Hey again, actors! It’s me, Ms. Zoë Kelly. The people have voted and by a landslide you want to hear about how to create your own content. For an up-and-coming actor in a small market, like I am, creating content is imperative to getting quality material for my narrative demo reel and to keep me busy. Idle hands & all… This guide is meant to be exactly that: a guide. Life doesn’t happen in a four-part system, so let it happen organically. This is my experience with creating my own content as an actress.
So here it is: Creating Content for Actors
Step 1.) WHY ARE YOU CREATING THIS CONTENT? While I am sure you have already thought this part through, it is technically the first step. Are you creating content to showcase a special skill that is listed on your resume, but not on your reel? Are you creating content to distribute free online to gain a following and grow your brand? Are you creating content to get you recognized in the festival circuit? Are you creating content for national/regional/international distribution? The why is going to affect the how. Identifying it early on will save you a headache later on.
Step 2.) FOCUS ON THE WRITING. Take it from someone who has worked on a plethora of zero budget film projects; the script can make or break a film. This is where I see a lot of projects go wrong. To be completely frank, writing isn’t for everyone. Just because you are literate does not mean you can write a compelling story. If the story/situation/characters/dialogue is poor in quality, your acting will be poor in quality. Bringing on an experienced writer in some form (i.e., writer, editor, script doctor, mentor) on the project will benefit you in the long run. Take your time on this part of the project. Remember, life is a marathon not a sprint. Give yourself time to succeed. Getting feedback is a great first step after you have written and edited a few drafts, but remember one or two drafts is not enough for a quality script. Write, then rewrite, and rewrite again. Don’t be lazy about this step or the entire project will suffer! Additionally, when writing, especially on a zero budget or micro budget project, you have to keep in mind your limitations. For example, if you write a story set in a prison, you have to ask yourself, “Do I have access to a prison?” For me, the answer was no. So I went back to the drawing board and attacked another idea. If you write a story set in locations you know you have access to you will thank yourself in the long run. Same goes for the amount of people needed to film the project. If you only know one other strong actor, don’t write 30 parts! Furthermore, if you and your writing team are having trouble finding the what of the story, I have two pieces of tried and true advice.
Step 3.) FIND YOUR TRIBE. Filmmaking is all about collaboration. That means, you’re going to have to depend on other people. I am so blessed that I have found a group of talented, creative people to work with. And I didn’t find them overnight. If you are looking for your tribe, help other people on their projects. Do pro bono work, make connections, network, PA - do whatever you can to help other people. Audition for everything (See my last post Auditions: A Necessary Evil for more tips on audition success) and eventually you will find your people. Once you know who you want on your project, it’s time to get them excited. Before you sit down for a table read, explain to everyone why you are so passionate about making this film project.
Step 4.) GO GET ‘EM, TIGER! My entire life, I have been looking for a four leaf clover. Every time I am camping or hiking and come across a clover field I dig my hands into the soft leaves to find a four leaf clover, and yet I have never found one to this day. When I began meditating it was no surprise that my “happy place” was a clover field. The biggest one I could imagine in the clearing of a forest. Whenever I meditate I walk through the forest and lay in the clover field and I watch the clouds turn into different shapes. I typically don’t see much life in my meditations, save for a doe or a butterfly in the forest, so when my recently deceased friend showed up in the clover field I was surprised. What surprised me even more was what he gave to me. Mark put a four leaf clover in my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “Accept the greatness inside yourself, Zoë.” This changed my life. I value myself and accept the greatness inside myself. As you embark on your journey to create your content and achieve your goals, I ask you to do the same. You are enough. So, do it. Accept the greatness inside yourself.
Your heart races when you find a casting call and you see that you fit the bill. You scramble to submit the perfect headshot. You quickly read through your resume to check for spelling errors for the millionth time. Once you press send, you smile out of pure, unabashed hope. Aw, the possibility! You have butterflies from what could be. An email comes into your inbox. They want you to come in for an audition and your butterflies turn into fireflies. They gave you all the materials you need to start getting prepared and your imagination sails to the day of and the feeling after you nail an audition. You can see yourself relaxed and confident after the audition. You are an actor. How do you do it?
