Looking at some of the suggestions on facebook for future topics gave me the idea to write about this. As a director, how SHOULD you handle an actor. I'll assume the role of the actor in this situation and tell you what I want and what I NEED to make a project worth my while.
First off, and MOST importantly, help me find your vision. I've watched clips of stuff that I've done from the indy side of things and cringed. I thought to myself "Wow! I made a horrible choice there. SOMEONE should have told me that sucked." Guess what? That's the director's job. You HAVE to step in and maybe even hurt an actor's feelings by telling them that they need to give more or do something different.
Having come from what little I've done, I still find that on some indy projects I don't get the feedback I should because I'm "special" and no one wants to hurt my feelings. What hurts my feelings is seeing myself look like an idiot on the big screen because someone didn't tell me that I wasn't giving what I needed to.
Next, give me good people to play off of. If you're serious about doing something with your film. If you want it to show in a festival, for people to pay for it on DVD, or even for some wider scale distribution, I recommend you pay your actors SOMETHING. It doesn't have to be tons of money (though I do like working for tons of money). Even a token payment says that you value the actor and more importantly, that you value what you are doing.
I've railed on this before on facebook and caught a lot of flak for it, but I think there is a bigger sense of accountability to make a good film if someone is spending money on it. You may be lucky and have a bunch of very talented friends that can pull off a film (hopefully a short) for no money. I'm even down for that on occasion. It's fun and I love doing this. If I didn't have a family to feed, I'd do it for free all the time. Acting is not work.
For those who are on a budget or no budget who still want to make a film, here are some pointers:
1.) Cast your friends who can act. Don't use people who can't! Don't feel guilty about not using your girlfriend or uncle Bob in your film. If you're going to make it, it should be good. You can cheat and use them as folks with little to no dialogue and usually make people happy.
2.) Limit dialogue and locations. If you don't have budget, don't pick 14 locations and 20 pages of script. I did a film out in Atlanta with some incredibly talented folks that ended up being shit because of this EXACT problem. We had a blast. It was a whirlwind, but we just couldn't get the quality we wanted in only 2 days. If it had been a 48 hour film festival we would have looked like champs, but as it was...I hope it never sees the light of day. None of us brought our A game, including me.
3.) Adjust on the fly. Change the story, collaborate with the cast, kill dialogue and scenes. Keep it simple. This will save your film from dying a hard death later on.
4.) Use paid actors in key roles. Have your story be primarily about 2-3 characters and pay them. Anyone who you need to lean on for dialogue and emotion should get something. In a market like Dallas or Albuquerque, you can get some pretty talented folks pretty cheap for a couple days to knock out a festival worthy short.
Finally, be cool to work with. I try to be respectful of time and others when I'm on set. I have fun playing at this and it makes me happy. There is no reason to be a prick. Tell me what I need to do. Push me in the moment. Don't let me deliver a bad scene. But, especially for people who are newer at this, a pat on the back or a simple "that was good" (when it actually was) goes a long way.