Filmmaking / Directing : Working with Sag actors as a First Time Director by Paris Holmes

Paris Holmes

Working with Sag actors as a First Time Director

As a director also working as cinematographer/director of photography. What should I do if an actor is always trying to change up lines the day of shooting when I really want something to be said the way I wrote it for the sake of communication for the audience. i.e I had a line "Your husband Carlos told me, he hired me to kill you" the actor wanted to change it to "Your husband Carlos told me, he hired me to take you out" The scene takes place in a restaurant at a table for two and the guy is a paid assassin of bad people but I didn't want the actor to say "Take you out" because I didn't want the audience to think that the husband hired him to take her out on a date although they were pretty much on a date, I just wanted the audience to know at that point that he was going to kill her. I always consider my actor's input and I do make changes at times but am I wrong if I want to be firm and keep things a certain way?

Ryan Shovey

As director, you're never wrong. It's not the actors job to become the writer unless the director gives them permission to go off book. If they refuse to do as written, then you're left with the decision to either find an actor who will, or conform and do it their way. In all honesty, you should do what's best for the project, and make decisions accordingly.

Paris Holmes

Cool

Monserrate Pagan Jr

As a SAG member actors should know that changing the dialog is not condoned - offering suggestions is one thing but if you do not agree and the actor refuses you have no choice but to replace him I have never had this problem and can see how harsh it seems but in our business we have rules just like any other

Paris Holmes

He didnt refuse he just kept trying to get me to change the line

Paris Holmes

Thanks for the feedback.

D Marcus

How about this? You do a take or two of the actor reading the line their way. Then you do a take or two of the actor reading the line your way. You thank them for their input and you move on. In the editing room you use the line that works for you. That way you show respect and consideration to the actor who now feels you are open to his suggestions. Thus gives a better performance. I feel the need to mention this has nothing at all to do with the actors guild status. Every actor should feel the director is open to their suggestions. No need to replace him, no conforming, no rules. Just human consideration.

Ralph Barnette

You can shoot it both ways as a safety if time permits. That said, it's your film and as Director you get to make it your way, period. Don't be afraid to be firm. You're the Director because it means what it says - DIRECT your actors and everything on the set. I say try to be nice if possible, but honestly, a film set is not a democracy.

Alison Anderson

Is it wrong that my first thought was that you need better actors? One of the first things I learned as an actor is that you need to respect what other people bring to the project. Yes, I have insights and contributions to make, but I'm not the only one. Writers OFTEN choose their words meticulously, agonizing over them during the writing process, only to have actors come along and butcher them and they can do nothing. (In your position, since you were both writer and director, you have more control, which is nice.) I make it a practice to learn lines verbatim FIRST. Then when I'm on set, I'll do it as written. If it isn't working, that's when you start playing around with alternatives. Of course, I've gotten the chance to work on a project or two that isn't so much scripted as outlined, intentionally leaving the particulars up to the actors. That rocks. I love to improv.

Paris Holmes

He is a good actor and I think it's good that actors make suggestions at time but it should be prior to so we're on the same page. Also, I think because he's a writer too but he needs to know that no means no. And I don't even say no, I say "I appreciate the input but not this time" I just wanted to get some perspectives because I thought I was wrong for being firm. You guys are awesome, thanks alot, each and Every one of you.

Ralph Barnette

Alison, that's a very mature approach to the craft by a serious actor. . .

Michael Lockett

Ultimately you as the director on the set have the last say as to how a line or lines should be delivered. One good way to put an end to a vast majority of unwanted ad libs is to have a couple of read throughs before the camera is ever brought out. Jus you and the actors. In the read through you should encourage them to there to let you know if they have an idea of a way to make a line more powerful. Its better to work it through at this point than on set when time costs dollars. If their idea helps he scene/script then good if it takes away from the story (which is king) then you have the opportunity to explain to them why you want the line delivered as written and then move on with the read through. On set you can do the same process but battling over lines increases the tension and may make working conditions miserable for that day. Another good idea is to emphasize when casting you want to work with highly collaborative people but also people that want to transform the written word with their acting not rewrite the script on the fly. Hope this helps. I hope you keep me(us) posted as to how your project goes and send us the trailer or finished piece to view.

