Actors can sometimes be a challenge. Take it from me, sometimes I am one. But they don't necessarily have to be. Here are some common issues you will run into, and some ideas on how to handle them. The main rule is no matter what, stay humble, calm, confident, and generous. And everything is about respect. So with that, here are some of the challenges:
"I'LL BE IN MY TRAILER"
Divas. They suck. We know it. They... don't because they think they are the greatest thing to walk the earth. But that's okay.
Divas are divas most often because of one thing-
They think you're an idiot. And that's okay. For a little while. But the best way to get them to calm down and be a part of the team is to talk with them, discuss their thoughts on the character, humor them when they have bad suggestions, and stand up to them. This is Management 101. And this is where psychology really comes into play. You have to figure out WHY they are being a diva. You have to figure out what makes them respect people. And if you can figure those things out, you can typically go the other route with it.
A diva complaining about the dialogue being dumb might really be saying that they don't feel their character has enough of an interesting arc. Work with them to find one.
A diva complaining about the heat or the cold on set might be able to persuaded to find a way to USE it as part of their acting method. If you are shooting when it is supposed to be cold but it is 100 degrees, chances are EVERYONE is miserable. But all it takes is saying to them, "See, I actually love this, because it adds this whole new layer and complexity to what you are doing on screen. It's really resonating and making the character much more interesting." Playing to their vanity can oftentimes shut them right the hell up.
If they are trying to control the set or be the director, humor them by listening and maybe trying one or two things. Let them fall on their face. Or explain to them that whatever they are suggesting would totally destroy the character arc that they have established, and most importantly, their performance.
The best way to understand where being a diva comes from for each actor is to understand how to defeat it. If it is being a diva about their performance, make EVERYTHING you say in relation to that, and put everything you tell them or argue with them about in terms of their performance. But just remember, like I stated before, the actors are the professionals at creating characters, so sometimes, just sometimes, they are actually right about something in regards to that. So, do your best to hide your eye rolls, and then consider without bias what they have said. And then either indulge them, and if they are wrong, their fragile ego will be bruised and everyone will know it and they may be more malleable. If they are right, they may get more full of themselves, but the film will be better. And isn't that what you want?
If a diva is complaining about weather or temperature or making ridiculous demands, try the "building your performance" angle like I mentioned before. If that doesn't work, you can always point out that this is a team effort, everyone is in it together and working just as hard if not harder in the same conditions.
A great way to preemptively strike against this type of behavior is to, before cameras roll, make sure you announce with everyone there that this is fun, this will be your family and your closest friends during the time of filming, and this will be a set of respect and tolerance, no matter who you are. Say it all with a smile, compassion, and eagerness, and generally people will fall in line.
But if the diva treats someone on set badly, deal with the situation, don't let it happen again, make the parties settle their differences immediately, and move on and don't talk about it again. And if they continue, threaten or actually fire them. Because that is unacceptable, and that will shame an actor in ways they will struggle to recover from; emotionally, their confidence will be shaken, their ego will be bruised, and most importantly, WORD WILL SPREAD LIKE WILDFIRE. Chances are, most of you are on a somewhat independent scale, so the actors you'll be working with aren't quite A-list. If they are local, people will talk and their career will suffer. And even if they aren't, having that stain on their record (while not uncommon or impossible to come back from) can be fairly detrimental.
And if they are an A-list actor, find a way to gain their respect. I can't tell you HOW to do that, necessarily, but like always, be generous, confident, know what you are talking about and know when you DON'T know what you are talking about. That's the quickest way to gain anyone's respect on set.
"WHERE THE HELL ARE MY ACTORS?!?"
Sometimes, actors don't show up. Sometimes, they call right before they are supposed to be on set and say they are dropping out.
These actors... are unprofessional.
But then, so are some "professionals". And they are people. So we have to deal with this from time to time. Every now and then, there is a legitimate excuse; being hired for a job that starts right away, a death in the family, injury... But most often, its just that they were not committed.
That's why God made contracts. Or, at least a lawyer who thinks he's God did. If you have a table read... excuse me, WHEN you have a table read, schedule a time to meet independently after the read (same day, different day, whatever) that is far enough out from the actual shoot dates that you could find a replacement in time, and have them sign a contract stating that they are in your movie and agree that you only owe them whatever you promised them, whether it be pay or IMDb credit, or Twizzlers... whatever. I would recommend NOT putting anything in the contract about a failure to show clause, as this can become a bit dicey to deal with. Instead, make sure to include your proposed shoot dates and any other pertinent information you have that shows the actor you are fully committed to making this film. A lot of the time, actors' dedication to the film stems from their perceived dedication that YOU have for the film. The more you can show them it's happening, the better.
