Monthly Archives: December 2011

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Children & Teen Actors

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Millican directing actors on Rising Stars

As a working film director, I’ve had lots of opportunities to work with children and teen actors.  And it seems to me that most of the training is actor to actor– so here’s some information to children and teen actors and their parents from a director to actor.  I’ll be teaching a class in Fort Worth on January 21 on this subject.  You can register at the store.  There’s a morning session and an afternoon– you just need to pick one– they’re identical.

First of all, the child actor needs to look and play younger.  The younger the better.  This goes against what almost every child is seeking– to be grown up.  So as you shoot headshots, assemble demo footage, go to auditions– keep that in mind.  You want to look and play younger.

Why?  Two simple reasons.  The more mature the child actor, usually the better they are on the set.  Secondly, child labor laws.  While every state has different standards and laws, most productions will abide by the more stricter.  And SAG has it’s own standards.  And usually, most productions will abide by the stricter standard.  What this means is that a 6 year old can only be on the set a certain few hours.  Whereas a 12 year will be able to work longer.  This is also why twins are employed quite a bit.

Now the above applies to film and television… but not necessarily commercials and print.  In the Dallas Fort Worth market, commercials are the highest paying gigs actors can get right now.  I have employed child actors that have landed that McDonald’s national spot and have their college now paid for.  And for these type of roles, it’s going to start with the look and move from their.

At the seminar on Saturday January 21, we’ll talk in more detail about the differences between commercial and film, different styles of acting for children, and what they can expect on the set.  I’ll talk to parents about protecting your child in this industry and what is “okay” and what is not “okay.”

Come with questions.

BBB Spam Email

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BBB LogoThe spammers/virus spreaders/frauders keep getting better.  I *almost* clicked on the newest one yesterday.  I had an email from the Better Business Bureau telling me I had a customer complaint.  I didn’t click and here’s why.

If I get an email that reads a non-personal “dear valued customer” or “to business owner” a flag gets raised immediately.  If the BBB has a complaint against me, they know my name.  Same goes with all these spam/virus emails.  And as always, remember, do not click anything suspicious.

Next up, I hovered my mouse over the “click here” to check out the address of the link where they wanted to send me.  It was a numbered IP address. Another flag.  A legitimate link would have sent me back to the BBB website.  And watch out for the spoofers (seen a lot in the banking fraud emails)– they may put the business in the name or the URL, but it will be a sub page… so it will read something like www.iamgoingtogetyou.com/BBB or soemthing akin to that.

The danger with these can be mild to severe.  It might be somebody just trying to fool you (mild).  “Haha, got you to click.”  Could be a virus and once you click, big trouble (moderate to severe).  Or the landing page you click to looks legit and asks you to enter your social and other key things (identity theft and keytrackers).

So keep your eyes open on emails sent to you.  I don’t know what they’ll try next.

Audition in NYC for Rising Stars

Audition Tips from a Working Film Director

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In addition to our corporate video productions we do in the Dallas, Fort Worth area, SFilms has made five feature films over the years starring Adam Baldwin, Mimi Rogers, Lou Diamond Phillips and others.  In today’s post, we talk to actors about quick tips to instantly impact their auditions and give a better chance for landing that role.

The Dilemma for Local Actors

Audition in NYC for Rising StarsWhen I was casting for Rising Stars in New York City, the producer that hired me (as well as most producers in LA and NYC) had a bias against local actors.  They were fine for bit parts and dayplayer roles, but not for principles or leads.  And as we auditioned back at home for these roles, I thought about this dilemma and why the local actors are handicapped right out of the gate.

So how can a local actor land the roles, battling the NYC/LA bias?

First, you need to be good.  Really good.  Most think they are or they would have quit.  But the LA producer is thinking “if you were really good, you’d be in LA working.”  Lou Diamond Phillips is from here in the Dallas Fort Worth area, and he moved to LA.  That’s what good actors do.  So you’ve got to overcome that thought.

Tips for the Audition

There is a ton of information about auditions out here– but almost all of it is actor to actor or casting director to actor.  What follows is not mechanics of how to act or what to wear.  This is a film director talking to actors.

