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Directing with Emotion – 5 Ways to Get More Out of Your Talent

By Caleb Rexius

Emotion and energy are key to great advertisements and films, and as directors, that falls squarely on us to achieve.

Being shy, tentative, and subdued on set just won’t work. And without the confidence and charisma to lead a room of creatives in a vulnerable space, we’ll fail at producing excellent ads and films.

And it’s not always easy. So let’s look at 5 ways to direct real emotion:

1. Get Acquainted

From a small 1-on-1 shoot to a larger production shoot, I always introduce myself and do a little small talk with the talent to get to know them a little. 

There are so many subtle personality details that you pick up that become relevant when you’re directing. In addition, you start to build trust, and you show that you care about the person beyond the performance they’ll deliver today. Get acquainted and build trust.

Show that you care about the person beyond the performance they’ll deliver you today.

2. Be the Most Theatric Person in the Room

This doesn’t mean to act crazy or unprofessional. It means that when it’s time to direct what you want to see, you can’t be shy. If you want to see a tantrum performed by the talent, you yourself need to set that energy first, either vocally or literally acting out the scene you’d like to see. 

If you want them to laugh and smile, you need to model that positive energy, even beyond what you need. It’s much easier to dial back than dial it up. 

Even the best, most experienced talent needs good, energetic direction.

Be theatric. 

3. Be Encouraging

Keep the vibes up.

We as directors can get so focused on getting the shot, that we can forget there’s a person (or people) on the other side of the camera that need direction AND encouragement. I personally err on the side of overly-positive, even if things aren’t going well. I’ve found that positive energy generates a much better result than negative energy and an overly-critical mindset.

Focus on what is happening that is right, and redirect what is happening wrong.

4. Take a Break

Seems obvious. Acting, modeling, emoting…it can be exhausting, and once again, we can get so focused on our final product that we forget people get tired. Taking a break to drink water, get a bite to eat, shoot a text, or scroll a feed can sometimes be a really nice refresh, and you can then regroup to continue on with full energy.

5. Finish Strong

I used to run track and field back in my early years. I was a sprinter, and I was fast but not the fastest. I won so many races that I probably shouldn’t have, because I finished strong.

I’ve tried to take that same mindset into my work life, and into directing. At the end of the day, everyone is tired and you’ve probably got the majority of shots you need, but you know there’s one more, and it’s like finishing that race. Your body and mind are saying stop, shut it down, but you know you need to finish strong.

Sometimes, some of the most magical shots and scenes can come out of those final moments in a production. And if the talent sees you finishing strong, they will too.

Those are 5 ways I direct, and it’s worked well for me. Let me know if I missed something in the comments. See you next time!

Caleb is the founder and lead cinematographer at Filmpac.

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