Ralph Barnette

Great advice Michael. Set tension and/or on-set 'laundry-airing' is definitely something to avoid.

Monserrate Pagan Jr

Well said Allen - as a Producer/actor - I do not question the directors request or wording. Many extras and even some actors do not get the whole concept even if they have read the whole script. I feel that your working for experience and agree or disagree with what your doing will fall on the director good or bad - he is the "man" where the buck stops LOL

Shrirang Nargund

as a Director you are absolutely RIGHT! actors have liberty only within the director's frame. Words cannot be changed if they are there for the reason.

Monserrate Pagan Jr

I disagree with D'Marcus

Senate Ewah Blakspirit

Paris in the theatre we have a theory called via media or democratic approach to director -actor relationship. You see it doesn't matter if you are a first time director with no track records... What matters is KNOW your GAME and try to give vivid explainations to characterization and motive: on every dialoug in a First reading rehearsals. HERE you can discuss and analyse ur ideas, language and diction in relation to the crafted plot and given circumstances of the STORY... Then I tell you names like DENZEL and ALPACINO will do as YOU wish........... ............ Quote me anytime. Jahbless.

Ralph Barnette

I'm not an actor, but even as a Producer/Director/DP/Editor I am guided by the script and the Director's vision of the script, same as the actors. If the lighting in a scene is not as true to the Director's vision as the dialogue and other necessary elements of a scene, it constitutes a change in conflict with the Director's interpretation of the script. IMHO, that interpretation is what the art form is about.

Mduduzi Ngomane

its good to have input from actors but the more you let them do that, the more you loss you true version of the script and the outcome of the film,my suggestion is to be firm. trust me....i've been there myself

Nick Sidorovich

I agree with your logic about "take you out" sounding like "take you on a date". Did you share your rationale with the actor? My only issue with this dialogue is the line "Your husband Carlos...." I'm sure she knows her own husband' name, so when I read this line it sounds like you are spoon-feeding exposition to the audience in order for them to learn the husband's name (either that, or she has two husbands and the killer needs to distinguish which husband ordered her killed!). Is it really important for the audience to know Carlos' name? If so, try to find a better way to let the audience learn his name. Otherwise you run the risk of your dialogue sounding unnatural.

Keith (Frey) Love

You're the director keep it the way you want, and if you allow the change then your screenplay will be questioned and criticized to where you have no voice.

D Marcus

Sometimes change and collaboration with your fellow creative people is a good thing. Sometimes change does not mean you have no voice but it means you respect the input of others.

Tony Wilson

unless you are using film try it both ways to be open minded to the person the make the choice in the editing room,this is what i do

Ralph Barnette

It's a collaborative art form, but like everything else, by degrees. It is the Director's choice as to how collaborative s/he wants to be on set. Producers and studios as well have a hand in the degree of flexibility as well - if a writer has a contract that calls for doing it as written, so much for flexibility. If a studio or Producer says 'do it like this, or else,' romantic notions of collaboration are out the window.

Gregg Cannizzaro

Paris here is the trick that served me well on all my features. Tell them it;s cool, we are all making these characters have layers. Let's do two takes for you and two for me and let the baby be born. Gregg Cannizzaro CEO Go Indie TV Network www.goindietv.com

D Marcus

Excellent advice, Gregg. Exactly what I suggested 5 days ago.

Monserrate Pagan Jr

Sorry Gregg Cannizzaro I don't agree - I have a vision and I need it done my way (good or bad) the shooting set is not a discussion forum it is a DICTATORSHIP - if these were seasoned actors they would not even think of interjecting - I know actors make mistakes on dialogue and sometimes do say something relevant (99 percent not usable but every once in a while a gem) but to purposely CHG is a NO NO!! And my final reason for not agreeing is COST = TIME is MONEY every second I spend reshoot or talking to actors I could be doing something else to further my career or finish the project.

