Directing Bag of Tricks – Part 1

Directing is a great skill to have, but directing somebody who has never been on screen is an art form in and of itself. This article is meant to share the knowledge I have gained from directing inexperienced talent for commercial videos, television segments and mini-docs. If you’re a lucky director and the video gods are smiling down on you  – your talent will be fine with being on camera. MOST of the time, that’s not the case.


  1. The talent will be a nervous wreck,
  2. Will have tried to memorize entire paragraphs that they want to say
  3. Will sound like robots when they start to speak
  4. Will forget everything as soon as the cameras are on
  5. Will try to run away

…you get the picture. I’ve complied a list of tricks to make your job easier, while getting the most out of your talent.

But first… what do they  need to get from YOU?

As a Director you are two things: The Keeper of the Vision (oooh, this sounds like a movie title) and The Extractor of People’s Juice. If that imagery tripped you out, allow me to explain:

The Keeper of the Vision

As a Director, you must understand the vision of the video project you are creating. The  branding, the sounds, pace, visuals, but most importantly – you know the message. If you know the message you’ve won half the battle. Subsequently, every decision that you make, is to enforce this vision. Especially when it comes to directing the talent that will deliver the message.

The Extractor of People’s Juice

Everyone has an inner Morgan Freeman – this is the juice. However, something strange happens as soon as record buttons get pressed – suddenly your talent may suffer from the deer in the headlights syndrome. As a Director you must “extract the juice” get them to that place where they will look and sound like the professionals and experts that they are – sounding eloquent, intelligent, inspiring. When you’re doing this right, you’ll feel it in your bones, you may even get a chill. Here are a few tricks from my Directing Bag of Tricks on how to do that:

#1.) Talk the Talk

While your crew is setting up, talk to your talent, in a “getting to know you” manner. Ask them questions about themselves, their careers etc. Organically, start asking the questions to get the information you’ll need in the video. Sneaky, sneaky, I know…but this gets them to express the points they’ll need to make in natural and conversational way. When you ask the question again (this time in front of the camera) their responses will be fresh in their brains, and they’re more likely to deliver them naturally.

#2.) Set up Two Cameras

Always try to set up at least two cameras. Your talent may feel that one camera is bad enough, but you can comfort them by saying that with two cameras they have a lot more room for error. Your editor will thank you.

#3.) Smile Behind the Camera

You know that trick where you pretend-cry in front of a baby, and the baby will cry? Well the same is true of smiling with adults. As the Director, the talent’s gaze will most likely be on you the entire time. If you stand behind the camera, or close proximity to the camera and smile, this does two wonderful things: it comforts and re-assures the talent and it gives them confidence and brings a smile to THEIR face.

#4.) Ask them to Restate the Question in Answer Format

While you are preparing to shoot, let your talent know to answer every question in answer format.  Often times, because you are  asking questions, the talent may feel inclined to answer naturally in short, incomplete answers. By restating the question, in their answer, you will get beautiful and complete sentences to cut from, and full thoughts to deliver the video’s message.

Bad Example: 

Director:  What is your company’s most important core value?

Talent: Transparency.

Good Example:

Director: What is your company’s most important core value?

Talent: The company’s most important core value, is transparency.

#5.) Think Like an Editor: Beginnings, Middles and Ends

Whether you are directing a commercial, music video, documentary or feature film, Directors have to think like Editors, and one important thing about that is to make sure that each Talent gives you a beginning a middle and an end to their performance.  Starting is the easy part, but somewhere in the middle…

Middle:  Keep the Focus, and Make Sure Talent Speaks in Complete Sentences.

Bad Example:

Talent:  We have the best doughnuts here, because we really know how to make them, and we just bought this big oven, which is really cool, it heats up to 450 degrees in a minute, and well yeah. That makes us faster, and it’s energy efficient, which brings down our electricity bills.  (yes, this happens very often).

Good Example:

Talent: We have the best doughnuts here at Dot’s Doughnuts, because we take the best care in making them. We make sure to always keep our doughnuts freshly made throughout the day. That’s why people keep coming back to us – they can taste the freshness.

End: Get a Strong Ending Statement.

Many times, your talent will see the finish line so close, that they’ll start to falter and scramble to reach the end. So they may resort to some of the following phrases:

And so… yeah.

And that’s that.

And that’s all I got.

Often, your talent will collapse as soon as they’ve finished, and now you have no room to transition out of their clip. Make sure your talent ends with a strong statement and that they maintain their smile and posture a few seconds after they finished.

Personally, I’ve been most successful when I am positive, encouraging and empathetic. You have to learn how to ride people’s emotional waves, and guide them to where they need to be. The skills I am sharing in this article are skills I have learned in my experience as a Director. I sometimes use all of these skills in one same shoot, and I hope they help you as much as they have helped me. Before you know it, you’ll be doing them without even realizing that you’re doing them.

Another batch from my Directing Bag of Tricks, will be headed your way soon!


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