A Love Letter to Student Film Directors
To all the wonderful student film directors...
Hey guys. Matt here. I run an acting studio in Manhattan. I love student films. I did my first one when I was a Drama major at Vassar College. It was my first on-camera experience, and very valuable for me. I learned how film sets work, the different shot setups, how to "hit my mark," and what each person on the crew did. I made mistakes, I learned from them, and was so much more prepared when I stepped on my first network TV set for a show on CBS called "Judging Amy." If it wasn't for that student film experience, I would have been a hot mess acting opposite Tyne Daly with 150 crew members staring at me.
I am always encouraging my students to audition for student films, get that valuable on-set experience, and get some footage for that much needed demo reel that everyone is asking for nowadays. You all now have access to really high end equipment from your schools for free, which when you get into the real world will cost you a pretty penny. That's amazing! Your films look great, and the production value is incredible. I've seen some student films that look better than $250,000 features I've worked on. You can shoot quickly and affordably, post an ad in Backstage or Actors Access, and get tons of actors to submit and audition for your film, and hopefully do a good job and get a nice grade on your project. Perhaps that will be your calling card, which will allow you to go on and direct bigger and bigger projects with bigger and bigger actors, get your financing, and help you become a huge film director. Who knows, right?
So here's the deal. I want this to be a win-win. For you, your professor, your crew, and your fellow actors. Because we are all in this together, right? You are all starting out your careers and creating material to help you learn and grow, and you are surrounding yourself with actors who want the same. But you have to PROMISE me something. Give your actors their footage after a reasonable time after your film has finished post-production. That's not too much to ask, right? After all, it is promised in your breakdown that you post on Backstage or Actors Access. "Copy, meal, credit provided." I'm assuming that's an actual agreement between you and the actor. If this were a union project, you would actually have to sign a contract for that. In fact, I think all student film directors should sign a contract to give footage within a fixed amount of time. Professors should REQUIRE it before giving their final grade. You are lucky enough to be getting talented actors to work for free, and I hear far too often that my enormously talented actors are not getting their footage back from you. And I'm not talking about after two weeks when you haven't even finished editing it. I'm talking after 3 months, 6 months, or even 2 years. When you send that final Vimeo link to your professor to be graded, just CC the other actors that were in it. Don't make them beg, stalk you on Facebook, or email your professor. It's embarrassing for you. They take their time off work, don't get paid, work their ass off sometimes for 14 hour days that are constantly being rescheduled, and then they don't get what was promised to them. Seems unfair, right? Stay with me here.
Now I know life gets busy, schoolwork piles up, and it's just one of those things you forget about. However, there will come a day when these actors become very well known, and you will be dying to have them in your projects. You might reach out to their agent with your script, and then the actor will say "Isn't that the director that never gave me my student film footage? Hell no! I would never work for him." Because Karma's a bitch, and actors remember these things. They all talk. In my classes I constantly hear about you guys, and which of you are the "bad" and "good" directors, and which school you are in. You are far too early in your career to start burning bridges. That student film I did in college? It was directed by a guy named Jeff Davis, who went on to create "Criminal Minds" (which I was in), and "Teen Wolf." He gave me my footage.
Having been in this business a long time, I can tell you that it's smaller than you think, and you have to be nice to everyone as you begin your career. Actors, crew members, finance people, P.A.'s and everyone else. Because everyone will end up working together on another project, and it's all word of mouth. My actors ALWAYS want to work with a director again if their first experience was good. If my actor works on your film and has a great experience, gets his footage back, and you treat him with dignity, he will work on the next five projects with you. It's good for him, a good working relationship for you, and everyone wins. If it wasn't good, they will tell 20 actors about it. Good actors will not want to audition for your films, your film will suck, you will get a bad grade, and you won't have a film career. You may think that this is just a small project that no one will see, so it doesn't matter if you don't honor your deal with the actors, give them the footage once you finish your project, and ignore their requests to get their well-deserved footage. However, I'll tell you this: word gets around, and these talented actors will stop auditioning for your projects.
I love you. I mean it. You would be lucky to have my actors in your film. They will make it better, I promise you. You will learn and grow together.
I'm looking forward to you disagreeing with this. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can hear your side of the story here. Please TWEET this and SHARE on Facebook.