Directors Don't Direct

My experiences both as an Actress, and as a Film Producer, have taught me that Directors don’t direct Actors.

Mind you, I am talking here about Film and TV Directors, specifically. Theatrical directors are usually very involved in directing actors, but even so, many directors, whether theatrical or film/tv, are just too busy getting everything else done on the set, that they don’t have enough time to help you, the actor, develop your character. Not only do they not have time to help you develop your character, they also have hardly any time to direct you once the camera is rolling. This means that you have to know exactly what you’re doing, even if it means hiring a professional acting coach to work with you every day so that you come to the set ready for “ACTION!”.

I have produced many independent films, and in every single case, the director didn’t have time to work with the actors. When I talk about time, what I’m really talking about is budget. When a director doesn’t have enough time, it’s because he really doesn’t have enough money in the budget to do things like hold rehearsals, call actors to talk with them about their roles, or even spend several minutes each day on the set helping the actor prepare, or even time to block their scenes.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the director is a jerk. He wants to be there for you, he just, probably, doesn’t have the time. He’s busy running a huge production…

Let’s be honest. It’s not really the director’s fault that he or she doesn’t usually have enough time. In fact, most directors that I know would love to have more time with their actors. And they usually feel very guilty that they don’t have the time, so they’ll often get angry at themselves, and then at the crew or actors, because they know they should be helping more than they are. They didn’t get into directing to talk to the money people all day about insurance or catering. They want to work with actors, it’s the fun part of making movies.

As a result, it’s not the actors fault either that he arrives on set feeling gypped. Most actors come to the first day of filming feeling lost, and wishing they’d had more time to talk to the director, more time to get ready for their part in the film. So they’re more than happy to let the director know how pissed they are, and then the director ends up hating them for complaining, and then the first day of shooting is not only tense, it can be miserable, with everyone mad at everyone else, leaving you to think, “Is this really what acting is all about? If so, I hate it!”.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the director is a jerk. He wants to be there for you, he just, probably, doesn’t have the time. He’s busy running a huge production and feels guilty the second he sees you arriving, knowing immediately that you, the actor, is furious he hasn’t called you once, or discussed the role, other that that last call back he had with you, or the talk he had with you, over lunch with your agent. Remember, the director comes to the set full of guilt, and you, as an actor, must let go of your frustration, and just be prepared to perform the role you’ve been working on, to perfection — whether the director directs you or not.

Even in the best circumstances, it’s very seldom that an actor has more than a day or two with the director to prepare for their role, and most often than not, that day or two is the day or two before the film starts shooting. Thus, the director is usually very exhausted and busy and unfocussed, since he’s probably also in the middle of various problems needing to be solved (like cast or crew that’s not shown up, lights, cameras, sets, that are missing or broken, or money that has not arrived to run the next several weeks’ shoot). If it’s a big budget feature, then this discussion is moot. You may have weeks with the director, and if so, well then congratulations, you’re a star, and you’re probably not even reading this post!

But for the rest of us? — the day or two of read-throughs and rehearsals that you may have with your fellow actors and director, will have very high stakes, and usually, during these rehearsals, many of the more insecure actors may be busy throwing fits to prove their status on the shoot. You will see these power plays over and over again, especially in smaller films, where the more famous or experienced actors will try and prove that they are bigger celebrities than the other actors, and that they are smarter than the director. This power playing wastes everyone’s time, and usually takes away from the time you, as one of the well-meaning actors, may need with the director. Let go of your ego during these times, and be the actor that didn’t need to prove anything. You’ll get rehired and the power proving idiot, the so-called celebrity hothead, will not.

With all the problems you may be facing in an upcoming production shoot, this one thing is the most important thing to keep in mind: be 150% prepared to perform your role the way you think it should be performed, with every single choice in place BEFORE you arrive on the set! This means, preparation, preparation, preparation! — every single day up until you arrive on the set to shoot your first scene.

About Kirsten Tretbar

Kirsten Tretbar is an acting teacher, filmmaker, and former actress. She received her MFA in Acting from USC in Los Angeles, where she acted professionally for many years.

Los Angeles + Kansas City