Note from the Editor: When John Badham & Craig Modderno first wrote this piece for Michael Weise Productions, they didn’t have a specific budget group in mind for the audience. Instead, this piece comes straight from John Badham’s experience as a director and it rings just as true for the microfilmmaker with a $3000 budget as it does for the Hollywood director with a $300 million budget. However, these rules are perhaps most important to the microfilmmaker, because a microfilmmaker doesn’t have a studio sending someone to babysit him on his film and, if he screws the rules up, he doesn’t have the financial resources to recast it and shoot it again.
DO make any actor feel at home, in auditions, in wardrobe or on the set.
There is no more important rule than this for a director. When we asked hundreds of actors what they want from a director the answer that comes back like a shot is “I want to feel comfortable on the set.”
Penelope Ann Miller: “If a director makes an actor feel insecure, they’re not going to do as well. If they feel belittled or patronized or ridiculed or judged in a negative way the actor just gets worse and worse.”
Tom Mankiewicz: “The first job of a director is creating an environment where actors can do their best work. Where they feel their Daddy’s there. That they’re safe, somebody has control and will protect them.”
Richard Dreyfuss: “You want to feel that you’re being welcomed, that you’re not being tolerated. You’re here because they like your work, and that’s why they’re talking to you.”
Gary Busey: “Directors have to remember that a lot of players who go in front of the camera are nervous, frightened, insecure, unconfident… When a director comes to you on a personal level with respect and courage and humor, there’s nothing that’s better for an actor, to hear than that.”
Kurtwood Smith: “When you come in, if the director is saying, ‘Hi, how are you? Welcome to the set.’ If he’s in a friendly, good mood, comes down and relaxes you, you feel ready to go to work. If you come on the set and he says, ‘Okay, yeah, yeah. Let’s just get this. Hurry up.’ That’s not a good way to start work. You’ll get better work from an actor if he’s relaxed and comfortable.”
Mel Gibson: “Try your hardest to make the actor look as good as possible. The better they look the better you’re going to look. If they’re any good, they’ll figure that out, too. Danny Glover and I got onto that real early. I saw what he was doing with the fumbling, and always being a step behind, and I played on that. I’d run around in circles and try to screw with him to make the guy look good. And he was making me look good. I love actors. You have empathy for them and you really want to make them look as good as possible.”
DON’T let your openness make you a doormat.
You decide what works and what to avoid. Don’t become some actor’s bitch. Of course you are interested in their opinion. However you have the ultimate responsibility for the movie. You have the overall picture in your mind and you have to decide if their idea works or not.
Richard Donner: “It was late at night and we’re ready to go and George Maharis says, ‘I want a hamburger.’ I said, ‘What do you mean you want a hamburger?’ He said, ‘I want a hamburger in this scene. I think I’m hungry.’ I said, ‘Gee. Can I give you a piece of cheese or something? Maybe the prop man…’ He said, ‘I want a hamburger.’ So we got the prop man to go over to the Universal kitchen, which was closed and go in the back and get meat and get a hamburger. We’re shooting other stuff obviously. Then we come back and we’ve got the hamburger and we go into the scene and we go to roll and we’re halfway through it and George took the hamburger and took this little pigeon bite. So I said, ‘Cut. George, what are you doing?’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You said you were hungry. This character is down and out and a ballplayer. If you get a hamburger then you eat it. Take a bite. Take a big bite.’ He said, ‘I can’t. I can’t talk with food in my mouth.’ I said, ‘Yes, you can. That’s the character. That’s what you wanted and that’s what you’re going to do.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to do it.’ I said, ‘You’ve got the fucking hamburger.’ And he goes like this and he hits the wall next to me and his hand went through the wall of the set. I looked at him and I went at him with my fist but I missed him on purpose. And I went through the wall with it too. And we stood there and looked at it as his hand is just coming out and he started to laugh. He said, ‘Give me the hamburger. Give me the hamburger.’ So we did the hamburger. But I had broken a bone in my hand and didn’t know it. And I couldn’t let on. I’m getting ice when nobody’s looking. But it was a confrontation. He wanted that hamburger and damnit we got it for him and he was going to eat it. It’s the way you work with actors. He could have not eaten it and then I would have really felt stupid. He had something for his scene that worked for him – then go with it. They’re tough. actors are tough.”