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Monthly Archives

January 2012

Screenfighting Series Instructor

Meet Screenfighting Series Instructor Doug Williams

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This is our series on Screenfighting, taking place in Dallas-Fort Worth on March 24-25.  Cost is $49 per class (four classes total, with a discount if you sign up for all four). For registration, go to http://s-films.com/store .  Space is very limited.

Doug Williams

Doug will be teaching on Saturday March 24, both classes.  He will be teaching weapons basics in the morning.  This involves safety on the set, difference between military and law enforcement regarding weapons use, and handling of hand guns.  This is a hands-on workshop, so you’ll be handling real weapons (please do not bring your own or have any live ammo on premises).

In the afternoon, for Weapons 2 Intermediate, Doug will teach about rifles and how they’re used and carried.  If time allows, we’ll workshop movement as individuals and teams.

Doug has trained at some of the best facilities in the world, including Valhalla and Frontsight.  He has taken and completed weapons courses with the FBI as well as trained with military.  He understands that today’s filmmakers are requiring accurate weapons handling and portrayal.   He has served as Weapons Masters on several films and knows how to work with actors to achieve the best, most realistic performance possible.

For those who took our class the first time, Weapons 1 will be a refresher.  Weapons 2 will chart new ground as we head into handling of rifles.  Tomorrow, we’ll meet SFX Coordinator, Steve Krieger.

Learning to fight for the camera

Screenfighting Workshop is Back!

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The most feedback we’ve ever gotten with the seminars and workshops has been for the screenfighting one.  So we’ve scheduled a full weekend course for the Screenfighting Series.  Coming Feb 18-19, time to get your fight on and come on down to the Studios121 for some workshopping.  Class size will be limited (we had too many the first time), so it’s first come first serve.

Weapons for Actors

Weapons Master Doug Williams talks about PistolsPolice officers do not hide behind the corner pointing their pistols up into the air… that’s not where the bad guys are.  They don’t have a tea-cup hold on the gun either.  Unless they’re idiots.  In today’s television and film, the quest for authenticity is in full gear.  And if you look like you know what you’re doing in that audition for the law enforcement character or the military character, you’ve got a better chance of landing the role.

In Saturday’s first class, our weapons master will teach you how to properly handle a pistol.  He’ll go into the why’s so you know what backstory to build in to your character.  Do you stand in the Weaver or is the current training for the isoceles?  You’ll know the answer by the end of this class.  It begins at 8:30 and ends at noon.  We’ll bring the weapons.

After lunch, for those that register for Weapons 2, we’ll go into the longer weapons– the rifles and shotguns.  How do you hold them?  How do you carrying them?  Is there a difference between law enforcement and military?  Again, you’ll find these answers.


We’re not teaching you to be stunt people, but there are many times that the director might need you to throw a punch or take one.  It adds to the production value if you the actor can do it versus bringing some one else in.  In our Sunday morning class on Feb 19, we will go through the basic punches, the angles that are best for cheating, and the most important– how to take the punch, because the receiver is the one who sells it.  I learned in some of my earlier movies that it’s important to cast actors that know a little bit of fighting if their character mixes it up a bit in the story.  Sure, I’m going to use a stunt person… but you’ll need to be able to pull off getting to that point.

Special Effects

Lots and lots of money is on the line when a special effects shot is in play.  And if you mess it up as an actor, it can be extremely expensive.  Or dangerous.  In the afternoon workshop on Sunday February 19, a licensed special effects coordinator will talk about how to do your job as an actor around effects in a safe and effective manner.  For those who want to know what its like to take a bullet squib, we’ll be doing that as well (extra fee involved).

Want to come learn and play at our Workshop?  Sign up at the store.  You can pick which classes you want or take all four for a big discount.

actor auditions rising stars

Credits on your Actor Headshot Resume

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Director to Actor

I like to address the most common questions I get in the seminars and workshops.  This past Saturday, we had the Acting: A Director’s POV Child/Teen acting class, and while talking about the headshot and resume, I had a couple of recurring questions.  If you find this useful, please feel free to retweet or facebook forward this page.

Extra Work

Do I post all the extra work I’ve done or should I leave it off?  Does this turn off a director?

Generally speaking, when I flip over the headshot to look at the resume and it’s chock full of extra listings, I mentally downgrade you at that point.  You haven’t been able to land any real roles.  And I know it’s the easiest thing in the world to be an extra on a film.  So as a guideline, don’t list extra work.  But, if that’s all you’ve got, then that’s all you got.  It is a small step up if you were a “featured extra.”  Especially in a large Hollywood film.

I look for leads and principles.  Or if you were just a dayplayer but had a character name, you can list the movie and the name of your character.  Maybe you can say you were “featured” which is different than featured extra.


On the set of Rising StarsDo I list all my theater experience?

This one is very controversial.  But this director has a strong opinion– most local actors come in to the audition way too big.  Their audition would be improved if they just read flat, no emoting.  I believe a big reason is theater training.  Treat theater as a totally different skill set.  There’s theater acting and then there’s film/tv acting.  They are completely different.

Now because I have this opinion, if I see a ton of theater work on your resume, yes, I immediately think “they’re going to be too big.”  The exception is broadway or off-broadway.

