48HFS-DIRECTINGACTORS

48HFS 005: Directing Actors

Actor-director-writer Nico Amedeo shares his thoughts on the art of directing actors.

Nico Amedeo is an actor, director and writer. He has trained in a wide range of performance and acting techniques and has studied at the Avogaria Theatre Academy, Theama Theatre Academy and Shanghai Theatre Academy. He has worked on more than 30 stage productions and his recent screen credits include The Fixer, To Shanghai and Ip Man 4. We chat with him about the importance of trust, how to avoid common mistakes and getting the most out of your actors as a director.

The following is part of a special series we’re doing in the run-up to the 2019 48-Hour Film School in Shanghai (August 31-September 1) and Beijing (September 7-8). Check the bottom of this page for details on how you can sign up to be a part of the action.


EastIndie: Is directing actors something that can be taught?

Nico Amedeo: Just like everything else, directing actors can also be taught. Having said that, it is like most skills and practice makes perfect. Only through directing actors over and over again can you become great at it.

EI: How much of directing actors comes down to a director’s intuition or personal style?

NA: Intuition is an essential skill for good directors, but it is not the be-all and end-all. A great director can adapt to work differently with each one of his actors if necessary–and that is something that comes with experience.

EI: What are some of the characteristics of good directing?

NA: The primary characteristics of good directing are simple–trust, trust and trust.

I pay for a ticket to watch a story–hopefully, a well told one.

EI: When compared with other aspects of filmmaking, how important is the relationship between the director and the actors to the success of a film?

NA: It’s the most important aspect of film-making. I believe there is a common misconception among ‘green’ filmmakers that the image is what sells tickets, but that is no truer with newcomers than it is with more established names. The image could be as beautiful as Michelangelo’s David, but if I wanted to see beautiful photography, I’d go to an Annie Leibowitz exhibition. I pay for a ticket to watch a story–hopefully, a well told one. And, who is more important in telling the story than the characters and the puppet master/director providing the actors with the road map to tell that story? Don’t believe me? Watch Una Giornata Particolare (A Special Day), 12 Angry Men or My Dinner with Andre. Remember, all you need is a well told story and a camera.

EI: What is the biggest challenge a director faces when it comes to working with actors?

NA: There are many challenges a director faces with actors–arrogant actors, badly trained actors, unprepared actors… But, the biggest challenge a director faces is always the same–getting distracted by everything else.

EI: What is the biggest mistake you see inexperienced directors make when working with actors?

NA: The biggest mistake inexperienced directors make is not directing their actors. They have this mentality of, “I’ll do me and you do you”, but that’s not the trust I speak of. I talk about giving your actors permission, not ignoring them completely.

EI: What is the number one thing actors look for when receiving instructions from a director?

NA: I can’t stress this enough, but a director’s best tool is permission–granting an actor the trust to take risks and take the scene where his impulse leads it. At the same time, a good director will always be ready to re-adjust the actor’s path when he has strayed too far from it.

It’s like having a tool box, but the tool box is locked and can only be opened once an hour.

EI: What is the biggest difference between directing trained versus untrained actors?

NA: Directing untrained actors when compared with trained actors is like betting on a one-armed man when Michael Phelps is in the pool. Not because untrained actors can’t achieve what you need them to, but rather because they lack the experience to do so. It’s like having a tool box, but the tool box is locked and can only be opened once an hour.

EI: How should a director adjust his or her approach when directing ensembles (rather than just one or two actors)?

NA: Directing ensembles can be quite a challenge. The main point a director must concentrate on is ensuring the actors maintain the relationships he/she has envisioned. Timing can also be a struggle.

EI: Lastly, what is one example of a ‘quick fix’ directors can use on set (or in preparation) when working with actors?

NA: One great example of quick fix is motivation. It is one of the fundamentals of the Meisner Technique, and rightfully so. It can help any actor, trained or untrained achieve the characters need in the scene.


The Shanghai 48-Hour Film School will take place on Saturday, August 31 & Sunday, September 1 at Shanghai Filmspace, 3/F 102 South Xiangyang Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai / 上海市徐汇区襄阳南路102号3层. For details and registration, click here.

The Beijing 48-Hour Film School will take place on Saturday, September 7 & Sunday, September 8 (venue TBC). For details and registration, click here.

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Michael Thede

Michael Thede

Founder & Contributor

Michael Thede is a Canadian screenwriter and story consultant. He studied Film & Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario and is a graduate of the Writing for Film & TV program at Vancouver Film School. He came to Asia nearly 15 years ago and is currently based in Shanghai, where he is also the founder and organizer of the Shanghai Screenwriters Workshop. WeChat: michaelthede78

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