Acting in a Student Film? This Agent Has 3 Pieces of Advice

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

Does this plot sound familiar? A young woman starts to overdose in the bathroom of a seedy dance club; in her dying moments, she experiences all the paths her life could’ve taken. 

I’m certain that particular movie has never appeared in your Netflix queue because it’s a student film I made in college. It’s been more than 20 years, and I still have wonderful memories of every exhausting moment of that production. The best part was when an experienced actor with impressive stage credits agreed to play the lead. Her faith in a know-nothing kid gave me the strength I needed to finish the film and earn my degree. This is one of the many reasons why I always advise actors, especially those who are just starting out, to consider working in student film.

These days, most kids spend a fortune to produce their movies, and they’re cranking out high-quality work. Since these projects are going to be their calling card in Hollywood, they have to look as professional as possible. 

RELATED: Feature Films Looking for Actors 

That means two things for you as an actor in student films: You’re going to end up with strong footage to put in your reel, and you’ll build relationships with filmmakers who might hire you when they hit it big.  

A word of advice, though: Only work with seniors; their films have to get done if they’re going to graduate. That’s not always the case for younger students, and the last thing you want is a half-finished experiment you can’t use for anything.

There are a few downsides, though. The biggest complaint I’ve heard from actors who have worked on student films is that they can’t get a copy of the finished movie. That’s unacceptable. If you’re working for free, a copy of the film (and some cold pizza) is your only compensation. If you behave like a professional, you shouldn’t have any problem getting it.

Here are three ways you can protect yourself:

1) Make sure you have everyone’s contact information. I’m talking about the students, their professor(s), and the head of the school’s film department. All of that info will come in handy if you ever have to track these people down.

2) Sign a written agreement with the students making the film. It should include a promise to provide you with a copy of the finished movie, the anticipated delivery date, and an invitation to the first public screening. Once everyone signs, make sure you send a copy of the agreement to their professor(s) and the head of the film department.

3) Keep in touch with the student filmmakers after the shoot. I’m not suggesting you make a pest of yourself—an occasional check-in is fine. Mention how much you enjoyed working on the movie, and tell them how you can’t wait to see it. If you keep a positive attitude, they’ll respond in kind.

If you have an agent, ask them to handle some of this communication. It will send a clear message that you’re a professional, and you’ll be protected five ways from Sunday.

Speaking as a former film student, I believe you should take great pride in booking one of these movies. The student who picks you is trusting you with their dream—and I think that’s pretty damn impressive. 

This story originally appeared in the Apr. 6 issue of Backstage Magazine.

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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