This is a weekly column behind the scenes of Alex LeMay’s latest project, DARK JOEY. DARK JOEY is a collaboration between LeMay and writer Jim Uhls, who wrote the major motion picture, FIGHT CLUB, as well as his writing partner Ric Krause. Follow along here: #Film-School:lemay-makes-a-series
I was so privileged to be able to work with actors like Matt Mercer and Deanna Russo. These are pros and there was no mistaking that on the set of the Uhls project. By the end of 2017, Matt will have made five movies with global distribution and Deanna will have appeared in a ton of TV shows. These are people who make their only living from acting and there is a reason.
That being said, as creators and directors, we had better know what to do when we find ourselves working with them.
First, actors are literally ‘choice machines’. Any actor worth working with will have a dozen choices he/she can make for any given beat (single moment) or scene. They will have worked on character intention and motivation long before they’ve shown up to set. So when we hire them, let them do their job. They deserve to apply their craft and not be micro-managed. Remember, this is what they think about all day, every day. Letting them do their job is what builds trust between an actor and director. Now that isn’t to say as a director you just hand the scene over to them, you still need to shape it, but shape it using what they are giving you. Remember, they are better at what they do than we are so let them do it.
Also, I hear a lot of people saying “Don’t give an actor a line reading.” I don’t know what book that showed up in, but on a working set, it is a matter of course and expected by the onscreen talent. For the most part, they like it, as it gets them to the heart of what the director is looking for. The good ones don’t take offense because they generally care about the director’s vision… and don’t worry; they’re going to bring their own flavor to your line reading anyway, so ultimately it becomes theirs again whether a director likes it or not.
Professionals of any kind are all about adding value and actors are some of the best at that. Professional actors who behave as such are a joy to work with and make directing the awesome job that it is. The ones who throw tantrums are either responding to a shabbily run set or they aren’t professionals. If it’s the latter, don’t work with them again and don’t look back.
Being professional doesn’t mean getting paid, it means having an attitude of getting things done and remaining clear-headed throughout.