5 Tips for Working With Amateur Actors

There are very few, if any, successful directors that would recommend working with amateur actors. In the words of director Brian DePalma, “The biggest mistake in student films is that they are usually cast so badly, with friends and people the director knows.” Even if the budget doesn’t assume the ability to hire professionals, if you love the project and can impart that passion to others, you might be surprised at the caliber of actor willing to work with you just for next to nothing.

5 Tips for Working With Amateur Actors: Filmmaking 101
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That being said, there are also very few, if any, directors who haven’t found themselves working with amateur actors at one point or another in their career. It can take a lot to pull real emotion from new actors. We’ve compiled five pieces of advice which can allow a director to take inexperienced characters through to create a worthy project.

1. Take an Acting Class

Directing, first and foremost, is about directing the actors. This is impossible without a trust and appreciation for the craft. What better way to learn this than to take an acting class? This is not to say that directors need to become great actors, but rather they need to understand the process of “getting into character” in order to guide the actor towards the performance they desire.

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If you understand the acting process, you will reap the benefits from the very beginning: the casting session. You will know more about what you are looking for and the many character facets you are requiring of an actor. During the production phase, you will be better at communicating with actors as you will speak their language and be able to bet into their mind space.

Award winning director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar) states about directors, “The best instinctively feel out what the actors needs, and they just accommodate it.” So know your actors and consider taking an acting class, even a workshop.

2. Do (and Share) Your Research

While it is important for your actors to understand their character and feel their emotions, unless it is conveyed to the audience, the emotion dies within. It’s imperative a director know what an emotion looks like. There are physical characteristics that come with emotions, and a director needs to understand and convey the body language as well as the expressions.

Acting : Do our Research
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Take love, for example. There are some obvious physical and visual signs that a person is in love. People in love smile for no reason; they angle their bodies toward the object of their attraction, even when they are in conversation with someone else. The close the personal space between themself and the person they love. They may moon about or hum a song or show signs of being happy for no reason. Spend time with people in love as research, observe them and use common characteristics.

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Deceit is another great example of specific body language. Almost everyone tells little lies everyday, but some professions – like poker players – need to bluff or lie in order to succeed. Lying in life and bluffing in poker have recognizable characteristics like eye movement and body position. For instance, shoulder crunching is likely to indicate bluffing, as the stress of a lie creates tension in the shoulders. Spending time with professionals you know have to lie is a great way to see the subtle hints into their mentality and teach them to your actors.

Directing body language is an important part of blocking out a scene and doing your research will help you direct your actors in a real and convincing manner. That combined with great tricks of cinematography can make an excellent first film.

3. Choose the Natural Fit

If you have to use inexperienced actors, choose beginners who naturally fit the character already or reshape the character to fit an actor you find particularly charismatic. Prepare to be surprised as well. Actor/Director Jon Favreau stated, “A lot of directors prescribe to the rule that they have to pretend they know what is happening at all times.” He also said any actor will see through that.

5 Tips to Working with Amateur Actors: Choose The Natural Fit
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Actors and directors, professional and amateur need to have a bond of trust, a natural fit to working together. Choose a script that cannot fail to deliver emotions to the audience. Choose an actor that not only fits the role, but also will mesh with your style of directing. Have respect for their willingness to be directed and inspire passion for the project in them.

4. Learn the Lines

Have the actors commit the script to memory as soon as possible, without any interpretation or performance. This is why every film starts with a read-through at a table. Keep the reading neutral until the lines are memorized. Getting an actor of any experience level out of a forced line reading after it sinks in is really difficult.

5 Tips for Working With Amateur Actors: Learn The Lines
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There are so many stories of famous actors refusing to learn their lines (i.e. Marlon Brando, Ian McShane, etc.) as they felt it was better for the scene to come naturally and the dialogue would follow. However, unless you happen to be working with the next Laurence Olivier, it’s better to insist the lines are memorized.

After all, it is better to be overprepared and have the opportunity to improvise during several takes than to be underprepared and have only one take to shoot a scene.

5. Exercise Real Emotions

Every school of acting revolves around feeling real emotions, whether you are creating them in the moment with the dialogue or pulling a memory from your past that evokes the emotion necessary for the scene.

For untrained actors, it is highly recommended that the director develop exercises outside of the script to lead the amateur toward the required emotion. This process begins with knowing your actor. If you need to evoke sadness, what exactly is it that makes this person sad?

If you can work with an actor to relive a sad memory and do it fully and physically, you will discover the body language that comes naturally with that feeling for that person. You can them direct them to use the same body language in the scene in an effort to relive the sadness.

If all else fails, go on a sad field trip. Go to funerals, homeless shelters, orphanages; whatever the actors has expressed feeling dismay over. Witnessing sadness often invokes it in a person. It will most likely assist you, as the director, as well.

Finally, when working with amateur actors, rehearse A LOT. If your budget has you short on film and unable to afford multiple takes with an expensive crew, rehearse over and over with just the actors. Rehearse to the point of exhaustion if necessary, as that may bring up some of the emotions you are looking for. And again, be ready for surprises. The most famous and well-loved actors of today started somewhere. Why not with a director like you?