Especially when we actors are getting started, we will consider any and all projects. If you start out with a little self-respect, you will save yourself possibly years of agony having your schedule thrown upside down, chasing your pay, and collecting footage of your work.
Here are the most common issues with working in indie film—and how you can avoid falling prey to them.
1. The filmmakers don’t have a solid plan. The key is to start asking questions as soon as they make you an offer. Ask them what and when the pay is, what they want to make, their inspiration, their vision, release plans, budget, crew size, accommodations, etc. This may sound intrusive, but these are all pretty simple questions. And if someone can’t answer them, you may find yourself in many versions of limbo—either one at a time or all at once.
2. The dates keep changing. Actors, more than anyone, are often asked to place themselves on hold. They want you to not accept work while they figure out what the heck they are doing. If you are worth something to them, they will pay you for it. Tell them you appreciate their interest and give them 24 hours to make up their mind or you will consider other work. You are not turning them down. You are just behaving as they would given the same circumstances, and they’ll respect you more for it.
3. Family-working. No, I didn’t mean networking. “Family-working” is a term I coined to describe the type of relationship you want to have to become as successful as possible in life. Family-working is about selecting people you can connect with based on things you have in common, mainly your life goals. While on a set, keep an eye on who seems headed in the same direction. Whose company do you enjoy and who do you want to collaborate with? Maybe you are working with the next J.J. Abrams or David Fincher. Get involved and get ready to hitch your wagon.
4. Get to know decision-makers. Make an effort to get to know decision-makers and get them to like you by doing an awesome job and taking an interest in theirs. By connecting with them, you will have a much easier time getting paid, collecting footage, and getting referrals from them. Someone at some point is going to introduce you to someone who will change your life. Go say hello.
5. Offer to help. If you have some time before your next scene and you are in your civvies, figure out what you can and want to do and offer to pitch in. It’s easy for actors to blend into the scenery on an indie film set because everyone else is moving and talking except you. If you have some skill that they could desperately use, offer it up. They will love you for it and you will alleviate the urge to eat another Red Vine.
6. Negotiate your price. If you book a decent role you actually might have some leverage to negotiate your offer. The more you ask for, the more they will think you are worth. Wouldn’t you assume the best lawyer is the one that charges $2,000/hour, not $300? People generally assume that someone is worth what they ask for. The only question is whether they can afford it. If they say no, you can always “make an exception because it’s such an awesome project” and take their offer.
7. Get paid. If you like getting paid, get in writing what and when you will get paid. It’s very easy to get caught up in thinking anything you do to create assurances for yourself will be perceived as trouble-making, but if that’s the case then maybe you need to reconsider whether you want to do a project that sees professional behavior that way. Remember, a swindler is less likely to swindle someone they think is hip to the ways of the world.
There are countless films being made at any given time and there is simply no reason why you should subject yourself to the whims or unprofessionalism of producers who don’t have their proverbial you-know-what together.
The sooner you start treating yourself professionally and this business like a profession, the sooner it will return the favor.
Check out Backstage’s film audition listings!
The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.