Getting Your Film into Festivals


So you made a short film, and now you have no idea what to do with it. You probably want it to be seen in theatres, with an audience, otherwise you have a really expensive youtube link to send to grandma, who will like it no matter what.

If you do a quick search on Withoutabox and Fillmfreeway (the only two film submission websites), you will see thousands of film festivals, from the smallest film festival in the tiniest town, all the way up to the most famous, most recognized, huge film festival markets (Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, etc.). Where do you start? What festival is right for you? How much money am I going to spend on submitting, and is it worth it? Which festivals should I go to if I get in?

I have two films making their New York premieres at festivals this week. The first one is “Vacation Rental,” which is premiering at Newfest in New York City (top tier LGBT festival), and the second is “Sins of the Son,” which is premiering tomorrow at the Adirondack Film Festival in Glens Falls, New York (amazing smaller festival that is all about treating the filmmakers like royalty-hotels, breakfasts, swag bags, the whole deal).

For my first film “Hide/Seek,” I spent about $1000 on festival submissions, at around $50 average a pop (some festivals are $20 to submit a short film, some can be just around $100). I submitted only to festivals I had heard of without doing any research or knowing anything about what they program, what they focus on, and what they have shown in the past. I just thought “hey, I like my movie, so everyone else is gonna like it too” without any consideration for genre, running time, festival location, etc. Lesson learned. It got into some festivals, got nominated for some awards, and was a fun experience. But I went about it all wrong.

I’ve also been to film festivals where there are like four people in the audience, and those four people are the other directors of the shorts in your block. Good times!

Vacation Rental Laurels Square Space Horror 09_25_18.jpg

For “Vacation Rental,” the second film I wrote and directed, I wanted to learn from my mistakes and be smarter about how I approached marketing it. As I wrote it, I decided to reverse engineer it to the film festival market (everyone wants laurels, right?). I wrote the film to be under 15 minutes (other people’s advice), with a simple story, one location, made it genre specific (horror, lgbt), tossed in some nudity, I hired a consultant to draft a list of 10 film festivals it was right for, and I submitted only to those. I created a website and an instagram, and built followers. I focused on 2nd and 3rd tier festivals in the horror and lgbt genre (specifically “short film festivals”, focused only on ones close by that I would actually ATTEND for networking purposes) researched the film festivals before I submitted, looked at the kinds of films they scheduled the year before, and submitted to the ones I thought would be perfect. Some were accepted, some were not. For every “official selection” email, there are four or five “Unfortunately you weren’t accepted blah blah blah we love your film blah blah blah.” Rejection sucks. I wanted to write back “I hate your ass face,” but instead said “thank you,” as I will most likely be submitting another film to that festival in the future.

But you know what’s really cool? When you do get into a bigger film festival and you see the film you wrote and directed up on a huge screen in front of a lot of people. There is no better feeling of accomplishment. All the blood, sweat and tears, and now you get to sit back and watch it with other people.

Over the last four years, I have experienced all sides of film festivals, the good, the bad, the waste of time, the overhyped, and the excitement and rejection involved around getting in.

So here is my advice as you begin your journey to create your own work:

  • If you are writing a short, keep it under 15 minutes. If you go over 15, it’s harder for a festival to program it, as they would prefer to program a bunch of shorter films in a block as opposed to one long film

  • Add a line item in your budget for film festivals. Should be between $500 and $1000. The whole point of doing a short is to get it seen, right? Don’t skimp on this.

  • Target festivals that have programmed shorts like yours in the past. But be smart. There are tiny film festivals where your film will play in front of only 4 people, and bigger festivals that are all about filmmakers and audiences, that are great at promotion, will do q&a’s, meet and greets, parties, and even put up all filmmakers in a hotel. How do you know? Go on the submission websites, look at “100 best reviewed festivals” and things like that. You don’t have to shoot for Sundance.

  • Submit mostly to film festivals near you. This is important for networking. New York has dozens of festivals. Why submit to Chicago unless you are going to actually go (they don’t pay for airfare, although sometimes festivals pay for hotels, which is cool). You want to go and network, and invite people you know (agents, friends, other filmmakers), and keeping it local is the best for this.

  • What is your goal? Is it getting “Official selection” laurels, or is it to win awards? If you want to have a better shot at awards, target very small festivals, as they tend to give lots of those out. Sometimes they give money and prizes to the winner.

  • Create a website and social media handles for your film. When you submit, this makes a huge difference, as the festival programmers will look at these.

  • Design an amazing poster for your film.

  • Plan on spending a year and a half or more on this short film, from pre-production, to post, to doing a festival circuit. Your actors may work for two days, but you will be with this project for a long time, so make sure it is a project you love and want to do.

Here are some websites and books that I find useful:

“Film Festival Secrets” by Christopher Holland.

“No Film School” podcast

Good luck!!!!


This is Why Your Self Tapes Suck


I’ve had many actors book tv and film jobs off of self tapes.   I’ve had even more actors send in dozens of tapes (hundreds?), only to never hear anything.   In the casting world, it’s easy to ask anyone and everyone to “send in a tape” from wherever they are, and weed out the ones you want to bring in the casting room for one of their precious audition slots.   Self taping is becoming more of a “pre-pre-read,” and it allows casting directors to open up a wider net, to scroll through the videos on their computer or phone whenever they have time (sometimes the director is looking too—wink wink), to decide whether an actor is good/right for the role after only hearing a few lines (as opposed to several scenes in the room).    Sometimes your slate is all they need to hear to decide “Nope.”  

This is why it’s more important than ever for you to be firing on all cylinders when you send in a self tape, whether it’s through a self-submission, or through your agent and manager.   I mean you need good lighting, sound, acting (duh), choices, be “camera ready,” understand tone, be prepared and memorized, have a strong point of view, the whole deal.  It should be as if you are stepping on set.   These little .mov files are everything.  Get. Good. At. It.  Don’t put mediocre work out into the world.  Treat every tape like it’s being seen by Martin Scorsese. Seriously.   ESPECIALLY if your agents and managers are watching it.  How you do on your self tape shows them how good/bad you are at auditioning, which directly results in how hard they push you to get into the room.  You feel me?

I am by no means a casting director, but have been on the receiving end of hundreds of self-tapes, both through directing a few short films, asking actors to show me their self tapes, being a coach all these years, and asking agents and managers their thoughts.    Let’s fix this, shall we?

Top reasons your self tapes suck:

1.  The Slate From Hell.   You know those “Actor Slate” things on Actors Access?  You can tell an awful lot about someone from just having them look into camera and say their name.  Don’t be crazy.  First impressions are everything.   You either seem like a nice, friendly person you want to hang out with on set for a few weeks, or you look like you strangle cats in your backyard.   For fun. On Sundays.  Just be normal.

2.    Lack of Prep.   Treat this like you are walking into a screen test.  You know how they say your eyes are the windows to your soul?  Well, your eyeLIDS are windows to… well, sucking (oh snap!).  The more you look down at your script, the more you put up a wall, and the more the viewer drops out.  If you aren’t connected, how can you expect the viewer to be?  This is one of the few things you CAN control.  Don’t drop the ball.  Don’t give them a reason to skip over your tape.  Memorize your script, but have it in your hand.   Be so familiar with the scene that you can really listen and connect to the reader.    Grab the viewer by the *&*% and hold their attention.  It’s crucial.   The most important parts of a scene are the little moments between the lines, where the thoughts form, the discoveries happen.   That is when most actors look down to grab their lines.   So.. no more of that, cool? 

3.  Hot Mess.  Why you look so tired?   Maybe comb your hair?   You should look like you are stepping onto set—hair, makeup, wardrobe, the whole deal.   Not that you are just returning from an all night bender with your 80 year old roommate.   Get some rest, put on some foundation (you too, guys), wear clothes that fit you and colors that flatter you.  It matters.   Always remember that someone else will be putting in more effort than you, will be hitting up Drybar the second it opens, and will be going to the Mac store to find some “male foundation.” (just me?)

4.     Blair Witch Lighting.   Chill with the overhead lighting, the iphone flashlight lighting, and everything else that makes you look like you murdered your best friend.    A properly lit tape makes the casting director WANT to watch you, because it lights up your eyes, flatters you, gives you dimension, and takes out all of those crazy shadows.   Look up 3 point lighting on Youtube.   Play around with it.   

5.  Your Reader is Loud and Sucks.   Love you, mean it.   You need to have a lavalier microphone that sticks onto your shirt and plugs into your camera.  Please?  Buy a $25 dollar one on Amazon and plug it into your iphone.  Good sound fixes a lot of things.  Bad sound makes a nice looking video unwatchable.   I know your mom/roommate/sister/best friend was an extra on All My Children 10 years ago, but if they are standing right next to the camera, they need to chill with the shouting.   The focus should be YOU, your ACTING, your CONNECTION, your EYES, not the wild animal that you are reading with.  

6.  Handmaid’s Tale Framing.  You know how they shoot actors on Handmaid’s Tale, and put their closeup in the lower left corner of the screen?  Awesome on that show.  So good. So bad in your tape.  So bad.  Keep it simple.  A nice medium shot, chest or shoulders up, with you in the center, a little room above your head.  

6.  Cheap things you need to have.   Soft box lighting, lavalier microphone, tripod, iphone tripod adaptor clip, gray or blue sheet for a backdrop, editing software (iMovie or Final Cut Pro), a friend who never gets tired of reading with you, and some good pomade.

Think of it this way: A breakdown goes out for a small scene in a big film.   Every agent and manager in town submits their clients for it.    Let’s say they receive 2,000 submissions.   Of those they ask 100 actors to send in a self tape.  Now switch sides and imagine you are the casting director.  Let’s say you are watching 100 tapes of people saying the SAME LINES.   50 won’t be memorized enough, 10 will have bad lighting, 20 bad sound, 15 will look like they just stepped out of a hurricane, and 5 will have it memorized, coached, professionally lit, have great sound, BE RIGHT FOR IT,and give the casting director/producer/directors no choice but to hire you.     The production value will be terrific, and people will all want to watch your tape.  

See what I’m saying? Now don’t go sending me emails saying how the “Stranger Things” guy sent in a self tape while he was sick in bed. Kay?   




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Lessons from casting my new film "Sins of the Son"

Last week we finished casting my new film “Sins of the Son,” which I’m directing in a few weeks in Lake George, NY (yay!).   This is my fourth time directing a short film, and every time I do it I learn more about actors, and what they need to bring to the table, as well as what matters and doesn’t matter.  After going through the casting process, I asked my friend Nicholas Baroudi (who cast the film, and is producing and starring in it), to write a special blog post for actors.  Attached is the full post, with my thoughts added in bold.  Enjoy!   You can follow the making of our film on instagram at 



A mandatory disclaimer right from the beginning must be, I'm not pontificating. I'm not a Casting Director (we couldn’t afford one).I'm just a guy with a script and a finite budget, doing what needs to be done to make the best work I can. If any of this is useful to you, great. If not, I get that, too. 

What I in fact am, is an actor and the writer of this particular story. And I am also, an exceedingly fortunate first time filmmaker. Right out of the gate, I got to begin this journey by collaborating with my close friend and coach, Matt Newton, who's association and reputation, lent an aura of professionalism and industry excitement to the project. There's a good probability that you won't have that good fortune in your first creation, but what you can do is make sure you're joining forces with someone you respect, admire, and want to take this journey with. In that decision, you will find fulfillment in every day of your work. It is far and away the smartest thing I've done.

And then my fortune grew; because after only targeting Manhattan via Actors Access, I was besieged with nearly 1,500 submissions from the most talented actors in the world....for one a SAG Ultra Low Budget Short...shooting 4 hours away. (If you're looking to feel flattery, humility, pride, vulnerability and knee buckling fear all in the same moment, good news, it happens in an instant when you send sides to these decorated talents.).  We also put the breakdown out to agents and managers, and received hundreds of submissions there, too.  Some agents don’t even bother submitting for a small project like this.  I understand the agents make like no money on this, but I know lots of actors at those agencies who would kill to do something like this.  

*Additionally, we received a few hundred submissions for the lone supporting role.  As some agents told me, “good male actors in their 60’s to 70’s are hard to find.”   Some self taped, and some were “offer only.”  Some couldn’t even figure out how to upload their video to Eco Cast.  Times have changed!

I then settled into the work and joy of reviewing headshots, resumes, and reels; and scout's honor, I reviewed every last submission I was sent. Why? Because you deserve that much from a peer. It's my blind hope that when I send my materials out into the casting abyss, that someone will take the time to truly consider me. Regardless of my name, or agent, or who I'm related to, or how many social media followers I have. (It's not many and I couldn't care less) I'm an actor, not a marketing tsar.

But this is all a long story for another time and venue. (If you think this is long winded, you should read my script.) Here are a few of the more stark observations and realizations I absorbed.


  • If you add a note that you know the casting to actually know the casting director.
  • If there is something in the breakdown that is unclear or confusing to you; a glib comment addressing it is not the most advantageous tactic. (If you're snarky in your job application, what are you going to be like in your twelfth hour of shooting?)
  • If I'm casting a 30-40 year old female, I don't want to see a 40 year old man who's suggesting that I'd be better off casting him. (Yup, I remember your name, and it's not the way you want me to.)
  • I intentionally stayed out of this part of the process, as I wanted Nick to choose actors who he saw as fit for the story he created in his mind a long time ago.   I knew I would come in to the callback and really work with the actors in the room. 


