Why You Should Maybe Not Show Actors Their Work

directing actors

photo by: SPDP

When a group intends to function as a repertory company, as Fassbinder’s did in his early films, the cycle of performance and critical viewing can get actors past the stage of horrid fascination with their own image, and working instead on the places where their resistances and growth lie. This is a long process. It needs a committed, resident cast and a trusted director: without these conditions it is unlikely to be productive. Once you start final shooting it is usually a bad idea to let the cast see themselves until the shoot is complete. This is because:

  • People are normally appalled to see themselves onscreen and this feeds their insecurities.
  • Anticipating the judgment of other cast members makes staying inside their own characters’ thoughts and experiences harder.
  • Actors who depended on your judgment may now apply their own corrective actions, giving you new problems.
  • Untrusting actors—often those who think themselves superior in reputation—may begin directing not only themselves but each other.

If you tape rehearsals, but decide not to let the cast see the results, use the explanation that:

  • Everyone hates the way they look and sound on the screen.
  • Feature films bar actors from seeing rushes because it is too unsettling. Say you will show them their work in a fine cut later.

Taping also helps clarify what you’ll need for your mise en scène (camera treatment). Without practice, you are making a theoretical fragmentation and will probably overshoot. This may look choppy and lack an integrated point of view. But by documenting your rehearsals and evolving the coverage, you are rehearsing to capture elegantly what your cast produces.

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

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