Directing Actors

Directing Actors

Last week I attended a 2-day training course on Directing Actors. It was delivered by Katherine Linstrum and organised by the NFTS in Cardiff. The course was held in the BBC offices opposite Central Station. There were 9 of us, made up of recent graduates, and those with no formal training, such as myself. 

Day 1

We began by discussing what we felt was a good performance and listing some of our favourites. My scoring criteria was based on the following:

  • Functional: did they look right for the part, did they remember and deliver their lines clearly
  • Authentic: were they believable, feel like they belonged in the story
  • Resonance: how did their performance impact on me at an emotional level

Directing is about decision-making. Crew will ask you to make decisions. For many, the question that needs to be answered first is 'Why'? Then its when, who, which, what, where, and what if? 

Anchors: these help actors to find their perfomance. This could be an object or a smell. 

As human beings, when given instructions, we will often:

  • Generalise
  • Delete
  • Distort

So bear this in mind if a performance isn't working. 


  • Tele: compresses depth, long distance, need to remain still
  • Wide: more is in focus. Good for movement
  • Mid: good for face, looks nice

POV: Some actors need to know this. Can vary through interpretation e.g. Little Miss Sunshine.

Mood and Tone: some actors want to know.

Can shoot a scene with actors doing nothing. Or let cameras roll for that extra moment. Watch what the actors do. 

Shape of stories: can draw out for actors so you have a shared sense of where you are in a scene.

Virginia Satir studied dysfunctional families and noticed 5 behaviours: 

  • Blamer
  • Placator
  • Computer
  • Distractor
  • Leveller

Can be a useful way to consider situations arising that need addressing. 

Script Analysis

We were given scenes to look at prior to shooting. We were asked to look for beats, key points, turning points. What's the scene about. 

Day 2

On day 2, we watched a scene from the film Fargo. It was an early scene where the house is broken into by the inept kidnappers. We had to write down each major beat, we counted as many as 35. We then discussed the scene, looking for where there were changes. We talked about rehearsals. For film, it might be no more than half a day. 

We worked in groups to block the scene we'd analysed. It was fun working at the top of the BBC building. We had to consider camera angles. We discussed what to do if a scene wasn't working. Can try with no dialogue. Try the opposite emotion. Find an achor. Give an action. 

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable two days. Check out Katherine's film, Nuclear, on Apple and Amazon.