Film experience can seem trickier to find than theatre experience when you are building up your CV. In order to work in film and TV you really do need to have cut your teeth and studied the results so you can get better at the art of acting for the camera.
Do you have a friend with a camcorder? Get them to film you doing some dialogue from films or TV. You want to make sure they try and mirror the shots you see on screen. You need to get some practise of acting in a full close up, where your head almost fills the screen. You need to try this a few times, and watch back the results. See how even little expressions seem HUGE on screen when in close up. Screen acting is all about relaxing, reflecting, and thinking, the camera will pick up even the smallest reaction. The more you can just practise ‘being’ on camera, the better.
Film acting is really the trick of doing moments. You rarely do a take that lasts more than 20 seconds. You really earn your spurs acting onstage.
Seek out classes in Film Acting or Acting For The Screen. The Actors Centre regularly hold such workshops, and looking around on the internet you are sure to find some more credible classes. Look at who the teacher is, ‘google’ them, and look at their credentials. If you are able to give them a call before enrolling, talk about what will happen at the workshop, and talk about how much practise you will get in front of the camera and if they will be critiquing your work. You are looking for a course or workshop which will give you experiential learning and feedback, lots of doing.
Film schools and universities will always need actors for projects. These are not professional productions, and as such will probably not be able to offer pay, most will offer travelling expenses and some won’t. These non professional film projects are however great experience when you are starting out, and you might end up with some potential gold for your showreel, so make sure you always get a promise to receive a copy of the finished project on DVD for your future reel. Some directors will try to get out of giving you a copy if they are not proud of the work, so it is worth really stressing how important it is for your development to get a copy after filming and that is one of the reasons you are agreeing to work with them.
To find work in student films and projects contact the schools and ask how they do their casting? A lot of schools will use Spotlight or Casting Call Pro, so make sure you are registered on there. Some film schools may also have their own actor file so send your details to them.
Low Budget Films are also a great way to get experience and again get some fantastic scenes for your showreel. These projects tend to be slightly more professional than student films, but judge each project on its own merits. There is nothing wrong with quizzing the director a little at the casting, find out what else they have done, what ideas they have for the project, how they like to work with actors. You won’t come across as nosey, if you ask these questions with a positive mind set you will just come across as passionate about the project.
A terrific source of info about low budget films is to sign up for Shooting People. The yearly subscription is low, but for that you get emailed with casting announcements almost daily. It is a resource putting cast and crew together, and is also an excellent networking opportunity with regular meetings.
Some would suggest you ‘work as an extra’ to get experience of filming. I think this is probably one of the worst ways to build up your filming career. An extra is a background artiste and they are more like props than actors, you will not be acting in a scene merely dressing it.
Being an extra if you want to be an actor, is like being a painter and decorator if you want to be Michaelangelo.
Extra work is in no ways a taste of film acting. You will probably never meet the director of the piece, it is usually the 3rd or 4th AD (assistant director) who deals with the extras. You can be treated like cattle, herded from one place to the next. Extras are never spoken highly of by anyone on a film set, and this is because unfortunately they can be badly behaved. There is a huge amount of hanging around, and if you aren’t patient it isn’t the job for you.
The people you will meet and work with, won’t be other actors, they will be professional background artistes, all with fascinating stories to tell, but you won’t learn acting skills from them.
So practice in front of a camera as often as you can, try and take some classes to hone your skills, learn on the job with student films, and build up your showreel with low budget films. With a good showreel you can get a good agent, and with a good agent you can start getting some great work. Believe me, because that’s exactly what I did