  • Again, only my personal opinion, but I have to say it was nice to realize that your headshot is not as critically vital as your skill set. I feel we've been made to feel that the key to success in this business is a majestic, all serving and astonishing headshot....It's not. Yes, it was important, but you are all professionals; your judgement won't betray you when contemplating if you need the $2,000 guy. You don't.
  • Make sure you actually look like your headshot. I know vanity can play tricks on us here, and we want the best looking shot we can get, but there were multiple instances where I didn't know which actor was the applicant in their own reel.
  • There were many headshots that were uploaded sideways, and we still received black and white headshots.  Um…  
  • I’m a big fan of the “Slate” shot now, as that is the easiest way to see if someone a) looks like their headshot, b)  does or doesn’t have an accent and c) is or is not crazy.  You can tell a lot by a two second clip of someone saying their name. 
  • Demo reels are interesting, because sometimes you can’t even tell which actor you are supposed to be looking at.  I personally would rather click on a quick clip of a self tape, where it’s well lit, sounds good, and is focused only on the actor I’m considering. 
  • All actors need to have video on their profile!!


  • I know first hand how difficult it can be at times to get a fellow actor as your reader, or to secure a slot for an A+ tape at MN. No need to despair; if you're having a non actor read opposite you, my advice here is to direct them to read it as plainly/nonchalantly as possible. Many non actor readers were drawn into trying to "act" out the words. God bless them, they went full tilt, but it could be quite distracting from the actor auditioning. I want to focus 100% on you for those few minutes.  A simple lavalier mic is a good fix for this.
  • I'm about as technologically advanced as an abacus. I've often taped in insecurity, knowing my friends have home studios that rival a sound stage. But here it is: Make sure you're framed well, in HD, I can hear you, and just bring it. Everything else goes away when it's you and your take on the character.  If two actors are up for the same role and are equally good, the better quality self tape always wins.  It just shows me that this actor is more serious about their career, and that’s someone I want to work with.  


  • This seems so elementary and mind numbingly obvious, but I'll say it because multiple actors didn't do it. Be on time, take direction, enjoy it. It's your audition. It's your time; in the preparation and in the room. You are giving us just as much or more as we're giving you. You deserve to be there, we want you to be there. Let it rip.  We gave our actors free reign with the character in the callback.  We didn’t have a set idea in mind, and wanted the actors to “show us who the character is.”  I think that’s a general note for actors walking into any audition. Use it as a chance to “give,” not to “get.”  Play, play, play, and bring your personality to it.  When seeing a lot of actors reading the same lines, personality is what makes the tape stand out.  That’s your fingerprint on the scene.


  • I have to acknowledge something because you are either already an MN client or considering it. These actors were in large part, the standard bearer for the complete package, professional actor.  Yup.
  • Incredibly prepared with the material. Strong character choices. Great self tapes. Punctual. Spontaneous and free in the room.  Yup.
  • All of the things I would have to imagine that full time CD's and Producers and Directors are dreaming of.  Word.

Thank you to everyone who shared your time, work, and talent. I am immeasurably grateful to you for making this passion project a success through your participation alone.

Finally, and I'm sure most of you know this and operate with this understanding, but for those who may have forgotten, I'll conclude by sharing this: We witnessed dozens of stellar, impossibly great auditions. We would be beyond lucky to have any one of these elite artists on the team. So please remember to trust yourself, trust your work, trust in your talent. Not getting a job is not an indictment on your work. Keep showing up. Keep putting the bat on the ball. Your time is coming.

The hardest part was having 24 girls come into the callback for the lead role, all knock it out of the park, and we can only give it to one girl.  That means 23 girls who were amazing DIDN’T get it, which is heartbreaking. How is it not “enough” to be an amazing actor?   This is one of the things that I still think about on a daily basis.  But guess what?  Each of those 23 actors will always be in the back of my mind when I work on my next project (and I plan on doing many).   They will be the first ones I bring in.   

Now let’s go make a movie!


Matt Newton & Nick Baroudi




Why Your Self Tape Auditions Need to be Better

We have to start stepping up our game with self-tapes.   I've been seeing so many bad ones lately.   It's not your fault, it's just nobody ever seems to talk about what it needs to look like, sound like, how to upload and compress it, and to do it all in a short amount of time.   They just expect you to figure it out!  I've written about this before, and I think it needs a revisit.

It's not enough to just send in something on your iPhone anymore.   Self taped auditions are becoming the norm, not the exception, and casting always expects them fast, professional, and showing the actor doing their best.  Which is VERY hard when you have 15 pages to memorize and tape by the next morning, and have no access to good equipment.  

If you don't know how good it can be, or why it even matters, try sitting down and looking at 100 self tapes from actors in a row.   It's very eye-opening.  Trust me, I've done it.  When the quality is bad, it's unwatchable (no matter how good the actor is).  I'm talking bad overhead lighting, and weak sound (no shotgun mic or lavalier mic), just a loud reader (aka your roommate or mom) standing behind the camera overacting the hell out of the scene.   When the quality is good, and professional (nice lighting, focused on the face, flattering, and the actor can be heard clearly), you WANT to watch.   Hopefully the acting kicks ass too, and the actor looks like they are stepping onto set (memorized, present, listening, hair, makeup, wardrobe).   We always gravitate towards something that looks like it has high production value and looks great.   That's why actors usually start off their demo reels with the bigger budget scenes.  It looks professional, they look like they are on set (cause they are), and we see that they take the work seriously.  Why present a tape that looks like a bad student film? It makes you look amateur, and there's no room for that in this business.

This is why your self tape auditions need to be better.   Because the next actor who has the same audition as you will be more memorized, more camera ready, and will take the time to make a more professional self tape.  So why wouldn't you?  Why would you just half ass it?  I've done self tapes that are sent all the way up to show runners and network executives, and I have seen actors book from tape (and even screen test from tape).  You don't even always have to be in the room anymore to test for a pilot!   You know what doesn't book from tape?  A shaky iPhone video with a pre-recorded voice reading the other lines on your computer off-camera.   It just sucks, and doesn't paint you in the best light.

But here's the other side of the coin.   Now that self tapes are so important, and so common, this means that your agent and manager are also getting to see your work as well, before they send it off to casting.   Your tapes are a direct reflection of what you are doing in the room.   Do you look tired?  Are you not memorized enough?  Are you not listening or connecting?  I've seen too many tapes have to be redone because of these things (which are totally in the actor's control), and it doesn't look good for the actor who didn't take it seriously enough.  Agents and managers take notice, and it makes them more reluctant to trust you.

There are many things outside of an actor's control, but this isn't one of them.  If you get a "self tape audition" for a job, why wouldn't you give it your all, and cover everything you can on your end, be as professional and prepared as possible (as if you were stepping into a producer session), and blow them away with how great you are on tape, and what a great actor you are.   Don't you agree?   

Self taped auditions are new pre-pre-read, meaning casting directors are deciding who to bring in for their few precious spots based on self-tapes.   This means you need to level up, understand the game, and also put yourself in their shoes, and imagine what it seems like when they scroll through hundreds of tapes (sometimes thousands for big open call castings).   The first 5-10 seconds matter, both in the acting and the production value.   Don't give them a reason to skip over your tape that you put that all that work into.   



Get Off Your Ass and Create Your Own Work

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I'm currently coaching on the set of a very popular show, filming out in Montauk for the week.   Yes, I'm bragging.  I'm talking big budget--green screens, stunts, well known actors, beautiful locations, incredible food, the most expensive cameras, equipment, lighting, "do as many takes as you need," and a crew of about 100.   I spent most of my day sitting around, doing some coaching, observing, and asking lots of questions about lenses, cameras, and watching how all of these insanely talented people come together to make a small scene come to life in an extraordinary way.  


On the opposite end of the spectrum:  A week ago I was on the set of "Vacation Rental" on the opposite coast (Palm Springs), a short film I wrote, directed, and starred in.   The budget was $15,000 (all crowdfunded--thank you!), with 3 actors, a crew of 5, a free location (the director's house), a 3 day shoot (12-14 hour days), and some chicken salad and peanut butter for meals.   This one was way more fun.  Everyone took on about 5 different jobs, and there was no sitting around and waiting.  Money was burning, actors were getting tired, we were losing light (and patience), and I wouldn't change anything about it. 

So what's the point of all this?   Why bother creating your own work?   Well, unless you are one of the lucky people who gets cast on network TV shows all the time, you are going to spend a lot of your time sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, hoping to get an audition for one line on a TV show.  Thousands are submitted, 10 are selected to read.   Do you want to spend your time competing with those odds?   


I've been listening to this amazing podcast lately called "Off Camera with Sam Jones," which I highly recommend.   They interview writers, directors, actors, and they discuss the process, and the importance of putting your own work out there.  Listen to the one with Mark Duplass.  Here is the link.  Then listen to the one with Matt Damon and Vince Vaughn.  They all put their own work out there at the beginning of their careers.  They weren't getting the jobs they wanted, so they created the work themselves.  

What are you waiting for?   "I'm not a writer."   Neither am I.  But I have IDEAS, and I put them down, and I tweak them until they make sense, invoke a mood, and have a story that I WANT to tell.  We have all read scripts, we know what we like and don't like, what sucks and doesn't suck.  


With a short form narrative (a short film), it doesn't need to have a 3 act structure.  Keep it simple, keep it interesting, and do something completely weird and nuts that hasn't been done before.  Go further than what you think is okay (you can always pull back in the edit).  Learn to wear a lot of different hats.  Learn about lenses, about aperture, about directing actors, about how editing can change the pacing of the scene, learn about lighting a scene with practical lighting, learn about types of shots, and educate yourself on all sides of the business.    As Mark Duplass says, "Don't be precious.  Be prolific."  All your work might suck, but keep putting it out there, keep getting better, and keep learning.  

There is nothing more satisfying than coming up with an idea, writing it down in a short narrative with a few scenes, raising money for it, producing it, hiring a crew, directing it, casting it, and starring in it.  Sound difficult?  It's not.  You just have to get off your ass and be diligent about getting it done.   Spend 10 minutes a day writing.   Show it to your friends, read it out loud with them, write about what you know.   Push the envelope.  What is the story that only YOU can tell?   

Once you have a solid 5-10 page script, raise money and film it.  How?  Crowdfund.  I have done this three times very successfully through Indiegogo.   You don't need much.   For $1000 you can do something pretty special (and offer awesome perks), but you will need to call in a lot of favors (do any of your friends own a Red Camera?), and for the love of god, surround yourself with people who want to learn, who know their shit, and can make your film better.   You need quality control, and you need someone to show you the ropes.   You need to make something LOOK amazing, even though you don't have the money.  You need to know how to cheat, have great sound (always spend money on a good sound person), use the right cinematic lenses, rent the right camera for the look you want, come up with an amazing shotlist (most of which you will throw out the window during filming).

So you filmed it and now it's in the can.   Now what?  Submit to festivals?   Sure.  Do it all over again?  Yes.   Take everything you have learned and start all over, now with more knowledge.  Learn by doing.  Become an expert.   You will be a better actor by going through this process.  You will learn what matters and doesn't matter, and it will trickle back down to the audition process.  As actors, we worry so much about what THEY are looking for, when truthfully, you spend enough time on these sets, and you realize that you are a small part of a huge picture, and directors have a lot of other things to worry about, so just DO YOUR JOB, have fun, and let it go.  It's not about you, it's about the whole universe that's being created.   It doesn't have to MATTER so much.   

As actors, so much is out of our control.   By creating your own work, YOU decide how it's going to be done, YOU decide when you are going to be on set, YOU decide what world you are trying to create, and you get to make a lot of the decisions that are so satisfying, so rewarding, and so creative and important in the whole process.

Start today.  Take ten minutes and start writing a scene.  Use the free screenwriting software from Celtx.   Then throw it out and start again tomorrow.  Then again...    When you are ready to crowdfund your film, send me the link, and I will donate.  


11 Ways to Make Sure Your Self Tapes Don't Suck

Hey, it's Matt.


I've been speaking with a lot of people at the studio lately, as well as agents and managers, about self tapes, and how not a lot of actors do them right, and how that really affects their chances of booking the job.  Now I know not everyone has the time and money to get their tapes done professionally, but there's no excuse not to deliver a kickass self tape from your own home.  

I'm here to fix that.  Here are the rules in making your self tape stand out, along with the right equipment to get.  Print it out.  You will thank me later.

  1. BACKDROP.  Use a gray or blue wall (not white).  If you don't have one, buy a cheap muslin sheet from Amazon.  And iron it.  Something like this.   This helps keep the focus on the actor.
  2. LIGHTING.  No overhead lights,  no weird orange lamp lighting, no huge shadows.   Place two soft box lights on equal sides of the camera, a bit above the actor.  Use white bulbs.   These are awesome.   
  3. SOUND.  Use a shotgun mic or lavalier mic so the off camera voice doesn't overshadow the actor.   They won't cost much.  A lavalier mic can plug right into your phone. Try this one.   
  4. CAMERA.  Use your iPhone or a DSLR.   If you use your iPhone, put it on a tripod (cheap), buy an adaptor, and clip it HORIZONTALLY (for the love of god).  That is the industry standard.   
  5. SIGHTLINE.  Never look right into camera, except for the SLATE.  Place the reader directly next to the camera, and read to that person.
  6. FRAMING.  Medium shot.   Mid-chest to top of head.  Simple, easy, helps the viewer focus on the subtlety of the actor. 
  7. PERFORMANCE.  You need to be better than the 200 other people taping.   You need to be amazing, different, authentic, unique, memorized, and make strong choices.   There are so many ways to say these lines.  Choose one that is original.  Point of view is everything.  Show them your unique take on the character, not just how well you memorize.
  8. HAIR/MAKEUP/WARDROBE.  You should look like you are stepping onto set.  Fix your hair, iron your shirt, take down the shine, cover up the puffy eyes, and look like a movie star.   Don't obsess about the color of the shirt, just make sure it's hip, looks good on you ,and is flattering.
  9. UPLOADING/EDITING.  Import the footage into iMovie (or Final Cut if you're fancy).   Share the project to DROPBOX (industry standard), and make sure it's saved to a file LESS THAN 50MB (otherwise you will crash your agent's email, and they will drop you).   
  10. EMAIL TO YOUR AGENTS.   The title of the file, and the subject of the email should be:  Name_Project_Role.  That is how they like it.  Unless the directions say otherwise.
  11. Finally, PLEASE DON'T SUCK.  Treat your self tape like a network test., even if it's 10pm, you are tired, just got in a fight with your mom (or roommate), and had to memorize 15 pages.  Let it go.  Give it your all, and make the first 15 seconds kick ass, which is about how long it takes for them to decide if they will keep watching or not.   Make a strong connection to the reader, and show them something they haven't seen before.   No excuses.

