How To Direct Actors by Jason Satterlund

Film Courage: You’ve taught before? You’ve held classes?

Jason Satterlund, Writer/Director: Yes.

Film Courage: What is one of the most common questions that you’ve been asked by students?

Jason: How to work with actors. That is what everyone wants to know because that is the hardest thing to do, how to work with actors. And it’s funny to me that that is the hardest question. What is weird is actors will often ask me…actually actors will often thank me for directing them because they say most people don’t which is an interesting thing.

But yes “How do you work with an actor? How do you get them to do what you want them to do.” And here is my answer I have a theory on this, too. I have a theory on all these things. But directors are mechanical people by nature and they are multi-taskers. This is a good thing and you kind of need to be because when you’re on set you are being asked 400 questions simultaneously all of the time “Do you want the red shirt or the blue shirt?” “What lens are we on? 25–35mm…you thinking longer?” Or “Dolly or steadicam?” “What color? Do you like this color on the wall?” “Is this the scene where Bob shows up or Jill shows up?” You are constantly shuffling and juggling and “I’m just trying to go to the bathroom!” That’s the nature of filmmaking and it’s fun. The energy is really fun.

The actor will come on and go “How do I be deeper?” That’s a different question because every other question on set is a mechanical one, a binary one. It’s “red or blue?” It’s “is this a 25 mil. lens or a 100 mil.?” You can click a box or flip a switch and it gives you your answer. An actor is not that way. They are a person. They are an emotion. And I think this scares a lot of directors and this is why they hide in video village and shout out their direction to the actor way on set over there.

Directing actors (especially when you are new at it) I am often reminded of the very first time when I…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).




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SAWGRASS on Youtube by Jack Peterson. Jack is an American filmmaker based in Chicago. He’s been featured in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and ABC News for his work as an activist. His first feature film, Sawgrass, is a psychedelic journey through Florida, featuring an extensive interview with the brother of the Las Vegas shooter. Sawgrass also features a performance by the Rock-afire Explosion, a vintage animatronic band created by famed inventor Aaron Fechter. Jack’s next feature film, My Perfect Everything, tells the story of a magician chasing an imaginary woman he met in 1989. My Perfect Everything is currently in the early stages of pre-production.