If you are, or plan to be, in a position to direct actors, models or any other humans on camera or on stage, read Weston’s book. The book covers a set of questions I’ve been interested in for a long time. Weston discusses these questions: How do I communicate ideas not directly in the script? How do I make sure I’m understood on set? How do explain physical action I can’t show? How do I discuss a through-line with the cast? How do I get a slightly different performance or even get the same one again? and a multitude of others about performance, script and rehearsal at length.
Weston’s interest, and it should be the director’s interest, is that we must be communicating directions that are “playable”. This means that your directions must be understood by the actor in a way she can return them in the form of a performance by their character. On set the cliches “once more with feeling” and “that was perfect do it again” have become running jokes. Weston hammers home the idea that actors are constantly given direction that is unplayable: Can you give it more energy, Can you make it more quirky? Can you play him aggressive but pleasant? If you think you’ve given this direction, immediately click on the Amazon link above and order her book for 1-day delivery. These directions might honestly come from your desire to see a more quirky, pleasant, aggressive, or energetic performance but they will not help your cast. Results oriented directions like these will distract the actor into trying to see them-self through the lens instead of being inside the character they are portraying.
Weston’s thesis is around a director-actor relationship where through careful preparation the actor internalize their character and then the director helps to free the actor to be that character on set. Starting with the introduction Weston tells directors that its on them make an active choice to engage with the actors in their process and she posits that taking that choice gives the director freedom.
Until you’ve worked with actors they appear to be extremely over-paid, over-indulged and accorded far to much credit for the quality of a movie. When you start to understand how hard it is to get a good performance and how easy it is to get a laughable performance it gets a lot easier to see the value a great actor brings to a production. That said, I’m afraid that in today’s celebrity driven market actors are often being asked to be stars and not to play characters.
I have two criticisms of this book. One is that in her effort to help directors understand actors Weston has implied that the director is the Doctor in a psychiatrist, patient relationship with the actor. I would hope that a healthier less paternal relationship is possible. My other note is about her writing and the poor overused exclamation mark. Weston tells us repeatedly that the director must be very careful in delivering playable direction to the actor lest it be misunderstood. She should be as concerned with her reader’s needs.
If you’ve read Directing Actors or any other books on acting, directing or film-making please share your insights.