5 Ways to Calm Your Nerves Before Auditions

Everyone gets nervous, whether it's before an audition, a speech, a performance, or stepping on set.  Nerves can range from mild- heart racing, to crippling, debilitating fear, and they get in the way of us giving our best performance.  If only we could all be calm at ALL times, be focused and relaxed when we are performing, and completely be ourselves, then we would book a ton of work and be really famous, right?    Good luck with that!  

As actors, we have to get past this AWFUL thing called auditioning, where we walk into a room of strangers, stand in front of a blank wall, while acting like a monkey and being judged, and try to ACT like we aren't nervous at all.  Try doing that when you know that this job will pay your rent for three months and keep your parents off your back for another four.    Let's just get it out in the open that auditioning totally freaks us out, but we have to find a way to curb those nerves for two minutes in the room so that casting directors can TRUST us, and put us on stage, on set, etc. without worrying about us breaking down in tears in a fetal position.   

I used to battle nerves when I was an actor. Big time.  No matter how much work I booked, or how many auditions I went on, or how much training I had, it still crept up on me.  I was just good at hiding it.   So here are a few ways that worked for me, and my students.   Find one that works for you every time, and give yourself a tried and true system to calm yourself before stepping into the room, on stage, or on set.

1.  The 4-4-4 System.   Chill out.   Deep breaths.  Yeah, yeah, yeah everyone says it.  But do this:   In the waiting room, close your eyes.   Inhale for four, hold for four, exhale for four.   Do it four times.   Every time you do it, think of inhaling "confidence", and exhaling "fear".   Do it again.  Inhale confidence, exhale fear.   And again.   When you get to the last time, think of inhaling your character, and exhaling "you."  Your heart will stop racing, your mind will slowly quiet down, and by the time they call your name you head will be clear and you will walk into that room ready to play ball.   

2.  Learn your damn lines.     Wanna freak yourself out?  Walk into an audition totally unprepared. Of all the things that are out of your control (height, hair color, age, ethnicity), the one thing you CAN control is being prepared with the scene.  I don't mean "sort of memorized," I mean know it so well that you can listen and carry on a conversation, ACTING like you've never said these words before, even though you have worked on it 1,000,000 times.   Hold the paper in your hand, but only look at it if you need to.   It should feel like second nature.    But for the love of god, stop shooting yourself in the foot by not being prepared.   When you are prepared and know the scene, and they throw your a curveball (as they always do), you will be ready and available, and half your nerves will disappear.  At the same time, you can't be so overly memorized that you are NERVOUS about looking down.   Look down if you need to!  Who cares?  Allow yourself to.  It's not a memorization contest, it's an acting contest.  Be okay with mistakes, because THEY WILL ALWAYS HAPPEN!  

3.  Picture it.   I mean, close your eyes and picture the audition going well from start to finish.  I swear this has done wonders for me.   Close your eyes, and imagine stepping into the room, flashing that charming smile, looking at the reader, really listening to them, and knocking the audition out of the park from the first word to the end of the scene.   When you finish, imagine getting high fives all around.   Then at least if it sucks you had a nice daydream, right?   Visualization is a very powerful tool.   You can actually trick your mind into believing it's real.   So try it.   And try it again. Try it until it works for you. 

4.  Confidence.   Fake it till you make it.  Seriously.  Stop showing that you don't know what you are doing and pretend you are a skilled expert and they would be lucky to hire you.   You are an actor, right? Can't you just ACT like someone who is confident, not nervous, and knows EXACTLY what he is doing?   No, cause it's hard.  But there are huge tell tale signs that someone is freaking out when they walk into the room (hands trembling, sides shaking, avoiding eye contact, mumbling, shoulders hunched, panic in your eyes).  If you don't believe that you are the most talented actor for the part, then nobody else will.   But if that requires years of therapy, and you want a simple fix in the meantime, do this:  Take a few deep breaths and walk into that room with your head high, shoulders back, and act like you already have the job.  I mean, look people in the eye and think to yourself "watch this" as you are about to show them something amazing.   Do it and commit to it, the way you would fully commit to playing a role.   It puts the casting director and the audience at ease because they feel like "you got this."  It puts them in the mindset of watching a performance, and makes it a WHOLE LOT EASIER to hire you and put you on set.   Cause if you can be in control in the audition, then you can be in control on a huge set with 150 crew members staring at you.   Don't let them see you sweat, take the power back, stop being desperate, know your lines, make strong choices, kill the scene, and DON'T APOLOGIZE.   EVER.  Learn how to ooze with confidence, and the rest will fall in line. 

5.  Technique.   None of this matters if your technique sucks.   Your technique is what you have to fall back on when everything else is going to shit.  It grounds you, it's your safety net.  It lets you take redirection and adjust your choices on the fly.   If you have it, it will gently guide you through the scene and save you from disaster.   What is "technique" in an audition?   Well you can be the best actor in the world but suck in auditioning, and vice versa.  Learn to do this.  You have an empty room, and nothing real around you to react to--just a reader (who often times isn't giving you much).  Technique is what helps you make everything REAL and SPECIFIC, and gives you UNSHAKEABLE CONFIDENCE in your work.   The more specific you see everything around you, the more you are IMMERSED in the character and the scene, and the LESS NERVOUS you will be as a result.   I find that actors are most nervous when they are vague in their choices, and aren't really SEEING and REACTING to the imaginary world in front of them, because they've never taken the time to really SEE it.   Perhaps it's a deep visualization on the world of the scene (the colors, the details, the smells, the feelings around it).   Or perhaps it's just really LISTENING to the reader, and having a STRONG POINT OF VIEW about what they are saying.   Regardless, the idea is to walk into the audition, and for two minutes or so in front of the camera, LIVE THE LIFE of this character, SEE THE WORLD the way he/she sees it, and respond accordingly, in the most TRUTHFUL WAY possible.   The more you fill your mind with these incredible, vivid details, the less room for that external voice to come in and say "you suck!".   If you are vague with your choices, not really memorized enough, and aren't confident, nobody will hire you.  Ever.

There's so much competition out there.  If you are lucky enough to be selected for an in person audition (or self tape, which this applies to as well) from thousands of submissions, then you really want to have your nerves in check.   This is what you signed up for, right?  Auditions don't have to fill you with anxiety, they can be fun and a chance to play with the script.  But you really have to believe that for it to work.   You have to be okay with making mistakes, and not spend all your time beating yourself up if it doesn't go the way you planned.   

Practice these and find the one that works for you.   And at the end of the day, it's really about learning not to give a fuck, right?   Just do the work and let it go.   


18 Things I've Learned in 18 Years in the Business

Here is what I’ve learned from being in this business for 18 years, first as an actor in LA and New York, and now as an on set acting coach and director.  Print it out.  Post it.  Throw it out.  I don't care.  

1.   Don't be a dick.   Seriously.   Life's too short.  Reputation is everything in this business.   Don't burn bridges, don't be an asshole to your agent, don't complain about your early call time, and don't be rude to the PA on set.  That agent’s assistant you threw a fit to because she gave you the wrong address?  She is now a producer at Sony.   That manager you dropped and sued for royalties?  They are now a big time showrunner.  Trust me.  You will meet all of these people again down the road, and they will remember!   So be nice, show up on time, say thank you, and don't suck.

2.  Create your own work.   Otherwise you will make yourself miserable sitting around wondering why your freelancing agent isn't getting you in for one line on "Blue Bloods."   Learn to crowdfund, learn how to use a DSLR camera, learn how to edit.  Keep yourself creatively fulfilled.   Stop sitting around bitching about other people's careers, and start doing something yourself.   Now more than every it's easier to create your own work, to be a more well rounded actor, to learn all parts of the business.  If you aren't doing anything to keep yourself inspired, you are wasting your life and career away.  Take control and create a project for yourself.  Submit it to festivals.  

3. Have a life outside of the business.   I mean, have other hobbies that make you happy.   Sign up for Survival Camp, take a road trip by yourself, read non-fiction, feed your mind and soul so that every audition doesn't become "do or die."   

4.  Confidence gets you very far.  Learn how to give 0 fucks.  If you don’t know how, read “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F$ck.”  Put it under your pillow.  Stop giving everyone else so much power, and learn how to have unshakeable confidence.  People will pay attention, will hire you, and will want to work with you.   Just don't be a dick about it (see #1).

5.  Know your type and own it. You don't have to be the best actor.   Stop trying to be Al Pacino or Meryl Streep.   You will be cast in roles that are close to who you are.  So learn who you are, know what you look like,  be okay with not being the best, and get really really good at selling that.   You will work more and make more money.   You don't have to be "famous," just be consistent.

6.   Family is more important.  Do you know how many trips I've cut short so that I could come back for an audition?   Don't.  There will always be more auditions, and more opportunities.   Family, relationships, and friends are everything.  They need to be nurtured, prioritized, and paid attention to.   They will be there when you are miserable, questioning your life and career choices, and will talk you off the ledge when you are thinking about quitting and moving to Uruguay.   Book out, go on vacation, and don't feel bad about it.  You aren't missing anything.  

7.  Don't worry what other actors are doing.   Stop comparing your career to others.  It's a waste of time.  Everything ebbs and flows, and some people will have their moment before you.   Let them, be happy for them.   Everyone has their own path.  

8.  Surround yourself with the right people.   Spend time with people who inspire you, who push you to be better, and who are successful.  Watch them, learn from them, and take notes.   

9.  Nobody knows anything.  Everyone is an idiot, and everything is subjective.   Stop worrying about what other people think, and don't let yourself settle for boring or mediocre.  Pave your own path, take risks, be unapologetic, fearless, exciting and unpredictable in your work, and let everyone fall in line behind you.   There are no golden rules in this business, (except #1). 

10.  You don’t need to pay to create “relationships.”  Earn them by doing good work.   If you are a good actor and are putting good work into the universe, it will get seen.  There is no quick fix.  That's not how the business works. 

11.  You will get dropped or fired.   It happens.   Your manager or agent will let you go because you aren't booking enough.  Your pilot will get picked up but you will get fired from it, or you may even get fired after the table read.   It sucks balls, and you will cry for a few days, but every time this has happened to someone I know, they have gone on to bigger and better things.  Life goes on.  Get over it.

12.  Just hit your mark, say your lines, and don't suck.   On set there simply isn't time to discuss motivation, your character's backstory/movement journal/past abuse.   You have been hired to serve the story, to support the other characters.  Just do your job.  It's not about you.

13.   Don't be broke.   It makes you look desperate, and people read that a mile away.   Find a side job that you can tolerate, and get your finances in order, because you may book six guest star jobs in a year, or you may not book an acting job for four years.   Keep yourself stable, sane, so you can walk into an audition or on set and not "need it."   When you are deserpate for work, there is a thing called panic in your eyes that nobody thinks is cute.

14.  Let yourself make mistakes.  Nobody is perfect.  There is absolutely no guide book on succeeding in this business.    You will go down the wrong roads, get sucky headshots, work with the wrong people, bomb auditions, forget your lines on set, piss off a manager or two.  I'm here to tell you your career will be fine, and nobody is thinking about it as much as you are.   Give yourself a break, bounce back, and let it go.  

15. Deal with your demons.   Half of this business is dealing with your downtime, when you have no work, no auditions, and are making yourself crazy.  Learn how to deal with this time, to keep your sanity, to stay level and focused so that you are prepared and ready when that next opportunity comes along.   Take a class, pick up a new hobby, dive into your writing.  You might surprise yourself and find something else that piques your interest. 

16.  Spend time in a casting room, an editing room, and on set.   There is so much mystery in this business, and so much second guessing, waiting, and trying to comprehend the madness.   Actors should be readers, sit down with an editor and watch them work, and spend as much time on set as possible.   Learn everything.  

17. Getting an agent/manager won't change your life.   Stop obsessing about getting one, and paying thousands to do it.  Especially if you are not ready.   The right agent will come when your work speaks for itself.   You will go through several agents in your career.   They have access to the big jobs, but it's a whole other battle for them to get you in the room.   It will sometimes leave you frustrated, insane, and you will think about firing them on a daily basis.  Let it go.   

18.  Quitting is okay.   You don't have to be an actor forever.   You may end up being a writer, a producer, a coach (!), or even in an entirely different career path.   Life is too short.  If you are miserable like 90% of the time, terrified every time you get an audition, and hate your life every day, then walk away.  You aren't a failure, you aren't a bad person.   You are simply looking out for yourself.   

