The road to Hollywood is paved with cheap indies. PDF Print E-mail
Written by dgeek   
Saturday, 14 April 2007 20:00
As and actor, how are you supposed to get work if you need work to get it?

In my previous posting I pointed out the need for a demo reel. Which is something that's a bit difficult to put together if you don't already have tape on yourself. When I started acting it was all about getting agents to the stage-plays you were performing in. Still not a bad idea, but it can be a hard thing to get an agent to answer your phone call, let alone get them out to your show! There are, however, a number of ways to get yourself noticed.

Here's how it worked for me; When I was in high-school I was approached by a fellow classmate, who had seen me in a couple of high-school plays. We teamed up to make a number of no-budget short films together. He and another friend handled the writing and directing, while I did the acting. We all shared the sweeping, gripping, lighting, sfx, driving and just about everything else. It was hard work, and it was far from glamorous. But before I'd even left high school, I had myself a nice little body of film work. Not only that, I'd learned a ton about how to work in front of the camera. Those early films helped ground me in the technical side of acting, before I'd even had my first "real" acting job. That director (Vincenzo Natali) went on to make Hollywood films like Cube, Cypher and Nothing. I ended up with roles in all of them. Through those early projects and the friends and contacts I made along the way, I ended up meeting a number of other aspiring directors who were only too happy to have a "seasoned" (16 year old) actor for their projects. Again, twenty (or so) years later, these are the directors I'm still working with!

While not everyone is going to be approached by talented young filmmakers (like I was fortunate enough to be) they sure can help make it happen! There are film schools, film departments, film classes and short film festivals everywhere. They generate all sorts of work for aspiring actors. Get out there and volunteer for projects. If they don't need you as an actor, then help them out on the shoot. Even if they "just" want you as an actor, help with the shoot. You stand a much better chance of getting hired (and hired again) if they know who you are and how hard you can work.

Or take it one step further - make you own film! Even if you don't plan on directing for a living, making a film is one of the most valuable experiences you can have as an actor. It's a great way to get a taste for being on set and, more to the point, it's a great way to get yourself some material for your demo reel. My money is where my mouth is on this! I've got a great well-paying gig on Stargate Atlantis and yet I spent my entire holiday (and bank account!) on making a low budget indie film called "A Dog's Breakfast"! You don't have to financially cripple yourself by trying to make a feature film, but for pocket change you could and should get some kind of video short "in the can". Write yourself a good part. Make sure it's a role that is suitable for your age, your "look" (Remember "Who the hell are you?" from my last article) and plays to your strengths. If you really think you've got something, don't just save it for your demo. Agents, producers and Film & television executives don't live in caves! More and more attention is being paid to successful, completely independent web content. If you've got something good to show, get it out there!

Going back to stage-plays for a moment: some people include video of their stage performances on their demo reel. I would strongly advise against it. I think that it's better not to have a demo reel than to have a bad one. Most of the footage of stage productions is awful. Even professional productions I see on local news suffer in video footage. Not a great way to strut your stuff. Why not get the cast together and shoot a scene or two as a short film vignette? Your fellow actors will probably jump at the chance!

If you look at the movie stars of today, for the most part, you're looking at the struggling independent film actors of yesterday. Almost every high paid movie star you see can be traced back to low budget independent films where their talent and determination shone through! I guarantee you that the careers of at least 80% of your favourite stars began by taking a chance on low, or non-paying roles in first-time or young director's films. Get yourself out there and connect with the directors of tomorrow, it's filmmaking in its purest form. There are a million websites for filmmakers out there, find someone in your area and offer to help on their next project. The indie and student films I've worked on (and continue to!) have not only lead to the best connections and had the biggest impact on my career, they are without a doubt the most exciting and fulfilling experiences I've had as an actor.

If you liked this article and want to see more, please spread the word and digg it!

David Hewlett has starred in numerous films and television. He currently stars as Rodney McKay on Stargate:Atlantis on the SciFi channel. He has just completed writing, directing and starring in A Dog's Breakfast which was sold to MGM earlier this year. David is available for "friending" via and his website

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Last Updated on Sunday, 15 April 2007 01:01