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how to rehearse with actors?


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#1 Jim Nelson

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Posted 05 November 2010 - 05:47 PM

Hi,

I'm quite new at film directing.

Can someone please give me some good advice on how to do rehearsals with the actors.

For example, do you tell them what their objective is for each scene and do you explain to them each and every beat? or do you let them figure that out on their own?


Thanks so much for your help :)
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#2 John Sprung

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Posted 05 November 2010 - 07:08 PM

It varies a lot from actor to actor. The main thing is to keep them comfortable. Like any job, you want the people who work for you to be happy. Some may want a lot of specifics, others may prefer to contribute more of their own ideas. Whichever it is, give 'em what they need. Demand only what you absolutely need -- like, I really need you to do X because it sets up a gag in another scene....






-- J.S.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 November 2010 - 07:34 PM

Hi,

I'm quite new at film directing.

Can someone please give me some good advice on how to do rehearsals with the actors.

For example, do you tell them what their objective is for each scene and do you explain to them each and every beat? or do you let them figure that out on their own?


Thanks so much for your help :)


Well, there can be some advance discussion of themes and whatnot before you get to the set - maybe in their trailers or in the make-up room, or the night before, or even early in cast rehearsals, but generally you want to be beyond that by the time you get to blocking rehearsal on set.

Blocking rehearsals generally just involve a few people besides the actors: the director, the DP, the script supervisor, the AD, the on-set props person, and maybe the writer if they are around.

Usually the best approach is to first just get them together to quickly read the lines, no blocking, quickly talk about any questions they still have about the dialogue (don't let it drag on though because time is critical on shooting days), and then do a couple of blocking rehearsals. Most directors lay out some simple ideas for staging as an intro, sort of "here's what I'm thinking but feel free to change it -- I was thinking of you (one actor) sitting here and you (another actor) being over there at the kitchen counter and then at some point crossing over to the chair, maybe sitting down by this line of dialogue."

Keep it simple and be prepared to justify your blocking ideas. Generally if your ideas are logical and motivated by script action, the actors accept it more easily than they do when you need them to stand somewhere just for the camera angle to work. One thing that helps is to pre-arrange the furniture so that actors naturally move to areas that are camera friendly -- place that desk in a good relationship to that door or window, etc.

The first blocking rehearsal, don't over-direct the actors, let them find the scene and feel the space. They may wander all over the set and frighten you and the DP with all the editorial issues that their movements create (several eyeline crosses, etc.) But you'll often find that on the second pass of the blocking rehearsal, actors will simplify 90% of their movements. In fact, sometimes it's your job to give them reasons to move on certain lines, bits of business that serve the story and are natural for the character.

It's a bit like play for children, you sometimes pre-dress the set with options for the actor to play with, props, etc. They may choose to ignore most of it, but it's there if it helps -- some homework left out, a laptop, vegetables that need chopping, clothes that need sorting, newspapers and magazines to read, etc.

Then once their blocking seems to work for them, you and your DP quickly discuss adjustments necessary for camera -- anything major may involve getting the actor behind the change, like "can you turn your body out this way to favor the camera so we don't need to come around and cover that line?" Or "one more step and you'd be in this nice table light if that's OK?"

After that, you show the crew a marking rehearsal -- all the keys and stand-ins watch, tape marks are laid down for positions, then the actors leave for hair & make-up, etc. Then changes that are minor can be done with the stand-ins after the actor has left -- once you get a lens up, or a dolly move, you may need a mark moved a foot here or there or a table or chair pushed over to create a better composition... once the actor gets back to set, they may not even notice that the mark has been moved slightly (but often the stand-in will point out to the actor the changes.)

Now what I have described is a blocking rehearsal on the shooting day -- as for cast rehearsals before that, the structure is looser, depending on the time allotted. Generally you don't get too specific about blocking because you aren't on the actual set at the time. You may arrange some chairs in an empty space though so actors can talk about sitting and standing, etc. But this is the time to talk about the tone of the scene, the motivations, the backstory, etc. though it all may come up again on the shooting day (particularly if there were last-minute rewrites.)

