it helps him do his job if he is at least aware of what it takes for the specialists to do them and what their limitations and parameters are.

So in the same way, a Director doesn't also have to be an Actor or know how an Actor does what he does. The job of the Director relative to the Actor is to know how to express his ideas about the characters and the story in such a way that the talent can understand well enough. Then it is the Actor's job to use the tools he has learned (via acting school, etc.) to perform according to the desires of the Director. So knowing HOW to act is far less important than honing your COMMUNICATION skills so that everyone on set and off knows precisely what it is you're trying to achieve creatively. Much like a Conductor of an orchestra, you don't have to know how to play the flute or even know how to write the music on the page...you just have to understand what the notes on the page are trying to express and then communicate that to the musicians who actually DO it.

Now, that's the art and skill of Directing. The long and short of it is that the more you know, the better you'll be. The trick then is to have the opportunities to apply that skill to create a financially successful career. You can be an artistically "successful" Director in the comfort of your own room, but that doesn't do you any good without the opportunities to get out and do it. It's the same thing for writers. Everyone can write. Not everyone can do it well, but until you actually sit down to write something, it doesn't matter how good you think you are until there is something on the page.


Back to practicality for you. As an aspiring Director, my humble advice is for you to first take up writing. Learn how to tell a story from scratch. Come up with an idea and work out the problems of making it entertaining for 100 pages in screenplay format. You'll learn story structure, character development, dialogue and many other things in the process. As you do that, take the time to learn what it really takes to get a movie made, the logistical problems as well as the creative compromises that have to be made. You'll learn how every word on the page is not precious. If you have the opportunity, take an acting workshop, but don't spend inordinate amounts of time on it unless you also want to act. Drop by a camera rental house and ask questions about the equipment. Talk to real crew about their jobs. Read job specific books (ie, Doug Hart's Camera Assistant Manual, mine when it is released this coming Spring) to learn what those people really do all day. A "successful" Director is the conductor of a large orchestra which is made up of hundreds of specialists all with their own problems and ideas about the project. It is your job to get everyone working on the same page and in harmony so that you end up with a symphony instead of a mess. Some members of your "orchestra" will think that they know better than you and will try to convince you that their way is better....and you know what? They might be right. But that's for you to consider and decide, not them. They may be only looking out for themselves, to make their own part in the project shine better with little regard for anything else. But you are the DIRECTOR, which means taking in all the information and directing everyone in the same direction. It doesn't mean that you know it all or that it's your auteristic vision no matter what else anyone has to say...the cast and crew are all creative professionals too and it is in your best interest to collaborate with them and listen to their ideas then weave the things that work together to create a movie that audiences will love.
  • 0

#3 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 19769 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 13 May 2007 - 10:58 AM

When Alexander Mackendrick set-up the directing program at CalArts, he felt that the problem with most film schools is that they taught everything except how to deal with actors.

So his program was set-up in conjunction with the theater department and his directing students had to direct one play besides write a screenplay and make a short thesis film. And the directing course concentrated on blocking and directing actors more than any camera issues.

Another director once told me that the smartest thing he ever did was take some acting lessons -- he said his directing skills improved dramatically (no pun intended.)

It takes a lot of different skills to be a good director, so why not study some acting while you're at it?
  • 0

#4 Richard Boddington

Richard Boddington
  • Sustaining Members
  • 5482 posts
  • Director

Posted 13 May 2007 - 12:06 PM

At my film school every film student had to take a minimum of one acting class.

I got an A.

R,
  • 0

#5 Jonathan Benny

Jonathan Benny
  • Sustaining Members
  • 166 posts
  • Other
  • Vancouver, Canada / Paris, France

Posted 13 May 2007 - 12:10 PM

Hey, I'm a student attending college and I seriously need some advice as to the necessary conditions of being a Film Director.

I've heard from experienced advisors that if you do not know the qualities of acting in the first place, how are you going to order and direct other actors in films?

That is why I'm sincerely hoping someone here can enlighten and advise me the right way, the necessities- to become a successful film director.


I went to acting school and have been able to use what I learned there on several occasions when shooting and/or directing.

Its important, though, to point out that many successful directors (perhaps most?) have not ever acted, nor ever been in an acting class. So its really more about finding your method and your own path to effective communication with actors. Experiencing acting school or classes can be one of many ways of getting there.

I think most important is gaining experience and ability in understanding quickly each individual actor's needs and using that knowledge to say the right things to get them to where you (and they) need to go. You do learn about that in some acting schools.

AJB
  • 0

#6 Mark Williams

Mark Williams
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 811 posts
  • Director
  • United Kingdom

Posted 13 May 2007 - 12:32 PM

Hey, I'm a student attending college and I seriously need some advice as to the necessary conditions of being a Film Director.

