What To Do When You Work With Professionals


(Alex Le May) #1

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.


(Jonathan Hardesty) #2

Thanks for this! I especially like this part:

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.

I’ve only ever read arguments AGAINST giving line readings so hearing your input from set that it’s part of the dialog between actor and director is encouraging!


(Alex Le May) #3

Hi Jonathan - Glad that resonated with you. Yes, it’s something that gets repeated because it sounds right. In rehearsals, it’s a different story. That’s the time when actors should be given room to explore without the director pecking at every line reading. But when you’re spending thousands of dollars a day of someone else’s money and time is your enemy, it time to keep things moving. thanks for the comment.


(Bri Castellini) #4

@movieguyjon As a person who wrote (and linked in this article) an argument AGAINST line-readings, I just wanted to clarify that of course I understand that there are always exceptions! Especially when it comes to time or just an inability to get what you need from the actor. Also, I bet it’s REALLY a different tale with voice acting, because the voice and reading is all you have and if an actor doesn’t deliver the way you need them to, you’ve got a problem.

But in general I stand by my statement that line readings are, in general, especially when used as a lazy directing crutch, bad. @Alex_LeMay is of course an exception to this no matter what though :wink:


(Alex Le May) #5

Hi, Bri - You are absolutely correct that if that is the only tool in a director’s bag, he/she simply sucks. However, I don’t look at giving an actor a line reading as a last resort. It’s more like riffing in jazz music with your fellow band mate. I think the idea of, ‘never give an actor a line reading’ has taken on the connotation of “do what I say, or else” and that situation I should definitely clarify…don’t do that, ever. You are right, they are not simply props and often an actor will respond with “or what if we tried it this way…” and that is the back and forth it can spawn. I think the reality lies somewhere in the middle. No offense taken. I hope you didn’t think I was responding to your link. It for sure got a necessary conversation going. There are directors who use it well and directors who have run out of good ideas. Bravo!


(Bri Castellini) #6

Haha no I know you weren’t trying to passive-agressively call me out (or at least I was PRETTY SURE you weren’t).

I think we’re absolutely on the same side! And the few times I end up acting I gotta say… sometimes I do prefer a line reading to a series of confusing vague exchanges dancing around one.


(Alex Le May) #7

HA! That’s my favorite line of the week. I see that a lot.

Was definitely not trying to call you out. Nothing but mad respect, Bri!


(Kate Hackett) #8

I thought about this a lot, actually:

Line readings during rehearsals suck. No, please.

Line readings on set, especially if we’re having trouble understanding each other (which happens, nbd), would probably not phase me at all – I wouldn’t even remember I had a line reading later. UNLESS there was something deeply frustrating about the situation, but then it’s not the line read’s fault. It happens, it’s usually ALWAYS a last resort, and I wouldn’t even store the information in my head for later.

That said, the reason actors are said to hate it is very simple:

When we repeat like a parrot, we aren’t artists. We’re fucking robots. Nobody wants a robot actor. …I hope. At best, we’re regurgitating without understanding WHY or WHAT you need. At worst, you get a flat line because we don’t have anything real behind it.

shrug It’s not the best method, but it’s A method and I doubt actors are going to shut down production to throw a tantrum about it.


(Jonathan Hardesty) #9

Yikes. Line readings during rehearsals? That sounds…not great. :frowning: :frowning:


(Jonathan Hardesty) #10

OMG. Had a boss a few years back who did that. It was for little 2 minute “top 5” videos about collectibles. The actor would literally just stand in front of the camera and read the script from the teleprompter, but if they didn’t read the lines how she wanted she would get so weird about it do everything but explain what she wanted and the atmosphere just became uncomfortable…and then when I and the other editors got the footage we’d wonder what the heck happened.