Although the California Film & Tax Incentive Bill will soon take effect, and Californians hope to see a hearty influx of new industry jobs, presently actors are fiercely competing for fewer available jobs. But when auditions are far and few, sometimes it’s worth it to take matters into your own hands by creating your own project. Actors can take charge of their own careers by self-producing their own theater projects, short films, television pilots, music videos, Web series, or even features. If you are considering being proactive and creating work, here is some information to consider before getting started.

Why Produce?

First of all, there are several other reasons why actors would consider self-producing. Some seek to propel their careers forward by distinguishing themselves from other actors whether it be by demonstrating a wider range of roles they believe they can convincingly portray or by showcasing their developing special skills. Casting directors will therefore see the talent in a new light, and this can translate to more audition opportunities in the future. Additionally, some newer actors find themselves in a catch 22. That is, they might be having a hard time finding representation because they lack experience to add to their acting credits or to a reel. After all, agents are more apt to represent clients who have some degree of resume credits and footage to showcase. Not only does it show them what that potential client is all about, but it demonstrates that the actor is serious about working as a professional. Unfortunately, without representation, it’s an uphill battle to procure the auditions that are necessary to build a reel and resume. Another reason actors might self-produce is because they desire to create a project centered on a specific topic of interest or with a group of people with whom they feel strongly connected.

Whatever your reasons, being involved in the production from start to finish is a tremendous learning experience, and most actors who’ve done it agree it’s worth the time and hard work. Depending on the size of your project, you’ll be faced with technical obstacles, challenges to find a team that works well together, and the task of procuring adequate funds. If it’s your first attempt at a production, it’s a good idea to have the finished product be about three minutes or less. A plus for shorter projects like this is you can get a taste of what it takes to produce without it breaking the bank, and you increase the chances of it being watched in full by busy industry professionals as it doesn’t require too much of their time. But however long your project is or whatever format you decide to pursue, you’ll want to prepare, expect challenges, and assemble people who can help you along the way.

Cast and Crew

With all the technological advancements in digital cameras these days, making a worthy film shouldn’t be such a hard task, should it? Well, if you’ve never given it a go, you should be aware of some of the challenges that can come into play. First off, chances are with a limited budget you won’t be able to pay the cast and crew for their hard work. Therefore, to keep these people invested in the project it helps to find people who are as passionate about it as you are. This can save a lot of headaches later down the road, so choose wisely. It helps to gather skilled people who are eager to build their IMDb credits or their resumes, and who are reliable and punctual. Networking can be invaluable to accumulating the right people, but sometimes colleges, local theaters, or Craigslist can be helpful to find that certain someone. Also, casting someone just because he or she is your friend might hurt the project in the end if his or her acting skills are not yet fully realized. If it sounds like you’re going to need to be a boss, then you get the picture. While some actors may relish the thought of taking the lead like this, others may have a hard time dealing with a chronically late DP, for example, who is taking a toll on the morale on set. Also make sure to have knowledge of proper sound equipment and protocol–or if you don’t, have access to someone who does. New filmmakers often overlook sound quality thinking the mic on the camera is sufficient; but, they come to learn that a stunning visual is not worth much if the sound proves to be problematic. Likewise, you can help prevent frustration in the editing room by positioning someone to use a slate during the shoot. 

A Strong Storyline

In addition to finding that great cast and crew, you don’t want to underestimate the importance of having a compelling storyline and a well-written script from which to work. Run it past others for feedback. After all, it’s much easier to tackle problems when a project is in script form than later on after you’ve been shooting and the money has run out, or your cast and crew have moved on to their next projects.

Keeping Things Simple

If you have a tight budget, you can save time and money by shooting outside during the day. Otherwise, you’ll want someone who knows how to light a set properly. Other ways to keep things simple is to film yourself performing a captivating monologue, but here again, make sure the lighting and sound are up to par. But if you’re working with others, one place not to skimp is on food. Providing meals and snacks for your cast and crew keeps them energized, ready to work, and keeps morale up.

Choosing a Format

With all the marketing avenues you can take with your content, it’s helpful to know before you pursue your project what your desired outcome is. Do you simply want to fill out your actor reel? Make a Web series? Produce a trailer to post on websites like Kickstarter to raise funds for a feature? Your decision makes a difference in regards to the size of your budget as well as if you plan to, say, post the content on YouTube. Be aware that short films submitted to festivals require registration fees, and your project might not be selected after all; but, if it is selected you might need travel expenses, and posters or postcards made. You might need to be flexible; running out of money while making a feature can lead you to other options like using your content for a short or Web series, for example. 

Follow Your Passion

Most importantly, follow your heart. If you’re enthusiastic about the work, it will show. It also might motivate you to dig into iMovie or Final Cut Pro or varieties of camera lenses or script writing. You might find you’re increasingly eager to have your projects be seen through sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and Blip or in film festivals. Certainly, add the footage to your actor reel. By putting your signature on a project that you believe in, you build your confidence, continue growing as an artist, and promote your acting career. It’s in your hands to create the projects you see yourself performing in.

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