How to Memorize Lines Like a Bad@ss


Do you suck at memorizing lines?  Let's change that.  No more excuses, no more self-tapes where you are staring at your script half the time, or staring at the casting assistant in the middle of your CBS pilot audition wondering when you are going to totally forget where you are, lose your page, smile nervously, and take a really long awkward pause in the middle of your scene while you try to find your line and recover, all the while wondering just how bad your feedback from your agent is going to be.

You are an actor, yes?  You are going to spend the rest of your career going on last minute auditions, or having lines changed the day of your shoot   I want you to know what you are doing.  Casting directors and showrunners want you to know what you are doing.  Yes, I know.  "The script comes in late last night while I was in the middle of a shift."   Or like 9am the DAY OF the audition, and there are five scenes, one of them including a monologue with a bunch of medical jargon.  F*&ck.  How in God's name do you memorize all these lines and "make the character yours" when you can't even remember where you put your Subway card?  How do you "connect" to the reader when are hungover, tired, and have 3 more auditions and have you pick your baby up from day care, all before your 5pm temp shift?

There will always be someone more memorized than you, don't forget that.  Like sitting right next to you in the waiting room.   So up your game, stop making excuses, and learn how to memorize lines like the bad@ss you are.   I don't want you losing out on a guest spot on "Blue Bloods" because you couldn't get through your speech to Tom Selleck's character in the producer session, and had to say "I'm sorry, can I start again?"  like 3 times.   No, you can't.

Let's fix this, yes?   Here are my two top ways to memorize quickly. I've been using them for a very long time, and recommending them to my students.  

1.  Get the rehearsal Pro app for your phone.  Just do it.  It's $19.95.  Just chill on the Starbucks for 3 days.  This one is a game changer.   It is the easiest, most actor friendly app on the market, and helps you memorize huge amounts of dialogue quickly.   I don't work for them, I don't know them.  I just like it.  You import the scene, highlight your lines, record them, and it plays back in a loop until you have them down pat.  You can work on it in the card, on the subway, in the waiting room, or doing the Stairmaster.  You can black out the other character's lines if you want, do all kinds of different voices, and get your freak on.  But most importantly, you get a tremendous sense of the rhythm of the scene, so that you are ready and flexible when you walk into the audition room.  (Tip:  When recording, whisper your lines, and say the other characters' lines out loud.  This will help you leave the right amount of space for lines, and also will prevent you from hearing your lines out loud and getting locked into a "pattern" of saying it).   

2.  Write out your lines.  Do people still use pen and paper?  I've been doing this since my high school drama teacher suggested it when I had to memorize a bunch of monologues for a half ass production of Molier's "Tartuffe."   Write out all of your lines in the scene as one big paragraph (not the other characters), then write it out several more times, breaking it up into smaller and smaller thoughts each time.   This seems time consuming, but it's not.   It's amazing, and really gives you a feel for the arc of the scene, and also really gives you a deeper understanding of the character and the thought process.   Writing out lines gives you this amazing ability to connect the mind to the page, and really helps you get the lines down cold, especially when you have an audition for Aaron Sorkin and can't mess up a single word.  

3.  Improvise the scene.   Seriously.  If your 60 year old roommate sucks at it, and your mom is too busy telling you to give up on this acting thing, get an actor friend and have them really run through the scene with you in your own words, many times, and many different ways.  It gives you a fuller, more three dimensional feel for the scene, fills out the relationship between the characters, and then you layer the lines on at the end.   By memorizing the sequence of events in the scene, the lines come a lot easier, and have a fresher feel to them.  

Try it.  Trust me.  Find your "thing."  Be good at this.  Please?  Whittle your prep time down to like an hour and save your sanity every time one of these last minute auditions come in. Or keep doing the thing where you cover your lines with your hand, and spend like several days trying to get the lines right.   That one never worked for me.

I love you.  Good luck!  

"How to Not Give a F#%k in the Audition Room" by Matt Newton


"I don't need this job."  (Well, I do, but I'm going to pretend that I don't, even though if I don't book this I will probably quit acting.)  

I was recently inspired by my new favorite book "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#%" by Mark Mansan (highly recommend to all actors), as well as actress Alexa Carra's great article "Pilot Season:  How to Not Give Too Many F$#ks."   As a former actor, and now director and on-camera acting coach,  I thought I'd throw my oversized beanie hat in the ring and offer another perspective on the subject.  

How do we, as talented and skilled actors, walk into an audition, callback, chemistry read, or screen test for a big film or TV show and TRULY act like we don't care, and that we could give or take whether or not we get the job?  Supposedly that is what casting directors like, that very attractive quality known as "subtle indifference."  The rub is, by the time you get to a screen test for a pilot, you have actually already signed a contract, seen how much you are going to make per episode (and your trailer size, salary bumps, etc), your agents have told you how important it is, and then have to throw it all out the window and pretend you DON'T care when you walk into a room with 30 network executives in suits for a series regular in a new ABC show that could change your life?  Good luck with that, folks!

How do you NOT care when you stayed up late the night before, memorizing 15 pages of script, barely slept, your eyes look tired, you took time to watch an episode of the show you are auditioning for to get the "tone," left your temp/bartending/nanny/security/real estate job a few hours early meet with a coach, then you have to spring for a last minute Uber to get to the audition on time (cause for some reason it's located at the tip of Manhattan), all the while listening to your carefully curated "audition playlist," and then you are expected to walk into the audition room with your middle fingers up in the air, when truthfully in your head you have already spent the $9000 you would potentially make if you booked this Blue Bloods top of show guest star? 

As an actor I tried to find this confidence for years.  I read every self help book and watched every Tony Robbins seminar, read the "Artists Way" cover to cover, practiced meditation and yoga, made a damn vision board, went to years of therapy, and have actually said to people "Tell me how to not give a f#4k.  Please!" all for a little insight into this elusive world of "not caring."  I, like many actors, am far too self aware to put caring out of my mind, especially when you haven't worked in 2 years, you are worried about your mediocre agents dropping you, you are piecing together residual checks and catering gigs, and your parents keep asking you every day "When can I see you on TV?"   Quite the opposite, I gave WAY TOO MANY F#$KS! 

Here is what I've learned from working with thousands of actors over the years, both on set, and at my studio.   Confidence can be faked.   The best actors have the least confidence, and the worst actors have the most.   I see it all the time, and it amazes me, and I'm constantly trying to bridge the two.  Try being a guest star walking into a scene on the set of Blue Bloods with Tom Selleck staring at you, hitting your mark, and delivering a monologue in front of 150 crew members when you are almost at overtime and everyone wants to go home?  Most people would have a mild panic attack and ask the on set medic for some Propanolol.  But the ones who book, the ones who walk on set like they own the place,  they know it's all about confidence and acting like you deserve to be there, come hell or high water, knowing your shit and not apologizing for it, being fearless and unshakeable in your physicality and delivery.   

Amy Cuddy's enormously popular TED talk "your body language shapes who you are" discusses how ACTING confident can actually create that same physical response in your body, and release calming endorphins.  So wait, if I stand confidently, with my legs spread apart, my knees will stop shaking, my mind will stop freaking out, the sweat will dry up, and my panic attack will stop?   No, but it will help, and we all need a leg up in this arena.  You can be trembling and crumbling on the inside, but on the outside you can learn to convey a calm ocean of strength and confidence.  It's the stuff dreams are made of, and creates the allusion of authority.  And at the end of the day, you need to instill trust in casting directors and producers, so that they can put you on set and you won't crumble.   You know how your hand shakes when you are holding the sides in an audition?  That makes people nervous.  So start right now and put something heavy underneath your sides, so that your hand doesn't shake, and you appear more confident, and people trust you more and therefore hire you.  Voila!  You don't give a f#$k!

The truth is you will spend most of your career auditioning, unless you are one of the lucky actors who are "offer only" (in which case you probably aren't reading this article), so you better learn to love it, and develop the skill of "acting like a person with unshakeable confidence."  Everyone tells you how important it is to not NEED the job.  It's that fine line being confident and arrogant, right?   Well you try not giving a f#$k when 15 "Law and Order" producers are staring at you while you sit in a chair, pretend to cry and say "I don't know who killed him," all the while also thinking "Do I seem confident? Am I caring too much?  Should I look them in the eye when I'm done?  Did I pee my pants a little?"  Yes, you did.

No matter how hard you work, no matter how many conservatories you went to, no matter how good looking you are or how much money you have, dumb confidence is hard to come by.  You rehearse your lines hundreds of times, then walk in the room and act like you have never said them before so you don't seem like you are "anticipating."   Then you try the opposite and you work on them only a handful of times, cause f$#k it, right?  And then you go in and bomb.   You can't win!

So here are some ways I've found truly help actors when they walk into the audition room.

1.   Remind yourself how lucky you are to be doing this.   Just kidding.  F#$k that.  You chose this, and you want it to go well, and you want to book the job.   Take on the physicality of a confident person.  Walk in with your shoulders back, lines memorized (but carefully placed in your lap in case you need to look), look the producers in the eye when you walk in, and think to yourself "Watch this.  This is going to be great.  Trust me.   I'll make your job easier on set."   Just keep telling yourself this until it works.  Get yourself a good mantra, and say it until you believe it.  Trick your mind for a couple of minutes while you are in the room.

2.  When you are sitting in the waiting room, clear your nutty, spazzy mind.   All those intrusive thoughts get in the way of you giving a fully present audition.  Close your eyes, and take four deep breaths, and every time you breath in think of "confidence" pouring into your body, and every time you exhale, think of "fear" leaving your body.   Do it four times and you can punch Tony Robbins in the face with all of your newfound confidence.

3. Get some perspective.  Everyone wants the next step up.   Even successful actors want something they don't have (a summer movie, a cool indie, a Taco Bell commercial?).   This one day guest star is not going to change your life (or even your financial situation).   You don't have to be the best actor, you just have to be right for the part, which usually is out of your control.  Shouldn't that be enough to release the need to care?  So many things out of your control, so little time.  Can't you just play around for a couple of minutes and then go back to what you were doing before?   Why does it have to be so damn important?   Why does this have to occupy so much of your mind when there are much bigger things to give a f#$k about?  

4.  Enjoy the process and the journey.   Nope, eff that.  The "journey" of getting rejected sucks, and doesn't make your parents stop pressuring you to get a real job.   Get a damn hobby.  Find something to care a lot about that doesn't have to do with Checkov or "branding" or your IMDB star meter.   Give yourself something to focus on besides acting and stop making yourself crazy obsessing over it and why your agents aren't emailing you back.

5.  When you are in the room, focus entirely on the reader and what they are saying during the scene.   If you are nervous, admit it to yourself.  You make yourself twice as nervous by trying desperately to get rid of nerves.  It's a vicious cycle.  Everyone is nervous, so just admit it, and it starts to go away.  This really works.  What's the worst case scenario?  You are nervous, the read isn't great, and you have another audition for something else tomorrow?   Take the pressure off and just pay attention to what's happening in the silly little scene!

7.   Stop fighting so hard for it to be "right.".  It's so damn subjective.  When people are nervous, it's because they are at war with the present moment.  They want something different than what is happening.  When actors are auditioning, they are nervous because they don't want to have to prove themselves, and they are mad they have to audition at all, and they have to justify this crazy existence of constantly getting rejected for that one potential audition where the 7s line up and they win the "booking" jackpot.   Nerves come from wanting to control the outcome of a situation, or risk complete failure.  It's literally the same as a fight or flight response when someone is putting a gun to your head.   As Alexis put it in her article, you will work your ass off on a script, be fully memorized and camera ready, show up on time, and the next person will roll in late, hair disheveled, barely getting through the lines, be a total jerk to the casting director, and will book it.  Isn't that enough to make you stop giving a f#$k?  You have no control!  Sometimes your hair is the wrong color, you are too short, too gay, not gay enough, you remind them of their landlord, or your shirt fit you funny.   I'll say it again:  YOU HAVE NO CONTROL!  So chill and find something else in your life to worry about that you can actually control, like whether or not your french bulldog's UTI is going to come back, or your ukulele skills, or your dog's Instagram following and possible sponsorships.  

8.   Don't worry about booking the job, just book the room.  Yeah, no.  If I spend all of my days booking rooms, my wife will leave me, my baby won't have clothes, and all of those people who doubted me in high school can still say they haven't seen me in anything.  So I'd like to book the job please!   I got bills to pay, and my Urban Outfitters credit card is maxed out!  

That's all I got.  Try not to give a F$#k.  But it's okay if you do.   Anyone who is good at their job cares about what they are doing.  If you didn't care, you would be a deadbeat.  Exceptional actors are constantly self-evaluating and learning what skills they need to be better.   As long as it's rational.   What worries me is when actors take on the insane, irrational thoughts that have no relevance to their talent.  "They hate me!  I bombed in there!  They will never bring me in again!" That stuff doesn't help at all, and when you keep saying it, you start to believe it.  That's when all the f$%ks start being given, when you are trying to be a people pleaser, trying to prove something (to yourself, the casting director, your parents), instead of being fully present and letting the scene and circumstances wash over you from moment to moment.   

Good luck!!!

Matt Newton

Acting coach and founder of MN Acting Studio

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Truths about Pilot Season

Here are things I've learned from being an actor over dozens of pilot seasons.   Feel free to share! 

1.   You will have 15 pages to memorize for an audition, and when you show up, they will tell you that you are only reading half of the last scene.  

