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12 Great Directors on Working with Actors – Infographic

A director once said, “directing is 90% casting.” But was it Robert Altman, John Ford, Elia Kazan, Martin Scorsese…? All of them (and many more of the greats) have said this in interviews, and it’s persistence and “un-attributability” only lend more validity to it being rooted as a truism of the craft.

But then what? What’s the other 10%?

We talk a lot in this industry about how story is king and we discuss in length how cameras, camera movement, lighting, color, script, and editing are tools we use to tell that story. But when it comes down to it, the actors are the ones that the general audience perceive as being the ‘storytellers.’

The actor/director relationship can seem mysterious from the outside. It’s a language not every director understands at first, particularly if they move from the more technical disciplines. These 12 quotes from 12 incredible directors give us some insight into how they communicate with their artists and create a space where the ‘magic’ is free to flow.

12 Directors on Working with Actors

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12 film directors on working with actors infographic

Just for fun…more Directors on Working with Actors

“It’s incumbent upon a director, if you want to pull the best performance out of an actor, you have to really work to who they are and how they work, and not just expect them to hit a mark every time. You have to be very adaptable in the approach that you use with every different actor.”
– RUSSO BROTHERS Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War

“Be honest. If you don’t know the answer to something, own up to it. By doing that, you’re displaying an openness and a lack of fear. That’ll make actors feel very comfortable because the miracle of acting, to me, is the total lack of fear they have to have. When they sense that lack of fear in somebody else, they recognize it and appreciate it.”
– CURTIS HANSON L.A. Confidential, 8 Mile

behind the scenes o the set of 8 mile

Photo Credit: Zamolxes

“You have to shoot the shock. Because even the most talented actor will have trouble being shocked twice. Because the timing of that is so instinctive, to reproduce it is almost impossible. I’ve worked with fantastic actors, and that’s the hardest thing, surprise. So if there is a surprise, you’ve got to shoot the surprise, which means you can’t show them the whole script before you start.”
– KEN LOACH The Wind That Shakes the Barley, I, Daniel Blake

“I think directors should at least take acting lessons to see what’s going on. And I think all actors should direct to see what a director has to go through.”
– PENNY MARSHALL A League of Their Own, Riding in Cars with Boys

riding in cars with boys behind the scenes

“Performers are so vulnerable. They’re frightened of humiliation, sure their work will be crap. I try to make an environment where it’s warm, where it’s OK to fail — a kind of home, I suppose.”
– JANE CAMPION Bright Star, Top of the Lake (TV)

“The director’s job is to know what emotional statement he wants a character to convey in his scene or his line, and to exercise taste and judgment in helping the actor give his best possible performance. By knowing the actor’s personality and gauging his strengths and weaknesses a director can help him to overcome specific problems and realize his potential.”
– STANLEY KUBRICK The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut

“I think that when you have audacity, you will get polarization. I don’t work with fear, and I don’t work with actors that are fearful.”
– LEE DANIELS Precious, Empire (TV)

Empire behind the scenes

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About the Author


Rachel has been with Zacuto since 2009. She began working in the sales department and moved to marketing in 2013. In her role as Digital Marketing Director she oversees the gear loan and review program, social media, blog content, zacuto.com, and works with the team on overall marketing strategy. Rachel has a BA in Theatre with a focus on Directing from Arizona State University. Those who have spoken with her on the phone know she occasionally reveals her homeland by slipping into a British accent. Rachel likes tear-jerker sports movies, reading cookbooks for pleasure, and crossword puzzles. Contact her at rachel@zacuto.com

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