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The Working Actor

Sneaky Students? Calling Comment

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Sneaky Students? Calling Comment
Dear Jackie:

I wish that student filmmakers would stop trying to disguise their little student projects as something other than what they are: a student project. Some are described in their breakdowns as short films, some as pilots—or better yet, trailers. Why can't they call it what it is—a student film?! That way, I could stop wasting my time submitting for these things and driving out to audition for something that I want no part of. I feel like they're being sneaky and slimy.

I have nothing against student filmmakers. Everyone starts somewhere, and being a student is how we all learn. However, I am personally at the point in my career where I no longer want to audition for student films for myriad reasons. Been there, done that. So, that being said, I don't want to commit to an audition that is disguised as something else. I then show up and realize I've been duped. It's a waste of time, gas, and energy. The casting sites should have some sort of regulation that forces students to label their projects as student projects. That way, actors are clear as to what it really is. This is the actor's view on this, and I am sure most actors would agree with me.

—Done That via the BackStage.com message board

Dear Done:

I see your point. I also teach filmmaking at a university.

Students think of themselves as making Films, with a capital F. They see themselves as artists—and some are. Student filmmakers don't imagine that their films will die on campus but that they'll get into festivals and even earn distribution. I'm not saying they should omit the student aspect from their breakdowns. Of course they should be honest about who they are. But consider that they may not be mislabeling their posts to sucker actors. They just don't see their work the same way you might see it. For example, that no-dialogue film that is useless for your reel? It may be groundbreaking in their minds, requiring a "brilliant actor" whom it takes them three weeks to find.

Luke Crowe, Back Stage's national casting editor, agrees: "In my experience, most student filmmakers do not intentionally disguise their projects to look like nonstudent projects. Instead, because they think of themselves as indie filmmakers that just happen to be going to school, they come up with a clever production-company name for themselves and then simply forget to mention in their breakdown that their film is being made as a student project."

That being said, Back Stage, along with other reputable casting sites, makes an effort to ensure that notices are posted correctly by providing producers with specific project categories, such as student film. "If they select the student film category," Crowe says, "we can follow up with them to find out more information about the school they're attending. We also provide student filmmakers with a special code that lets them use Back Stage's casting services at a highly discounted rate. If they use the code, we know they're making a student film."

There's more. Back Stage checks the union status of projects, which reveals whether a film is working under a Screen Actors Guild Student Film Agreement. An audition locale can also be a tip-off: Auditions held at schools are usually student projects. "Likewise," Crowe adds, "we keep an eye out for projects that are using a .edu email address."

Other popular sites also perform due diligence in maintaining accuracy in their casting notices. "The very experienced breakdowns department can usually sense a lack of credibility or misrepresentation, in which case the breakdown is not published," says Bob Brody, Showfax/Actors Access general manager at Breakdown Services. "If someone does misrepresent their project and the breakdown is published, we pull the breakdown and cancel their account. We're on that 24/7."

No system is perfect, but both Back Stage and Actors Access strive to respond quickly to reports of misinformation. "What's important is that if an actor discovers genuine misrepresentation—they discover nudity is required but the breakdown said no nudity; they are subsequently told they have to pay to be in the project but this was not up front on the breakdown; and so forth—that they let us know," concludes Brody. "They can write to us at info@actorsaccess.com."

Crowe agrees. "We always listen to feedback from our readers," he says. "If an actor discovers that one of our casting notices is actually for a student project, we'll quickly update the notice to correctly reflect this." You can reach Back Stage's casting department in New York at casting@backstage.com or (212) 493-4420 and in Los Angeles at bswcasting@backstage.com or (323) 525-2358. See backstage.blogs.com/the411faq for more information.

Finally, here's another perspective on the student/nonstudent film question. "Anytime we're talking to student filmmakers, we always encourage them to be up front about the fact that they're making student films," Crowe explains. "We let them know that a lot of actors actually prefer student films over other no-pay indie projects, because student films provide a lot of benefits: Student filmmakers often have access to great camera, light, and sound equipment through their school that low-budget indie filmmakers might not be able to afford; they're usually well-trained by film school faculty that have professional experience; student films are often submitted to film festivals across the world, getting the actors extra exposure; and if something goes wrong, then the actors can report the problem directly to the college—a safety net that nonstudent projects can't provide. Because of how popular student projects are among a lot of actors, we've actually seen nonstudents pretending that they're making a film as part of a university program that they're not really attending."

Didn't see that coming, did you?

Dear Jackie:

Thank you for including in your "Top 10 Acting Myths" (Aug. 4) the myth that acting is a calling. Your comment that "Thespis didn't descend on your cradle and anoint you" is gold, and I recently quoted it to an actor friend who got way too egotistical for his/her britches. Someone had to.

We so often forget that this is a business, and it takes skill and practice to run a business. It drives me up the wall when actors—especially younger ones—go on ad infinitum about their passion but don't do anything; then they whine about the industry. Don't get me wrong—I've done my share of complaining too. But I'm happy to be reminded that this is a business and I'm not a demigod in it.

Your and Michael's columns are very helpful, and they're often the first part of Back Stage I read. Thank you for your continuing advice.

—Madeleine

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