Working with actors

I had planned on talking this week about expectations around lesbian screen content and whether or not a lesbian filmmaker has a responsibility to the community, but I might leave that for another day. During the week, the cast of Starting From … Now! got together to shoot some additional content, actor interviews that we’ll release prior to the start of Season 2. It reminded me of one of the things I enjoy most about directing – working with actors.

I haven’t done a lot of directing. I am first and foremost a writer. I’m most comfortable sitting in front of my computer, alone, unless of course you count the characters as my companions. Writing has its challenges, but I know what those challenges are and I’m better equipped to deal with them. I only started directing because I had trouble finding a director who I wanted to work with. Most of the directors I know are men in their late 20s, early 30s, who have no interest in making the sort of content I’m interested in writing. It got to a point where I was so frustrated by this that I decided to do it myself.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m a woman and we're taught not to just assume we can do anything, but I never once thought that just because I was a writer, I could automatically step into directing. Directing is a different skill set altogether. I tried to learn as much about it as I could, I took any opportunities that arose to practice the craft and watch others at work. I still have a lot to learn, especially about working with actors.

I think sometimes actors get a bad rap - divas who think the world revolves around them. I’m sure there are actors like that but, in my experience, I have found them to be anything but. I’ve been exceptionally lucky to work with some very talented actors. The cast of Starting From … Now! is no exception. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in awe of their work. Whether it be on set, or watching back the day’s rushes, I’ve been continually surprised and delighted by what these actors have brought to their roles. It’s not just the way the dialogue comes to life, or a scene suddenly jumps off the page, it’s about their ability to find moments of truth - a glance, a gesture, that instance when the inner life of the character becomes apparent on screen. I think that’s what really good actors do, they find the soul of the character and those moments of truth.

Really good actors are smart, generous, intuitive, and sensitive. They feel, deeply. I admire this about them, and, to some extent, I also envy it. As someone who spends a lot of time in her head, I envy their ability to access and be in touch with their emotions. But I also know how exhausting this can be. Actors may show up after the crew and leave while everyone else is packing up, but, I believe, their job is much more demanding than any other job on set. They have to give of themselves, over and over again. This isn’t easy, and their ability to do so makes them both a joy and a challenge to work with.

While I love working with actors, there are times when I find it extremely challenging. These times are often late at night, when we’ve been filming for ten, twelve hours and it’s our third late night in a row. It’s then, when everyone is tired and emotional, when one of the actors will look to me for clarification, for support, for … something, and I’m too tired, and perhaps too inexperienced, to give them what they need. Good actors will push you because they want to do the best possible job they can. They want to deliver what’s needed at that moment in time, but they can’t do that if they don’t know what you, as the director, want. The ability to communicate effectively, with cast, and crew, is key and the ability to do that then and there is what I find difficult. When I’m writing I have time and space to get it right (or as right as I possibly can). Directing is much more immediate. This, to me, is one of the greatest challenges when it comes to directing. It is both frightening and exhilarating.

I’m hoping that the more time I spend on set, the better I become at this. I already feel as though I’ve learnt a lot from shooting Seasons 1 and 2 of Starting From … Now! This opportunity that I’ve had, to work with this group of talented and generous actors, on this project, has been more than I could have hoped for. Working with them, and seeing just what they can do, has made me not only want to keep directing, but to become the best possible director I can.

By Julie Kalceff