I've heard from experienced advisors that if you do not know the qualities of acting in the first place, how are you going to order and direct other actors in films? If you have no skills regarding the way of expressing the appropriate emotions, actions, behaviours that actors can do, what gives you the right to order accomplished actors around and request them to act in the way you want? I thought of this question deeply, not knowing the answer to that. Must I really learn how to act? Take the skills of Acting in a course? All of these before i'm able to embark on a directing career? I really have no idea.

That is why I'm sincerely hoping someone here can enlighten and advise me the right way, the necessities- to become a successful film director.

Thanks.

I don't think you do? WHY would you need to be able to act? Understanding and dealing with people and how to block your actors but I cant see where you being a good actor has much use? Understanding what their going through is a different experience for all there is no set way to be a good actor all aproach it differently some dont even act at all just read the lines and let craggy worn faces do the characterisation for them. Seriously if your at the stage where you have professional actors and you need to understand how to get the best performance from them your in trouble. However I think the abilty to mentor people who are not actors in a cheap production would mean being able to teach acting is a very good idea of course you could always get them acting lessons or even have a drama coach on set?
  • 0

#7 Krystian Ramlogan

Krystian Ramlogan
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 65 posts
  • Student

Posted 13 May 2007 - 04:34 PM

Everyone has given some very good advice, and although some of it may seem to be at odds which each other: acting classes are good versus acting classes aren't ncesessary, I think from my perspective as a current student and director, all knowledge is good and valuable. How you attain that knowledge is an entirely different matter as is how you use it.

Some individuals can learn better in a structured environment and others have an innate ability to learn by observation and experimentation. Which are you?

In order to become successful, you must first understand yourself: your strengths and your weaknesses. Once you've done that, then you should find an aproach that allows you to improve your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses.

Directing is the art of communicating to those who support you as you pursue your vision of what your project, short, film, movie, etc. should be. Actors represent one element of that vision. Acting classes can help, but do you need them? Only you can answer that question. If you want to put yourself on the other side of the camera to learn what it feels like, and what skills are needed, then you should because then you are placing yourself in a learning mode to improve yourself. Acting classes teach you many things but the primary thing it teaches is how to communicate using your tools: your body, your face, your emotions, etc. Brian alluded to this when he emphasized communication, and I support that. You may also learn about dramatic beats, different acting styles or methods, etc. A directing class may or may not provide as much depth, or not cover the same things from the same perspective.

But. If you simply think an acting class will make you a better director and you approach the class from the wrong angle you may end up having learnt nothing or worse yet, becoming a worse director because you misunderstood the process.

Any class you can take which gives you new information and new tools you can use is worth it. Some directors study art. Some study technique. Some study film theory or film criticism. No two directors come from the same place because directing is as much an internal art as painting, sculpture, acting, music, etc. You need to find your own path and within that you can choose to do whatever interests you, whatever inspires you, whatever feeds your passion for directing, film, moviemaking, and cinema.

The long and short of my advice is: do it if you want to, it won't hurt, most likely it will help, and you would have learned something/s you didn't know before. Knowledge is power, but you have to get it and understand it first in order to use it wisely, or at all.

My 2c.

K.
  • 0

#8 Adam Thompson

Adam Thompson
  • Sustaining Members
  • 161 posts
  • Cinematographer

Posted 13 May 2007 - 06:59 PM

The most important advice I ever heard was to NOT study film. The worst and let me repeat, worst, type of director there is, is one with no other life experiences. Travel, study art, photography and try film in your mid/late 20's at the earliest. You won't listen to that but that is the best thing you could do. You'll need other skills anyway. The chances of directing for a living are about 10,000 to 1.
  • 0

#9 Walter Graff

Walter Graff
  • Sustaining Members
  • 1334 posts
  • Other
  • New York City

Posted 13 May 2007 - 10:07 PM

There is no one answer. Look at any mix of directors and you'll find some that come from acting, some from the technical end, and some simply from nowhere that seems relevant. Work with directors and you'll find some that relate well with actors and some that frankly don't seem like they are part of the crew they are so in the background. Spielberg never went to film school and studied English, Aldrich came from television, Woody Allen a writer. All have very different styles. My directorial experience comes more from my relating with people and understanding them. I know some who never seem to relate but get good stuff out of actors. Bottom line is to find what works for you. Knowing about how actors work and think can be important, if you think you need it. Some say it is not. The reality is there are few directors that make a living at the dramatic and those that do show there is no one way to become a director.
  • 0

#10 James Steven Beverly

James Steven Beverly
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 4199 posts
  • Director
  • El Paso, Texas

Posted 13 May 2007 - 11:46 PM

In general terms it helps BUT Spielberg was never an actor, Lucas was never an actor, Kubrick was never an actor, MANY great directors never acted. Directing is a sepatate artform. The most improtant talent nessesary to performing it well is the ability to communicate your ideas so that those who work under you can understand them thoughly and know exactly what you want and expect from them, but what makes one great is the personal artistic slant that is being communicated and it's ability to resonate with a large segment of the audiance who sees the work.