Ralph Barnette

Yesterday I heard a NPR interview with Baz Lurhmann, director of the 2013 Great Gatsby. Baz related the things that were important to him in making the film in spite of critics from all walks. I thought he did a great job describing why it is important for a director to make YOUR film, not someone elses.'

Dan LaRoy

tell them no. Do it this way because i'm the director. I'm an actor and sometimes i ask if i can say it a little different but if the director doesnt want it i dont want to do it. It's your film, the actors are to give it life, not make it their film. If they dont like the way you are making your film they can go find another one.

Aaron Marcus

Paris, as a SAG-AFTRA actor, it is always great if a director is willing to listen to suggestions from an actor. But ultimately, as the director, it is your call. It is our job to make things work in the way you want. There are some projects where things are very collaborative, and others not at all. I would suggest that you listen to what actors have to say, see if his/her ideas are helpful in presenting things with your vision, but you make the final call.

David W. Potter (Credited As Gordon T. Emerson)

Paris, As a writer director I understand your problem. However I direct and teach from the premise it's not what you say but how you say it. Don't be so attached to the text, think of it like a road map. As in any map you starting points and destinations but there can be many pats to get from point A to point B. If the text is very specific ask the actor to do it exactly as you have it written. Then do some takes giving him the ability put his twist to it based on the character he is creating. You can sort it out in post.I often find the text as written does not work as well as the actors instinct. After all you hired him to apply his craft let him do it.

Monserrate Pagan Jr

Well that's two for letting the actor put his spin on it - to me it depends on the budget and time factor

James Durward

the director is the boss and has final say-period.

D Marcus

The boss doesn't need to be a dictator.

James Durward

Sometimes he does - he is responsible for the final result

David Wayne Smart

I agree with D Marcus, do it both ways and take what works.

James Durward

I'll tell you what - you pay for the extra shot and you can do both ways

Geoff Davis

If I was in your position, I know I would have thought ... Not a bad line ... but not as good as mine Then maybe a compromise ... KILLER: My husband hired me to take you out ... WIFE (Puzzled) : My husband? ... Take me out? ... Like on a date? Pause ... Killer is confused ... re-thinks his choice of words. KILLER (With emphasis): YOUR husband ... hired ME ... to KILL YOU WIFE: So ... not like a date.

Pedro Frias

Normaly what tell, (like you just told us), my intention behind a line or scene. If he does it again I say: "CUT" untill he gets it right. When its possible they can improvise, when they cant they cant. Cheers, Pedro

Sean Lovelady

I like the "CUT" until he gets it right! But before you do that I would take him aside one on one and say sometimes we improvise but not this time. It is best to do this one on one. It helps people to save face. This is a long video I have the book. It is helping me a lot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EQWhQt9OQo

Pedro Frias

Yes true, but I would do that before the first take.... Then explain the intention a couple of times softly on set while reharsing. Then while shooting, if it continues happening, then the "cut cut" option. ;)

Monserrate Pagan Jr

I just thought of something that I read a long time ago - the actor did it like the script and the take was done, as he was waiting around for the next take he was having a conversation with the other cast embers - and he said a different line - (he was within ear shot of the director - this was not intentional) The writer /director liked it so he did a re-shoot with the new line - now this is rare and most likely only happens with A listed actors on par with Tom Hanks - Paul Newman - etc - just something to thing about

Monserrate Pagan Jr

@Geoff Davis ROFLMAO

Christian Ijin Link

If you are paying them SAG scale, say, "Hey, let's try a couple takes like that." If you aren't paying them say, "Works for me, let's try a couple takes like that."

Mahesh Seelvi

You are the director of the film and the director is the captain of the ship. What the script says and what do you thing, as a director, should be the dialogue. If, what you think should be delivered and what effect you want on the audience then ask the artist that the dialogue will be as such and no amendment. Think as a director, my dear.

Matthew W. Davis, M.f.a.

