Working with Actors: Getting the Right Performance

Applications Open!

Working with Actors: Getting the Right Performance

Sat, 11 Jun 2022 to Wed, 15 Jun 2022

Duration: 5 days
Times: 9.30am-5.30pm
Capacity: Max. 9 participants
Fee: £750 

“In all the years I have been directing fiction films I have rarely come across an actor who genuinely didn’t want to help me to achieve my vision. That they sometimes failed was as much to do with my failure to help them inhabit their characters as any inability or lack of talent on their part. So from where does this difficulty in communication come?

"The answer, I suspect, is rather simple. Those of us who have not taken the route to film making through the performing arts tend to take a lot of time and trouble dealing with and getting to know the hardware – the camera. We do this because, in order to learn the language of the cinema, it seems self-evident we should concentrate on mastering the principal tool of that language. Then there is sound, the sets, the colours, the costumes, make-up, prosthetics - explosions! – not to mention editing. All such incredibly technical and complicated stuff.

"And as for the actors, well, just what is the problem with being angry or sad, cool, happy or mad just like it says in the script? Why can’t they simply say the lines and move from one mark to the next without making a huge fuss?”

"That’s what this course will try to find out.”

Read Udayan Prasad's full introduction here

In this intensive 5-day workshop, director Udayan Prasad (THE TUNNEL, THE YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF, MY SON THE FANATIC) guides participants through the fundamental techniques for working with actors. Designed for directors with some filmmaking experience, but little or no involvement in the performing arts, the course looks at how actors are trained and the methods they use in order to inhabit their characters and bring them vividly to life. What directors far too often lack is an understanding of the specific needs actors have in their efforts to help the director achieve her/his vision and a vocabulary with which to communicate effectively with their cast. This workshop aims to address that deficiency by helping participants to develop means of communications that are both concise and effective.

In order to have a clear understanding of what actors require from their director, participants will fulfil the roles of both actor and director during the workshop, reversing roles with their fellow participants.

This exploration of the actor/director relationship will include:

  • What is ‘acting’? Participants will take part in practical acting exercises.
  • The actor/director relationship. Trust, Collaboration, Delegation.
  • The dangers of preconceived performance. Choreographing every single aspect of an actor’s performance versus the value of stimulating the actors' imaginations in their efforts to bring their characters to life.
  • The actor’s toolbox. What’s in it? And how do you ensure that the actor can use these tools effectively?
  • Actor’s Methodologies. Participants examine some of the different methodologies that actors use when preparing to inhabit their characters.
  • Giving notes to actors. The need for clarity and simplicity. How much information? When and how to give notes? Playable notes and the need for verbs.
  • The importance of the story. Everything begins and ends with the story: the imperative of seeing the world through the eyes of the character. What are the character’s objectives and needs? What are the given facts about the character in the screenplay?

The third and fourth days of the course will be spent in rehearsal/readings with professional actors in order to learn about their methodologies; how and to what detail they mine text for information that is essential in order to truthfully play any scene. This will be done with detailed analyses of scenes from existing feature films. On the final day participants will have the chance to put into practice all that they have learned in the course of the previous four days by directing professional actors in a substantial monologue. In addition, time will always be set aside for Q&A sessions during which participants will have the opportunity to ask actors about their individual working practices; what makes for a truly productive environment as well as discussions on casting sessions which mark the beginning of the actor/director working relationship.

By the end of the course participants should have acquired a richer, more informed understanding of how to communicate and collaborate with actors.


"I needed to learn more about directing actors, and this seemed to be the best course of its kind. From the moment the workshop started it was clear that we participants were in the hands of a masterful director who was at all times totally transparent about his experiences and his views on what made a great practitioner of directing films. The actors we rehearsed with were fantastically talented also. Working with them was a real highlight.  

I am making my first feature later this year and I feel that this workshop has changed the way I'm going to prepare, for the better. It's given me more tools to use as a director working with actors, but most importantly, I now feel confident about what my role as director fully entails. I'm totally looking forward to the process of making the film, rather than embarking on that process with a sense of trepidation. 

I was initially concerned about paying so much for a workshop, but I needn't have worried; my experience on this course has been invaluable."

2020 UPDATE: Oliver completed his film EYES AND PRIZE, and it is now available to stream on Amazon Prime. "I used what I learnt in this workshop as the basis for directing the actors; actioning, intentions, etc. This grounding was totally essential for me. It was a challenging thing to direct due to the dialogue heavy long takes involved but I'm happy with the end result and my work with the actors."

-Oliver, February 2016 

"I attended your 5-day workshop in the summer of 2011. I'd like to let you know that I'm now in preproduction of my first feature film HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM, co-funded by Slovenian film fund, co-produced with German & Croatian coproducers and HBO Europe. 

Your workshop gave me highly valuable knowledge that I practiced afterwards in many situation - from directing kids to non-actors, from fiction to documentaries. And I really felt much more comfortable and confident.

In my feature film I will work with an older actor who, in the 1980s, starred in three blockbusters with Jackie Chan. During a test shoot he told me that I really know how to direct. I've received feedback like this several times. So, once again many thanks for great workshop and giving me/us the knowledge to move on bigger projects.

-Ziga Virc, September 2013
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and screened at the 2016 BFI London Film Festival. 

Watch Udayan's TEDx Talk in Athens - Embracing the Unknown; a Filmmaker's Thoughts on X 

Tutor profile: Udayan Prasad, Director

Udayan Prasad has been directing documentaries, television drama and feature films since graduating from the National Film & Television School in 1983. His feature films include Brothers In Trouble, 1995, My Son The Fanatic 1997, and The Yellow Handkerchief, 2008. His television credits include 102 Boulevard Haussman, 1991 and Talking Heads 2: Playing Sandwiches by Alan Bennett along with They Never Slept 1989, Running Late 1992 and Femme Fatale 1992 by Simon Gray. His TV series credits include Silent Witness 2010 for BBC TV, two episodes of The Tunnel 2013 for Sky Atlantic and the grand finale of The Musketeers 2016 for BBC TV. He was lead director and executive producer on the first series of Selection Day 2018 for Netflix. 

When not actively involved in production, he is a frequent visiting lecturer on directing and screenwriting programmes at several film schools including London Film School and The National Film & Television School in the UK; The Wajda School in Warsaw, the National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź́́ and Gdynia Film School in Poland. He is also an advisor and mentor on various international directing and screenwriting workshops.