Being able to speak to actors in langage they can understand and relate to is always an asset but it is not the only one needed, the ability to cast well is far more inportant. There are countless directors that have stated on numerious occations that if the picture is cast well most of the hard work is already done, however if an actor does get into trouble, you better damn well know how to get them out of it or you as the director are going to have a big problem.

Edited by James Steven Beverly, 13 May 2007 - 11:48 PM.

  • 0

#11 Mavis Yang

Mavis Yang

    New

  • Basic Members
  • Pip
  • 2 posts
  • Student

Posted 30 May 2007 - 09:09 AM

Thanks guys for the wonderful advice. I'm more focused and I know what I really want to do with my directing career now.


Thanks.



Mavis
  • 0

#12 Nicholas Jenkins

Nicholas Jenkins
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 148 posts
  • Student
  • Missoula, MT

Posted 07 June 2007 - 11:14 PM

The most important advice I ever heard was to NOT study film. The worst and let me repeat, worst, type of director there is, is one with no other life experiences. Travel, study art, photography and try film in your mid/late 20's at the earliest. You won't listen to that but that is the best thing you could do. You'll need other skills anyway. The chances of directing for a living are about 10,000 to 1.


I disagree. Though that may be fine for some, it doesn't work for all. Especially if film is your passion, are you supposed to deprive yourself of your passion? And there is more to "directing" than life experience. I'd say life experience is always important but you'll get that as you live life... kind of an occupational hazard. Many of the students I've seen over the years that follow this course of logic end up not understanding how a film really works. How story works in film. And, most depressingly, what DOESN'T work in film. They are so concerned with their own personal voices and experiences that they have neglected the building blocks of filmmaking and don't understand why no one likes their work.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rules. Lynch on some levels didn't study "film" until later in life, but he has an innate and powerful sense of drama. Tarantino didn't go to school, but studied the living hell out of films and filmmaking.

I think maybe I'm off on a rant here, but I just find your logic a little flawed and wanted my own counter to it on this thread.

Cheers.
  • 0

#13 Leon Rodriguez

Leon Rodriguez
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 268 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Austin, Texas USA

Posted 02 August 2007 - 06:14 PM

Hi Mavis,
I hope to give you an approach for a fresh perspective. The perspective I would adopt in approaching this decision would be, " Why should a highly trained actor trust me to direct his actions if I don't understand what he is trying to achieve?" Remember, you don't have to become an expert but unless you grind through a course or some private lessons it's very difficult to appreciate this very subtle craft. Make an effort to appreciate what actors do and they will give you their hearts for your vision. They are just amazing in their dedication to their craft. Very special artisans IMHO.
Best,
  • 0

#14 Chris Keth

Chris Keth
  • Sustaining Members
  • 4427 posts
  • 1st Assistant Camera
  • Los Angeles

Posted 02 August 2007 - 09:48 PM

As a direct answer to your question: no.

I do, however, think it helps. Just the same as I think a bit of basic photographic knowledge helps a director work with a DP. A bit of sound design theory helps the director work with a sound designer. A director has to know a bit about a lot of things to really effectively direct where things are going, in my opinion. None of this knowledge has to be formal school kind of training, but a director at least has to be able to talk shop with a lot of different depts.
  • 0

#15 Alex Ellerman

Alex Ellerman
  • Sustaining Members
  • 228 posts
  • Other
  • Chicago

Posted 02 August 2007 - 11:01 PM

i think it is helpful to have an acting background... equally helpful is a writing background... if you have put together a script, then you're less likely to be cavalier with someone else's work, and more likely to understand little things like the inciting incident, the act breaks, the reasons why things are in place...
  • 0


rebotnix Technologies

Technodolly

Rig Wheels Passport

Wooden Camera

Glidecam

FJS International, LLC

Paralinx LLC

Metropolis Post

Willys Widgets

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Tai Audio

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Visual Products

CineLab

CineTape

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Aerial Filmworks

Abel Cine

Opal

The Slider

Ritter Battery

Tai Audio

Glidecam

Ritter Battery

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Rig Wheels Passport

Aerial Filmworks

CineLab

Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Abel Cine

FJS International, LLC

The Slider

Wooden Camera

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Willys Widgets

Opal

rebotnix Technologies

Paralinx LLC

Metropolis Post

CineTape

Technodolly

Visual Products