He's fresh. But Big actors do it all the time too. Remember that filmmaking is a collaboration, and if you are all going to "get along", why not offer him his own take - and really find out what's going on in his head. THEN "let's do one for me..." if you are still convinced that you are right. Make heads or tails of it in post. The argument about who is "right" takes far more time and drains morale faster than just giving him his turn at bat. Remember, this is just a sand box, and we are all playing together.

Sherry Landrum

I was going to post but I really liked Matthew's comment. Ask him to do one for you. No matter what, you will have the last say in editing.

Kimberley Barrett

I'd agree, try both and see which fits better in the edit, on the page it could look like a date, but the actors spin could show it in a completely different light, moral and collaboration is Important, but for the purposes of this you have control in the edit anyway, you'll only know by trying though x

Monserrate Pagan Jr

As EP for a film I restate my post that the directors word is finial say so on the set - if he chooses not to try the new line. There are a lot more factors involved here then just a change of lines

Christian Ijin Link

And having rethought about your question, your actor is probably right, because the line should be: "Your husband hired me to kill you." The audience already knows we are talking about Carlos, or the audience doesn't care. The audience realizes that Carlos "Told" someone something, and the audience doesn't need to be told that, either.

Fergus O'Doherty

subtext ?.... back story ?....I'm leaning toward... ' he hired me to kill you...' However comma ( , ) did you hire the actor for their skill or to fill the role... are you paying them or not.. have they other credible work that shows they ( know better ) cause sometimes they are more worried about how THEY will look vice what you're trying to do... ideally.... you should try a few ways a see what comes out best. if you're running video.. shoot it and play it back..both ways... but humility is a (rare ) trait..... ( I'm still trying to find mine...lol ) ... good luck and I still lean toward you're line vice the actors...but again would need to know more.

Monserrate Pagan Jr

Again this is not about changing the line - it has a whole range of issues, that not only the director has to consider but the EP,AD, PA and they are just at the top of the list. What part of NO ? do you not understand.

Christian Ijin Link

Your answer became irrelevant when you put PA's at the top of a List.

Monserrate Pagan Jr

Paris I can understand how you would want to make it very clear what was being said at the table. Some of the questions that came to my mind were at what point in the script did this happen - How much does the audience know about the situation at this point in the film? That alone could dictate what the line would say. But regardless, as the director /cinematographer what you say is the final sayso

Jason Levy

As a writer/director, I give the actors as much freedom as possible. I want them to be able to do what they need and then I make it work in editing. Even if it's to change the lines to fit them better. But if they have to change too much you have to stand your ground. As an actor they're working for you - the director.

Ralph Barnette

I think a big question to answer is whether or not a Script Supervisor is employed on the production. There are so many caveats to changing dialogue on the fly that trip you up big time in editing. I think actors can make suggestions, but whether or not to take that suggestion is up to the Director with the advice of a Script Supervisor.

Simon King

Two takes. Shoot it as the script says and then shoot what your actor wants. One stays on the editing room floor. That said, everyone is hired to do the job they are assigned. If the actor agreed to come on board based on your script they need to respect the script. There are other actors out there desperate...

Jason A. Wallace

This problem has nothing to do with SAG or no SAG….I've had this happen on almost every set. A good actor will ask permission, a new or nervous actor might get it wrong then correct, a pain in the ass will test you constantly and you need to have a PRIVATE talk with them…hopefully in rehearsals you make the meaning clear, so on set changes will be quick and not a problem. (THE DIRECTOR IS IN CHARGE ALWAYS!!!) ….As a Writer/ Director myself, as long as the meaning of the line isn't changing too much, I usually let it go, BUT in your case, tell them the meaning is important and if they still refuse, then fire them in front of everyone, to send a message, but also for the sake of the project…it's ALL ABOUT THE FILM…ALWAYS!!! …..don't let ANYONE mess with the film you want to make……the Director gets the praise, but also the backlash…never forget that, because when you're in a darkened theater 3-5 months later watching your work…everyone looks at you, good or bad……so do things the way you want, a good crew/ actors follow the leader, don't let that leader be ANYONE but the Director!!…….GL :)

Paris Holmes

Thanks everyone for the input.

