An actor, who I directed at the academy a couple years back, Khalil Lowry requested I post on directing, what follows are some thoughts.
This topic has given me a chance to review and contemplate what I strive to do when I direct.
Funny enough, I realized something about my teaching. When working with actors to develop their craft, I apply some of the very same techniques as when I direct. The difference being that I don't consider my own specifics of theme and idea but rather I focus on the actors applying their sense of the story and instruct through analysis how to have that vision. With the strong belief that actors are not puppets.
Know the story better than anybody! Define an exciting and compelling analysis.
Know what you want to DO ultimately, what you want to SAY and what you want you & your audience to FEEL!
Be able to articulate that dream/vision to your crew, whether it be designers for stage or crew and post production for film.
Be open to contributions from your crew and cast. Really understand that you don't have to know how to do everything, you don't have all the answers, you need people who do know how to do what they do and who respect you enough to follow your lead. (Sound, grip, cinematographer, actor...)
Actors will give you their very best performance if they trust you and you trust them. When they trust you, you can push them out of their comfort zone to do something personal, making it their very own best performance possible. Include them, inspire them and challenge them.
In film, before and after each take, speak to actors first and be specific, no one trusts a bullshitter! It simply keeps them in the loop and feeling recognized and protected!
A perfunctory "Great work" is not reassuring. A short sincere specific appreciation or adjustment of their work will ease any tension/fear dramatically.
Be direct and honest, never cruel, snarky nor touchy-feely in your feedback.
Support each actor's process (whatever it may be) and put their fears in check. This simple sign of respect for your actor’s process aids in their ability to be free and give their most risky and personal performance.
Never tell them what you think their character should "feel", ask them what they want and why! If they're stuck, tell them to try an action you feel is right or completely wrong, shake it up.