Why Every Director Should Take An Acting Class.
Updated: May 16, 2018
“No director wants to be directed, but no good director… would shy away from the good ideas of others.” ~ Tommy Lee Jones (Academy Award-winning Actor & Director)
“YOU’RE THE EXPERT!”
Your car has broken down, something wrong with the engine you’ve concluded – so you take the vehicle to a local mechanic and get them to look beneath the hood and fix the motor.
The mechanic knows what he/she is doing, they tell you what needs to be done and so – confident that the matter is well in hand – you take a seat in the waiting room or perhaps step back a few paces and curiously observe everything from a comfortable distance where the expert can do what they need to do in order to get your car up and running again.
Now, I don’t intend to belittle mechanics, actors or directors with that metaphor but it was an easy example on how we often invest our trust in others who are qualified and experienced in fields that we may not necessarily know too much about ourselves. Sure, you can Google the odd solution, read up on a few things to get a firmer understanding about a certain subject or area but years of practise, discipline, passion and persistence from someone who has poured their lives into something that we don’t do ourselves has no equal.
COMMUNICATION AND EMPATHY
Throughout my career, whether it was on the set of a TV production or the shoot of an independent project, it would surprise me every time how evident it was that so many directors knew so little about acting and the craft of performance.
Yet, they would often profess themselves to be the ‘expert’ on how to guide an actor through a scene and would create a half-baked product in the process by their lack of empathy and communication, thus failing to mine deep into the true potential of their performers.
Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t directors out there who don’t understand their actors and know how to really communicate with them, because as we have seen through the shows and films that we enjoy, they certainly do exist – and they are often the exceptional kinds of directors we can list off the top of our heads for that very reason.
ONE JOB: TO KNOW THOUSANDS OF OTHER JOBS
Going back to the opening analogy; we don’t often tell experts on how do their jobs (if we’re not too smug as individuals and purely confident in the other person’s abilities) yet a director’s role is exactly that: telling other people what to do and how.
There are countless roles on a set that a director must familiarise himself/herself with (same principle applies to those roles too, as with this article, but let’s stay focused) but given the key being in the performances as a top priority, the delivery of an actor in front of the lens is paramount to a film or show’s success.
As brilliant an actor as Peter Dinklage is, his ‘confession’ scene from the episode ‘The Laws of Gods and Men‘ (season 4, episode 6) where he lets his emotions fly in the courtroom wasn’t directed with: ‘Be really, really angry – you are so angry in this scene,’ by the director.
But more likely: ‘This moment has been waiting for you your entire life! All of the prejudice, the cruelty, the humiliation, the unfairness, the bullying, emotional wounds and pain have amounted to this release – something you have been dying to say forever and now you have nothing to lose. To hell with these people, if you’re going to die then unleash this burden you have been carrying – the loyalty you have upheld, the love you have given with nothing in return – blast it out and wrap each and every word in fire and brimstone!’
Okay – maybe a bit more long-winded, but the key is to understand the motivation of the scene.
Take a moment to think about a great actor – think about a great movie or TV show that you remember them in. Now, take a second to recall any particular film or episode where they seem to have missed the mark or undersold a performance, which left you feeling underwhelmed. Often those are the ones that were mismanaged by a director who didn’t utilise their actor properly, and often is the case, the performance is redeemed by the actor making the most out of their situation.
I’m not here to say that I’m a director who gets it right – I haven’t reached the heights that many of these directors that I’m criticising have conquered – but I believe that ninety-nine percent of my experiences with my actors have been positive ones, which I feel I owe to my years as an actor during my childhood and teenage years.
Which leads us into the key chapter here:
WHY EVERY DIRECTOR SHOULD TAKE AN ACTING CLASS
Acting isn’t for everyone.
Even though everyone wants to be an actor.
Let’s forget about the success rate for a second – we’re not here for that, what this post is about is highlighting the many benefits of taking acting classes.
Here a few bonuses that you can walk away with after taking a few classes:
Remove any shyness and come out of your shell.
Confidence in public speaking.
Learn to communicate and project yourself to a live audience.
Be in tune with your emotions.
Less sensitivity to criticism (if you’re willing to take it on board.)
Better and faster connection and communication with other individuals.
Become more sociable.
Learn to ‘let go’ of any anxieties that may be holding you back in life.
I can go on and on.
While all of the above is extremely helpful for any director in many scenarios and circumstances, the main thing is to take on board what the thought process of an actor is.
THE ACTOR’S THOUGHT PROCESS
All professional actors have their own methods and approaches to how they tackle a character that they’re assigned, some – like Anthony Hopkins – just rock up and turn it on like a light switch. Others, like Daniel Day-Lewis, painfully research and ‘live’ the role that they’re going to perform, bear in mind that these are the rare and extreme kinds of actors, Daniel Day-Lewis is who he is with a phenomenal catalogue to his name that gives him license to do as he pleases to get where he needs to go with his characters.
But what you need to take away from the classes are how you would handle your own characters and observe how others handle theirs, ask questions and get as wide a perspective as you can manage on how each person goes about getting into character, figuring out their motivations on how they seek to execute their performances.
LET SOMEONE ELSE DIRECT YOU, DIRECTOR
Allowing yourself to be directed by someone else and know what is and isn’t working based on what this person is telling you will give you that little bit more insight on how it feels to be the actor and what direction genuinely helps and what leaves you feeling confused, what answers your questions and what doesn’t and so on.
BECOME AN ACTOR’S DIRECTOR
Actors will want to work with someone who brings out the best in them as an artist and as a performer, to do that they need someone who will understand the script that they’re working with as well as knowing how to connect the character to the actor and thus the performance to the story and the emotion to the audience. Develop that ability to communicate and level with your cast, you will find a more fluid and enjoyable working relationship happening, then inspiration will strike and sparks shall fly!
YOUR METHODS WILL CHANGE
The David Finchers and Stanley Kubricks notoriously pound their actors with take after take, whilst the Ridley Scotts and Christopher Nolans nail a performance in one or two takes – further still, the Clint Eastwoods grab the best deliveries during rehearsal unbeknownst to the actors at the time.
There is no ‘right way to do it’ per se, but measure up the Academy Award-winning performances, the iconic scenes, the moments that made us want to work in the film industry – behind or in the front of the camera – to begin with. Explore those treasure troves and discover the methods and angles that were taken to reach that pinnacle, you will likely find that there was a relationship – for better or worse – between the actor and director, which brought those legendary scenes to fruition.
So, never mind slapping or bullying your actors to get them into character or to feel a certain emotion – take an acting class instead and learn how to channel what you felt into words and express this to your cast and you will see the results.
IRONS IN THE FIRE
At this moment, Paper Sky is looking to put on a local workshop in Manchester, which invites filmmakers who wish to step into the role as an actor for an hour or two; be directed and direct other directors in the process.
Once that’s up on its feet, I’ll be sure to put a shout out for anyone who may be interested in taking part and seeing how it feels to be on the other side of the camera.
Take it back behind the camera and watch your work improve.