O! The dreaded, yet absolutely necessary audition. I have been to hundreds, not one is the same. But I have learned over the years, one cannot be over prepared. I want to share with you my audition process. When I book an audition, I pave the road ahead with research. It is true, “Knowledge is power.” Look up the company you are looking for. Dig deeper into the project; see what you can find about the director, writer, casting director, producers, or anyone else affiliated with the project. The more you know the better! Once you feel like you have all the information straight it’s time to work on your sides or monologue(s). It’s not enough to read over your materials a few times and jump right into the text. You have to create your character. Take all the clues you can from the breakdown and the text, but don’t stress about what the director/casting director wants to see (outside of the text provided). They want to see you make a choice - so make one! Use the text as a foundation and build a house top of it with your imagination. Now that you have your character, onto my favorite part: text work. After you’ve read your audition materials multiple times, identify your character’s scene goal(s). What do they want? Then, beat by beat, address what tactics they use to attain their goal. I like using verb lists (like this one) during this part of the process. A great piece of advice I just got regarding verbing is, try multiple different verbs. Often playing opposites can be interesting. For example, if your character’s scene goal is to get their friend to apologize & your instincts say the first tactic to attain this would be “to admonish”, maybe try “to praise”. Experiment. The character you created before you tackled the text may change: that’s great. Find how you connect to the scene. This is the fun part, to me, so enjoy it!
You are prepared. Onto the only performance you are guaranteed: the audition. The most important part of today (besides being prepared - you’ve got that covered!), is to take care of yourself. Eat well. Drink lots of water. I enjoy following a ritual. I get centered for my audition by doing yoga, pulling 3 positive affirmation cards, and meditating on my goal. If I am feeling a little discouraged or timid I will do power poses. I envision myself giving the best audition I can imagine and getting the role. I like to imagine the audition from the casting director’s perspective. They are looking for this piece of the puzzle and they want me to fit. If I am still feeling unsettled, I will review my audition materials. More often than not, if I am feeling shaky, I need more time with the material.
Last week I had two auditions. One I completely bombed and the other I totally nailed. I did the same preparation and ritual before each one. It happens! And it’s okay. Life is temporary, as is our failure and our success. Be gentle with yourself and realize your accomplishments. The audition I bombed? I did all of my prep work and my audition ritual, I was on time and professional, and I even went above and beyond and brought a headshot & resume in case they needed it (they didn’t). The point is, as an actor it is my responsibility to do everything in my control to ensure I did the best job I possibly could. I wasn’t what they were looking for, but because I showed them my best self, I will be called back in again and again to read for other projects.
Audition postpartum. Sure it’s not nine months, but after putting so much time, energy, and effort into an audition you have to let it go. It is difficult. I like to notate how I felt after every audition, the people I auditioned for, and what I could do better next time. We grow more from failure than from success. After the audition there is a tendency to obsess over whether you got it or not (guilty!). I like to set boundaries for post-audition etiquette so I won’t do something stupid in the heat of the waiting game.
1.) Do not reach out to the casting team to see if you got the role. If you got the role, they have your contact information and they will reach out to you.
2.) Do not reach out to the casting team for feedback on your audition. Really? That’s not their job. Take an audition workshop.
3.) Do not post anything negative about the project or how you did in the audition on social media. Let’s say you bombed the audition, DO NOT post this for all of your instagram followers to see. You can vent to your mom/best friend/confidant about this. Casting directors may look at your social media before hiring you. Put your best foot forward.
4.) DO keep at it! Regardless of how your last audition went, keep putting yourself out there. You never know what opportunity you could pass up if you don’t!
These are things that work for me and I have tried and tested over the past 18 years of auditioning. I hope you find bits and pieces to be helpful. Stay curious and feel free to reach out to me with any questions. Before I finish, I want to leave you with one more thing. Here is a list of theaters with upcoming projects on their sites. If you were looking for a sign - this is it. Work for it more than you wish for it. Now go! Follow your dream!