The Director says, “Okay, great.  Now can you try it with less of an announcer and a bit more realistic?  But can you also push the price and be really big about the fact that it’s on sale.  And just be a bit more authoritative and flat at the same time, K?”

The hardest part about taking direction is listening and understanding the direction offered.  Much like marriage, listening isn’t always our strongest trait and the person we are listening to doesn’t always know what they’re talking about.

There are many forms of direction and being able to adapt to each persons unique style is key and much easier said than done!  The challenge is that just because someone is put in the position of directing the actor, this does not mean that they are good at giving direction.  I don’t believe there is a specific “Directors School” where all clients and directors take a course on how to get the best out of their talent.  Let’s face it, clients, who make great hamburgers are put in the directors chair and forced to learn on the job.  IN fact most directors learn by happenstance or time on set.

If you are lucky you may get to work with someone who used to be an actor and truly understands how to give direction in order to get your best performance.  Unfortunately this is rare.  Usually many of your directors will be clients or people who don’t really know what they want nor do they understand how to tell you what they want.  They will even go so far as line reading you; reading every line to you in the feeling that they are looking for, however their read may not be exactly what they want and even though you mimicked them perfectly, you have to be prepared that it still might not be what they want.

Actors constantly need direction to know if their choices are working and a director can sit on the outside looking in and may have visions that an actor wouldn’t have thought of. Those of us who work from our home studios may not get many opportunities to get directed.  Typically the smaller the budget the less control the clients will want or the less they understand so they don’t realize they can direct you – so they trust in the talent to direct themselves.  They may have you voice it your way, you send to them and then they make suggestions or changes, you re-voice and send back for their approvals.  This is time consuming.  Even though it’s much less pressure when you direct yourself, it may save you a ton of time and editing if you would suggest to your client to listen in during the recording by phone patch (see my previous article on the website), source connect or ISDN.

The challenge with growing as a home talent is that as you grow to higher profile projects, if you don’t have any experience working with clients and directors, you may get eaten alive.  Ask any pro and they will tell you about their nightmare sessions, where no matter what they did they either couldn’t get the director what they wanted or they had 6 different directions and just didn’t know who to listen to, or they were so confused by the direction that NOTHING worked.  THIS IS NORMAL, but it will go much smoother on your ego if you have some experience in this forum.  It’s extremely important that you learn how to be tough skinned.

Every take you do – even take 45 – must sound like the first time.  Even if you are hating the project, clients, directions etc., the professional talent will NEVER EVER let on that this is bothering them or getting the better of them.  Most of us like to get it right the first time so it’s a real blow to the ego when we can’t get it right and if you’re not careful – it will get the better of you.

I think it’s safe to say that clients/directors forget that you’re human with a ton of feelings and can seem heartless at times, but just try and think of it this way, they are focused and as much as you are what they are working on, what they are more focused on is how to look good in front of their peers/clients at ALL costs, including yours.

It’s also extremely important that you know your footing in the room.  Because of my variety of training in this industry, this has been one of my hardest lessons.  Learning that I am JUST THE ACTOR isn’t easy.  I’m a people pleaser and I love people so I just want to be myself in the room and get to know everyone I work with, but this isn’t always wise.  What is best is for me to keep my chit chat to a min and speak and involve myself only when invited.  To learn my place and not try and be their friend and realize that this is just business and there is nothing personal here.

It’s also extremely important for you to know that you are NOT the director, the writer, the decision maker or even the production assistant, so make sure not to overstep your role.  For example if the script is written poorly or contains poor grammar, no matter how much of an expert you are, it is NOT your place to fix it or correct it.  Believe it or not you are now taking away someone elses job.  Once you get to know your clients this may change and they may allow you some executive decisions like grammar and script adjustments, but try and think that the writer may be the room.  In fact in many cases the writer is the client…but no matter your thoughts, your job is to make the words work, whether you like them or not.

I will also leave you with this thought that I was so grateful to learn from Audiobook Pro, Jane Jacobs.  Jane says, “Quit directing while you’re being directed!”  This statement really helped me a lot.  I tend to overstep by wanting to help EVERYONE! (hence why I teach).  I really didn’t understand my place in the beginning and I see this happen ALL the time.  The director will be giving you a direction and you’ll either be ready to cut them off to assure them that you know what they want (even though they haven’t finished telling you) or you’ll be giving them a reason why you did what you did, or tell them that you were hoping to do it a different way.  “Well I thought that the character would…..”  The point is, you are paid to become and do, not to give opinion – however as you grow into the larger markets this changes and a bit of input from actors is most welcome….but you really have to know what you’re doing and the best way to go about doing it without overstepping.

Again the most important thing you can do is LISTEN!  If you don’t understand the direction, ask for clarification.  Don’t pretend you understand so that you don’t look stupid because when you go to perform it will be obvious you didn’t understand and that makes you look much worse.

The bottom line is to listen, do as your told, don’t second guess their expertise –even when they are wrong – and stay tough skinned.  Don’t let it get the better of you and make each session that you are directed in a ton of fun – even if you don’t give them what you want.  Trust that you did the best job you could based on what you’re given and stay confident in that.


Are you ready to find out how well you can take direction?  Join us for an action packed webinar April 11, 2013 at 7-10 p.m. EST. Details here.


Until next time


All my best
VO Chef Deb