How to Work with a Difficult Director | Surviving a Terrible Director
how to work with difficult directors

How to Work with a Difficult Director

Written by on | Acting Tips How To

The entertainment industry is dynamic, diverse and enterprising. Unfortunately, these can be synonyms for confusing, outlandish and egocentric. Everyone is working towards the same end goal of making a production the best it can possibly be, so why does it sometimes feel like you are constantly butting heads with your fellow creatives? A difficult director is one who either controls the production too rigidly, or who doesn’t have a clear enough vision of what they want. We’ve got some advice for you in both of these circumstances.

The Tyrannical Director

Understand that this director is mostly acting from a place of stress. Whether ego-driven, desperate for validation, or just so passionate in their vision that they are blind to all around them, keep in mind that they just want their project to be good. Good can mean different things to different people, so be sure to respect the fact that they may have different tastes to you.

As an actor, an important skill to learn is how to eat some serious humble pie. Not saying you should let yourself be bullied by any means. The key is to find a balance between their vision and your interpretation. A director’s main job is to guide the project. To continue the pie analogy, they have their fingers in all of the pies, so they may be directing you to play a scene a certain way because the lighting/sound/set design needs to shine in this scene, or there is some other aspect that is outside of your wheelhouse. Know your job, and do the best you possibly can within the constraints that are set before you. Look at it as a challenge. Are you adaptable and flexible as an actor? How can you approach this direction, and how can you grow as an actor from this situation? Some things might feel odd in the short term, but pay off in the end. Watch a wide variety of arthouse films to get an appreciation for different styles of acting if you feel any resistance to the advice above.

The caveats here are any sort of unprofessional behaviour to achieve a desired result (here’s looking at the allegations against Lars Von Trier), and anything you feel uncomfortable with that was not agreed to back in the audition process – nudity, violence, language, explicit themes all fall under this umbrella. Be respectful, but don’t be afraid to voice your feelings. You can always ask for clarification and explanations, but avoid argumentative or resistant phrasing. You will make your own life far easier and more satisfying if you approach the work in a playful manner.

The Vague Director

It can be equally difficult to work with a director who doesn’t know, or just won’t tell you, what they want. Rather than force them to explain themselves, take the chance to mould your own performance. Bring a bunch of choices and options to the floor, and use this as an opportunity to show them what they want. In many cases, this type of director is focussed on a different aspect of the production than the individual performances, and may not have considered what they want from you. Some examples of well known film directors who don’t focus as heavily on the actors are David Lynch, or Michael Bay.

Trust that the director may have a particular vision that doesn’t hinge on your performance, which allows you creative freedom. It’s not that you aren’t an important element, just that you have a wide berth to play within, without stepping on anyone’s toes. If you feel like this is more responsibility than you are comfortable with, be assured that you can go bigger and more detailed with your performance until they pull you back. Push some boundaries and use this as an exercise in inventiveness.

As long as you keep in mind that you are all on the same team, you can utilise these situations as experience to add to your resume and take on the challenge. And while it is fine to admit that you had difficulty working with a certain person or production, make sure to never, ever talk trash about your fellow artists.

About the Author

StageMilk Team

is made up of young professional actors and writers from around the world. This team includes Andrew Hearle, Luke McMahon, Kyle Billings, Jim Harwood and many more. We all work together to contribute useful articles and resources for actors at all stages in their careers.

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