I recently picked up on this interview with Canadian director David Cronenberg, about working with actors. His main point is not so much working with actors, but casting. This chimes in with all of my experience too.
In the crucible of production, there is rarely time to spend ‘finding the character’, or workshopping the performance, or getting that ‘chemistry’ right among the cast.
A film set is also an artificial and uncompromising workspace that does not lend itself to intimacy, risk taking and emotional vulnerability – all elements vital to authentic and engaging performance. The important work is done before getting to set.
I wrote about this last year after a shoot, about how once you get to set, you can become a hostage to your cast, script and budget if you didn’t do your due diligence in prep.
And if I see one mistake over and over, it’s poor, rushed or inappropriate casting. I of course include myself in that criticism.
For me at least, I now try and spend at least half my time in prep, trying to get the right cast for the story and budget, working closely with a casting director, looking at actors and trying to assemble the perfect ensemble performers. My advice to you is to keep your cast front and center in your mind. Nothing is more important to a director.
And whenever I start fixing on camera lenses, amazing shots and stunning locations, I try to remind myself that while the audience does enjoy visual aesthetics, they come primarily for connection – and they only ever connect through your performers.
Onwards and upwards!
Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author