Rehearsals are not universally employed by film directors, but strongly recommended for beginners and independents for a variety of reasons. Unless you’re in a fully-fledged studio environment (and even then), there’s a strong chance you will be on a very tight schedule, and this may be your only chance to develop some crucial avenues of communication with your actors before taking the dive.
Film sets can be chaotic environments even when they are well organized and rehearsals can really make a difference. A director’s main responsibility on a set is to conduct his/her actors and in a way create an invisible “drama bubble” round himself and the players inside of which the story can be told. The rehearsal may offer you that critical opportunity to really connect to your players and to build this bubble ahead of time, thus enabling you to easily manifest it in any shooting environment.
It goes without saying that actors come in a dizzying array of colors and shapes, with varying methods and mentalities, and no set preparation technique will ever work across the board. Instincts are everything in these situations; you have to become a bit of a behavioral scientist in a way and learn patience.
Here are some actor types you may encounter and some very surface suggestions on how to approach their direction (these are in no way absolutes):
These are the wild spirits of the drama world, intensely passionate, physical actors that feel everything around them, they want to become one with their art. Some terribly talented actors come from this division, but they can also be maddening to handle and direct.
Because they come and go like the tides, they may soar one day and plunge into darkness the next. The key is to stay very attentive to what motivates their passions, and to know when to encourage it or to help them come to order when the situation demands it.
When you encounter difficulties with an actor of this type, taking a little break, letting them air out frustrations or just giving them room to breathe will have miraculous results. Remind them that they have your trust and that you won’t let them fall; that you are in this together.
The Eager Beaver
Always aiming to please, as the moniker suggests, these lovely individuals seem like the ideal actors on paper, but their over-emphasis on pleasing you and others may result in stunted performances or unnecessary stress. Beavers are very hard on themselves because they want to do the best job possible, but often this can make them very self-critical and they may have trouble really “hearing” your directions over the cacophony of their inner-voices.
If you go with this kind of actor, do everything in your power to foster a zen-like environment on set. Get them talking about themselves and their fears in rehearsal if you can, and reassure them that you will work hard to give them the tools and conditions to find their comfort zone.
Above all, make sure to keep them informed and aware of their circumstances as much as possible, and instruct your crew to keep comments and whispering around the actors to a minimum as it can generate paranoia.
Another source of riveting talent, these actors may often seems brooding and preoccupied as they stand rigidly over their mark, looking like their awaiting execution. In truth these individuals tend to be as passionate and eager to succeed as any actor, but their process is fiercely internal, volcanic.
They consider every detail, every direction with intense precision, and the real danger here is that the director may become the weak link. These actors are wonderful to work with in a way because their method forces the director to really think things through. The last thing you want is to find yourself stammering in the presence of an attentive and willing actor who can not only take precise direction, but will very likely takes things to the next level.
The best advice in working with a Stone is to do your homework like never before. Be precise, be direct, avoid ambiguity. Again, instruct your crew to give them space and see to their specific needs as Stones rarely complain, even when in great physical discomfort.
These are very broad definitions, to be sure, and designed mostly to get you, the director, to ask questions and to make careful decisions when assembling your cast. In the end, it’s about being strategic and being accountable, but also being attentive.