Handling Actors’ Anxieties When Shooting Begins


Warn actors unfamiliar with making movies that filming is invariably s-l-o-w. Even a professional feature unit may only shoot 1–4 minutes of screen time per 8-hour day. Tell them to bring books, playing cards, or crossword puzzles—anything to help fill the inevitable periods of waiting.

An anxious actor

Photo by Glamlife Student Portal


Actors suffer maximum jitters and minimum confidence just prior to first shooting. Take each aside and tell him or her something special and private. It should be sincere and supportive. Thereafter that actor has a special understanding to maintain with you. Its substance and development will reach out by way of the film to the audience, for whom you are presently the surrogate.


Whatever level of performance was achieved in rehearsal now comes to the test. Actors feel they are going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, so wise scheduling puts the least demanding material early as a warm-up. In the first day or two there will be a lot of tension, either frankly admitted or displaced into one of the many behaviors that mask it. Try not to be wounded or angered; if someone is deeply afraid of failing a task, it is forgivably human to pick quarrels or demote the work’s importance. It does not mean, as many film technicians secretly believe, that actors are a childish breed. They are normal, often shy and self-doubting people who occasionally succumb to agonies of self-doubt. Why filming takes so long is incomprehensible to the uninitiated, and the crew, enviably busy with their gadgets, seem removed and uncaring. Your appreciation and public recognition given for even small achievements, and your crew’s astute diplomacy will work wonders for morale.

putting actors at ease

Photo Courtesy of Alexander Thompson


Anxieties subside as the process establishes its rhythms. As the cast falls in with the pace and demand of shooting, each member begins to take pride at being one of a team. Performances improve so much that you wonder about the usability of the earlier material.

[Excerpted from Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics, fourth edition. Copyright ©2008, Michael Rabiger. Published by Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.]

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