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.