There is No “Right” Way: 14 Things Directors Need to Know about Directing Actors

(Featured image: Erica Fae on the set of To Keep the Light)

By Erica Fae

NYWIFT member Erica Fae is an actor/director/writer who teaches acting at both Yale and The New School, and her first feature as a writer/director,  To Keep the Light, has just begun screening at festivals – so she knows a thing or two about the complex relationship between directors and their stars. She recently wrote a piece for Filmmaker Magazine with great tips on how to direct actors (spoiler alert: there is no “right” way). Here’s an excerpt:

For many directors, the thought of “directing actors” can instill panic. Directors who were once cinematographers, say, or who have worked on film sets, might be at ease working with crews or blocking shots but will freeze up when challenged to give notes to actors.

Such performance anxiety is not surprising. Unlike the crew, with whom directors have the whole shoot to develop working relationships, many actors are only on set for a few days. So it’s understandable that directors may worry about “getting it right” when it comes to guiding them in their performance.

But the thing is: there is no “right.”

For starters, a brief note about these people called actors. Stereotypes about actors abound in the film industry. Yet like all stereotypes, not only are they largely fiction, they often spoil the collaborative waters before a shoot even begins. Here’s the shocker: not all actors are the same. Not all actors are extroverts. Not all actors love attention. Not all actors are divas. Sure, some do love the spotlight, but there are plenty others who are actually quite shy, modest, or introverted. And the “contrary to popular belief” list could go on. So, in turn, advice for working with actors that begins with “never do this” or “always do that” just doesn’t make sense. And yet, such “rules” are tossed around a lot.

There simply is no one-size-fits-all. Every actor is an individual artist with an individual personality and an individual way of working, and, if you’re a new director, knowing that about your colleagues is a great place to begin.

Continue reading Erica’s 14 tips for directors…


Erica Fae is a writer/director/actor who also teaches in the MFA acting programs at Yale School of Drama and The New School for Drama. As an actor, she’s had recurring roles on Boardwalk Empire and Doll & Em, and has performed in film and theater for years. Her first feature as writer/director, To Keep the Light, is currently in festivals.

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