This is an old post I felt the need to re-post. It has been re-written a little.
There are plenty of independent films sprouting up this year and actors are salivating at the thought of landing a role; whether or not it pays, may not matter. Whether or not the film will be of decent production quality may not matter, either. If they can get the film into a film festival, an actor can still get that ever-so-coveted Imdb credit. If it doesn't even get any attention at all, it may still not matter; you might get some decent footage for your demo reel. Heck, it may not even matter if it gets finished ..or it even gets made, "Hey, still it's work ...right?"
Well, I am not going to lecture you on what you should or should not do; it's your choice. You may need audition experience or on-set experience, or maybe you just want to practice your craft with other actors. Maybe you have to fulfill that burning desire to play "dress up" and "make believe". But if you come to me and tell me your stories of woe regarding an "indie gone bad", "the indie shoot from hell", or even the old "they didn't tell me I had to be naked" story, then prepare to get "the lecture".
Okay, I lied. Here's the lecture.
No matter what indie you're auditioning for, there's never any guarantee it will be successful, nor is there any guarantee it (or you) will be any good. But there are red flags you can look for and questions to ask before auditioning for any indie.
- Any audition posted on craigslist warrants careful scrutiny.
- If the notice asks for your pic to be sent electronically along with your birth date and home address, especially if they ask for your SS#, pass on it!
- If they spend more time boasting about themselves or their "big connections" to celebrities or industry leaders than the actual casting breakdown, then pass on it!
- If they present a long written treatment of the story, yet give no character breakdowns, they may not even have the characters or even the script written yet. So ...Pass on it!
-Generally, if the notice appears trying to sell you on doing the project, that's a red flag. Pass on it!
I'll give you a little industry "hint" here; casting (auditioning) is one of the last stages of pre-production; the exception is the starring roles that were negotiated before the pre-production even started or actors who may have to start early on special training, i.e. stunt work, etc.
If a project is auditioning actors, it should already have most of the other major elements in place ready to go.
What are the major elements? Hmmm, let's see. There's the script, the director, the locations, the crew, the camera and all that other equipment, the wardrobe considerations, etc. Oh boy, I'll have to watch the ending credits of a movie to remember all of them. Wait ...there's another one ...what is it? Ohhhh, that's right, MONEY!!!
It doesn't matter if you're willing to work for free, if they don't have any money to actually make the film, then why bother?
The Question to ask:
-Is the project financed?
The answer you're looking for is "YES". However, if they're honest and tell you that they are still seeking financing, then proceed with caution, HOWEVER, if they do not have financing and they ask you to sign a contract, DON'T DO IT!!!! (yes, this has happened before and it stinks)
-If the answer is "yes", then ask if they have their "pre-pro" done, (that's producer talk for pre-production). If they say "yes" or "most of it", then you can go on to the next question. If they say,"No" or "Pee-po wha?", then pass on it.
-If they ask you to pay to be in it, you may consider getting a lawyer to negotiate a financial investment contract ...or better yet, PASS ON IT!
Now you may have been told it would be impolite or even boldly rude to ask a director/producer such a question. Hellooo, we're talkin' indies here.
I don't know what it is exactly. There seems to be some folks who are popping up and luring our actors into a false sense of productivity. There could be some actual film makers who believe "if we cast it, the money will come".
Yes, indie film makers shoot trailers, teasers and short versions of their feature in order to get financial interest. I'm fine with that, AS LONG AS THEY TELL THE ACTOR what the deal is!
Let's say the indie film maker has been straight with you regarding their low budget. You can still ask more questions.
- What medium are you shooting this on? Now I'm not technically savoy, but I know enough to consult some bright CASA techies if I need to. If they say film, HD, or on the "RED", then it has a chance of looking decent (depending on how they answer the next question). Even if they say mini DV (it can still look decent), then you can go to the next question. If they say something like "My grandpa's pin hole camera" ...pass on it.
-What crew do you have? I've been on some of the lowest budget films ever made and I know you have to have (at the very least), someone to operate the camera, handle lighting, handle sound and someone to remember all the things they are supposed to handle. Now you may have an ambitious director who will boast he can do it all, but the biggest RED FLAG in the tech department are the words, "I'll handle all that". if they don't have a crew in place, then tell them politely to call you when they actually have a crew. If they don't have the basic crew or they don't know what they're supposed to have ...pass on it.
NOTE: If you decided to take the role and you're working on set and you hear the words "We'll fix it in post" more than once (and no one is joking) than you have likely committed yourself to a piece of poop.
-If there are stunts involved in the film, do they have insurance? Is there a trained stunt coordinator?
Really, think about it. If a lot of other RED FLAGS have popped up before this question, do you really think you want to get involved with a questionable production that has guns, knives, swords, explosives and other things that can physically hurt you?
What about student films?
Go for it! At least you know the film maker is learning as they go and has a staff of teachers for guidance, people to answer to.
TO SUM IT UP!
Not every Indie film maker is out to screw the actor, but there are some who just don't know any better. The trend I have been seeing lately is folks with a lot of money or connections to money who can afford to produce or to buy a "nice camera" who are trying to make a movie but have absolutely no clue how to do it ...and don't think to ask or hire someone who does. GET TO THE TRUTH BEFORE COMMITTING TO ANY PROJECT. Most indie film makers here in CO are honest and upfront about their situation and are worth working with, but please, BE SMART about your pursuits.
Please understand, I have made my share of mistakes and I don't want to see actors waste their time by acting out of desperation.
I know there's NOT a lot of professional work out there right now, but that's no reason to get involved in something that could actually hurt you.