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How to Rehearse With Actors? Part 1

Rehearsal is an essential and integral part of any film production. I, personally, like to give myself as much time to work with the actors as possible so once in production, I can concentrate on shooting the film. Below is the list of rehearsal techniques you may find useful.

  1. Stay loose.
  2. This is the time to have ideas and try them out. Even if you don’t try them all, just keep working on the ideas.
  3. What the character wants for the whole movie.
  4. When you are looking/analysing the character, pay particular attention to what seems to be the most important that has happened to him/her.
  5. Concentrate on the relationship between the characters, not the stage direction.
  6. Replace adjectives with action verbs, images, facts, events and physical life.
  7. Know what the movie is about.
  8. Know who the characters are and try to back up your ideas with evidence.
  9. Have alternatives in case your favourite ideas don’t work.
  10. Keep re-reading and re-thinking the script, and deepen your ideas.
  11. The directions that I think most actors respond to best are the ones that show insight.
  12. The proper purpose of rehearsal is to stimulate the actor’s emotions and creative side so on the set the actors can work well.
  13. It doesn’t matter whether you have half an hour to rehearse, set a schedule for it and plan tasks.
  14. Decide which scenes you are going to rehearse. Locate scenes that are continuous and can rely on one another.


Introduce people.

  1. Tell actors how you work.
  2. Make sure actors listen to one another and work honestly.
  3. Introduce the group of actors to work together.
  4. Let everyone talk about each other’s character.
  5. As a director ask questions while the actors are talking.
  6. Analyze the scenes with the actors.


  • Make sure the actors are listening and work honestly, use themselves and find some authentic connection to the material.
  • Investigate the text: explore questions, problems and possible meanings of individual lines and solve the structure of the scene.
  • Block the scene and find the physical life.
  • Establish the actor-director relationship, set up your system of communication, hear and try the actors’ ideas and smoke out their resistances.
  • Before each scene takes 5 minutes to talk about the scene and ask the actors if they have any questions or ideas. Take their concerns into considerations. Most of the time these are ideas to explore in rehearsal.
  • Always set up the framework and goal of the rehearsal (This is to connect with the characters and relationships or to get at what is unspoken in the scene, or it’s to work out physical activities).
  • Discuss with the actors your policy regarding the stage direction.
  • If you only have few minutes to rehearse, make sure the actors are listening to each other. This includes eye contact unless there is a reason not to and add some simple physical life.
  • Ask as many questions as you can, this is one of the best directing techniques.
    The Man With the Spying Glass

    The Man With the Spying Glass

  • We want the actors to feel they are making the direction because the director doesn’t know if the idea is working or not until the actor tries it out.
  • Never tell the actors how and what to feel. Use facts and images, events, verbs and physical action to communicate with the actors.
  • Decide what the character wants and stick to it, don’t change it.
  • Don’t expect the actors to use their full emotional investment in rehearsal. In rehearsal, we are looking for a choice that brings to life the scene’s structure and engages the actor’s interest. We aren’t looking for performance but the road that takes the actors to create the performance on the actual shooting day

At the rehearsal, the actor should experiment with different ways of getting to what they will need on the set. Try as much as you want at the rehearsal, and the most important thing is to establish the relationship between the actors.

You can always ask actors how they would like to work. Good directing often comes indirectly. If the director gets way too excited about an idea, the actor will most probably feel pressure to do it right at the first time.

Never let the actors direct each other. You have to establish that you are the director and it’s only you who gives direction. The Director of Photography may, of course, talk to the actors but only when he/she needs the actor to move in a certain direction, not to tell them what to do in a scene. Try to improvise emotional life, words and movement a lot in rehearsal. This technique permits the actor to try out many ideas before finding the right one, which will be used on the set.

You, as a director, still need to prepare for the improvisation. The more you are ready, the more you will get out of your actors. John Cassavetes used to write scenes that he wasn’t planning on shooting and had the actors improvise around those scenes.

It’s good to improvise what might have just happened before the scene began. This way we give the impression that whatever happens in our scene is in the middle of something.

Anna & Modern Day Slavery – film set.

Don’t use up high emotions at the beginning of the scene, start with less dramatic events and build it up. Use a metaphor as a tool. It is easier for an actor to connect to the scene events. (I very often use my own life as an example of something that is happening in the scene)

Try to let the actors come up with the blocking themselves. Something that comes naturally to them in certain situations. When an actor is emotionally stuck in the scene, it is very often because somehow the physical action doesn’t go with the character or the scene.

Violence and sex have to be always choreographed and marked. When the physical action is set, the emotional life can be invested in the scene.

As a director use your instinct when it comes to working on the scenes with the actors. If something doesn’t feel right, stop. If it does, let it run.

If actors are resistant in certain scenes, don’t go into discussing their private life with them. Reassure them that you believe in their ability to work it through. But at the same time let them know, if they need your help, you are there for them.

A good director works differently with each actor. When you develop your intuition, you’ll be able to tell whether you should push someone or leave them alone. Each actor works with different tools, and you need to find what suits them best.

It is imperative that you learn how to listen. If you ask a question, listen to the answer the actors give you.

An actor’s job is to find honest behaviour, not to control the effect. Reassure them but in a realistic feedback-direction way. The actors will appreciate that.

Try not to argue with an actor. This way he/she will shut down which is not going to help you direct the film or to get as much as you could from the actor. Of course, you can challenge actors and confront them if what they do, doesn’t seem to be real or it’s not what you wanted.

Love your actors. If they feel you care, they can do a lot for you.


Before you begin to improvise, you have to decide what the scene is about. You can still change your choice before the shooting of your scene. When you find the right choice, it will create the right behaviour and physical action of the character.

Ask QUESTIONS about the script and the character. It is also critical to know what the actor is thinking about the script. If he/she doesn’t like it, there is no point working with them.

If you get the feeling that the scene is not working, choose the OPPOSITE/S to what the scene is about.

The character always NEEDS something from the other character or NEEDS to accomplish something within the scene or the whole film. Find what your character NEEDS and stick with it throughout the whole film.

SPINE is who a character is. Look for the real meaning of the character/person.

Usually, each scene has a particular OBJECTIVE, which should be very simple and specific. Find playable objectives that will have both a physical and emotional element.

You may also be interested in

Click here to read part 2

Click here to read part 3

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