2.  You will prepare 20 pages of sides, and show up only to find out your agent forgot to give you the "revised pages."

3.  They will ask you to read for four other roles "while you are waiting."

4.  Casting directors will say "Nice to meet you," even though you have met them 43 times.

5.  On your way to an audition, they will cancel your appointment because the role has been cast.

6.  On your way to an audition, they will cancel an audition because they changed the age, gender, and/or ethnicity.   

7.   Your friends will go on more auditions than you.  Always.

8.   Your agent will tell you they aren't giving feedback during pilot season.

9.  Your agent will tell you "it's going to get really crazy," and it won't.

10. You will think about firing your agent and manager on a daily basis.

11.   You will book a pilot, only to be fired after the table read.

12.  You will book a pilot, the show will get picked up, and you will be recast.

13.  Your parents will ask what a pilot is, and wonder when they are going to see you on TV.

14.  You will be asked to screen test, get a quote, sign a contract for the next seven years of your life, see how much money you will make, including backend points and salary bumps, fly out to LA to read for network, not get the job, and then be going on a Taco Bell audition the next day.  

15. You will be sitting in a waiting room waiting to audition, and you will hear the assistant talking to an agent on the phone and making an offer to someone else for the role.  

16.  You will be told that every casting director "LOVES you."  

17.  You will go on tape, and the next day be flying out to LA to test.

18.  You will go on tape 150 times and never hear anything.

19.  You will be in waiting rooms with 50 people that look just like you, dress like you, talk like you, and have better agents than you.

20.   Your agent will never return your calls.

21.  Your manager will return your calls a week later.

22.  Your mom will always return your calls.

23.  You will probably get fired from your survival job because you can never cover your shift in time.

24.  You will be asked not to worry about the accent, and then be asked to "just go for it" in the audition.  

25.  You will read a breakdown, and say "that's me!".  And so will everyone else.  

26.  You will go through 1,046 emotions on a daily basis.

27.  You will hear "They are going another way" 1,046 times.

28.  You will consider doing extra work.

29.  You will constantly bitch about "the state of current TV" to your friends.

30.  "Too tall, too thin, too gay, not gay enough, too macho, not street smart, too 'cable,' no charisma, a bit thick, not feeling it, not a fan, big fan, a bit shiny."   All feedback.  All real.

But hey, have fun out there!!!




7 Tips for Professional Actors in 2017

This is the time of year where you sit around the dinner table on the holidays, and your family asks you "How's the acting going?" and you stumble on some response about how many callbacks you are getting, how you are focusing on your craft, and all they care about is when they can turn on the TV and see your face.    As we near the end of 2016, we should spend a few minutes and make some serious actor goals for ourselves in 2017.  Real, tangible, accessible goals.   Not "I wanna be a series regular."  We all do.   Let's start smaller.   

Here are some easy goals for every actor for 2017:

1.  If you have an agent, stop by the office.   Make a plan of action for pilot season, episodic season, make sure they are happy with your headshots, your demo reel, and everything else.   Let them see how great you look, and how excited you are.   If they haven't seen you in six months, you are out of sight out of mind.   Stay on their radar.

2.  Be ready to self tape.  That means have a corner of your apartment/house/cave that is totally dedicated to self taping when the appointment comes in last minute.   Use the right lighting, good sound, a non-white backdrop. Self taping is everything these days.  Read my tips here.  

3.  Make a targeted list of agents/casting directors/managers.   If you are represented, make a list of 10 casting directors you want to meet.  A targeted list means you feel like you are the right type for the shows they cast, and you think you should get in front of them.   If you are unrepresented, make a targeted list of agents and managers that you think would be a good fit for you.    If you know your type, and focus on what shows are right for you, then your time and energy is better spent being clear and specific about where you fit into the market.  Not just "I wanna get an agent and get on tv."  

4.  Create your own work.  It's easy, affordable, and will fulfill you in ways waiting for auditions won't.  I can't stress this enough.   That idea for a webseries that's been brewing in the back of your mind?   Write an episode now and shoot a 5 minute teaser with your friends, then raise money to do a longer version of it.  Write a role for yourself that you are passionate about, and that nobody else can do.   Dont' be lazy.   Get it done. 

5.  Update your headshot and demo reel.   Don't have a reel?  Now is the time to tape two scenes and post them on Actors Access.   Make sure your headshot is current (taken within the last year or two), and make sure your demo reel footage is recent.   Make sure you have a website with all of your information on there that you could send out on a moment's notice.

6.  Build your resume.   Do whatever you can to build your credits.  If you are new, it's hard to get an agent or manager excited about you without this.  Submit on Actors Access, Backstage, Mandy, for anything and everything that you are right for.   Submit every day for anything that is the right type for you.   Do all kinds of projects, from music videos to short films.   Get footage and build your confidence and craft, as well as your connections to other people in the industry.

7. Train train train.   Take a class to keep you fulfilled.  On-camera, improv, scene study, whatever.  Get out of your comfort zone.  Fail miserably.  Learn your strengths and weaknesses, try out roles you would never be cast in.  Watch yourself back on-camera and hone your on-camera technique.   Learn and network from other people in an acting classroom.   The only way to become a better actor to to make mistakes and suck in an environment where it doesn't matter, where you don't feel the pressure of being cast, and where you can "work out the kinks" in a safe environment so that you are ready when that golden opportunity comes your way.

Good luck!!!!!  



How many times this month have you already been asked to donate to crowdfunding campaigns? One could easily go broke donating to every play, short film, or web-series that friends are starring in! I’m thinking of starting a crowdfunding campaign simply to help replenish my bank account for all of the campaigns I’ve contributed to.

Here’s the thing. Crowdfunding is popular for a reason—it is a great tool for actors who want to create their own projects without dealing with the hassle of investors and sponsors (or begging their families). It’s hands down the easiest and most affordable way to get a project off the ground. Instead of waiting around for auditions, we can self-produce, write dream roles for ourselves, and raise money for projects we are truly passionate about. Instead of asking our long lost Aunt Cathy for $10,000, we can ask all of our friends (real and virtual) to chip in small amounts, and offer signed posters and social media shoutouts in return. Sounds easy, right? 

But a lot of us are suffering from “crowdfunding fatigue,” and frankly can’t afford to support every project out there.  As a creator, you now you have to go above and beyond to create a successful crowdfunding campaign, one that really grabs the audience and stands out from the crowd. 

A few months ago, I raised $17,000 on Indiegogo for a campaign I did for my short horror film “Hide/Seek”, which I directed and is now on the festival circuit. Our original goal was $10,000, and we were able to raise 178% of our goal, which is considered very successful. Currently I’m in the middle of my second campaign for a new webseries I’m directing called “Pretty People, Inc,” using the same platform.  I’ve learned a lot about this process, have done a lot of research, and I’m here to pass along some tips to you. 

1. Choose the right platform for your project. 
Huge platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are used for everything from films to physical product launches, while other, smaller sites like Seed and Spark are more specifically targeted to funding films. They all take a percentage of your total amount raised.  Do your research.  Some offer flexible funding (where you keep the money raised no matter how much), and some offer fixed funding (where you only keep the money if you reach your goal). 

2. Decide on a budget. 
You have to be realistic here. If you ask for too much, people will think you are crazy. What is realistic?  It’s always good to get a line producer to give you an idea of what your project will cost before you decide on a campaign budget.  Are you doing a test pilot for a web-series, or a full-scale feature film? In your campaign, explain to your audience exactly where that money is going, be honest, and break it down into line items. With these campaigns, trust is everything, and you need to let your audience know you have done your research.  Don’t forget to add in post-production costs, like sound mixing, editing, and festival submissions!

3. Know your audience.  
Who are you marketing this to? Friends? Horror fans? Is your audience niche or are you reaching out to a more diverse group?  When you start to market your campaign on social media, you want to be specific and offer perks that cater to that audience.  To encourage engagement, I kept a blog where I posted behind the scenes photos and wrote articles on the casting process, production, as well as post production. 

READ: “How to Get Cast in a Horror Film”

4. Offer special perks.  
When you ask your audience for money, you get to offer great perks in return.  These can range from “special thanks” at the end of the film, to a downloadable link to the finished project, to dinner with the creative team, or even an associate producer credit for the top donators (usually reserved for people who donate $1000 or more). These perks get your audience excited, and more invested in the project.  

When I created the campaign for my short horror film “Hide/Seek,” I catered to horror fans, as well as my acting students at MN Acting Studio.  In return for their investment, I was able to offer perks that would be enticing to this group such as private acting coaching and business consultations.

Knowing who your audience is and offering perks that relate to them is crucial. Keep it personal, and connect! And once the film is over, be certain to deliver on your perks! If you don’t, they will never donate to your projects ever again.

5. Make a great video.  
The campaign video is everything. The quality of the video is directly related to the production value of the project.  If you spend the time and energy to make an exciting, high quality video describing your project, why you are passionate about it, and who is involved, your audience will be more likely to donate.  I’ve seen too many people do this wrong, and not spend enough time on this.  

6. Keep the momentum.  
If you create a 30-day campaign to raise funds, chances are the initial excitement of donating will wear off after a few days. This is where you want to get savvy, and continue to post about it on social media in interesting ways, so that you can sustain interest as you get closer to your end date.  Keep your audience excited, remind them how much you have left to raise, how many days, and offer them exciting tidbits into the pre-production process.

Good luck! I look forward to donating to your project.

Lessons learned from writing, casting, directing, and premiering my first film.

It's two days until the premiere of my short film "Hide/Seek" which I wrote and directed.   For the past 7 months I have worked on this film, and seen this through the process of concept to picture lock, and on Tuesday I will get to sit in a movie theatre in NYC and watch it on the big screen.  This whole process has blown my mind, and I have learned more than I ever thought possible.  It makes me a better coach, better teacher, and a better director.

I think it's important for actors to learn what goes into a process like this, and as part of this production I've documented the process of casting, filming, and post production.   So as we start to submit to festivals, these are my final thoughts:

Why do a short film?  For me, it was a pet project.  I teach my students to go way outside of their comfort zone.  I wanted to do that myself.  Practice what you preach, right?   This was one of the most challenging things I've ever done.   I love horror/thrillers,  I have coached on the set of feature length horror films, and I wanted to see if I could write something that would take me on a journey, that would raise my heart rate a little bit, and be something that I would want to watch on film.   I have spent many years as an actor in TV and film, and many years coaching on the set of Blue Bloods, and many years coaching/directing actors for auditions and tapes at my studio.  I simply wanted to take what I have learned and push myself to do something different, something evocative, moving, that would allow me to use my techniques in a new, unfamiliar setting.

Casting... I wanted to be on the other side of casting, and shine a big spotlight on it for my actors.  What it's like, what matters and doesn't matter, etc.  A big part of my job is preparing actors for big auditions, and I wanted to sit on the other side of the table and gain valuable perspective on this mysterious process.   I went all out and hired Kimberly Graham, a friend and casting director of "Homeland," to jump on board.  I wanted to put out breakdowns everywhere, on Actors Access, Backstage, and Breakdowns Services.   I didn't care if actors were union or non union, I just wanted to hire four of the best actors.   We received 3500 submissions total!  That's about 900 per role.   It's beyond overwhelming.   I learned that some actors still have black and white headshots, some have shirtless pics (why?), some don't have footage attached to their profile (crazy), and some agents don't bother submitting for a small project like this.  I only really had time to see 60 people for auditions, so I first went to people I knew, former students of mine, current students, and Kim brought in people she knew.  We had some agent pitches, and we brought in some unknowns.  And guess what?  Many names came in for this.  Why?  Kim told me it's because everyone wants to work.  Some people were "offer only," and wouldn't audition, and some came in to pre-read.  I was beyond impressed, and that's exactly the kind of person I wanted to work with.

All the actors who came in were great.  We brought in 60, brought 20 to callbacks and cast four.  It was amazing and eye opening.  For most, it came down to the color of their hair.  For others, it was just a "vibe."  I learned that actors should NEVER overthink these things.   It rarely was about anyone being better than anyone else.  It was about chemistry, connection, and my preconceived idea about what people needed to look like.  And we had to match a family.   I hired the most terrific actors.  Bryan Manley Davis, Michelle Vezilj, Ned Van Zandt, and Sophie Knapp.  Any director would be lucky to work with them.  Total professionals, no attitude, and the hardest working actors in the business.   We were about to go on a journey together and they were totally up for it.

I learned how to file a SAG ultra low budget agreement, which says I can use union and non-union actors.  I have to pay any union actors $125/day.  I think all actors should get paid.  Always.     I had one union actor (Ned van Zandt), and the rest were non-union.   I didn't have to pay the other actors anything, but I did Favored Nations and paid everyone the same rate.  Why?  Because it's the right thing to do, and it gives them an incentive to show up to set and work their asses off.   

Budget...  we started at $500 and ended up at $17,000.   I wanted to try something different and do crowd-funding.   I used Indiegogo, and raised the money by offering coaching perks (audition taping, copies of my book, demo reel scenes, etc.).  It was amazing and fun, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  It created a sense of community around the project, and really allowed me to open this up to my actors who wanted to be a part of this creative process.  I am always talking about the importance of self-producing, and again wanted to push myself and see how far I could go.

Once we reached our Indiegogo goal, and hired our actors, something shifted.  Our project got very, very legit, and we found an amazing crew (thanks to the best producer in the business Ellyn Vander Wyden), and my friend and mentor Doug Keeve (who won Sundance for the film "Unzipped" and directed me in "Poster Boy"), came on board to help me lift this to another level.  This was my first time directing, so I didn't have a clue.  But I surrounded myself with the best in the business, to lift this from what might come across as a student film, to a 20 minute piece of art.   That meant getting a good camera, great lenses, doing tech scouts, rehearsals with the actors (which I could do in my studio), a great sound guy, an editor who has two Emmys, a composer who has five Clio Awards, and really driving the level up a notch.   It was go time, and I was spending my down time doing shot lists, discussing costumes, props, locations, and prepping for the first day of shooting.

