Achieving believable on-screen chemistry is not only about establishing a strong rapport with two actors in a scene but also focusing on finding context in the casting process. My approach is always very focused on finding actors with a unique and memorable screen presence that also translates and adds depth to the storytelling. Their part in the story needs to take the script to the next level, rather than state the obvious.
While there is an abundance of pretty faces that are captivating in their own accord, I always look for a certain spark or light that draws me to a person. I am intrigued by unique physical attributes over what may be viewed as cultural standards of beauty, freckles, or gaps in teeth, a quirk that both draws interest and reinforces memorability.
We screen test actors who have romantic scenes together whenever possible, but obviously, the pandemic made it a bit tricky with cast submitting videos and having live video auditions. This can be tricky to really see how they will interact when they are not in the same room because I really look for the synergy and spark they have together.
I tend to write backstories for characters in a spot, and I find that actors that are classically trained or have stage experience really thrive with this approach.
Telling a 30 or 60-second story can often prove to be incredibly challenging as a director. To help tell a fuller story for the audience, I work with the actors to outline what happens both before and after the action of the spot itself. Whether it is a backstory that runs years deep, or what happened 15 seconds or 15 minutes before the moment we’ve seen on screen, it helps me tell the audience a more complete narrative. My aim is to guide the viewer to the future trajectory of the story they are seeing.
Overall, it all comes down to ensuring that the actors have a dynamic screen presence during casting and really working with them to understand their backstories ahead of filming.
I am there to direct and guide as much as possible, but a lot of it comes from the chemistry they uncover during the process and their level of understanding of the script and character. As a director, I need to identify and amplify a moment, then develop something interesting out of it. Even if it’s understated.
There are certain aspects to getting the scene to work and finding the moment that is both visual and emotional - it’s never just one or the other. You have to take into account the personalities of the actors themselves and the characters they are portraying. There is no one-size-fits-all playbook. Sometimes it comes across effortlessly, other times you really need to squeeze it out.