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How to Prepare Your Actors Before You Shoot Your Digital Film

When it comes to DSLR filmmaking, the living, breathing actor is a valued commodity. Your actors take each breath of the movie, so the key to success lies in their performances. And although their faces draw the viewer in, their actions in front of the camera dictate the story. The former depends on them, whereas the latter partially depends on your savvy as a director.

But before worrying about any of that, the first step is actually finding your actors. You can begin by putting the word out that you need people. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Talk to friends. Just about everybody knows someone who acts and is looking to break in to “pictures.” Of course, that also depends on where you live.

  • Contact a nearby college. Plenty of student actors are looking for a chance to be in a movie, so there’s a potential for finding a diamond in the rough.

  • Put an ad in the trades. At one time, that meant the trade paper, but these days, it’s more likely to be Craigslist. The format doesn’t matter as much as getting the word out.

Take the next step with your cast

You found some candidates, now what?

After you find your cast, make contact with your actors, preferably in a place that makes everyone feel safe. Thoroughly explain what you need from them. Field questions to see if the relationship can work.

Here are some tips to encourage actors to be a part of your movie:

  • There’s no substitute for a good script. If you build it, or write it in this case, they will come. At least, you hope so. When the screenplay is legitimately compelling, actors clamor to be in a movie. (The movie fitting into their schedules doesn't hurt either.)

  • Choose serious actors. Make sure whomever you cast takes it seriously both in terms of her performance as well as being punctual and professional. Time is money, even if you’re not making any early in the game.

  • Get comfortable with the cast. Meet with them before shooting and explaining your intentions and expectations. Share a meal, have coffee, or go paintballing, it doesn’t matter. There's no substitute for being on the same page before you get started.

Rehearse your actors before you film

Although Hollywood directors expect their actors to show up on set ready to perform, you may want to run through each scene before committing anything to record. The reason comes down to inexperience on both your part and theirs. Besides, you can make sure that your ideas for scenes are made clear during rehearsal. If you have a different idea of a scene than your actors, that creates more work.

It also reinforces the importance of knowing the lines of the script. No one wants to deal with an actor who has to stop every few minutes to say, "Wait. What’s my line?" Instead, encourage them to research their characters deeply.

Experienced actors do that all by themselves, but if your actors are still green, you’ll have to help them along. That means coming to the realization that their roles are formed by a foundation of truth, rather than doing just impressions of the characters.

Do a table read before you film

Before you place your actors in front of the camera, it’s a good idea to perform a table read. That’s when the actors, along with the director and other crew, read the entire script at a table. Think of it as a dramatic board meeting. Besides familiarizing everyone with the story, it serves a way to fine-tune the rhythm of the scenes.

You can also get a better sense of the dialogue when it's read aloud by actors.

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