Starting out as a filmmaker can be rather tough. Every new project you start writing and plan on shooting can eventually be hindered by not finding actors willing to lend their time to bring your characters alive. More often than not, amateur filmmakers star in their own works or rely on friends, family, and strangers to play all the roles. Working with new or amateur actors doesn’t have to be an unprofessional endeavor. In fact, you can get impressive performances by even the most untrained actors if you know how to direct them. Below, we go over 5 tips to direct new or amateur actors.
Find people who closely fit their roles
It is very likely that some of the characters you write will have fictionalized backgrounds, different from the actual actors who will play them. If you are working with non-actors, you can try to reach out to someone whose life is most similar to the character you want them to play. No need to get an actual lawyer to play the lawyer, though, but if a person you know knows how to do a certain thing or has lived through an experience that your character also will, then they might be a good fit.
Be flexible with dialogue
People who are new to acting might find it difficult to memorize their lines; or in the contrary, rely too much on reciting their dialogue from memory alone. This often ends up in a performance that is either inconsistent throughout the film or that falls flat. In that sense, letting your actors take some liberties with the dialogue and say it as it comes to them is a good technique to get more genuine lines and more fluid performances.
Always have a backup plan
Of course, working with people who don’t have as much experience as they would like to can always backfire in some cases. There might be scenes in which these actors don’t deliver how you want them to, or simply can’t get one thing or another quite right. In these cases, you want to have a backup plan that works in place of the original scene. Keep this in mind and have alternatives ready, like a scene with a different character, a dialogue instead of a standalone scene, or simply no dialogue at all and using visuals to convey your message.
Let the cameras roll
Amateur actors, and particularly people who are non-actors, might be intimidated by cameras and the crew looking at their performance the entire time. This is not a feeling that wears off easily or quickly, so between that and the lines they have to memorize, it will take them a couple of takes before nailing a scene just right. One thing you can do to warm actors up and make them gain confidence is avoid cutting too quickly. Let cameras roll as much as you can to see what they can deliver; things tend to flow more naturally without the pressure of constant cutting.
Lead by example
Working with new actors grants you a license to be more hands-on on your directing approach. Whenever you feel you’re not getting what you need the way you want it, or you’re about to shoot a scene you want to capture in a specific way, showing them what you mean is the best course of action. Don’t be afraid to be silly or over dramatic yourself if that’s what you expect from them. Play the part, act the scene to show what you mean, and you’ll get better results.