Filming...We filmed for five days in my backyard in Guilford, CT in early April.  I used to play "hide and seek" in these woods, so it was amazing to spend 60 hours filming.   It snowed, rained, got warm, snowed again, and our continuity was all over the place.   It was a mess, and half the time the actors had to hold their breath in a scene or chew ice before, so their breath didn't fog.  That's what they don't tell you in acting school!  We called in a lot of favors, and had help from the Guilford community in terms of interns, catering, etc.  It was an experience for everyone.   The actors were terrific.  They put in 12 hour days for so little money, stayed in a house together, and we were all pushed to our limits physically and emotionally.  It was some sort of crazy bootcamp, but the kind you never forget.   We knew we were doing something special.   Scenes were changing constantly, lines were being cut, locations being changed, and the actors just went along for the ride.   I've been on these kind of sets before as an actor, but never as a director.  It was a battle, and we were constantly racing against light, time, and emotions.      I never settled for an "okay" take.  Sometimes we did ten to fifteen takes of an emotional scene.  Why?  Because I wanted it to be great, even if it meant losing light.  

Post production..  I grew up with a guy named Jeff Reilly, who became our editor.  First rate guy with two Emmy awards.   He worked for such little money while he was working on three other projects.  This is the nature of indie film.  He threw us a bone and we were lucky to have him. The hardest part of this whole process was the wait.   Jeff was great, and would send scenes, cuts, etc.  He had to deal with continuity issues, sound issues, and other stuff you can never plan for, and he created many versions of the script.   It's funny how much an idea changes in post.   Scenes are shifted around, lines are cut, performances change, etc.  It reminds you how important it is to get many different options from the actors when you are filming them.   It's funny, the actors spend five days on the film, but directors spend at least 8 months with it.  And that's just for a small short film like this.   I always knew this, but now I'm seeing it first hand.  I thought about this film every day for those 8 months (how to make it better, what to change, what to keep, what can I let go of).  You are always planning for it to go a certain way, and there are always a million things that go wrong.    But I learned that you have to be a perfectionist, and keep pushing until it's exactly the way you want it.  Why?  Because it's your script, your baby, your first film as a director, and you should take the extra time to make it perfect.

The hardest part of the post production process is going "Okay, we have all this footage.  Is it good?  Does it make sense?  Do we actually have a movie here?"  We started to play with performances and shots and after 3 months came up with something we really liked.  We did two test screening at my studio just to make sure that plot points made sense.  It's not something short films normally do, but it was easy for me to get a bunch of people together at my studio and have them be honest with me about it.  I'm always honest with them, so I figured it was a chance for them to be honest in return.  It was so nervewracking!  I can tell you that it's nearly impossible to watch a film without sound and music, so I was chomping at the bit to get a picture lock and get it to our composer.    During this process, I was thinking "we should get it done in time for THIS festival, and THIS one...."  I like to get things done fast.  The big lesson I learned here is not to rush, but rather to DO IT RIGHT.   Dont' put a half ass product out into the world.   

Sound mix and color...

This is where films get very interesting, when you start playing with mood.  I had a great colorist named Don Wyle out of Stamford, CT, and an amazing sound guy Sloan Alexander (my best friend growing up), who were hired to take on the last part of the process.   They sent cuts back and forth to me, and I went to their studios with my mentor Doug Keeve.    It's amazing to watch artists at work.  I had NO IDEA what went into this part of the process, and it really made my vision jump off the screen.   The mood took shape, the story became more coherent, and I was able to watch it with an objective eye.   It's amazing what you can do with a closeup of an actor when you add music and color to it. It shows you how importance subtlety is in film performance, as a bigger reaction would send it over the top and make it less believable.  Again, lesson learned.  Luckily we had smaller performances.   What feels right on set isn't always what feels right in the editing room.   My music guy played with a lot of different types of sounds, and is amazing at adding tension to scenes that need that extra push.  I got goosebumps watching it, and I wrote it!  That's how I know it's working.

Picture lock...  always scary.  You are basically saying "Okay, I'm officially done tweaking it."  I could have easily spent another six months on this, but at some point you have to be okay with it.  Plus I am already onto directing my next project!   

Now it's time to submit it to festivals.   With a short film, the goal is to get some traction, see what happens, and maybe some awards.  You don't really do a short film to sell it and make a ton of money.   I always approached this as an experiment, so to me, the fact that it has gone this far is more than enough (and I actually mean that).  I've enjoyed every second of it, and have already submitted it to 10 high profile festivals.   Now we wait...   I'm on the programming committee of the Greenwich International Film Festival, so this past season I spent a lot of time watching short films, which gave me a lot of insight into what makes one of these good.  There are a lot of film festivals out there, like hundreds.   My goal is to submit to a few, see what happens, and maybe get to travel to some cool places.   In the meantime, back to coaching at the studio and prepping my next project.  

The premiere on Tuesday...  I'm excited and nervous.  I'm showing it to 72 people (cast, crew, friends, agents) at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City, then doing another screening for my actors at the studio, and then a third premiere in Guilford, CT.  It's important to do it right, so I rented a cool theatre, and plan to do a Q&A and wine reception afterwards.    I want to tell the story of how this was made, and encourage others to do the same.  This is a dream come true!

Bottom line:  you want to create your own work?  go for it!  No excuses.  Just surround yourself with the best people possible, who inspire you and challenge you, pick up a camera, write something interesting, and go for it.    And don't settle for good.  Make it effin' great!

I look forward to sharing this with all of you!!!


Are you a GOOD actor or are you a SMART actor?

Every actor needs to have a strong acting foundation, a deep understanding of human behavior, and the training and stamina to sustain a character and story, whether on stage, on TV, or on film.  A solid acting technique allows us to analyze a script, break down moments, personalize the story, express subtlety, range and disappear into these imaginary worlds.  It allows us to show the audience something interesting and unexpected, to shine a spotlight on human emotion, something that surprises them, keeps them guessing, and compels them to follow us on our character's journey.  Without technique,  there is nothing for actors to rely on when they have to do 15 takes of a very emotional scene, or 8 shows a week on a Broadway stage.   How can an actor possibly find it in them to access these emotions when the well runs dry?  All of this is essential to sustaining a career as a professional actor.   Otherwise you can be a one trick pony.

I believe actors should always be in classes, whether it's a theatre scene study class, an on-camera acting class, an audition technique class, an improv class, or anything else where they can nurture their talents.  Acting technique is developed through trial and error, through testing your limits, challenging yourself in a safe environment, making mistakes, being uncomfortable, and not worrying about the result.  This is where artists are made, much in the way a dancer has to practice every day, or an athlete has to practice his skills on the field. 

But here's the truth.   Actors need to also have marketing savvy.   They need to work equally on treating their career as a business.  There are 76 TV shows now filming in New York, and if you want a career in TV, you need to educate yourself on the market, the agents, managers, casting directors, know how to walk into a room, nail an audition, and convince them that you are right for the job, whether you studied at Julliard or did one production of Godspell in your hometown.    Everyone is in the same boat, and to be in that boat, you need to access the practical side of your brain.   Who's casting what?  How do I get in front of them?   

Technique doesn't matter if you don't know how to SELL yourself.  That means know your type, have a terrific headshot and demo reel, pay attention to social media (yes, followers), and make sure your work is being seen by the right people.   That means know all the shows you are right for, who casts them, and who the showrunners are. I know actors who spend all their time in class, have tremendous breakthroughs, but don't spend enough time putting their work out there, in front of the right people.   I also know actors who have little training but spend thousands of dollars at casting workshops, hoping to throw money at the problem.   Rather than learning true "technique," they are just learning the pet peeves of various casting directors, and hoping if they meet them enough times a "relationship" will be established.  I also know actors who "don't watch TV."  That's just cray.   Left side technique.  Right side business.

Actors have to find a way to combine the craft of acting with the practical, business side.    Don't be lazy.  It's about knowing how agents, managers, and casting directors see you NOW, not 10 years from now.    Look in the mirror.  How do people see you?  When you first start out, you will be cast for playing roles close to who you are.  Later you can worry about range.  Everyone has to start somewhere.   There are big agents who will take you on, and immediately send you out for series regulars.   That is a certain kind of actor, with a certain level of talent.   There are other agents who will push you for co-star roles, and want to build you up from the bottom.   Nobody cares that you played Romeo in college.  Now you are fighting for a one line role on a TV show, against actors with drama degrees from major conservatories.  And guess what?  For a big TV show, they are getting thousands of submissions for that one role, and those are coming from agents and managers alone.    It's not about being the best actor, it's about being the right actor.  How do you get to be one of those actors?   How do you go from the self-submitting abyss of Backstage and Actors Access to the agent and manager club?  How do you go from a freelance client to a signed client?    What agent is right for you?   Bicoastal?  Boutique?  How many clients do they have?  What's the difference between an agent and a manager?  How the f*@k do you get auditions?  Business savvy.

 These are all things that actors must know if they want to make that leap from the non-union, student film world, or the safe bubble of an acting class, to the competitive world of union TV that is absolutely taking over the market in New York.  No longer do actors need to be in LA to have a TV career.   New York is where it's at, but you have to play the game.   Does a casting director workshop make sense for you?  Do you need to spend money to get in front of that casting director or are you not ready yet?  Are you spending too much money on "scene study" classes and not enough on "how to audition"? Forget about your Stella Adler training for a second.  Ask yourself what you need to do to be SEEN, to execute the script, to take direction quickly, to deal with last minute auditions being thrown at you, script rewrites, hwo to memorize 12 pages in a night, etc.     Are you doing enough?  Is your reel good enough?  Does your headshot truly represent you?   The best actor in the world may never get seen if they don't have the right headshot.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if an actor went to Julliard, studied Meisner for 8 years, took hundreds of casting workshops, or has never taken a class in their entire life.  All that matters is what is happening when that camera is rolling.   That two minute audition.  Audition technique is key, as you will spend a lot of your career in a room in front of casting directors and producers, and you have to love it.  

Laziness gets you nowhere.   If you aren't being called in from submissions, whether through self-submissions or though your agent, then create something yourself.   Don't sit around and complain that there are no parts for you. Self-produce!  It's easier than ever to create a web series for no money.   Get out there and put yourself on-camera, post it on social media, create a Youtube channel, write an amazing part for yourself and knock it out of the park.   Maybe you will get lots of viewers and one of these agents will find you that way?  Very possible.  Use the business savvy to bring your talent to the forefront.  Think outside the box, and don't just blanket the town with headshots or pay to meet every casting director.  That's not being smart. Being smart is knowing who you are, what you have to offer, being confident about it, targeting the right peopel, and presenting yourself as a professional and an actor that people want to work with and spend money watching.

If you want to be a professional actor, don't be lazy.   Technique will only get you so far.    Make yourself known, educate yourself on the business, and use the business half of your brain to get in front of the right people and see your true talent.

Good luck, and keep kicking ass!

Lessons learned from directing my first movie!

We are officially wrapped on my first film "Hide/Seek," which was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life!   We spent the last five days seeing my words come to life in the woods of Guilford, CT, working 12 hour days, dealing with freezing temperatures, rain, snow, late hours, and everything else that comes from working on an indie film.   I've spent a lot of years in front of the camera as an actor, and the last few years behind the camera as an acting coach and on set coach for big budget TV shows, but being a director is a whole other challenge altogether, and I learned more on this project than I have on any other production I've ever worked on.   

Here are two great articles about the shoot:

Middletown Press

Guilford's Matt Newton Comes Home to Shoot Film

Guilford Courier

Guilford Woods Provide Perfect Set for Horror Film

Lessons from the shoot....

You can have a high quality production, but if you don't have good actors, the execution won't work.  I had both.  Great actors, great production value.  

Every day I had to answer 1,000,000 questions from every department, and it was borderline overwhelming.   I kept reminding myself that all that mattered was what was happening on the monitor when that camera is rolling.  I needed to capture sound and images that were powerful, evocative, and interesting.  There are so many things that can distract me and the actors from that, and I made sure to create an environment where everyone could do their best work on screen.

Every production should have a great producer.  Mine was Ellyn Vander Wyden.   She was on top of everything, and without her, this film couldn't have been made.  She was my voice of reason, my support, my budgeter, my messenger, and most of all, the glue for this whole production.  She made sure everything flowed seamlessly.

My DP, executive producer and mentor Doug Keeve was incredible.   I was focused on the acting, and he was focused on the visual--the lighting, the lenses, the angle, the continuity, and made sure the actors looked their best in each and every shot.  He taught me everything, and constantly told me to "make sure I get the shot," even if our toes were freezing off.   He encouraged me to experiment and to go outside the box, which is what I am constantly pushing my actors to do.

Casting is everything.   I never worried about the actors.  That work was done in auditions and callbacks.  On set I just let them do their thing, and had them do it many different ways.  That's all that mattered.  We had a shorthand way of speaking, and I got the most incredible performances from them.  They are phenomenal, and any director would be lucky to work with them.   Literally we were throwing dirt on Bryan's face while burying him alive, and he didn't complain once.  

Being on set is so much different for actors than being in an audition.  In auditions, we feel like the whole audition has to be perfect, on set we just need moments to be perfect, because we can use lines from different takes to piece together the performance.   Crazy, right?

Sometimes we secretly rolled before and after I said "action" and "cut," when the actors weren't paying attention, as the moments when they weren't "acting" were just as interesting as the ones when they were "doing the scene." 

