These are my notes from the SXSW 2007 Mini Meeting on Directing Actors. [My comments are in square brackets].
Share your vision and ideas [this applies to crew too]. Make the actors feel comfortable; they must trust you and feel safe. Let them know you’re a team and they’re respected.
The lead principals should have some sort of rehearsal. Often, there’s also a dinner [where they get to meet each other and the director without the pressure of being on set].
Talk about the feeling of the role and the line. Be supportive and introduce ideas. Be willing to be wrong and open to new ideas.
Set emotional objectives and know the emotion of the scene. 80% [of film acting] is tone, 20% is content (lines, dialog). The film is not about the lines. It’s about the reaction to the lines. Watch out for actors coming out of character in reactions [eg. waiting for their next cue].
Don’t be afraid to challenge actors. Professional actors want to be directed. Also recognize when they give you something good.
With non-professional talent: communicate in terms the actor knows and can relate to. You can fake reactions from non-actors (eg. Spielberg using characters in costume to get kid reactions in Close Encounters). However, you have to do this kind of thing with respect for the person and the actor.
Workshopping: a day in which to explore some emotions, in an honest way, without faking out actors on set. [Faking out actors on set destroys trust and undermines the whole process].
Casting directors: to find a casting director, you can look up the CSA website.
Shooting the entire scene from every angle (including close ups) helps the arc and intensity of performance.
Less is more. Be honest. And remember that, if environment didn’t matter, we’d all shoot green screen [all the time].
Recommended viewing: the two disc set of Dog Day Afternoon. Watch disc 2.