5 Tips for Directing Actors

Today we are talking about directing the performance and some tricks and techniques we used to direct our latest short film The Asylum Groove. If you want to watch the film, you can find it right here:


It might sound silly to even include rehearsals in this video on directing tips but sometimes when you make a short film you have to make sacrifices, and rehearsals are one of the first things which are cut out of the schedule, but DON’T underestimate them!


Rehearsals with your cast, and even technical rehearsals with your crew, will save you a lot of time during the shoot and get you A LOT closer to achieving the film look.

First of all, it helps you practice the performance and mold it into something great. But it also helps you work out the kinks. A lot of times, the lines on the page and actions written down don’t perfectly translate when performed, so they need some re-working.

It’s worth rehearsing through everything and seeing what does and doesn’t work, blocking out the scene and cleaning up the movement between beats, trying lines, and experimenting. Your cast and crew are members of your band; it’s worth having a few jamming sessions before you go on stage for the gig.

Just remember not to rehearse the scene to concrete. Give it some breathing room and be ready for changes on the day. A good rule of thumb is working up to 90% in rehearsals and going 100% on the day.


Adding keywords to your storyboards and will give you the chance to really think about the meaning of your shots, what those shots tell the audience, will help you connect the shots to the story.

For The Asylum Groove, we wrote down key phrases for every shot in the film. Whether this was just an insert or a cut away, every shot had a title which gave it its purpose. Job, work, impress, caress, showing off, fear, terror, hate.


On set, this meant Chris was prompted very easily. Instead of rambling on about this, that, and the other, try to boil the shot down to something simple and let the actor do the thinking. During the take, you can always give redirection and mold it into something perfect.

You don’t always need to explain the shot with an essay.

Emotional Beat Map

The Asylum Groove revolved around a single piece of music which was sourced online. One way you can emphasise emotion in a song and connect it to the emotion in the film is by creating an emotional beat map.

Listen to the song and try to image the film playing out. Fit the emotional beats of the film into the song and use the different parts of the song to pinpoint an emotion and tie them together.


Then you can label emotional beats to the music. You can play the music on set, and let the actor feel the music during the scene.

Obviously you can’t play the music if you are recording dialogue, but you can use the emotional beat map when editing to make your music choice sound like it was written for the film!

Character Music Playlist

Once you and your actor have talked about the character; their traits, characteristics, and their journey through the film, ask your actor to create a playlist of music which the character would listen to.


You can select music which resembles the purpose of the scene in the film. This can give the actor some time to themselves, to get into the zone, and may heighten their emotions for an amazing performance on screen.

Using music can also give the actor a cue back into their character if they have taken a break, for instance.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Fake It

You really can’t fault a great actor and their ability to pretend to be someone else on screen. But there are a few things which are very difficult to get looking genuine, and those usually revolve around involuntary reactions.

First of all, you can’t fake out of breath. At least, you don’t need to. If you actor is out of breath in a scene, have them jog around the block for a few minutes to get their heart rate up, their face red, and their brow sweating. It’s looks and sounds a lot better than pretending.


Another thing which is difficult to fake is being startled, and involuntary facial twitches. To create a genuine reaction of sudden shock from our actor Chris, we popped a balloon beside him. We didn’t count down or give him a warning: that way he didn’t know when it was coming, so when it was popped, he was genuinely startled.

This is the same technique Ridley Scott used to frighten the cast in Alien during the chestburster scene. The cast had no idea it was about to pop out of his chest, creating a genuine reaction.

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