How I learned about making an independent film as an actor

My first love is acting so I took a lot of classes at Piven Theater Workshop in Chicago.
I got some head shots and picked up a book about auditioning, they don't teach you that in theater class. First thing you learn is, it's a business! You maybe a great actor/film maker but you must understand the business side too! Audition for everything because you never know, and always be flexible in your audition. If the casting director or Director is auditioning you and they say; "can you try it this way". I feel its not because you think your good or they want to know your range its because they want to know if you can take direction. Sometimes it not about how good you are as an actor. Can you work with that particular director for 15 hours? When your working with film students you will work for free but it's a great learning environment. Most of the time it's Meal and Reel, that's means no pay and you will get a copy of the film and exposure, sometimes you don't even get a copy. The best thing to do is watch everything, ask questions and never ever get in the way! If you see the DP at the crafty table not doing anything, which is rare, ask him why do you like this particular camera? Make it short. When you have finished shooting your scenes ask if you can stay on set, volunteer. Learn everybody's job from craft services to producer. Doing work with film students is great; you can build a great demo reel of your work and you can learn a lot about making films. Doing extra work in a feature film is a great way to learn too, just keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.
Hi dcaba,

Welcome to the forums.

I've been acting in indie film for around 15 years...the majority of the features and shorts I've worked on (non-union) has increased exponentially in the last three years. For some reason New England is bursting with activity--and I don't mean Boston. I've done over a dozen features (mostly leads) and loads of shorts.

I'd like to throw in a few pointers, in relation to what you've posted if you don't mind?

* It's good to get your ears wet on student films, but as soon as you've gained set experience, I would stay away from student films (unless the school is reputable, and it's a thesis project). I do not mean to bash student filmmakers...I'm simply speaking from one actor to the next. You will find much more quality work coming from production companies not tied to school.

* The same as student films, do your time as an extra, and get out. It's OK to do background on big budget sets to see how things flow an function...but background actors do not get the respect they think they do. Actors act...extras pretend. Sounds harsh I know...but it's true. You may get a chance to do a featured extra role which gives you the chance to perform, but for the most part you'll be a blur in the background. If you're doing it for the experience, trust me, you'll learn plenty of set experience on an indie set. Plus your goal is to learn to act, which requires you have a character with lines. I'm not at all putting down background actors...they are a necessary piece to any film. Most of us actors have done our time as background, but there comes a time when you must move on. And what annoys a lot of other actors is when background actors say stuff like 'I worked with Alec Baldwin on so and so...' And they leave it at that. Working actors know they are just background, but many extras try and pretend they are something they are not. Anyway. There are many huge discussions on forums around the net that go much more deeply into this. I'll leave it at that.

* If you're not getting fed on set, then the production company may not be worth working for. Nearly every respectable indie production company will at least feed their crew and talent. Unless you know the people, and they are your friends...maybe it's forgivable. Trust me, I've worked on many sets with friends where lunch or dinner is not provided...I'm doing it as a favor. But if it's a group of people I don't know, and I'm working a full day without food...I won't work for them again (after I've completed the current film of course).

* Always do research on an indie company. Yes there are many start-ups that have potential...but for the most part, a serious actor (who has experience) will only want to work with production companies that have previous work. So go online and find what they've may find that their previous short looked horrible and was a disaster--save yourself some time, and do your research. This is something you should be doing always...find the production companies online, find the ones that make good stuff, and stalk them (in a professional manner of course).

* Never be afraid to talk with people on set. They aren't any better than you. Just be professional and polite. Don't act like your so lucky your talking to the DP...if you have faith in yourself as an actor and human being...stand up for yourself. Just annoying person is an annoying person, on set or not.

* Do NOT join SAG at the first chance you have. Collecting three waivers as an extra and joining SAG is the death of so many actors. How do you expect to compete with the big dogs when all you have is extra work and high school theater on your resume? You can't. You'll be stuck with a weak resume and no experience. Don't go SAG until you absolutely have to. And when you do, I suggest you go to LA.

I'll shut up now. Thanks for listening to my jibba-jabba.
Last edited: