Friday, June 10, 2011

Rollercoaster of "Huh?": How to Say No

I went on quite the little acting rollercoaster last night. I got home from work around 6 and checked my sites. I had an email on Actor's Access in response to a submission I'd made for a short film. Turned out they had scheduling issues and wondered if I could make it to an 8 PM audition. Good thing we moved back into the city.

I confirmed and they sent me the sides. They were weird, and wordy, and gave little to no information about the piece as a whole. So I did what I do best: a facile surface read. That's no exaggeration, it really is what's gotten me this far. You'd be surprised.

Anyway, my slot was 8-8:05. I show up at 7:55 and there are three guys waiting outside the room, with no sign-in or anything. More people start showing up, and finally someone comes out and puts a sheet out, telling us that they'll go by sheet order (why oh why did you bother giving us time slots then?). For all I know there are still people waiting in line to read for that film.

At this point I'm a little concerned. I have zero information about these people. There was nothing on the breakdown, other than the title of the film and the name of the casting director (who was a woman, and obviously not one of the two guys in the room). Is it associated with a school? Is it a production company that has other work? What the heck is it about? When is it shooting?

Well, I had clues to the latter on the information sheet, where they asked if I was available the next three weekends (including today, Friday). I guess?

I go in and do my thing and the person who I assume is the director makes it sort of evident that he's going to cast me and tells me to look for an email tonight. When I get one, it's from the casting director to "undisclosed recipients" telling us congratulations, and what to wear for the party scene Saturday, and to look for a second email telling each of us who we'll play. At this point I start to see what's going on, but I want to wait for that second email.

When it comes I finally have a script and production company. I do some research. I figure out what the movie's actually about. It's pretty strange. And I have one line. There are a couple of things that are preventing me from wanting to continue on this project. First, based on the hastily put-together breakdown and initial side, I'm led to believe that maybe Saturday wouldn't be the most organized day. Second, I had a really bad experience with something similar a few years ago. And finally, I've done this before. I don't need to do one line in some short film for free again. I have enough of that for my reel, and the experience doesn't have a lot more to teach me. So after much angsty deliberation I wrote back and said thank you, but no.

A word on that experience a few years ago: I auditioned for a group who wanted to do something in the 48-hour Asian American Film Festival. You get a cast together, get the idea from the organization at the same time everyone else does, then have 48 hours to shoot and edit a film. I had a good, lengthy audition in front of an Asian director and his white friend who seemed to actually be the director. It felt pretty good. Then we rehearsed as a group on Saturday morning, trying to build an ensemble and seeing where everyone fit in. Then we all sat in front of a store for six hours while that white guy filmed his vanity project with his buddy, and turned us into glorified extras. Never again.

So here are the points I'm trying to get across. My saying no is not a statement on the quality of this piece or what I think the finished product might look like. I don't think those guys are beneath me. What I saw on their site was very professional, and they're shooting with a nice camera. But people in my position are forced to be beggars for far too long, and it's degrading. How often have you gotten cast in something only to find out later the thing you're doing is batshit crazy? Why does it feel so presumptuous for an unknown actor to say something like "hey, before we get into all this, can I see a script and decide if this is right for me?" How long do I need to catch table scraps from other people's tables? I've done the one-line thing. I have a reel. If I'm going to do it any more, I'm going to do it for money. Sorry. I have to protect myself.

And future filmmakers, please realize how important your breakdown is. It's the first contact you have with the people who will eventually be in your movie. You literally cannot put too much information in it. It will help you get the actors who are right for your project.

So there it is. From pre-audition to cast to no-thank-you in four short hours. Now I'm going to go audition for this 13-year old. This should be good.