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An actor is a person who acts, or plays a role, in films, television, theater, radio, video games or even on the street. In addition to playing dramatic roles, actors may also sing or dance. A female actor is sometimes called an actress.

The first recorded case of an actor performing took place in 534 B.C. (probably on November 23rd, though the changes in calendar over the years make it hard to determine exactly) when the Greek performer Thespus stepped on to the stage at the Theatre Dionysus and became the first person to speak words as a character in a play. Prior to that, stories were told in song and dance and in third person narrative, but no one had assumed the role of a character in a story. In reverence to Thespus, actors are formally referred to as thespians. Theatrical myth to this day maintains that Thespus exists as a mischeivious spirit, and disasters in the theatre are sometimes blamed on his ghostly intervention.

In the past, the term "actor" was restricted to men. Women did not begin performing commonly until the 17th century. When they did the term "actress" was used. In the ancient and medieval world, it was considered disgraceful for a woman to go on the stage, and this belief continued right up until the 17th century, when in Venice it was broken. In the time of William Shakespeare, women's roles were played by men or boys, though there is some evidence to suggest that women disguised as men also (illegally) performed. Today, the term "actor" is frequently used by some to refer to both men and women, considering the term "actress" to be sexist. However, the term actress is still in widespread use.

An actor usually plays a fictional character. In the case of a true story (or a fictional story that involves a real person) he or she may play a real person (or a fictional version of the same), possibly him- or herself.


A director directs the artistic and dramatic aspects of a film. The role typically includes:
  • Defining the overall artistic vision of the film.
  • Controlling the content and flow of the film's plot.
  • Directing the performances of actors, both mechanically by putting them in certain positions (i.e. blocking), and dramatically by eliciting the required range of emotions.
  • Organizing and selecting the locations in which the film will be shot.
  • Managing technical details such as the positioning of cameras, the use of lighting, and the timing and content of the film's soundtrack.
  • Any other activity that defines or realizes the artistic vision the director has for the film.
In practice the director will delegate many of these responsibilities to other members of his film crew. For example, the director may describe the mood she or he wants from a scene, then leave it to other members of the film crew to find a suitable location, or to set up the appropriate lighting.

The degree of control that a director exerts over a film varies greatly. Many directors are essentially subordinate to the studio, especially true during the "Golden Era" of Hollywood from the 1930s through the 1950s, when studios had stables of directors, actors and writers under contract.

Other directors bring a particular artistic vision to the pictures they make (see auteur theory). Their methods range from some who like to outline a general plot line and let the actors improvise dialogue (such as Robert Altman and Christopher Guest), to those who control every aspect, and demand that the actors and crew follow instructions precisely (such as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick). Some directors also write their own scripts (such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino), while others collaborate on screenplays with long-standing writing partners (such as Billy Wilder and his writing partner I.A.L. Diamond.) Finally, certain directors star, often in leading roles, in their films, from Orson Welles to Woody Allen to Barbra Streisand.

Directors often work closely with film producers, who are usually responsible for the non-artistic elements of the film, such as financing, contract negotiation and marketing. Directors will often take on some of the responsibilities of the producer for their films (e.g. Steven Spielberg), or work so closely with the producer that the distinction in their roles becomes blurred (as is the case with Joel and Ethan Coen).

The official film directors' union is the Directors Guild of America (DGA).


Screenwriters or script writers are authors who write the screenplays from which films are made. Many of them also work as "script doctors," attempting to change scripts to suit directors or studios; for instance studio management may have a complaint that the motivations of the characters are unclear or that the dialogue is weak. Script-doctoring can be quite lucrative, especially for the better known writers; David Mamet and John Sayles, for instance, fund the movies they direct themselves, usually from their own screenplays, by writing and doctoring scripts for others.

Most professional screenwriters are unionized and are represented by organisations such as the Writers Guild of America.

Also see Screenplay.


Cinematographer, in origin 'cinema photographer'; one photographing with a motion picture camera. Generally equivalent to director of photography, used to designate a chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film, responsible for achieving artistic and techical decisions related to the image. The cinematographer typically selects the film stock, lens, filters, etc. to realize the scene in accordance with the intentions of the director. Relations between the cinematographer and director vary; in some instances the director will allow the cinematographer complete independence; in others, the director allows little to none, even going so far as to specify aperture and shutter speed. Such a level of involvement is not common once the director and cinematographer have become comfortable with each other. The director will typically convey to the cinematographer what s/he wants from a scene visually, and allow the cinematographer latitude in achieving that effect.

On some shoots, a director may assume the duties of the cinematographer, especially when shooting nude scenes or in other physically intimate settings where the director wishes to have as few people as possible present.

In some countries, cinematography is a unionized field; major guilds include the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) and the British Society of Cinematographers (BSC).

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