  • Don’t ever be late.  If something happens, call the casting director’s office as soon as you can, preferably before the audition time.  As a director, if you’re late, I believe you don’t take this seriously… or take me seriously.  BTW, learn the difference between an excuse and a reason.  An excuse was within your power to avoid.  A reason is an event that caused the action that was outside your ability to influence.  Bad traffic is an excuse– you can leave early.  Someone ramming into you at a light is a reason.  I’m okay with reasons.  Excuses?  Not so much.
  • If you’re given the sides or the whole script beforehand, memorize your lines.  And when I mean memorize, I mean beyond the point where you finally ran them once without looking.  When the pressure of the audition hits, you’ll forget.  So have them ingrained.
  • I believe memory is a muscle, so if you’re not given sides until you get there, take ten minutes to memorize it.  I’ve seen actors do it.  They’re the ones who’ve memorized on a regular basis, building up that muscle.
  • It’s okay to hold your sides, but please don’t hide your face with them during the read.  I’ve had actors come and hold their sides down by their waist and never even look at them because they have them memorized.  Remember– I want to see your face.  Honest-to-goodness, I’ve had local actors come in for audition and put the sides up in front of their face.  The tapes I could show you…
  • It’s okay to be nervous.   If your hands are shaking, another reason not to hold the sides up high.  One of the best actor auditions I saw in NYC for Rising Stars was an actor who’s hands were shaking.  But that didn’t matter.  BTW, she kept her sides low, out of direct eyeline.  So it wasn’t distracting.
  • Act when you’re not talking.  I’m looking for how you react to lines being spoken off camera, just as much as how you deliver the lines.  Don’t be thinking about the next line.  Another reason to have it memorized.
  • Map out the beats of the scene.  As a director, I try to pick sides that have beats– I want to see how you can hit the beats.  I define the beat as a value change– you’re happy, then boom, you’re angry.  Or sad.  Or you’re happy, and then you’re ecstatic.  That moment of change is the beat.  BTW– your character’s beat will most likely happen when someone else is talking, not you.  That’s why I’m watching when you’re not delivering lines.
  • Don’t apologize.  You flub a line, keep going.  You mess up, keep going.  When you’re done, keep going.  If you apologize, it draws all attention to the mistake.  And sometimes, we might not have even noticed.  But now we do.
  • Some directors are different, but I don’t care if you read the lines perfectly as written.  I know we can easily fix that later.  I much more interested in your ability to hit the beats.
  • And here is the BIGGEST tip I can give you.  If you walk away with just ONE THING, this is it.  Tone it down.  Local actors seem to have a lot of theatrical training and experience.  FIlm and tv is not theater.  There have been many, many moments (like 80% of the time) where I think “if they’d only quit emoting, it would be a much better audition.”  I believe this is due to the nature of local casting– the part is a day player who has only four lines, so “Message for you sir,” becomes a Shatner-esque study in overacting.
  • I’m not kidding.  I’ve had plenty of chances to see great acting and bad acting and this is it– those experienced, great actors come in and read it almost nonchalantly.  And this is film.  Your believability zone is extremely small and at the bottom of the emoting scale.
  • I’ve heard of agents teaching their clients to come in too big because you can always tone it down.  I don’t know what he means– here’s my experience: Actor comes in at a level 8.  I’m looking for a 1.5.  I tell them less is more and on the second read, they come down to a 6.  Thank you, don’t call us, we’ll call you.  I’d rather you come in at a 1 and I’ll get you to come up to a 1.5. Much less road to travel.

Check back for more or search this area for more tips.  Feel free to share this page with your actor friends.  I’d like to see our local actors land more and bigger roles and smash this LA/NYC bias.

Sean Patrick Flanery and Dan Millican

How to Land Name Actors for Your Film

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Adam Baldwin in "The Keyman"

Adam Baldwin on the set of the Keyman

So you want to make a feature film.  You might have even heard that the biggest factor, bar none, for the distribution success of your movie is to cast name actors.  But how do you do it?

The Name Actor’s 4 Factors

First, you need to know the four factors that weigh in a name actor’s decision to be in your movie.

  1. A director they want to work with
  2. A script they want to do
  3. A producer or producing team they can trust
  4. The money

I’ve had people go into this process thinking that they can land anyone for a price and it’s just not true.  I’ve had name actors turn down large amounts and I’ve had bigger name actors take a lot less.  So money is not the only factor.  And if you’re a first time director and you’re producing as well, you probably only have 1 out of 4 for the above.  So you’re way behind.

Sean Patrick Flanery and Dan Millican

Sean Patrick Flanery and Dan Millican on the set of "A Promise Kept."

Read the script in the eyes of the name actor.  Sean Patrick Flanery told me once that he reads the scripts and sees a scene he’d like to do.  Then another.  And so on.  They’ve got to *want* to do this script.  If you can, bring on board an experienced producer.  Even if it’s just as a co-producer.  Every little bit will help the actor and his people feel more comfortable saying yes.

Also another note for the first time director.  It’s going to be next to impossible to land a name actor without landing another name actor.  A name actor will feel more comfortable saying yes if she knows that there’s someone else in it as well.

How To Begin

The key to this whole process… after having a killer script, is to hire a good LA or NYC casting director.  Your best chance lies with the relationships built by this CD– so the CD really needs to be in LA or NYC. I’ve hired a LA CD to just handle two or three roles and hire a local CD for everything else.  That’s okay to do.  The Hollywood Creative Directory (hcdonline.com) will have contact info for casting directors.  And it’s not as hard as you think.  Unless you don’t have any money.  Then it’s really hard.  Expect to pay between $3,000 to $15,000 on low budget movies.  That’s a big range because it covers asting one or several roles.

Don’t expect to audition name actors for your low budget indie unless you’re an experienced filmmaker, having won audience awards at Sundance and Toronto.  The process will be creating a list of name actors for the role, then sending an offer to the first one.  If he passes, then sending offer to the next.  And so on.  I have gone 13 or 14 times out for a role, so give yourself some time.  A juicy dark drama will offer you your best chance to land the name actor and the worst chance for distribution.

Offers go out one at a time unless you’re in an emergency.  On my first film “The Keyman,” we had a name actor lined up only to have him pull out a week before because a very sick child.  So the CD sent out several offers, letting the managers know what we were doing.  This is how we got the talented Adam Baldwin to play the lead.

Final Thoughts

Give yourself some time to cast.  You believe in your script and it will be offensive when word comes back that they just “didn’t respond to the material.”  Don’t take it personally. That could mean what it says, but it could also mean that the manager didn’t like it and buried it, giving no chance for her client to say yes.  It’s a no-no, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.  My producer Jeff Rodgers and I were sitting at LAX when Elizabeth Perkins sat down next to us.  She told us stories.  One was about a role she found out had been offered to her, but turned down with her knowledge by her people.

One A- name is worth two or three B+ names.  But if all you can get is a B name, then get as many others as well.  And finally, though it’s not politically correct, it’s accurate: a male name means more than the female name for distribution.

For more information, check out the “Greenlight Yourself” DVD series.  We cover this in depth there.