Film Acting Rehearsal

Good directing is balancing between the visual elements and the acting. The problem is that during the set, you don’t have enough time to try new things (time is money in filmmaking), so in the same way, you need to prepare for shooting, you need to prepare for the acting. Rehearsal is your way to be prepared acting-wise.  There is a theory that claims that rehearsing kills spontaneity, but the truth is that all big actors use the rehearsal tool. In this post, I’m going to give you some great rehearsal techniques while you’re directing your actors. Rehearsal is an essential part of film directing. The rehearsals are where most of the film directing is happening. Putting effort on the rehearsal stage will save you a lot of time and money on shooting. 

Why else acting rehearsal is important?

The movie Rehearsal is an excellent chance to:

  •  See how the crew members react to each other
  • To create your way of communicating with them,
  • and to learn each actor’s method of acting.

In many cases, after rehearsals are over, you’ll need to change things in your script, be open about that, tightening your script is always a good thing.

The rehearsal stage is also a great opportunity to take time. Once the scenes are well-acted, you should start timing them during rehearsals to avoid any length problems (especially if you are directing for TV). If a scene is taking too long, it might point to a problem in the way it is built.

There are many rehearsal Techniques. In the online course, Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking, Scorsese talks a lot about the subject and he gives great tips, that by following, you will feel a lot more confident on the rehearsal stage (which is very important when you direct actors). Start with this article, and if you really want to deepen your knowledge on the subject and on film directing in general, I recommend taking this course.

Choose your actor’s rehearsals method

The majority of rehearsal methods can be attributed to three types of rehearsals that try to achieve a solid interpretation of the script:

  • Table Read – The actors read the script together. This is giving the director an immediate sense of the emotional dynamics and tone of the story.
  • Role Discussion – The director and actors go through the script chronologically and discuss every scene in which the character appears. During a role discussion, the idea is to come to an agreement about how characters are created and why they behave the way they do.
  • Combination Rehearsing – This method’s purpose is to determine how the figures relate to each other. During combination rehearsals, all scenes that are relevant to the characters’ relationship and development are discussed.

How to prepare for the movie rehearsals?

If you read the lesson about how to audition for a film, you already know that you need to tell the actors right then about the time the rehearsals will take. When preparing for rehearsal, you must plan and set objectives for the rehearsal, otherwise, your actors will feel they are going nowhere and you are wasting their time. Before the first rehearsal, you need to decide, which scenes are a must and which ones you can skip.

Rehearsal is not only about rehearsing but also about preparing. It’s a stage where everybody can expose themselves. Everyone can share experiences that relate to the film. Rehearsal is all about discipline, but you need to make sure the atmosphere will also be the kind that will promote creativity and exploration of the characters and their situations. The first rehearsal is an excellent opportunity to check out the actor’s ideas. Encourage your actors to be creative and to try different approaches. This creative atmosphere can only be created if you’ll make them feel safe.



Before starting the rehearsal, both cast and the director, need to make their home works. They need to come to rehearsal when they all know:

  • The circumstances that push the characters to act in each scene
  • The backstory of their characters
  • The motivation behind each action of their characters
  • The beats of each scene

Start by breaking down each scene and action

The first reading needs to be with all the cast, and they all need to come with ideas and the biographies of their characters. Learning the lines is not important at this stage, but what is important is to make sure the actors are feeling comfortable with them. But as said in the last paragraph, you need to make sure before going to rehearsal that each one of the actors understands their character’s “drives” in every scene and they need to be able to express easily their characters’ motivations. Your actors must know what their characters want, what they need, and how they plan to get it. Even at the first reading stage, you should stop the reading from time to time and ask each actor what his or her character’s thoughts and feelings.

The actors also need to understand the subtext of their characters. The clearer the actors will be about the subtext of each line and action, the more precise their performance will be in every scene. You have to go through each line and action that each character do. Don’t stick to one particular subtext. The subtext can change throughout the rehearsal- that’s OK. You need to thrive to tighten the subtexts as much as you can.

Now you’ll need to play the full scene and then start to break it into beats. It would be best if you made sure that all the beats and what causes them are clear. The director and the cast need to separately analyze each scene and study where the beats are triggered, then in the rehearsal, you will discuss each scene and agree on where the beats are. 

After all the bits are clear, play the scene again and see how it looks.


When you give direction to your actors, talk to their characters, and ask them questions about it.
This will help your actor to stay in character.

Directing the actors in rehearsal

In the lesson about Directing Actors, I give some good tips for directing your actors and I really recommend reading that before you start rehearsing, but I want to talk here about how to correct your actors during rehearsals. Be honest- If something the actor thinks or does, doesn’t seem right to you, let him know. Don’t be afraid to criticize. There is nothing worse for an actor than to be sure he is on the right track and on the shooting day, to realize that he isn’t.

Fixing an actor’s work isn’t that hard. Make sure he understands the situation and his character’s needs and objectives. Also, make sure your directions are clear. Don’t say stuff like “Do it again, only much more angry/sad/crazy.” When directing actors, you should think about the actions that will describe what the character fills at the moment. Read the post on directing actors to understand the workflow with an actor fully.

Shooting the rehearsal

Doing rehearsals is all about coming prepared for the shootings. That’s why Some directors even like to shoot rehearsal (documentary style) in the locations of the set. Shooting the rehearsal is a great rehearsal technique because it will also help you think about the right shots for each scene. When you watch the footage you shot at the rehearsal; new ideas will come up.

Improvisation in rehearsal

Improvisation is one of the best rehearsal technique. Many directors like to be open to improvisations. I’ve talked about improvising in the post Tips for directing actors. Personally, I believe that there needs to be balanced between what is improvised and what is not. Improvisation gives you more options to work with. In the movie Waterfront, the part where Brando is pushing his brother’s gun away was an improvised gesture. That is a wonderful gesture since a great monologue from Brando follows it. There is no doubt that this small gesture helped the scene become one of the most classic scenes in cinema.

Improvising is great for understanding the script better

When to stop rehearsing?

Many actors and directors have a fear of over rehearsing. But as long as you have plans and objectives in your mind for the rehearsal, you will be able to stop it, just in time. Just keep on going back to your first plans and objective, to see if the rehearsals are on the right path. There is a rule of thumb that says you should have one hour of rehearsal for each minute of film, but that’s not really doable in low budget films, so it really depends in what you plan to achieve from it.  If an actor feels that you’ve been over-rehearsing a scene, it is your job to explain him or her that there is still more work, but don’t rehearse if the actors feel ‘worn out. Try rehearsing another scene, and come back to this scene later on. 


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