Toolkit For Directing Actors

Action Verbs

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 accuse
to admire
to admonish
to adore
to amuse
to annoy
to apologize
to appease
to applaud
to attack
to avoid
to bask
to beg
to belittle
to bestow
to boast
to brag
to brood
to brush off
to buddy up
to butter up
to cajole
to caress
to celebrate
to challenge
to charm
to check out
to coax
to comfort
to command
to confess
to confide
to confront
to congratulate
to convince
to cuddle
to defend
to deify
to demand
to destroy
to dis
to discard
to discover
to dismiss
to distract
to elicit
to embrace
to entertain
to entice
to erupt
to escape
to examine
to explode
to exult
to flatter
to flaunt
to flee
to flirt
to gloat
to grieve
to hide
to idolize
to ignore
to impress
to incite
to inspect
to instruct
to invade
to invite
to lead
to lure
to manipulate
to mimic
to mock
to mother
to mourn
to ogle
to overpower
to patronize
to perform
to persuade
to pester
to plead
to ponder
to pounce
to preen
to prepare
to primp
to probe
to protect
to provoke
to put down
to question
to reach out
to reason with
to reject
to rescue
to retreat
to ridicule
to savor
to scold
to scrutinize
to search
to seduce
to seethe
to shock
to show off
to sneak
to soothe
to stalk
to startle
to strut
to surrender
to tantalize
to taunt
to teach
to tease
to tempt
to test
to threaten
to toss off
to triumph
to ward off
to warn
to welcome
to withdraw
to worship
to yearn

Refer to Marina Calderone’s Actions: The Actor’s Thesaurus (book/app) for more examples.

Other Directing Strategies

Acceptable directions for actors that are not clarifying a beat objective through the use of an active verb include:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Directing the actor to “Keep it simple,” “Think it, don’t show it,” or “Listen to him/her, really listen.”
  4. Use FACTS. Facts are objective and help to clarify circumstances.
  5. Use SENSORY IMAGES (sight, sound, feel, taste, smell). Images allow the actor to use recall to make a situation real to them.
  6. 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.
  7. THE MOMENT BEFORE. What just happened before this scene takes place? How does that impact what is about to take place?

Don’t Ever…

  1. Ask for moods or results from an actor. Instead, clarify objectives and give active verbs to work with.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Tell an actor how his/her character should be feeling or give character judgments. Remember, all characters’ actions are justified to them, even and especially, “villains”!
  6. Use adjectives or adverbs when giving directions. Always use VERBS!