Being “directable” is one of the best qualities an actor can have. A directable actor is one who gets hired repeatedly. But this seemingly simple concept proves difficult to obtain for many actors, new and veteran alike. Let’s examine the proper way to take a note.
1. Set your ego aside
It’s human nature to get defensive. Acting is subjective and personal. Criticism can be hard to take when you’ve just split open your chest cavity in front of all your colleagues and friends and your heart is fish-flopping all over the floor. Obviously, the choices you made were made because they seemed right, and it can feel like a rejection of your skill to challenge them. The first thing to remember when taking a note is that it is not personal. Remember that theater and film are collaborative works. The note process is a vital part of communication between collaborative members. Your job, as difficult as it may be, is to set aside your personal feelings and try to do what is best for the project overall.
Though it may seem obvious, a great many actors skip this step. It’s easy to let your mind race ahead to questions, comments, or even arguments, and neglect to truly absorb the note being given. Clear your mind. You have just produced a lot of output, it’s now time to sponge up some input. Listen to the note.
Not every director speaks the same artistic language. Director’s notes are sometimes obscure, laden in emotional language or metaphor, or may seem more like opinions than actable directions. Take into account what you know of the director’s artistic communication styles, ask questions when you really need to, and always move in the direction of actionable tactics.
4. Skip the justifying
As tough as it is, no one wants to hear why you made the choice you made. Time is money, and often you won’t be the only one getting notes. So unless you are confused about the note being given, or see an immediate problem with it, just take the note gracefully and move on. If you need to talk it over, do so after general notes sessions, or ask the director to discuss at their convenience.
5. The Last Note Wins
Directors change their minds. They contradict themselves. You don’t need to point it out. Ask for clarification if you really need it, but most of the time you can apply common sense and social skills to glean the director’s intention. If all else fails, remember the most recent note wins, even if the director is contradicting their previous sentiments.
6. Keep things positive
No one, and I repeat, no one, likes an actor who sulks over notes. Remember that this is your job, it’s a professional environment, and while you don’t have to agree with the note, you do have to respect it. Just say “thank you” and write it down.
7. Avoid “over-noting”
This is a personal challenge I face. I’ve always prided myself on being able to take notes quickly and fully, but I have a tendency to overcommit at times. I’ll get so excited to try something new and want to please the director so much, that I will throw out previous choices and go to the extreme of the note. Notes are far more often tweaks than they are sweeping changes. They are meant to layer on to previous work, not negate it. Learn to keep what was working previously, gently extract what wasn’t, and season it all with the new note.
Taking notes quickly and gracefully is a skill all actors must work on. On set, especially, no one has time for an in-depth discussion. Adjusting to notes on the fly takes practice, confidence, and trust. Trust your director to see something you don’t. And trust your own skill to make it genuine and believable.