Four Reasons Not to Rehearse

Why is there such resistance to rehearsals?

By Mark W. Travis

In the world of theater, rehearsal is all we have before we perform for the public. The rehearsal process is where all the trial and error happens, where we discover what will work and what won’t. The rehearsal process is where final decisions are made, where the characters and scenes are shaped and honed, where the pacing and rhythm of the production is determined. Or as Robert Altman, says, “The rehearsal process in theater is like the editing process in film.” It is where the final product is discovered.

Why then are so many film directors adverse to rehearsal? Why don’t more producers, production companies and studios pay their directors to rehearse?

They say:

It’s too expensive and there is no time.

The actors are not available.


Or worse:

If you’ve cast well, rehearsal isn’t necessary.


And the killer:

This is TV. It’s just not possible.


Okay, let’s check it out and see what we can do.


1.  It’s too expensive and there is no time.

If the only time a director rehearses with actors is during production, then yes, rehearsal during production can be very expensive. But directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Sam Mendes and Rob Reiner, who also come from theater, have demonstrated that rehearsal in preparation and pre-production absolutely saves time and money. It saves time because the actors and the directors are better prepared. It saves money because the less time spent exploring the scene, staging and performance, the more time will be available for shooting and capturing those performances. Compare the cost of one hour of pre-production rehearsal time (paying the actors and rehearsal room) to one-hour of rehearsal in production (paying actors, crew, staff and the cost of equipment and location). With well-run rehearsals in preparation and pre-production, you will elevate and enhance the quality of your work, the actors’ work and of your film. Why would you say ‘no’ to that? In fact, not rehearsing becomes too expensive.

What would happen…

if you could schedule one hour of rehearsal for every day of your shoot?

Imagine putting as much time into the preparation for these rehearsals

as you do for each day of shooting.


2.  The actors are not available.

Did you know that rehearsal is not just for the actors? It is equally important for the director. The director needs time to explore a wide range of choices for the scene: location, staging, pacing, as well as the interaction between the characters.

Did you know that entire film productions have been rehearsed without the actors who will be in the film? This is called workshopping. Workshopping customarily utilizes actors who have not been cast in the film. This gives the director the opportunity to experiment with every moment in every scene, explore different locations and variations in staging.

Workshopping a film during the preparation process is the most powerful rehearsal process any director can experience. It will solidify the film in the director’s mind. It will clarify possible casting ideas. It will generate subtle but important rewrites that are necessary for the clarity and effectiveness of the film. It is the most cost effective way to explore the material, risk free.

What would happen…

if you rehearsed every scene in your script with actors who will not be in your film? Imagine the discoveries you will make and the confidence that it will give you in your material and your vision. And here is something to think about:

What if a rehearsal full of failures is more valuable than no rehearsal at all?


3.  If you have cast well, rehearsal isn’t necessary.

So not true. The core of the story resides in the characters and their emotional journeys. The actor’s job is to embody these characters truthfully and deeply. Even the best of actors need to be afforded the opportunity to explore every scene in a safe environment before they go before the cameras.

It’s not enough to discuss the characters and the scene with the actors. It’s counter-productive to tell the actors how you want them to perform the scene. Your job is to ignite the characters that reside inside the actors so that they can emerge into an unscripted world.

There is rarely an actor who does not want to, or feels the need to rehearse, no matter how skilled and experienced they are. That said, some may be reluctant to rehearse, based on experiences they’ve had with directors who don’t know how to work with actors. This may be the real reason why rehearsals are not encouraged. Film directors don’t know how to engage with actors. Not their fault. Most film schools go all out teaching the wonders of technology and only brush lightly over how to work with actors.

We’ve all seen films with a cast of superb actors that still fall flat because there is no underpinning of three-dimensional characters engaged in relationships and activities that have been fully explored and realized before being put in front of a camera.


4. This is TV. It’s just not possible.

True, they will give you little time to rehearse and the actors are often not available. This does not mean, no rehearsal. It means you need to develop your rehearsal skills to the point where you can explore and stimulate the characters within minutes. It’s called High-Speed Directing. I’ll be writing about this in a future blog.

What would happen…

if you would put as much effort into learning how to rehearse and work with actors

as you do in learning about story, script, cameras, visualization and editing?

You owe it to yourself, to your actors, and to your stories.


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