Sunday, 29 January 2012

Working with actors

When I started off directing films I was very wary of actors.
I had preconceptions of prima-donnas whose only aim was to undermine my visions with their ego-driven ideas and to change every line that had been scripted.
I was prickly, and distant to actors and huddled with the camera team to avoid all that actory nonsense.
"why can't they just act?" I'd lament?

Many years, and quite a few films later, and I cringe when I think about that attitude.
To any of those actors who worked with me on those early films I apologise.
I realise now it was my own insecurities as a director that informed that kind of silliness.

The reason I can say this now is that I now see first time directors I've met and seen work recently going through the same thing.
It's a vicious circle. The director is unapproachable and distant with their actors and then the actors get insecure and either get angry or try and do their best to keep the film going. (which the director then sees as undermining them).

I was very lucky on my latest film to work with some brilliant and very accomplished actors.
Peter Mullan, in particular, was a daunting prospect. The guy has won BAFTAS, Cannes and much more. But one of the first things he said to me was "I'm here for you". And it was the same for the rest of that cast.
Working with this calibre of actor is the most rewarding experience I have ever had as a filmmaker. It's a collaboration to make the best possible work, and it makes me rue what could have been all those years ago.
If I'd have relaxed and formed those essential actor-director bonds early on then the work would have been both better and more enjoyable.

Of course, you'll always get actors who can be difficult. Usually those with all the same insecurities that come with having years of doors slammed in their face.
You might also come across those actors that got into the business to be famous rather than commit to the work.

But... As a director it's vital you get the casting right. Don't make easy or misinformed choices. The casting process will define both the film and the filming experience.
There's no point in moaning someone isn't right for a part. It's not their fault. It's yours, for not casting properly.
Get the casting right and it makes all the difference. A fact many filmmakers overlook to their cost.

The next step is communication.
Talk to your actors. Form a bond. Don't assume just because they have a script they know everything you want.
Bad communication is another destroyer of relationships in all walks of life, but within the microcosm of a film set it is especially destructive.

I never thought it would happen, but I now have some of my best friendships with actors.
The principle actors of The Man Inside are all great buddies now and will fight alongside me for the integrity of my film.
I guess because I involved them so heavily they all feel like the film is as much theirs as mine. But also that special bond goes a long way. If an actor knows you are making a film with passion and integrity they will walk thru fire for you.

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