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Is it true that a good director can bring out great performances?

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Movie Forums Squirrel Jumper
I keep learning this as an aspiring director in film school and by other people I work with. I am told that if the acting is bad in your projects, it's not the actors, it's you the director.

But in my experience some actors do a better job than others, and it seems like a large part of it is the actor.

For example if Paul Thomas Anderson cast say... Dolph Lundgren in There Will Be Blood, could he have directed Lundgren to give just as good as a performance as Daniel Day-Lewis, because he is Paul Thomas Anderson and he is that good at directing performances?

Or do the actors you pick actually make a huge difference, and it's not all on the director to get a good performance?



It is obviously not all on the director, since they're working with other people. That absolutely shouldn't be the question.

How much it is on them is pretty much impossible to answer. Some people are hard to work with, some aren't. Some work well together, some don't. There is nothing even close to a clear/binary answer to this question.
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I keep learning this as an aspiring director in film school and by other people I work with. I am told that if the acting is bad in your projects, it's not the actors, it's you the director.
The director is solely in charge & everything in the movie falls on him. If the actors are bad thatís on him as a director. He either didnít direct them properly or didnít give them enough confidence in themselves (very important) or he didnít fire them & find someone else for the rŰles.
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That's a good point re: firing. They obviously can't always force a good performance but they can make the difficult-but-necessary decision to replace someone that isn't working out.

Off the top of my head, reshooting chunks of Back to the Future with Michael J. Fox instead of Eric Stoltz was probably a pretty tough decision for Zemeckis, but it was obviously the right choice.



Oh, caveat about how producers sometimes have the last say on casting, too, so all director responsibility is at least contingent on how much control they actually have.



Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
And the director had the sense not to get caught in here. Or the short answer, JC. Aside to Lundgren - why'd you work with so many crap directors?
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That's a good point re: firing. They obviously can't always force a good performance but they can make the difficult-but-necessary decision to replace someone that isn't working out.
In the movie Her, Spike Jonze replaced Samantha Morton with Scarlett J. even though all her ďscenesĒ were finished. He felt Samantha wasnít right for the rŰle & he said she is still friends with him.

Oh, caveat about how producers sometimes have the last say on casting, too, so all director responsibility is at least contingent on how much control they actually have.
I forgot to mention auteurs before. Now these guys - like Woody Allen, Bergman, et al. - really really control their movies. I wonder if they would even allow a producer to make a casting decision? Bergman wouldnít, but that was a long time ago & I wonder if it happens today. Obviously thatís where the funding is coming from.



Yeah, and in practice even if the producer is in charge they're not gonna want to fight the director if they insist, so I'm sure it's complicated.



Movie Forums Squirrel Jumper
The director is solely in charge & everything in the movie falls on him. If the actors are bad thatís on him as a director. He either didnít direct them properly or didnít give them enough confidence in themselves (very important) or he didnít fire them & find someone else for the rŰles.
Oh okay, makes sense.

What if the director is forced to work with actors who are not the best, because of budget and resources, so they are just stuck in a rock and a hard place. What's the best thing to do then?



Don't forget about Casting Directors. Unless you're someone like Taylor Hackford, they can be quite influencial.
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Put this, like everything, through a real world lens.Say you're the boss of a small company and staff aren't pulling their weight. You want a quality product yet you have poor staff (for whatever reason and for whatever lacking quality necessary for a good product). You, as a good boss/leader should be mindful enough to coach the staff into a better attitude or whatever. Failing that, you must also be mindful enough to recognize that it is time to replace them or task others to pick up the slack. Of course I'm oversimplifying, but I kinda think that's necessary given how broad all this always is.

More, I think you're looking at it completely backwards. As a director/boss/leader/whatever, how bad of a job must you have done to allow a poor product to be released, completely missing how incapable your staff/crew/actors were to begin with? Unavoidable external factors notwithstanding. I don't mean you, personally. Just, I mean the universal you.

Still at its root, it's just general social skills and interactions. Understanding that answers most of it.
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I absolutely believe that great directors can get great performances out of actors. I also believe some of the best directors with this talent are former actors (Woody Allen, Ron Howard, Rob Reiner, Penny Marshall, Richard Benjamin, etc.).



Followup question: Is it true that a high fiber diet will make you poop a lot?

I'll hang up and take my answer on the air.
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Is it true that a good director can bring out great performances?

Either an actor has the chops or they don't. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.



Movie Forums Squirrel Jumper
Oh okay, it's just in the world of microbudget filmmaking when you do not have a lot of options to choose from that you can afford, it seems that attitude is, you have to reinvent the wheel and actually find a way to make a silk purse from a sow's ear.



Movie Forums Squirrel Jumper
Yeah that makes sense. The only genre I can think of where you might be able to get away with not the greatest performances is comedy, but I do not do at comedy as a director so far, and comedy scripts seem to be a harder sell in the independent market, it seems so far.



Comedy is a good example, though the one I had in mind when I said that was science fiction, since a lot of sci-fi fans care about high concept stuff more than acting, or even writing. But there are different ways to go about it, for sure.

Good dialogue can be very cheap, too, but can be pretty reliant on delivery, too. That said, even without world-class performers, I feel like a tenacious and diligent director can find plenty of capable actors for something like that at low cost. An awful lot of talented people want to break into the business, after all.