Okay so that may seem an obvious statement to make, but it was only when I went behind the camera and made my first short film did I truly understand how different it is. As a theatre director I am used to allowing plenty of rehearsal time to allow an actor to build his part, improvise, connect to her partner, find the moment etc but on a film set when time is ticking away and your First AD keeps reminding you of schedules and set-ups and you often shoot out of sequence, how can you keep that organic creativity flowing? Also in theatre my indication of my best work is when the actors make the play their own once it’s up in front of an audience and work off of that new energy, a factor entirely devoid in film.
I have attended brilliant courses on working with actors for film such as Tools for Directing Actors with Simon Phillips at The Directors Guild for Great Britain and completely understand the theory of it but I am still working on the practicalities. When I shot my first short film in 2011 I was overwhelmed by the technical aspects and I admit, I occasionally forgot the story or character or felt pressured by time… Luckily I had two very experienced actors and a wonderfully talented crew for support so whilst my first short is flawed in a way most first time attempts are; it was a very enjoyable learning curve.
I am very much a film directing novice, since Brainstorm, I have mainly worked on trailer shorts for my theatre projects, however here are a couple of tips I have learnt and discovered about directing actors for camera…
- Think about what you want your audience to see specifically in that character’s journey, you will discuss it with your DOP for camera angles, lighting effects etc. Talk to your actor too so they understand what you are going for.
- Get them out of their head and into their gut. Give them permission to feel it instead of think about it.
- Ask your actor what they can see, hear, feel and even smell in that moment. Keep them focused on visceral and sensory sources; this will register on camera beautifully.
- If you can, give them play time. Allow them to be at ease and to play around within the structure of the frame and the moment. A good actor’s instincts are invaluable. Give them permission to listen to them and make sure you do too. The very controlled environment of film can make time feel like a pressure, don’t let it.
And so with that…here’s the link to my first short. I had wanted to do a film course and couldn’t afford to, so instead I bribed some talented friends with food, booze and some expenses to give up a weekend and to help me learn about film-making. I learnt loads and have some more planned this year now I have an idea of what it’s all about, but I’m proud of my first go. Enjoy.Brainstorm by Richard Smith Directed by moi