Directing

Directing: The Similarities and Differences between Film and Theatre

The general misconception held by most laypeople and some professionals seems to be that there must be a difference between the crafts of directing and acting in theatre and those in film. The belief is that there are stage actors and screen actors, film directors and theatre directors. I don’t agree with this. It is true that some actors and directors have more experience in one or the other form and thus have to make adjustments or add to their awareness of certain elements in crossing over. But it is my contention that the basics of the crafts remain the same. However, it is true that the skilled actor does not necessarily automatically become the skilled director nor should one assume that the skilled director can also act.

Photo by Danielle A. Davey

THE LANGUAGE: A SIMILARITY

What is certainly the same, at least in my approach, is the language of communication. Although the director’s work calls for an overview of the material and an awareness of the throughline and outlines for each character as opposed to the actor who simply has to focus on his/her own role, the means of communication by which the actor and director collaborate to lift the words off the page and breathe life into them can be the same. My workshops, which always include actors, directors, and yes also writers, all work together with the same approach. The results are testament to the fact that this can be done successfully.

The realities of economic survival demand that both actors and directors be capable of moving with ease from theatre to film or television if they have the desire for a roof over their heads and food on their tables. It is well known among members of our industry that working in the theatre is a luxury ill-afforded if it means taking time from the much more lucrative remuneration offered by film and television. There is frequent mourning by the theatre community over the apparent loss of talented playwrights who have opted for the good life by writing screenplays and who have seemingly deserted the theatre. In the days of what is lovingly called the “golden age” of theatre (the forties, fifties, and sixties), the motion picture industry derived much of its material and talent from the theatre. Plays were purchased from successful runs on Broadway and adapted into films. Actors were discovered in Off-Broadway plays and quickly became stars, As I write this book, it seems the worm is turning: Work initiated in film is adapted for the stage. Actors known entirely for their film work are appearing for the first time on the boards and even directors, some of whom began in the theatre, are either returning to the fold or trying on the experience of directing theatre for the first time. And this is all happening with varying degrees of success or failure.

SIZE: A DIFFERENCE

There are some differences that must be taken into consideration and addressed in the course of the work. The first and most obvious of these is the question of size. We’ve examined the issue of size of screen in the chapter about the actor and the camera, particularly in the use of close-ups, but here I am referring to another aspect that is almost the opposite concern. It is that in theatre, the presence of a proscenium, or whatever separates the live audience from the actors, demands a certain level of projection. It is not only necessary to be seen and to project the actions and activities clearly, the actors must also be heard and understood in the upper reaches of the balcony. The actors’ training therefore must include the ability to retain the truth of their characters while finding a level, often slightly larger than life, that will project that reality to the large watching audience. The camera, conversely, is like a microscope, examining the actor’s every move, the slightest twitch. But the quick wink of an eye, so telling on the screen, might be lost to an audience of more than 25 in a theatre environment.

In the previous chapter I’ve referred to the case where, when working with talented trained actors who have had extensive background in theatre but little or no film experience, my film students have, on viewing their dailies, had a rude surprise. What seemed so right in the protected intimacy of the rehearsal hall suddenly leaps from the screen seeming pushed or indicated. What happens is that the actor goes into performance mode in front of the camera and reflexively projects in the manner customary to the theatrical experience. Without realizing the effect that this seemingly slight change might have on the balance between actors, the choice of actions, and so on, the team presses blithely on. It is a sad moment in the editing room when the director realizes that the lack of attention to even the most subtle of changes in the actor’s performance might make it necessary to reshoot or, even worse, to settle for something less than desirable.

Excerpt from Changing Direction: A Practical Approach to Directing Actors in Film and Theatre by Lenore DeKoven © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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