I learned to look beyond the obvious in terms of shot setups, to offer unique ways to telling my story, interesting angles, and to put my stamp on it.  That's the way actors need to think when stepping into auditions.  

Believability is everything.  Every time the camera was rolling I would say to myself "Do I believe this?".     Is the duct tape tied around his hands strong enough so that the audience is convinced the actor can't free himself?  Do we feel like the situation matters to the actors? Is the grave we built deep enough for it to believable and scary?   These are the things that keep an audience interested.   Once they don't believe it, they stop paying attention.  It was my job to make everything completely real.

Every day I watched dailies on my computer.  Sometimes I wished we had shot it differently, sometimes I was blown away.  You never know how it's going to look until it's all cut together.  You hope you got the right angles, and that everything makes sense.  It's clear in my mind when I'm writing it, but you have to make sure everything comes across to an unknowing audience.

Sometimes we would film an actor's closeup 4 days after they shot the other part of the scene.   That's what they don't tell you in theatre school.  We had to go back and watch the dailies to make sure the actor could match the performance from four days before.  It takes a special kind of skill to do that.

Sometimes we are filming scenes with a drone cause it's cool and then it crashes into a tree branch and the shot is unusable.  

Good food is essential on any film shoot.  We had the best catering and Kraft service I've ever had, thanks to the Marketplace in Guilford, owned by my friend and fellow high school theatre alum Jason Iglesias.  I'm talking sushi, tacos, smoothies, greek food, homemade hot chocolate with marshmallows.

 Sometimes we are losing light and the actor can't take 10 minutes to get into the scene.   That's when you just have to go for it, jump off the ledge, be fully present and trust that you will be there.

Preparation is 5%, the other 95% is the magic that happens when the camera is rolling, and you find those "happy accidents" that make a film so special. 

My cast...

I am so proud of my actors.  Bryan Manley Davis, Sophie Knapp, Michelle Vezilj, and Ned Van Zandt are the hardest working actors I have ever met.  They endured everything to make this film great.    I put them through the ringer on this film, as many of the scenes require an immense amount of emotional depth and concentration, and they were able to do that, all the while taking direction on the fly, improvising, holding the roll while planes flew overhead, or while we moved a piece of hair out of their face, and everything else that is very difficult to do while trying to stay emotionally connected to a scene.  That is the hard part of this medium, and requires such focus.  These guys are tremendous actors who blew my mind with their work, professionalism, passion, and complete dedication to the project.   It made for an intensely creative environment, where I was able to bring them to very difficult places.   I watched back the dailies, and they are phenomenal.   This is what I work on in my classes, and because some of them were students of mine, they knew what to expect.

My crew...

Douglas Keeve was my mentor on this film, and also my DP, and guided me through this entire process.  He and I worked together when he directed me in Poster Boy, and we had a shorthand way of working together.  Being a first time director is nervewracking, and I had 15 crew members staring at me wondering what we were doing next, an AD telling me we are running out of light, actors who were freezing, and a constant feeling that we had to rush.  Doug told me to stick to my guns, and make sure that I got the performance I wanted no matter what.  Sometimes that involved having an actor do ten takes, as they were traversing ranges of emotions, from fear, to rage, to desperation, to guilt, and we needed to give the editor many different options, as we won't know what we want until we look at a rough cut of the film.  If you rush through that, you miss the important moments.  He constantly told me to "get the performance you want."   The rest of the crew, from the interns who were dragging fire pits around, to the wardrobe, sound, production manager, AD, and everyone else, all wore about six different hats, made very little money, and worked their asses off.  That is what it's all about, and I am forever grateful.

Up next...

We are planning on submitting to all major festivals, under the Short Film Narrative Program.   Among those on our target list are Sundance, Tribeca, Cannes, and Toronto.  Over the next four weeks our Emmy award winning editor Jeff Reilly will come up with an "assembly cut," which I will then look at to make adjustments.   Once we are happy with our edit, we will send off to a colorist for color correction, a sound editor for sound mixing, a composer, another person to do titles (credits, etc.), and then we will submit to festivals.   We raised more than our goal on Indiegogo (thanks to you guys!), which allows us to pour more money into this part of the process, and make it better than our wildest dreams.   

Thank you for following this process so far.  I hope it has been as rewarding for you as it has been for me.  There is so much more to come, but I am really enjoying shining a huge spotlight on this, as I think it's really important for actors and other artists to understand the nuts and bolts that go into a passion project like this.   




Matt Newton

acting coach/writer/director

7 days till we film and I'm freaking out!

There are 7 days until I direct my first movie and I'm freaking out!!!!     "Hide/Seek" started out as a little movie I wrote, that I was going to film in my backyard for no money, and has quickly turned into a $15,000 SAG-AFTRA professional short film with a DP who won Sundance, an editor who has two Emmy awards, a producer who worked on a Cuba Gooding Jr. movie, articles in local newspapers, and a lead actor who is on "the Blacklist."  When did this all happen?   

Every free moment of my life since casting has been spent in full pre-production mode, doing location scouting, test footage, discussing cameras and lenses, script rewrites, shooting schedule, wardrobe, budget stuff, transportation, housing, lighting, and has essentially been this amazing, transformative, once in a lifetime masterclass in the art of filmmaking.  As nutty as it is, this is a great learning experience for me, and for my actors.    

Regarding my cast... They are incredible.  Bryan Manley Davis, Michelle Vezilj, Sophie Knapp and Ned van Zandt are the best around.  They have shown up to rehearsals (they don't have to), location scouts (definitely not necessary), and test footage shoots, without complaining one bit.  I mean, how did I get so lucky?  They say half of making a great movie happens in the casting, and I agree.   All of this work we are doing is to prep for that wonderful first day when I say "Action" and those cameras capture my amazing actors doing what they do best.   I can't wait.   In my eyes, nothing matters except the truth that happens when those cameras start rolling on day 1 of principle photography.

It's amazing what goes into a small project like this.  I probably talk to my producer 3 times a day (the wonderful Ellyn Vander Wyden), discussing everything from the type of peanut butter we will have on set, to the type of dirt we will use to bury the lead actor at the end, to the color of the boots Ned Van Zandt will wear when we first see him in the film.    I can't believe I wrote this script over the weekend two months ago, and now it is coming to life.

The coolest part of this whole process has been the support we have gotten.   We decided to try our hand at crowd-funding (which I highly recommend), and hit our goal of $10,000 within 10 days of launching.   Now that our project has gotten so much bigger, we have decided we need another $5,000 to cover post production costs, so we have added a "stretch goal" to our campaign.   This extra $5,000 will cover sound mixing, editing, color correction, music compostion, and most importantly, submission fees to all the major festivals (Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca, Cannes, etc,) including more specifically targeted high end genre festivals.   Those festival fees add up to $1000-$1500 alone, believe it or not.  Because I'm an acting coach, I am able to add all of these cool perks for actors who donate, including coaching sessions with me, skype lessons, audition taping, business consultations, and now even a coffee date with me (That's right).   Once you donate, you get exclusive access to my daily journal about the making of this film. As I always said, this is a film for actors, and by actors.  It's all about passing along the knowledge and helping actors truly understand this crazy business.  If you would like to donate, visit our Indiegogo campaign here.   We have only 6 days left, and we would love your help with this last push!  Feel free to share the campaign with any actor friends you know.  

I'm so looking forward to this shoot, to spending 12 hours a day with these actors, and to passing along everything I've learned to the students at MN.  Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I will talk about the actual shoot!  Wish me luck!!!!!

Spotlight: Lessons from choosing my cast...

I am pleased to announce that after receiving 3500 submissions, doing auditions, callbacks, and chemistry reads, we have cast my film "Hide/Seek"!    We saw 25 actors in our callbacks, and ultimately had to choose the our actors that made the most sense for our film.   Here's how we did it.

We had two strong options for each character, a main choice and a backup, based on hair color, talent, casting a "family", and how everyone fit together based on their chemistry reads in the callbacks.   I knew that whoever I cast would be amazing so I wasn't worried about it.  I had Kimberly Graham put "pins" in our actors right away, like 30 minutes after we finished.  Because what's the point of waiting?  I had my choices, and I didn't want actors to be waiting in agony for no reason  (I hate that).    I didn't need to review the tapes (I did that after auditions), and as the day went on I got a better sense of who I was going to use (although there were some amazing surprises).  A "pin" is when you are very interested in someone, and you want them to know that they are probably going to get it (although sometimes pins "fall out.")  Meanwhile we have to work up the official deal memo, and figure out all the logistics (housing, per diem, transportation, title card billing, etc.).    You'd be amazing at how much goes into simply giving an offer.  On top of that, we had to make sure our lead actor Ned Van Zandt could do the shoot dates, as he is currently on "The Blacklist," in which case we would have needed to go with our second choice.   Luckily it worked out.    We had to keep it secret until the offers were officially accepted, because you never know if an actor is going to suddenly be unavailable.   Meanwhile, for those I called back who were students of mine, I emailed every one of them with their feedback.   Basically, it was "You were great.  It was about hair color.   Or age. You impressed the hell out of me."  Everyone killed it.  Hardest decision ever. 

Our first table read is this Friday, March 18th with the cast and producers.  This is the first time I will be hearing the entire script out loud with the actors, picturing the shots in my mind, figuring out what lines work and don't work, and how they are interpreting the characters.    

Meanwhile, I'm spending every waking moment working on this film-- doing test footage, storyboards, shot lists, calling catering companies, meeting with editors, sound guys, doing phone interviews with local newspapers, talking through shots with director friends of mine, location scouting, raising extra funds, negotiating with people, blogging, running an acting studio, coaching on Blue Bloods, and having the time of my life learning about the process of making this film.  I'm really enjoying sharing this process with you, and this film is going to be great! 

Check out our cast below, and please consider donating to this film.   We are offering lots of perks to contributors, like audition taping, Skype lessons, business consultations, demo reels, copies of my book, dinner with the production team, and even a producer credit on the movie!  

Our Cast

NED VAN ZANDT (Actor, "Tim")

Ned is a veteran actor of stage and film, currently has a recurring role on the hit NBC show The Blacklist, and has a supporting role in the upcoming Jay Roach film, All The Way, starring Bryan Cranston and Anthony Mackie.    Other credits include The Iceman Cometh on Broadway with Kevin Spacey, WEEDS, LOST, THE RIVER, NURSE JACKIE, PERSON OF INTEREST, LAW AND ORDER, SPIN CITY, and dozens of other TV shows and films. 


Bryan has appeared in dozens of television shows and films.    Next up, Bryan will be filming the lead role in the feature film "The Unexplained Disappearance of Karla Marks" produced by Invasive Image. Bryan currently trains and coaches with Matt Newton of MN Acting Studio.

MICHELLE VESILJ (Actress, "Sherry")

Film: Ovum (Best Picture at the 2015 Big Apple Film Festival), Lonely Boys, Heart of the Beast, Police Humor. National Tours: SPANK! The Fifty Shades of Grey Parody (Tasha Woode - Anastasia). Music Videos: "So Be It" by Drink Me Up (Won "Best Music Video" at The LA International Film Festival), "Karma" by Drink Me Up (The NYC Independent Film Festival). For free download of Drink Me Up's EP: is repped by Prestige Management, and is currently studying under Matt Newton at MN Acting Studio in New York City. 

SOPHIE KNAPP (Actress, "Sophie")

Sophie Knapp, 7, Actor, singer, dancer.  Most recently seen as Ivanka in Once in Broadway and in the equity national tour.  NYC: Dream Street, A Little Princess; Broadway Kids; Annie.  On Camera and commercial appearances include DR. Oz; Nickolodean Shimmer and Shine Promos; Smartcar; In the Haunting of.  Vocal performances: Broadway Sessions; Lyrics for Life. Thanks to CESD, Zoom Talent, family, coaches, and Matt. 

Watch our video.....

Check out our Indiegogo campaign, with lots of perks for actors...

Spotlight: Lessons from callbacks for "Hide/Seek"

In my last blog post, I talked about watching 60 actors audition for my short film "Hide/Seek," and my thoughts on the casting process, as I spent the day watching actors with my casting director Kimberly Graham.  In this week's post, I will be discussing what it was like sitting through 4 hours of callbacks and chemistry reads with 25 talented actors.

Before going into these callbacks, I vetted all the actors.  I mean, I watched their reels (twice), reviewed their audition tapes, looked at their resumes (3 times), googled them, checked out their websites, and armed myself with knowledge.  Creepy?  No.  Normal?  Yes.    I wanted to know everything about every actor that came in, so that I knew their work, how they looked on-camera, and had a sense of their personality.    I am trusting them with my baby, and I want to make educated, informed decisions before I spend a week with them.  

 I wanted actors to come in, and do their best work, as if it was truly happening to them, as if we were on day 1 of principle photography.  At the callback there was nobody in the room but me.  No casting director, no producers, no reader.   I wanted the callback to be comfortable and open, and have the actors feel like they would on set.  I wanted to give them that "It's us against the world" mentality, and I wanted them to bebrave and confident, as that is how I run my classes.  Don't you wish every audition felt like this?  When actors feel judged they get tentative, and I needed them to get crazy.   That's the only way to know if they can truly bring it on set.  As I said before, auditions are an unfair way to gauge talent, and everyone is so on edge.  I didn't want the actors to worry about the camera or the reader this time, so I let them run out the scene however they wanted, with whatever blocking and not have to worry about their frame.  It was liberating for them, as they didn't have the constraints of awkward audition physicality without having someone to work off of.   I know how awkward that can be, and wanted this to be as comfortable as possible.  I hope I accomplished that.

