A movie set is a benign but complicated place. Everyone is typically in a cheery mood (who doesn’t like to make movies) and the surprisingly high spirits manage to remain intact even though you have an Assistant Director screaming about the day CONSTANTLY. You should love that person and keep them with you everywhere you go, but it’s constant. I’ll never forget the first and only time I ever broke a sacred covenant between Director and Actor. When you’re working on a film set you have to understand that the relationship between those two parties is sacrament – I’m talking to you Executive Producers! A human beings emotional intensity is perhaps what separates us from every other species on this green and blue ball, and perhaps in the Universe. A performer is charged with channeling that energy and bringing it forth on command. Some of them are SO good that it’s hard even in the moment to understand they’re faking it. I was shooting an Alien fan film called “The Escape,” for director Michal Shipman, and the actress who played the lead was named Hsin Ou-Yang and she was incredible. Looking through the viewfinder at her performance I wanted to seriously just help her. This was of course an obnoxious idea because nothing happening was real, but it kind of sort of maybe was. Now, of course it’s make believe, but to convincingly portray the emotion of utter terror takes a head space for a performer that needs to be respected. I’ll never forget the time that I accidentally crossed that line. Again, it was a benign moment. I was working with Jo Santos and he and I have a great rapport. So, he’s the only actor in front of a green screen. It’s completely dark all around. A spotlight is shining in his eyes so the crew all around him. He has this moment where he asks if there was anything he can do better. In a split moment I forgot about the sanctified contract between performer and director and I just poked fun. I asked him if he could come back after he got a nose job. … … … Now, I’ve let that moment sit with you for a bit and I want to let you know that EVERYONE on set laughed except one person, and that one person was the guy in the light. Jo was pretty upset, and rightfully so. And while, at this moment, as I’m writing this article, I’m still chuckling about, it was wrong. In that second I almost destroyed every ounce of trust he had put in me as a performer. I am a lucky Director because my history with Joe was as deep as it was we’re still friends and he’ll still work with me. He did stress to me that I am the only person who would ever get away with that. So in closing of this article I am hoping that aspiring directors take note that your performers are not meat puppets and the only time it is acceptable to laugh in their direction is when they have agreed to be in on the punchline of the joke. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Have a great day!
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" ...they are faking it. But are they...?!" What is good acting: 'playing' or 'being' ? Project an emotion from your real life into the role you play and 'playing' a personage becomes 'being'.a personage. Just my non-actor humble opinion.
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This is a great and important post. The Director-Actor relationship is sacred. Everyone in set - all the fortunate and talented people blessed with the opportunity - must always know that dynamic is paramount to any film’s success. Thanks for sharing, Nathan!
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Thank you for sharing this, Nathan! It can be difficult at times to remember that even without literal spotlights turned on, there are always eyes on two people on set and those two people are the Director and Performer. When you have the pleasure of working with great people that you enjoy and build a strong relationship with on and off set, the lines can get a bit blurry. Suddenly, you're working with a friend, someone who you could joke around with in any other situation. But as a role model for set etiquette, Directors have to be careful about the standards that they set for both the crew and the cast. It's so important to remember that you have to lead by example.