Tales From The Big Chair: Notes to the Would-be Actor

Once again, filmmaker Shawn Ewert joins us to discuss matters of indie film making while working on his latest feature, “Sacrament”. This time, he has some words of wisdom for actors.

You can donate to his project at their IndieGoGo page: http://www.indiegogo.com/sacramentthefilm

It’s a special kind of person that takes pleasure in entertaining people. Whether they be an actor, comedian, singer – what have you. I have done it a few times, and realized very quickly that there is a reason I prefer being behind the camera. Because of that, I have nothing but respect for those that are able to put themselves out there for the world to see. Maybe they are playing the fool, maybe the lover – whatever it is, they have enough self-confidence to get out there and bring it.

We recently finished the casting for our new film, Sacrament, and had an overwhelming response to our casting calls. It is incredibly exciting as a filmmaker to have people take an interest in your project. After all the scheduling, endless emails, and going through headshot after headshot – we had more people respond than we could ever possibly see.

That being the case, we had to be as selective as we could to bring in the people we thought were going to fit the roles in our film. This brings me to the first note for the actor going out for an audition.

1. Have a current headshot.

In terms of budget, our film is fairly small, and the number of people that submitted for our auditions with no picture was staggering. I cannot imagine going through this process on a big budget film, and having people submit without even a picture from their phone. Good or bad, casting for a film is like any other job. You have to grab the attention of the person doing the hiring as quickly as possible.

The fastest way for you to do that, is to have a picture for them to attach to your resume/email. On the first fifty or so emails with no picture, I emailed the person back to get a headshot. Some responded, some did not. After that, I stopped even bothering to look.

2. Don’t be Lazy

This goes hand-in-hand with number one. If you were going out for any other job, laziness will get you nowhere. It doesn’t help you in the film industry either. Come prepared to the audition. From the submissions that we received, the people that asked for sides, asked about the role, showed some serious interest – they are the people that we made sure were on the top of our list in scheduling.

I understand that a lot of people get hooked up with websites that blast filmmakers every time they post a casting call. Those sites have their place, and I am sure some people do find gigs that way. When I receive an email that is obviously not from a real person, or is a submission that makes no sense for the role, I move on. If you cannot be bothered to take the time to read the call to see if you’re a fit, why should I bother to take a look at what you might be able to bring to the table?

3. Make a Good Impression

This does not start at the audition, but rather in your initial communications. If you really want the role, make sure that you respond to emails, phone calls, etc. Do not just sit back and wait for the audition. I will bend over backwards to bring in an actor that has made a really good impression on me.

When it comes to the audition, be on time. Scheduling auditions is a bit like herding cats. Everyone has things to do, but if you get the audition and are on the schedule, being late screws things up for everyone – including you. If it is at all possible, be a little early. If for some reason the person scheduled before you finishes early, it gives the filmmaker a little bit of extra time that they can spend on your audition without feeling rushed.

4. Be Prepared

Being prepared – it’s not just for Boy Scouts anymore. When you arrive at the audition (on time or a little early), be ready. If you have received sides for the role, know them backwards and forwards. I know that seems like a lot to ask, but it shows the filmmaker that you are really interested in the role. It also gives them a little glimpse of what you will be like to work with on set.

Let the filmmaker know that they are dealing with someone that cares about their craft. You can act. Give them a chance to see it without the tarnish of fumbling through lines, or literally reading everything from the pages in front of you. If you are prepared, it shows them that you have a good work ethic.

5. Be Honest

Finally, be honest with the filmmaker, and yourself. Every person will not be a fit for every role. It’s just a fact. If you are fifty years old, you are not going to be picked to play the role of the twenty-something leading man. Conversely, if you are nineteen years old, going out for the role of a thirty-something father of two is not going to end well either.

At the audition, if you have questions, ask. Be honest if you are not sure about the motivation in a scene. If nothing else, it lets them know that you have thought about the role, and are genuinely interested in the film. If you have reservations about a scene, make sure that is voiced early. Telling the director on set that you don’t really know muay thai right before the big fight scene can set the film back considerably, and lose you the role. More than anything, be honest about your availability. If you have a vacation planned, or another project you are working on, make sure you tell them as soon as possible.

In the end, make sure you have done everything in your control to get the role. You still may not get it, but at least you can be assured that you did your part to the best of your abilities. If you do not get the role, try not to take it personally. Sometimes, it just comes down to a matter of one actor being a better fit with the other actors.

Thankfully, we landed a truly great cast for our film. It was a long process, and we saw a lot of really amazing people. I wish we could have brought in everyone that auditioned to be part of the film. In the end, we definitely got the right people for the job.

Shawn Ewert
Born and bred in North Texas, Shawn started writing short stories at a tender age. Following a deep love of film of every kind, he was encouraged to pursue his love of writing. Growing up during the heyday of the slasher film in the 80's, Shawn immediately developed an affinity for horror films that bordered on obsession.

Currently, Shawn is working on a number of different projects. Focusing his energies on Texas indie films, he moves from writing to directing, acting to set photography, and even catering film shoots to move into any role he is needed on set.

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