The callbacks began, and I was totally nervous.  At this point, I had no favorites, and everyone had an equal shot at the role.  Truly.  I saw roughly 6 actors for each role in the callback, and I grouped actors to see how they fit together.  I already knew what kind of "type" I was going for, and so I was most interested in who fit together.   Leonardo Dicaprio could come in,  but if he doesn't fit the family I'm casting, it won't matter.  Oh wait....not sure about that one.

I ran it like this: I grouped people, swapped out actors, had them improvise the scene, and had them completely immerse themselves in the world of these characters.   It was really fun and inspiring to watch these actors create a life around my silly dialogue.   Everyone was terrific.  

Here's my takeaway from the session....

1. Everyone killed it.   Nobody was better than anyone else.   

2. My job was to go from  3500 submissions, to 25 callbacks, to 4 bookings.   For a small project like this, that breaks down to actors having a 1/875 shot of booking.  What's it like for a bigger job?  1/1,000,000?    

3. I was looking to cast a family, so i was thinking in terms of physical appearance at this point, as everyone was already more than deserving of playing the roles.

4. "Do we want to go ethnic?  Do we want them to be Hollywood pretty, or small town pretty?  Too tall?"

5. We had 2 top choices for each role based on what we wanted the family to look like.  I could have gone in either direction with the final decisions.

6. I had the actors do improvisations around the scenes.  Some people hadn’t read the script, so they had a hard time with that.

7.  I didn't care what shirt people wore, how nice it was outside, or how much they "loved" the script.   I was only interested in how actors connected to each other on-camera.   The ones who were in the script weren't able to connect.  Simple as that.  

8. I can’t stress enough how much is out of the actor’s control.  We were having discussions about height between the couple, nationality, tone of the performance, and silly small things that have nothing to do with acting, and everything to do with a "look." 

9.   Everyone pretty much wore the same outfit they wore for the first audition.  I think that's a commercial audition thing.   I didn't care.  

10.  I couldn't keep actors more than an hour, I was told, or they could tell SAG (fun fact:  I did that once in LA after I was kept at an audition for 3 hours, and I ended up getting a check fro $100 in the mail).  

11.  I wanted to follow each actor out, just like I did in the auditions, and say "You were great.  Whatever happens, don't lose sleep over this.  Seriously, it came down to type.  You can't control that."

12.  It was all about chemistry reads, and how two amazing actors played off each other.  Just because two actors are good, doesn't mean they will work well together.   Jeff Daniels said "Dirty Little Secret:  Chemistry is nothing more than two actors who listen, react, and trust each other.  I didn't know Michelle, she didn't know me, but on Day 1 we grabbed hands and jumped.  First, we trust.  We'll get acquainted on the way down."  That is what I expected from my actors.  Most did this, some were tentative.  

All in all, this was amazing.  Afterwards, we put pins in the top actors within minutes, as we didn't want to lose them to a bigger job.  I didn't want to wait, keep actors hanging, and stress them out.   I emailed every single one of the actors I definitely wasn't going to use and told them why it won't be going further.  Actors need feedback, it helps them grow, helps them figure out what they need to work on.  Or even helps manage their expectations.  I even emailed some of the agents and told them how great their clients were.   There's too much damn mystery in this business, and people need to know how they did.

For my next blog, I will be announcing the cast!!!!!!  Thanks for coming on this journey with us.   



SPOTLIGHT: Lessons from auditions....

This is my second blog post on the making of my film “Hide/Seek”, a SAG short that I wrote, and will be directing in April.  As you know, I am documenting the process of making this film through this blog, as well as on my Instagram.   The purpose of this is to help actors understand the business side of making a film, through breakdowns, submissions, casting, booking, pre-production, filming, post, and everything else that comes along with it.   There are many do's and don'ts or actors, and I will share them with you.  When I was an actor, there was so much mystery around all of this, and I think it’s important to shine a huge spotlight on this process, as it helps actors gain knowledge, as well as help manage their expectations about this crazy business.

In last week’s post, I talked about submissions.  I received 3500 of them, through Actors Access, Backstage, and through agents and managers through Breakdowns Services.  It was overwhelming, and I offered a bunch of advice for actors who are submitting themselves for breakdowns.

In this week’s post, I will be discussing auditions, and what is going on behind the scenes when actors walk into the room for the first call.

I had 3500 submissions, and I saw 60 actors total over the course of 2 days.  That’s 15 actors per role.   I had 1200 submissions for the role of Sherry alone.    Crazy right?     Half of those 60 choices were current or former students of mine, and half were actors Kim Graham (my casting director) brought in from workshops (that’s right), agent submissions, referrals, etc.  It was a win-win for everyone, as my students came in and made a great impression on Kim, and Kim’s selects came in and got on my radar.  Actors from workshops, who wouldn’t always be brought in for Kim’s other projects, had a real opportunity to come in for a smaller project like this.  My actors had a wonderful chance to impress one of the top casting directors in New York.  By seeing my own actors, I had the distinct advantage of already knowing their work, and already knowing that they would be amazing and knock it out of the park, as I have seen them do over and over again in classes and private coaching sessions.    So the audition was a formality, and more to see if they fit with my idea of the character. 

It was very tough.   Everyone was terrific.   I swear to God.   Going into this, I had one rule.   I don’t care if actors are union or non union, and I don’t care if they have an agent or not, or have been on 15 TV shows.  I just want the best actors.   Having been a professional actor for over 15 years, and having been on thousands of auditions, I know what actors are thinking when they walk into that room.   It was very important to me to make it the warmest, most comfortable environment possible so they can do their best work.  Nothing is worse than walking into a cold room.    It was very hard for me to not “coach” them, especially the kids.  I know if I had 30 minutes with every actor that came in, I could make it the best audition they’ve ever had.  It’s what I do.  However, I had to learn to take a back seat, politely say “thank you,” and fight every urge in my body to follow them out and say “Seriously, you killed it.  I have no idea if you get this or not, but you were terrific.”  Because they were!  And I know how actors get when they leave the room and hold onto stuff.  

Spending the day with Kimberly Graham was like a Masterclass in casting--hearing her feedback, discussing actors with her, what she likes, doesn’t like, etc.   After seeing 60 actors, I learned one thing:  ALL THAT MATTERS IS THAT ACTORS COME IN, BE THEMSELVES, AND TRULY LISTEN.

Everything else is soooo out of your control.   It doesn’t matter what shirt you are wearing, it doesn’t matter if you forget your lines, if you mime or not, and it definitely doesn’t matter if you didn’t get to do it a second time.   It’s a waste of time and energy to obsess about this stuff, and if that’s all you are worried about, then YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY BE PRESENT in a one minute scene on-camera.   That’s the big lesson.  Kim and I talked about that endlessly.  Some actors were too in their heads, and some were so present I didn’t even notice they were auditioning.  That is the gold standard, and what every actor should strive for.  I used to spend countless hours before every audition worrying about facial hair, whether or not I should powder, what my shirt says about me, whether to shake hands or not when I walk in, why the casting director was emailing the whole time I was in the room, why everyone seemed bored, etc.  Everything to take me out of the present moment.  Waste. Of. Time.   None of it has anything to do with what’s happening when that camera is rolling. 

Without further ado, here are my takeaways.  Keep in mind, this doesn’t apply to all projects, and I’m sure it’s different for network TV, but this is my experience working on a SAG short.

1.     I saw 60 actors.  I thought I would be bored to tears hearing all these actors read the same lines for two days straight.  Guess what?  I wasn’t.  I was truly impressed with each actor, and was excited for each one, even the very last one of the day when I was starving and tired and wanted a glass of wine.     I was open and cared immensely, and it was important to give each one an honest shot, and the same amount of attention and energy (as I do in my coaching).  Maybe because I’m the one funding the film?  Probably.

2.     In the initial audition, it’s about weeding out the people who don’t fit the type that I’m going for.   All I needed was for them to read one page of dialogue for me to go “definitely yes” or “definitely no.”  If we didn’t give you a redirect, it means NOTHING.   If I did give a redirect, it was because I maybe didn’t know you and wanted to see if you could take direction.  The callback is for taking the people I feel are right, and really working with them to see if I can get what I want.

3.     The outfit doesn’t matter one bit.  Most people came in with plaid shirts, some with facial hair and some without.  I know they planned this, because I too used to think this mattered so much.  As a director, I barely noticed.  Maybe this matters for network TV, but not for this project.   You are who you are.  I never said to myself "Hm, I WAS going to cast that person, but they wore the wrong color shirt, so I'm not going to cast them anymore."

4.     If people forgot their lines, it didn’t matter.  They just asked to start again.   I didn’t care at all.  I used to think this meant I wasn’t getting the job.  Not true.

5.     Some actors are great auditioners, but have never been on-camera before, and have no proven track record.  Some are not so great in the room, but have huge, amazing resumes and have been on dozens of TV shows and major films.   Auditioning is a very weird, unfair way to gauge talent.

6.     When actors are done, there is always those ten seconds while they gather their stuff and leave the room.  It’s silent.  It’s awkward.   It’s part of your job.  Sometimes I felt the need to say “great job” over and over again, because I know how awkward that is, and then I learned to just shut my mouth.

7.     Sometimes the only reason you don’t get called back is because “I wasn’t feeling it.”  It had nothing to do with the read, and everything to do with the type that I have in my mind for the script that I wrote two months ago, that I poured my heart and soul into.   For some actors (even Meryl Streep), there is literally nothing they can do to change that.

8.     Sometimes the feedback is “too tall,” “too stiff,” “too sexy,” “not listening,” “too ethnic,” “not relatable enough” or “it just didn’t pop.”  And sometimes I agreed, and sometimes disagreed.  It never went much deeper than that.   We had lots of discussions about what we wanted the "family" to look like in the film (blonde, ethnic, New England, Ken and Barbie, etc).   

9.     Some actors made strong, crazy choices that didn’t make any sense.  It didn’t matter.  If I liked them, I had them try it again a different way.

10. I didn’t care one bit if an actor “said the line wrong.”  It’s about the essence of the person, not the nuance of a line.  I can worry about that more in callbacks.

11. Some actors just seemed “too young.”  As the day went on, after seeing many people, I realized I wanted older actors, and the vibe of the characters changed a bit in my mind.  

12. There were so many good actors, I wanted to bring back 90% of them.  I could only bring back 5 for each.

13. Just because we didn’t say anything after your audition, or didn’t smile, doesn’t mean we didn’t like you.   Half the time an actor would leave, and Kim would say “I love her.”  Half the time I would say “Definitely a callback. What’s for lunch?” and I would check my Instagram.   Never did we sit there for 10 minutes and discuss any actor at length.    I used to take my time in the waiting room after my auditions, just to see how long they stayed in there talking, figuring that meant they were really considering me.  Trust me, we are telling stupid stories about our dogs.

14. The casting director is there to serve me, the director.  She has opinions about actors, as do I, and it’s very specific to this project.   If someone was not right for this, but nailed it, both of us were like “Love them. Must remember that person.”  That goes a long way. 

15. When a director or casting director says “good job” at the end, don’t think too much into it.  It’s just filling space while you gather your things.  Same goes if they ask your height or age.  I used to think that meant I was booking the job.  Not true.  Just time filler.

16. I’m looking to cast a family.  A 6 year old kid, her mom, and her grandfather.  Some actors fit together, some don’t.  No matter what shirt you wear.

17. For this kind of project (SAG short, not network TV), I’m looking to cast people who look like they live in a small town, not “Hollywood” types.   Some people are just way too good looking for that. 

18. Some terrific people didn’t get callbacks, and for those I knew, I emailed them individually to tell them why.   There is nothing worse than never getting any feedback, so I felt compelled to give out that information.  I will do the same with the callbacks.  I wish in this business that every actor could get immediate feedback on the spot.

19. Some actors were “offer only,” and wouldn’t audition.   Some had tons of credits, were nominated for major awards, and were more than happy to come in and pre-read.  Made a huge difference.  With a small project like this, it means they like the script, and that’s the kind of person I want to work with.

20. Self tapes… always secondary to being in the room.    I always want to meet someone and give them notes.  If the self tape wasn’t the right vibe, it was hard to call them back.  If they were in the room, they may have had a second chance. 

21. Sometimes I would ask myself “Would I want to spend five days on a film shoot with this person?” And sometimes the answer was no.   You have to be someone people want to work with.   Open, non-judgemental, intelligent, and professional.

22. The scene I gave the actors was very active and physical, which is hard to do in an audition situation opposite a reader.     Some people acted “out of breath,” and some didn’t.  Some mimed, and some didn’t.    I truly didn’t care, as it was more about the essence of the person, how open they were, how much they were listening (and not too planned in their choices), and whether or not the audience would like them and relate to them.

23. An actor who comes in, just stands there, and really listens and absorbs what’s being said, goes way further than an actor who comes in with planned stuff, and are too “in their head” and not really in the scene.

Hope this helps you guys understand what goes into something like this.  This is all for a small project, that is paying actors $125/day.  I can imagine this being very different for a network TV show, with many cooks in the kitchen (showrunners, casting, producers, writers, etc.).     Having sat through this, it makes me think back to all of those auditions through the years where I overthought every single little part of the audition, and the sheer amount of time I wasted worrying about things that don’t matter.   Just learn to be present for two minutes and listen.  Then let it go after.  It goes a long way.  

In the next blog post, I will be discussing CALLBACKS, where I will be pairing up the actors, doing chemistry reads, having them improvise, matching them up, and ultimately deciding on my top four choices.  Yay honesty!