An action verb is transitive and requires an object. It is something you do to someone else. The following list is a starting off point for you to develop your own list of active verbs. “To be” is NEVER an action verb.
to brush off
to buddy up
to butter up
to check out
to put down
to reach out
to reason with
to show off
to toss off
to ward off
Other Directing Strategies
Acceptable directions for actors that are not clarifying a beat objective through the use of an active verb include:
- Do this scene AS IF you are __________ (e.g., in a funeral procession, on the floor of the stock market, at a prayer meeting, in a bread line, in front of a firing squad, etc.) Events are dynamic and spur the imagination, and actors’ imaginations are the best tools they have. Ask an actor to use “the magic if” and to find an event or relationship from their own lives they can connect to the character or situation imaginatively and emotionally. It is not necessary that you know it or that they share it with you.
- Asking the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHY, HOW, and WHEN questions. These questions clarify the circumstances, the super-, scene- and beat-objectives, the motivations, and the strategies of the character in an easy-to-understand format.
- Directing the actor to “Keep it simple,” “Think it, don’t show it,” or “Listen to them. Really listen.”
- Use FACTS. Facts are objective and help to clarify circumstances.
- Use SENSORY IMAGES (sight, sound, feel, taste, smell). Images allow the actor to use recall to make a situation real to them.
- Use PHYSICAL TASKS. Physical tasks are kinetic (energy in motion) and allow the actor to create a multi-layered approach as well as provide focus.
- THE MOMENT BEFORE. What just happened before this scene takes place? How does that impact what is about to take place?
- Ask for moods or results from an actor. Instead, clarify objectives and give active verbs to work with.
- Ask an actor to “bring it up.” Instead examine whether the stakes are high enough to motivate the behavior, and if not, raise them or use the “as if” scenario.
- Ask an actor to “bring it down.” Instead ask them to listen to their partner and not anticipate what is coming next or to keep it simple and respond truthfully.
- Give line readings to an actor. Remember, the line is unimportant. The motivation for the line is important. Make sure the actor is clear on what the motivation and objective is for the line and ask them to only think of that.
- Tell an actor how their character should be feeling or give character judgments. Remember, all characters’ actions are justified to them, even and especially, “villains”!
- Use adjectives or adverbs when giving directions. Always use VERBS!