Amit Kumar Vashisth

Two Takes ... would be the best way out...in case the shot is not very long/complicated..otherwise you gotta stick to the script/bible ... come what may an actor must always have that CONVICTION to make every word his/her own...if the change of words/lines is not from within, i guess it just shows the in ability of an actor to COMMIT to his CHARACTER ... and deliver ANY WORD at all... Well, having said that .. BEST WISHES TO YOU PARIS :)

Ralph Barnette

I don't think there is 'a way out' as there is no dilemma - the Director determines how he or she wants to make his/her film. Whatever decision is made, that's it.

D Marcus

An interesting take on what directing is, Ralph. I do not see the director as dictator. In many cases the director doesn't even have final say - TV, commercials, most music videos and most movies. In indie films where the director is also the writer and puts up all the money I suppose they can be a dictator. But is that really the best way to inspire the actors? "There is no dilemma here. Do it my way and that's it." To me that seems like the wrong way to direct.

Ralph Barnette

D Marcus, maybe you should read the other comments I've made in this thread. I never advocate the director as a dictator, but someone has to control and make decisions on a set. Different directors have different styles ranging from extremely liberal to intractable. While creative input is an expected offering from all cast and crew, each person has a job and the script exists for a reason; the script is the director's guide to getting a film in the can that makes for a credible edit of the script - or not, as I recognize that many times a different film comes out of the edit. Dictator? No. The director's job is to make on-set decisions that advance his/her vision of the script. That decision making does not belong to the actors or the crew, and it is up to the director to decide whether to accept script changes.

Jason A. Wallace

Never heard anyone describe my job as extremely liberal or intractable…lol

Paris Holmes

Can't believe this post stirred up this many comments. Thanks to all. The advice is much appreciated.

Monserrate Pagan Jr

RALPH Very well said and to the point with accurate information I love this answer

Ralph Barnette

Jason, don't take things so personally. Read the post; my statement says 'extremely liberal to intractable,' not 'or.' I describe a range that covers the gamut that I have observed over 40 years on film and television sets. In a previous post I also mentioned that I don't consider a film set to be a democracy, and that said, I don't consider them to be dictatorships either. I think they are collaborative works that STILL REQUIRE organization where everyone has a responsibility and is accountable for doing a job. The director's job is just what it says. Different directors have different approaches ranging from (quote here). . . by my observations. Collaborative means suggest, offer, put forth, one's own ideas and input. It does not allow one, actor or otherwise, to usurp the director's job responsibilities and authority should they feel like it. When an actor or other member of the collaborative gets that usurping feeling I think it is time they go make their own film so they may find out why a film set is not a democracy.

Monserrate Pagan Jr

Hey Marcus, he is some food for thought - when an actor or someone on set says - "lets try this way" most directors already know how that change will "affect" the film and HIS vision of it. So in a way yes the director is a dictator who has to Answer to me the real dictator "the producer" for with out the money there is no film. I hired him for his "expertise and ability" to make me money. Everyone is again forgetting that we are running a business here. Common sense says that a director will accept any suggestions that HE feels will benefit the film and make a better hit. NUFF SAID

Monserrate Pagan Jr

Ralph YOU ARE SO DEMOCRAT !!!! I LOVE THIS STATEMENT : When an actor or other member of the collaborative gets that usurping feeling I think it is time they go make their own film so they may find out why a film set is not a democracy.

Jason A. Wallace

Me taking things personally? Wth are you talking about? You seem to have read something into this...lol GL 2U :)

Paris Holmes

I appreciate all of you guy's feed back.

Brian Anthony Wilson

As an Actor, I try to be true to the Writer/Director's vision. I may make a suggestion but ultimately, I defer to them. Maybe suggest doing it both ways but they are there to serve your vision!

Paris Holmes

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