But even in that situation in cast rehearsals, I'm not sure I'd start over-intellectualizing the scene for the cast right off the top, nor break it down beat by beat for them in advance. You really want to see what they naturally bring to the scene instinctually and then just work on what doesn't work. The actors have to make it come alive for themselves, so there are limits to how much you want to impose advanced notions on them.

Also, avoid acting out a scene for the actor -- that can either annoy an actor or just cause them to do a bad impersonation of your bad acting.

Every actor, like every person, is different, and you have to be a different director for each actor. Some need a lot of intellectualizations, some just want technical notes, some need a lot of prodding to break them of bad habits or laziness, some just need to feel safe in terms of being able to explore and experiment, some need to be brought down and some need to be brought up.

Try to avoid over-accomodation though, you can't just accept anything they come up with because you have an overall vision of the story that needs to be told, as characters, the actor only has to concern themselves with their role. A common problem is pacing -- a director has to keep in mind the pace of the whole movie and the individual scenes so he doesn't end up with every scene having the same energy level, or the movie just dragging. One thing that director Alexander Mackendrick used to teach us at CalArts was the notion of "sooner not faster" when the pace was too slow -- i.e. don't act faster, make your acting choices sooner ( i.e. think faster, don't talk faster.)
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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 06 November 2010 - 04:39 AM

A big part is the casting, the actors you selected are bringing something to that role, its very easy to lose this during the pressures of the shoot, so the rehearsal is an opportunely to build on this.
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#5 Jim Nelson

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Posted 08 November 2010 - 09:58 AM

Thank you soooooo much for your help. You are all very helpful :)
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#6 David McDonald

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Posted 01 December 2010 - 04:41 PM

David Mullen nailed some great points and covered a lot of important stuff.

I'm assuming you're asking about rehearsing with actors ahead of time, before the shoot day. So what I usually do is get the actors together at someone's house or at school or something and just go over the scene at first without telling them anything. You never know what they might come up with, and it'll be easier for you to see where things in the script might not be working or where some of the trouble areas in the scene might be. Once they've done it once, you can start giving adjustments to them. I'm assuming you won't be working with really professional actors at first so there's a good chance they will do something wrong at first or maybe not get the point of something...but that's not necessarily a bad thing because it gives you an opportunity to do some directing. There's all different ways to direct actors, but it might be good to start off giving them their character's big objectives and aspirations etc. Once they know what their character really wants it will make a lot of what they do come more naturally.

As for direction, I would strongly recommend against giving them little short, useless direction like "Can you do it a bit faster?" or "Do it more angry this time." That kind of direction is terrible. Sometimes in a pinch you might be stressed out on set and running out of time so you might throw something like that out there, but it rarely gets good results. You need to give the actor something they can play. It's almost impossible to play "more angry" without just saying your lines louder and yelling pointlessly. The most important thing you can do with all your direction is at least give a good explanation why. If you're gonna tell the actor to be more angry, at least pair that with a reason and some context; "I need you to be more angry because this guy is trying to get you to do something that you've already said you don't want to do 5 times and it's really getting to you." Or another way of avoiding giving very basic, unplayable direction is by giving them an action verb. Instead of saying "be more intense with him," which kind of doesn't mean anything, you could say something like "Pressure him...if both of you don't pull this off you'll be dead. Convince him!" If you give the actor a verb like "convince," the scene will practically play itself. An actor could improvise a million different things just with that one verb.

So in rehearsals, it might be good to go through those basic action verbs. I find it's helpful to even go through the script before meeting with actors and try coming up with some good action verbs for EVERY line. If you know the intent behind every line, and you've prepared verbs for the actors to play on every line, if they do something wrong in rehearsal you can quickly give them one of your action verbs to try out. It's also good preparation as a director because it gets you thinking about all the lines ahead of time and how they should be played, or how you want them played, and you will know exactly what you want when the actors are there...instead of fumbling around trying to think of what to say when you get asked a question.
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#7 Luke Lenoir

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Posted 07 November 2011 - 12:01 PM

Working with amateurs (I'm assuming you are) is hard because they don't know what they can do. The best thing to do, as mentioned, is to keep them comfortable.
It's also fun to have them watch other films for inspiration. There is the odd chance that you'll get someone with an enormous ego who will try to manipulate you
into giving him/her everything they want. Do not succumb to this. Just fire them. As important as they think they are, actors are expendable...
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