The Importance of Being Directable as an Actor

The Importance of Being Directable as an Actor

The Importance of Being Directable as an Actor

Sam Borowski
Sam Borowski
2 years ago

“I say luck is when an opportunity comes along and you’re prepared for it*.”*

- Denzel Washington

I knew an actor once who liked to utter that famous phrase by the Roman philosopher Seneca, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Such a well-known phrase that I titled my last Stage 32 blog after it. Funny thing was, when that actor got their opportunity, they were not prepared. And, they could have used a lot of luck.

They were nervous and had a hard time following direction, so much so, that by the end of the shoot they had grown aggravated and were answering the filmmakers back. (They had likely figured out that they couldn’t be fired during the last two nights of the shoot, since all of the scenes they were in – especially with the A-listers and name actors – would have had to been re-shot, which the production obviously could not afford. But, as the lead producer on the feature, I paid attention. And one of the actors noticed, so much so, they mentioned something to me about this.)

Sadly, this is something that can occur often in micro-budget, independent, and even small-studio films. And some of the stories of these "Problem Children" on set range from the ridiculous to the bizarre. Things you would not ever do in any other career, but ironically were done on a movie set, a job that’s not easy to get – even on a smaller production.

Which is really a shame since being “directable,” is one of the best qualities – arguably the best – that an actor can have.

Another story that comes to mind, happened during a short I produced with an A-list name. I also was guiding the young director, who I had hand-picked. It was her directorial debut and she had a lot of raw talent.

We had an actor that was very talented in a small supporting role. She was doing well, but on one particular take she forgot to touch the other actor’s cheek with her hand. Not a big deal, we asked her to do it on the next take. But from that moment, instead of taking the note and moving on, she was constantly asking if her performance was up to snuff. Even though I assured her it was no big deal, she seemed spooked after that.

But the worst was yet to come.

The Importance of Being Directable as an Actor

Sam goes over the day’s shooting schedule with his first A.D. Addison Randall and Emmy-Nominee Natasha Lyonne

You see, this was a weekend-long shoot on location. We had hotel rooms for the actors and out of town crew and there was a lot of local crew in this area. So, we were there for the duration. When the actor in question’s scenes were finished, rather than be interested in watching us shoot the A-list name and learning and being a part of the team, she decided to take walks in the park and call friends on her cell and respond to texts. You know, fun stuff like that.

Now much like Quentin Tarantino, I don’t allow phones or texting on my live set. But, if you walk away from where I’m filming, so be it. Still, you think that actor would have been invested in the film. Nope.

Instead, the actor later asked an Associate Producer to try to coerce me into finishing the shoot early and moving up the wrap dinner on the final night, so she could get home earlier. Totally inappropriate.

I can tell you that it did not go over well.

With all the people vying for a paid job – even at SAG minimum – she acted as if she had somewhere better to be. I know so many actors that would have killed for the chance to be on that set. Unfortunately, I made the wrong choice. I will not make that wrong choice with that person again.

And, I certainly wouldn’t describe her as directable.

Key Takeaway: Be Professional

So, what are the Key Takeaways from these experiences? Two words: Be Professional. You have to be prepared and know your lines before you get to set. You can’t allow nerves or an intense director to make you have Cindy Brady-like camera-fright. And, you have to trust your director and producer and handle notes without thinking they’re not liking your performance.

And, as part of being professional, you certainly should not accept a job if you can’t stay for the duration and your biggest concern is getting out of there. Or asking the production to accommodate you? Other ways of being professional? How about showing an interest in the product that’s being created? Paying attention and learning about the process? Learning from experienced A-listers? Not showing an interest in your phone? That can turn off filmmakers quicker than you can say blueberry pie.

The Importance of Being Directable as an Actor

Sam Borowski presents student Lydia Kalmen with an Award in his ‘So, You Want to be an Actor’ class

“Study, find all the good teachers and study with them, get involved in acting to act, not to be famous or for the money.”

– The Late Philip Seymour Hoffman

Through the years, I’ve had many students in my ‘So You Want to Be an Actor’ workshops. Three of them come to mind as being both ‘special’ in terms of talent and being directable. The most recent of those three, Lydia Kalmen, a Stage 32 Success Story, who you see above accepting a “Sammy Award” for Best Actress during our Annual Awards Workshop, is filled with talent. But, more on her later. She doesn’t belong in this section.

This section discusses several students that were anything, but directable, one of whom barely lasted one class with me. That actor, who specializes in micro-budget day-player roles, reached out to me on Facebook. When he finally got up the funds and the moxie to take a workshop, I was astounded at just how unprofessional he was.

The class was instructed to do an improv consisting of characters from that year’s Oscar-Nominated films. He said he couldn’t do it, because he hadn’t seen “any movies,” that year. Now, we had done several scenes from Oscar-Nominated films in the class and he could have easily picked one of those characters.

The other students explained that this was an improv and all he had to do was choose a character with a backstory and make it his own. They said they would help him. No matter what they tried, this guy just shrugged his shoulders – literally – and said, “Sorry, can’t do it.”

