Direct Film Actors – 5 Amazing Tips

– Posted in: Directing Films and Videos Directing Performance

Do you know how to Direct Film Actors?



Confessions of a Frustrated Film Actor

In this video-post I’ll share five amazing tips on how to direct film actors. But before I do I think you’ll get some great “don’t-do insights” by watching the video of a frustrated actor sharing an experience about a director who doesn’t know how to direct. Ouch – Don’t make that mistake!

You’ll appreciate the tips more if you watch the video first. 
Here’s what we’ll cover:
  • Who decides character development, backstory and scene objectives?
  • Does the actor and the director need to agree on all the choices?
  • When and how do you discuss this?

Hope you like 🙂

Confessions of a Frustrated Film Actor – Give me direction, please! from John Holser on Vimeo.

So, now that you know how not to direct film actors. Here are five things that will help you achieve amazing results.

  • All decisions and direction should be on the characters super-objective. “What drives this character?”
  • Talk about the character in an informal relaxed way prior to shooting.
  • Don’t cram your ideas down the actors throat – Listen, Learn and Explore!
  • Once you agree on what the character wants in the scene, give specific active-verb direction if needed.

Once your on-set your mind is filled with ideas, problems and sometimes doubt. The doubt usually comes from not doing your pre-production work.

So, take the notes you made in pre-production and watch for a truthful performance that aligns with what the character wants. This is his or her objective. You talked about this in that relaxed conversation you had and maybe again in rehearsal – remember?

If the performance is truthful then you’ve got it. Don’t do any more takes move on.

If it’s not truthful or not aligned with the objective it’s time to give some specific direction. Refer back to your notes – you’ll know what to say.

If you learned anything about how to direct film actors in this post you’ll like what I share in my emails. Stay in touch and sign up here. 

Here’s the actual transcript of the video.


Yeah, I had a director, and he was so vague. I don’t think he had a clear vision.

If you just give me the whole scenario, how you see it, I can make it work. I can work with people. I can create this thing. If it’s blank, I can go in a direction that’s completely wrong and waste a lot of time. Then they are like, “I don’t like that.”

And then I wonder what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? Give me something. You have to give me a map. Otherwise we’ll waste time and energy going in different directions,

I’m going to end up in Albany, and he wants me in Troy (Albany and Troy are two cities on the Hudson River In New York State)

And then you have to get back to Troy, because that’s the other thing too. If I’m creating a character, I’m holding onto some things. Because I’m creating it.

Then I’ve got to erase it, and then come to you with something else, which is the thing. That’s what scary about it. To work to get it and then come back.

Yeah. Absolutely.

So I think what Michael was saying here is that he was going in one direction the director was going in another direction and the director didn’t know how to point Michael in the right direction. The direction that he wanted him to go.

The fact that they weren’t on the same page tells me that they didn’t sit down and talk about character development and story before they went on set.

Character development is the job of the actor. Talking about the character is something the director ad actor can do together.

As the director you want to sit down ahead of time to relax and talk about the character, their backstory and the choices that these characters are making in the scene.Because at that point you’re not starting from zero, you’ve already done the work. Now you’re just dialing it in on-set.