Rehearsing Actors Do's and Don'ts

There are many different ways to rehearse actors for your movie. Chris Thomas believes are the key Do’s and Don’t of rehearsing actors:

1. DO

Prepare in advance of casting and meeting the actors. Taking some acting classes yourself would help you understand and bond with your actors a bit better. As well as the visualization, production design, sound design etc spend time fleshing out the worlds of the characters. What do they want, what are they afraid of? What makes them confident? There is no need to set these choices in stone but being equipped to answer the questions about character shows everyone that the characters are more than a means to convey plot and say the clever funny lines of dialogue in your script. Characters are behaviour, and human too.


Let your decisions on who these characters are blind you to what the actors will bring to their roles. The key skill here is to let them show you what they have understood from their work on the scene and what they have understood from your direction. Slowly meld your vision with theirs so it becomes something you are both excited by and ultimately tells the story you have set out to tell.

2. DO

Schedule yourself some time in pre-production with your cast. The whole purpose of pre-production is to prepare for the time when the cameras are rolling.
You will spend hours and hours with your other heads of department, quite rightly, planning and developing your vision. Actors play a vital part in how well this vision comes across.  Spending time now with them sharing and enriching your ideas for them will pay out later on the shoot, and actually save time.


Talk too much. The way we communicate as directors affects the abilities of others to give us what we want.  This is no more so the case than with actors. Actors re-act. That’s their main goal, to react well to the stimulus provided. The more you talk the harder it becomes to react to all they have heard. Think about how difficult it is to follow a long series of verbal instructions, e.g. getting directions to a hard to find place from a local.
Impart your thoughts in chunks (or beats, as they are often known) and then let the actors try them out. Break down the scene into bite-sized sections and work them gently then put them back together.

3. DO

Spend time working on the script, paying attention to the meaning of the dialogue in simple terms of what is intended by the character that is speaking. What do they want?


Spend hours pouring through the words, sitting at a table. Try and get the scene ‘off the page’ as soon as possible. The best way I have found is to improvise the scene, without the script in hand maybe even not focusing on the exact dialogue. The sense of the scene is more vital to get familiar with than the words during pre-production rehearsal.

4. DO

Plan your rehearsal time well. Have a goal in mind for each session. They need not be long. Even an hour or two with each character and relationship will give you a great sense of preparedness and you will have begun a rewarding collaboration with your actors.


Overdo it. Many directors and Actors shun rehearsal as badly used it can kill the energy of the scene or send you down a road of over-indulgence where the message of the scene gets lost and muddy.Your aim is to prepare the scene so it is clear as to what is happening but will remain fresh enough to explore its subtleties in front of camera.
Unless the scene is action heavy, such as a fight scene or contains a complicated physical need, leave blocking until the day you are shooting the scene. You can prepare your general blocking and explore it with the actors but don’t force them into remembering it in advance.


Do enjoy it. Approached in the right way, rehearsal is inspiring, productive and most of all will give you greater confidence when communicating on set with your cast. They will appreciate the efforts you have made and feel a part of the team, and so they should.

Chris’ weekend Directing Actors explores these ideas and shows you how to implement them to enhance your directorial skills. More details here.



Chris Thomas has been teaching and developing film directing courses for film directing with Raindance since 2000, with a strong emphasis on storytelling and communications skills.
Chris learnt his key skills from acting and directing in the theatre where the focus was always on using limited resources and engaging the audience’s imagination; it was a natural shift for him into filmmaking.
As a teacher, Chris prioritises the clear communication and encourages his students to harness their individual talents through the methods he demonstrates. He first and foremost believes learning is a two-way process, and as a filmmaker, it never ends.
Recently, Chris has shot the teaser trailer for the psychological thriller, Dead of Winter and also short film Emma’s Last Date. He is currently in development with his dark comedy feature script, The Devil You Don’t.