I never really used to rehearse with actors. I always thought my films were too short and too simple to warrant a rehearsal time. I was also often too rushed to make any room for rehearsals.
I have since learned that rehearsals are needed. As many as you can squeeze in. Here's are some good reasons to put in rehearsal time:
1.If you have written your own script, a rehearsal allows you to hear how ridiculous your words sound out loud.
Sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised by the words you wrote coming out of an actor's mouth. Mostly, though, you will be cringing at how trite they sound. In a rehearsal you are able to change lines and alter sentences to make sense and explain to the actors what you actually meant instead of the complete rubbish on the page in front of them.
2.It allows you, the director, to guide actors through the flow of the text.
Sometimes just one sentence can trip an actor up enough to throw the whole scene off course. Just a few adjustments to words or grammar makes it that much easier for someone to read. You can also fine tune where emphasis goes on certain words and why. Most importantly though, it gives you some much needed time to bring out the best performance in your actors. As a director, that is really your job. It isn't to be in charge or boss people around, it is simply to guide a team to bring out the best of everyone's God-given talents.
3.You can play with blocking.
Use rehearsal time to try different movements. Place the performers all over the stage and see what happens. How does it change the dynamics of the scene? You won't necessarily stick with what you try in rehearsal on the actual shoot but it gives everyone involved some extra perspective and some insight into what not to do.
4.You feel more settled before the shoot.
Trust me, I would have been a much happier, calmer director on many of my short films, had I insisted on rehearsal time. Turning up on set with no knowledge of how the actors perform together and no time to try anything is a sure way to make your life harder. Hearing the text read through a few times, seeing the stage actions, even spending a few hours with the actors before the shoot makes you more secure and gives you more creative ideas for the actual day.
I am astounded at how many actors don't get to grips with the script. I think part of a director's job is to make sure the actors know their lines. From experience, I can tell you, that at least asking actors to read their parts over and over again, will eventually produce some memorisation. If you're in dire straits you can help them by showing them a train of thought, stepping stones in the dialogue that they have to get to, to make the scene work. Just as it is a teacher's job to try everything to get their student through exams with good grades, it is a director's job to try everything to get their actors to act this part and act it well.
5. On the day of the shoot you waste less time.
In theatre, actors can't really get it wrong on the day. If they do it really spoils the performance. Actors in theatre know this and make sure they learn their lines and moves accordingly. For some reason in film, there is an unspoken assumption that "it's ok to mess up because you can edit it out." That is true, but making too many mistakes on the day can add extra time onto a schedule that is already tight, and don't forget there will be lots of other setbacks going on. I recently directed a short piece and was so pleased that I could completely trust my two lead actors because they knew the text and their lines so well. So many practical things were going wrong that needed to be dealt with, I think it would have been ten times harder if their performance was rocky.
Often it depends on the actor and how much work they are willing to put it. I was really lucky in this last project but if you do end up with a less-than-eager actor, giving yourselves lots of rehearsals can produce a steady foundation for the shoot.
If you think about it, directing a performance is a most unnatural thing. You are asking people to come together for days on end, barely knowing each other, and tap into the deepest most vulnerable parts of human emotion. You are asking actors to trust each other, to trust you and to bare all before a small audience of crew they've never met, not to mention the hundreds or thousands of people who will watch them later. Not only watch them but have opinions. We barely speak to strangers on the street and yet we throw strangers together on a regular basis to create the stories we want to tell.
Rehearsals are at least, an opportunity to build up relationships which will allow you and your actors to get to know each other and more importantly, to build trust. That's what you're aiming for.
Trust me, rehearsals count for a lot.
Take a peek at my new video about 4 basic camera movements you can use in your films to help tell your story.