Directing Bag of Tricks – Part 2

Every day that I’m on set, I learn something new. Especially as Director, and having to interact with different personalities with different levels of camera experience. I have learned that for novices and experts alike, there are a few tricks that can help your shoot go smoother. This article is meant to share the knowledge I have gained from directing talent for commercial videos, television segments and mini-docs.  The first article of this series “Directing Gag of Tricks – Part 1” talked about the first five tips, and you can revisit them in the link below.

 This article will share even more Directing tricks that could improve your video project:

#6.) Keep Rolling

I’ve seen some Directors cut their talent soon after they’ve started talking, and keep cutting them when they’ve messed up a few times in a row. I’m against this for the most part, because I’ve seen how this destroys people’s confidence and train of thought when in front of a camera. Here’s what I find helps: allow them to continue and finish their thought, and then go back and get the phrase/s that they faltered on.

*The only exception is when the talent is incapable of finishing a thought. At this point you can cut, and take attention away from the shoot. This person is probably very  anxious and needs to be distracted from himself/herself. Taking a short break  by saying there’s a technical error you need to fix, or by taking a short bathroom break, joking with the talent or conversing with them can take them out of this panicked state.

#7.) Bullet Points of Conversation

You may know what the talent needs to do or say, but when explaining it to them, make sure to tell them as simply as possible. Think about it as giving them bullet points of conversation.

Bad Example: 

I need you to say  that the purpose of the  Filmmore Organization is to develop ways for children to learn about science in a fun way, and I then need you to talk about the types of activities that Filmmore Organization conducts for the children, such as building bridges with manila folders, and then I need you to talk about the impact the Filmmore Organization has on the student’s academic performance, such as better grades in math and science. (At this point the Talent will be completely petrified).

Good Example:

Now we’re going to talk about three things:

  •  Purpose of the organization,
  • Activities
  • Impact on Students

8.) Use your Verbs!

I have found that it really helps when the talent knows the purpose of their performance. It totally gives their performance purpose. Use verbs such as: Inspire, Educate, Invite. Because of the familiarity with speech patterns surrounding each of these verbs, they will start mimicking these styles, without even realizing that they’re doing this.

9.) Times out of 10 (see what I did there?) You’ll use your  “For Fun” take.

So maybe you’ve done 5 or 6 takes and they’re all ok, but none of them are great. This is the perfect time to do the “For Fun” take. This is the moment when you get rid of your talent’s inhibitions and all the stress and anxiety that they are feeling. This has done WONDERS for our videos. What you do is you tell your  talent that you have what you need, but now you want to do a “Fun” take. In this take, you want them to exaggerate, to have fun, to smile while they’re reading it. Here is a true story: I once told one of my voice-over actresses to read it like she’s a fem fatale  in leather boots. To both our surprise, she sounded completely confident, powerful and energetic –  we ended up using that take! Trust me, 9 times out of 10, you’re going to end up using your “For Fun” take.

10.) Be Very Encouraging

Never miss an opportunity to compliment and encourage them when they did or said something right. If you need to do another take, they’re far more likely to remember to repeat this action or words and with even more enthusiasm. People are very sensitive, and that sensitivity increases ten fold when they are under the magnifying glass that is the camera. Be sensitive to this yourself –  and always respond positively to this. As a Director, it is your job to make them shine, if not during production, then in post – production. If you give your talent the words of encouragement that they need, they will reward you with a great performance.


The tips above have worked and saved our shoots countless times. I feel I’ve been most successful when I am positive, encouraging and empathetic. As a Director you quickly learn that it is to your benefit to know how to ride people’s emotional waves.  Before you know it, you’ll be practicing the skills above without realizing it.

Is there anything that has worked for you in the past?  Share it with me on the comments below.

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