There were other notes I gave that he either didn’t know how to incorporate or simply ignored.If you don't understand a note, you should ask questions and get clarification rather than just ignoring it.

The Importance of Being Directable as an Actor

I also had a student that studied with me, who asked me, “When are you going to put me in your movies?” I explained that roles have to be earned. You have to do the work. You have to have talent … and be directable.

By their second workshop, they were already making excuses for attending. Not a good sign.

Not surprisingly, there was one scene during those classes where I gave this actor a note over and over again about changing point of emphasis on the line and their pronunciation and they did not make the change.

Not exactly the textbook definition of ‘being directable.’

There are many more horror stories like this, but you get the idea.

Key Takeaway: Never Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Key Takeaways here? Well, as with the first guy, never be afraid to ask questions. Also, I once heard a big New York casting director talk about how an actor has to make choices and she wants to see what choices they make. The first fellow chose not to make any choices. I, myself, would always rather see an actor make the wrong choices than to make no choices at all. And, in an improv, where anything goes, to not even attempt it? That said a lot to me.

Also, an actor should not display an attitude of entitlement. If you would like to work with a filmmaker, earn it. Show them your talent. But you don’t do that by not attending class, coming late and not being able to integrate a director’s notes. Why would any real director hire you if that was their experience with you? Not only do you have to be directable, you have to also have both common sense and business sense.

The Importance of Being Directable as an Actor

Stage 32 Success Story and extremely directable actor Lydia Kalmen (L) poses with popular character actor, Daniel Roebuck and award-winning filmmaker Sam Borowski (R)

“I think there was something in me at a young age that was not worried about success but was worried about becoming a better actor.”

– Paul Dano

Now, back to this Lydia Kalmen person and I say that tongue in cheek, as I have gotten to know Lydia very well. She first posted here on Stage 32 in early January, seeking advice on how to get ahead. Her post was genuine, much like herself, and you could hear the frustration in it.

I responded with some advice and suggested she take one class and see if she likes it. In addition to honing one’s craft, my workshops have ongoing discussions about the business side of the industry, as well as better ways to network and suggestions on how to get proactive in your career.

Unlike some who might ignore the advice, want no part of the class when they see it’s not free, and fail to see the list of actors I’ve worked with – some of whom are listed in my bio below – Lydia responded. She did her homework, checked me out online and on IMDb and said she would take a class.

I, too, did my homework. I checked out her auditions on YouTube and other places. Saw her page on Stage 32 and other Social Media and got to know her as an actor a little bit.

Let me just say that it was very apparent from her first workshop just how talented she was. What’s more, she was the definition of being directable. She had an amazing understanding of every character she tackled. Even during cold reads, I gave her a little backstory and she ran with it. From the moment I told her anything, she just got what I said. And, her performances imbued that direction in the scene.

She also came back to the class … again and again.

As you can see above, she won Best Actress at the 2020 Sammy Awards, no small feat, if I say so myself.

The Importance of Being Directable as an Actor

Sam on set of his feature Night Club, with two very directable actors, Paul Sorvino and Oscar-Winner Ernest Borgnine.

All the while Lydia did this with the most beautiful smile on her face. It was infectious. Made you want to work with her. She ate lunch with us afterward, never complaining, but always making everyone smile. Throw in the fact that she was kind and considerate and the opposite of the people described above.

In terms of branding herself as an artist, I’ve given her several suggestions and she took them all. She also trusts her director, something an actor must do. When I took several students to Bethlehem, Pa where my good friend, recognizable character actor and award-winning filmmaker Daniel Roebuck – he of The Fugitive, LOST and Getting Grace – was prepping for his next feature, Lucky Louie, Lydia was one of them.

She’s not only a joy to work with, but to be around. And, I met her right here on Stage 32.

For independent filmmakers reading this, consider offering Lydia a part. She’s that talented … and directable.

And, I can tell you that you’d be surprised at just how many actors aren’t so directable.

In the independent world of up-and-comers and unknowns, Lydia is the exception and sadly not the rule.

Which is really a shame since being “directable,” is one of the best qualities – arguably the best – that an actor can have.

Key Takeaway: Be Indispensable

So, to end this Blog, I would say that the biggest Key Takeaway is to make yourself indispensable as Lydia did. Directors – and producers, for that matter – want to work with actors that make their lives easier, not harder. Showing up on time, not complaining, eating lunch with a smile on your face, not rushing off the set like you have somewhere better to be. All great qualities. However, the best quality is still being directable. Integrating the director’s notes. Doing your homework by not only knowing the lines but knowing the character. What makes them tick. Lydia always knew those things. I picked up on it in her very first class.

She was not only amenable, but in a word, “directable.”

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About the Author

Sam Borowski

Sam Borowski

Director, Producer, Screenwriter

Sam Borowski was destined to be a filmmaker. In fact, he grew up just a stone's throw from the house that served as the Corleone Home in the Academy-Award winning film, "The Godfather." He also watched the Oscars intently as his cousin Danny Aiello was Nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1990. Ev...

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