But that's all preventative. So what happens when you are already on set? Or just days away and you get that dreaded call?
Well, you can do a couple things. You can push forward, and try to rearrange your shooting schedule to include the people that might be available. If that's not an option, you can always recast. All if takes is becoming friends with actors on facebook or other social media outlets, and believe me- they will generally let people know they are an actor, that they are willing and available, and when they have auditions for films. But the easiest way to make life simple for yourself in that department is to google search for local talent agencies in the area, call them up or send an email, tell them of your predicament and the role and as many specifics as you can, and let them put the call out. You should get quite a few responses back, and generally very quickly. This can still be effective, even if the shoot is the same day as you have to handle all that.
But as a director, your job should be to discuss the solutions you like with your producer, UPM, AD, and anyone else that you would need to confer with, and let them figure out who is going to handle it. You personally shouldn't have to make those calls, even on a small set with a skeleton crew because if you are already on set, then you have an obligation to the actors and the crew waiting to shoot something. So figure out what you can do with what you have. And most of all, do your best to REMAIN CALM AND UPBEAT. Cast and crew feed off of your energy- whether it is positive or negative, and you will get back exactly what you put out. If you have a defeatist attitude, so will everyone else. If you act more like Braveheart, and have rallying cries, act confident about having a solution even if you are as insecure as can be, everyone will have confidence and trust in you. And THAT is how you get through this.
And last but not least, if it is a small role, and you can afford to do it, you can always stick someone from your crew in the spot. Or, do pickups or reshoots later. And if those aren't options, look at how you can re-work elements of the script to cut that character out. A one sided phone call with them? A moment for one characters introspection? A body double? There are all kinds of ways to get around this.
Don't panic, and be creative. And be FLEXIBLE.
50 FIRST TAKES
You know, that actor or actress that can barely remember their own name, much less a few lines written down on a piece of paper for them to say with emotion.
So, first, as in just about everything with dealing with challenging actors, you MUST do this- no matter how hard it may be to put your own frustrations aside- in order to keep balance and a happy set:
PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES.
Remember that while you as the director have a lot swimming around in your brain, so do the actors. But they don't have paper in front of them to reference. Think about all the things they have to remember. Where to look, how to look, where to move, how to breathe (as an acting method, not just breathing), and oh, yeah. Their lines. And many other things. I'm not making excuses for them. A good actor should come prepared and ready to work. But sometimes, scripts get changed. Sometimes, the syntax of dialogue is just so strange and unnatural the human brain has a hard time putting those words into the correct order. The way I always try to look at it is this- phone numbers. If you say it in XXX-XXX-XXXX form, you might be able to remember it pretty quickly. If you try to remember it XXXXXXXXXX.... it all becomes a jumble of numbers. Same with certain pieces of dialogue.
So if the actor is having difficulty over and over with the dialogue, its up to YOU and the script supervisor to find out why. Maybe its not clicking emotionally for them. Maybe they don't understand WHY they are saying what they are saying. And maybe, the structure is just so bizarre that there's no hope of anyone remembering it. So talk with the actor, walk them through the intentions, walk them through how it plays into the story, and have them rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. And if that still doesn't work, and you are losing time, then it might be best to explore simplifying the dialogue, unless it needs to stay very specific for story or character purposes.
So, how do you keep yourself from losing too much time and getting everyone frustrated? A simple approach is, if weather permits, give everyone a (by this point, much needed) 5-10 minute break, and the actor will feel the pressure fall off them, the grips and camera team will probably grumble but secretly be happy they can go get coffee, use the bathroom or scamper off and talk about how long you are taking behind your back, and everyone will be able to come back to the scene fresh and ready to go. The actor will have had time to go over the lines, without everyone standing around with their arms staring at the actor desperately trying not to waste their time, and in their flustered state of mind, doing exactly that.
Usually this helps. But it is really all about giving the actor what they need to get the dialogue right. And if that means shooting one line at a time, you find a way to do it. But always always always find a way to get it done.