Wednesday, October 31, 2012

An Open Letter to Student Filmmakers

Dear Film Students,

You are all so beautiful and eager. You can’t wait to get out of the classroom and start making your films. You’re excited to find actors to bring your vision to life. You can already picture the thunderous applause at your Academy Award qualification screening.

As an actor who has auditioned for and worked on many student films, I applaud your enthusiasm. You are the next generation of filmmakers and yes, many of you will go on to be Oscar nominees.

But right now, there are things my fellow actors and I experience over and over that need to be addressed. Because frankly, we know more about the business than most of you – especially if you were in junior high school when we started our acting careers.

So with all due respect, here are a few things you really need to hear --

1) Don’t make us drive out of town to audition.

Actors are juggling day jobs, auditions for paid roles, and our everyday lives. If you ask us to drive to Thousand Oaks or Long Beach for a student film audition, we probably won’t go. Especially with gas prices being so high right now.

Ensure the largest talent pool for your auditions by holding them in town. In Los Angeles, CAZT is free for producers and Space Station is affordable as well. You can also hold auditions via Skype or invite actors to put themselves on tape. Come to us and we’ll come to you.

2) Tell us where we’re going.

“Auditions will be held in Butler 22A” may mean something to you, but we’re not familiar with your campus. Send us directions, send us a campus map, tell us where we can park. Post signs along the way to help us find you.

And for goodness sake, put a sign on the door that says “Auditions Are Here!”

3) Be clear about what you want to see in the audition.

Don’t just send us the script. Tell us which pages you want to see so we can prepare in advance. That’s how it works in the big leagues. If you’ll be taking us through improv or movement exercises, let us know up front. We’re game for anything but we don’t like surprises. We just want to show you our best work.

Oh, and if the role is for a non-dialogue film, don’t give us five pages of dialogue from Sleepless in Seattle for the audition because you think it’s a similar character. You’ll just get a Meg Ryan impression that is unlikely to help you cast your role. Plus we think it’s weird. And monologues? Nooooo...

4) Respect the relationship between actor and student filmmaker.

My friend Christopher describes it as a symbiotic relationship. We need each other. I know you think your short film will be the next THX 1138, but you’re not doing us a favor by allowing us to be in your masterpiece. Understand and appreciate that we’re taking time and energy out of our lives to work on your project for free. Respect us and you’ll earn our respect.

And perhaps the most important thing student filmmakers need to learn about working with professional actors --

5) Say “thank you” as often as possible.

Never underestimate the power of gratitude. We’re doing fight choreography and falling down stairs without stunt pay, crying on cue for twenty takes, and doing our best to hit every mark. It’s all in a day’s work for us. We’re happy to help you realize your vision. Pay us back by saying “thank you” and meaning it.

Thanks for listening. We’ll see you at the audition for your next film!


Your Actors


  1. Really great post Teresa! This has been something going on in my mind since I've started auditioning for student films. Thanks for putting things into perspective for us aspiring actors as well :)

  2. Get off your butt and tell USC that they need to hire you to teach what's REALLY important in The Biz! It's appalling that "real world" essentials are eternally overlooked in film school. (This is Keisuke by the way)

    1. I'd take that job! :) Most of my experiences are with USC too - and I heard they have a seminar about how to hold an audition. Guess they all skipped it...

  3. Well stated! I only hope as a director - I treated you with the respect you deserved!

    1. If this is Susan Cohen, then you definitely treated me with respect! One of the greatest joys of my career was working on Open Your Eyes. This blog post does not apply to you! :)

  4. Please, student filmmakers--no one is EVER to pick up an actor and try to turn her upside down and hold her by the ankles, even if "it's in the script." You do not interfere with any actor in auditions like that without discussing that with that actor FIRST. You've all got scripts in hands; most moves involving another actor require some rehearsal with an eye for safety, and every actor with chops is quite capable of acting "as if" upside down, during an audition. If you don't clear any move like that beforehand, you shouldn't be surprised if YOUR shirt gets ripped as you're trying to to do what's "in the script" and scaring the actor right out her body. And hopefully, your ripped shirt will be the least of your issues during casting and production.
    You don't know what kind of trigger that type of surprise move might be for someone, and it's just plain dumb, not near professional, & beyond inconsiderate.
    Just read with the actor. Work out
    the physical particulars in rehearsal, once cast.

    Yes, this happened to me at a USC student film audition.

    1. HOLY COW. Yeah, that is COMPLETELY unacceptable. So sorry that happened to you! That's behavior worthy of reporting to USC professors - awful!

      I've heard so many casting directors tell stories about how they don't want actors to physically touch them when auditioning - never thought I'd hear a story about the reverse!