How to direct game writers or actors

While at GDC, I attended a presentation by Hollywood director Mark Travis.  He covered such topics as staging characters and the environment, all relevant when writing or directing cinematics.  In the process, however, he revealed a great tip for talking to actors which can easily be applied to working with game writers.

First, I’ll set the stage, so to speak.  Mark brought up two actors who proceeded to read a scene from a movie.  While sitting and reading doesn’t lend itself to great acting in general, I’ve been to enough dramatic readings in Hollywood to know that their performance was a bit lacking.  I was wondering how he was going to address this issue, when he proceeded to give this little lesson.

Whenever an actor performs, it’s scary.  They’re taking a risk by letting it all hang out there.  The worst thing you can do after they’ve taken this risk is punish them for it.  The first thing out of your mouth should be a compliment.  By doing so, you make the environment safe for them to take even more risks. 

That alone would improve your relationship with writers and actors, but the next part is even better.  After the compliment, say, “You gave me a great idea of a new direction we can go in!  This time try…”  You’re basically saying “Change everything,” but the actor or writer hears, “You’ve inspired me… let’s take it further.”  Two words: Brill iance.

The actors, having had the secret of directing revealed to them, performed the scene again, unruffled.  I can imagine a writer would have done the same.

Have you found any good tools for directing game writers or actors?  Think this trick would work on you?

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Filed under Outsourcing, Writing

5 responses to “How to direct game writers or actors

  1. I went to that day workshop too, and it was more interesting to know it worked despite the actors knowing the trick, meaning don’t fob off this advice even if you think a compliment won’t be accept.

    I suspect it works in any part of the design too, from artwork to level design to whatever.

    I’m surprised since you went to it you’ve not done another post on it (except your GDC blog thingy).

    I now have more appreciation for actors, although they should note in games, great voiceactors go a lot further I think (at least, a step beyond staging), since many games fall down despite excellent animations, scenes and scripts, on the failings of the voices that read them. Shame it costs a bundle and is a very difficult aspect of the system!

  2. I do think the workshop was useful in that it showed people that different staging will give different perceptions of the situation and the characters.

    For practical and cost reasons (which you alluded to), I don’t believe a voice director is going to get as much time as was seen in the workshop to rehearse with actors (especially well-paid ones). Often times, you don’t have all of your actors in one session.


  3. Which is a real shame, and leads to some shameful recordings. I wish everyone would concentrate more on the voicework – which is more practical (the players hear it!) and needs more work (trust me…), then having a few, nicely “acted” cutscenes, especially in fully voiced games where the amount of time in cutscenes is a tiny fraction of the overall play time.

  4. Craig Nebalski

    I don’t see the need to baby the actors/actresses. They are (hopefully) professionals, trained to be directed and to take criticism.

  5. Is it babying, or simply common courtesy, and a bit of psychology, to make everyone’s day happier? I’ve witnessed this work with talent and go far in getting the performance desired, and a better result.

    On the other hand, I have watched a director come back with “That sucked!”…. and effectively lighten up a stage, and actually make everyone more comfortable.

    The important thing is that there IS a director… and ACTORS. And not just a game producer, and his buddies.


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