So should you pull theater off or at least minimize it?  Well, another guy I know who directed a film came from the theater.  So it might be a plus in that case.  Google the director before the audition and see what kind of background he has.  Or blogs about the issue. <grin>

And finally, I will add that actor Tom Wright told me that he recommends lots of theater for actor training.  I’m not so sure.  But you see, there are various opinions on the matter.  I will grant that the most rewarding type of acting is theater… you get to take a character through a process in a two hour span.  Not that way in film and tv, that is almost always shot out of order over days and weeks.

Special Skills, Hobbies, Talents

Do I just list a couple of my stronger skills or list many?

I like this.  List what you’ve got.  One person int he class yesterday said she looked at a lot of other resumes to get ideas… Oh yeah, I forgot– I do ballet!  Or have some weapons training.  If you do it, list it.  Now I’m not a proponent of lying– if you say you do horseback riding and get cast and you’ve been on one horse for a bridle-led walk around the carousel, I’m going to be really peeved on the set.  Yes, you got this role, but I doubt I’ll ever want to work with you again.

Anyway, this is all from one director’s point of view.  Next up– if you need a scene for your demo reel, we’re shooting Feb 7.  More info here.

Mixing Color in Lighting– An Example

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Lighting For Video and Film Production

A Study

Mixing Color in LightingIn this picture, it’s a simple, standing interview.  A first glance, it might seem like it’s what we call “news style” interviewing.  This technique is where you catch somebody in their environment, maybe a single light coming from atop the camera.  This technique is used for quick, “man on the street” type interviews where you need it and don’t have time to light it.

But this is actually more the “documentary style” lighting.  And this is a rare case where the subject is standing rather sitting.  It’s preferable to sit because a person tends to shift and sway.  It’s also why it’s best not to put them in a swivel chair if seated.  I chose this location for the lines– I really liked the long throw which added to the depth of field.

For the lighting, I hung a 500 watt incandescent inside a large china ball, using a dimmer, knocked it down to maybe a 250 to 300 effective watts.  Then I used a daylight balanced flo on a c-stand hung out behind him as a back light.  That’s it.  The light on the picture on the right came with the house.  The sunlight coming in from the window is the sunlight.

Now with this plan comes some problems– right away, I’m mixing incandescent and daylight.  So do I pick the incandescent to be yellow or do I pick the sunlight to be blue?  My answer here was that I mixed.  Shooting on a Canon 7D DSLR, I am able to manually dial whatever color balance I would like.  In this case, I was around 4700 kelvins in my balance– somewhere between the 5600K of sunlight and 3200K of tungsten/incandescents.

Good lighting does not have to be complicated.  In fact, often it’s a lot more simple.  And I try to use the environment to suggest the lighting.  In other words, I used a daylight balance on the back/top light because it matches the window.  The light on his shoulders appear to come from the window.  That was intentional.

BTW– I love a large china ball for this style of lighting.  It’s soft and simple.  I handmade a couple fixtures and even made my own dimmer.  Not that difficult.

Lighting Color Temperature

Lighting Color Temperature

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A Primer on Light Color Temperature for Film and Video

In film and video production, a common mistake for amateurs is to ignore the color temperatures of various light sources.  I had a filmmaker show me his film, asking for input.  The opening scene was a night time exterior with one instrument and shot wide.  The next was a daytime scene shot inside the back seat of a car.  The director of photography lit them with an incandescent.  The result was a very yellow look.

Light is not necessarily “white.”  Light changes color when it burns at different degrees.  Our sun provides light that is burning at 5600 kelvins.  A tungsten light bulb in your house might be at 3200 kelvins.  In the old days, this was pretty much it– either your light sources were 3200 or 5600.  If you look at a white object with the camera balanced for daylight, and the light source is burning at 3200, the resulting picture will be extremely “warm” or yellow/orange.  Conversely, if you balance a white card at 3200 and use the sun as your source, it will look very blue or “cold.”

lighting for an interviewTwenty years ago, florescent lighting was the bane of filmmakers and video shooters.  It doesn’t technically burn and the color is created depending on the coating on the tubes.  The most common flo’s resulted in a greenish feel or color.  Also, they cycled.  I’ve got footage where I left the fluorescent lighting on and when you shuttled the tape fast forward, you could see the color cycle.

But tungsten lights “burn.”  They’re incredibly hot.  And they drink a lot of electricity.  Resourcefulness led the way for flo’s that didn’t cycle and could be colored to match different temperatures.  And they provided soft, beautiful lighting.  I use a good little flo kit I picked up from Digital Juice, made by Prompter People and I put daylight balanced bulbs in it.  When I’m in a tungsten setup, I might use them to simulate sunlight coming through a window.

The latest/greatest are LED light panels.  Both Flo’s and LED’s are “cold” meaning they don’t heat up, burning and melting things.  You finished shooting, and you cans tart wrapping right away.  No instrument cool down need.  And LED’s are dimmable, which is a big advantage over the flo’s (although flo’s have some work-arounds).

Shooting Actor Demo Reels

Demo Reel Hints from a Film Director

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What Goes Into a Good Actor Demo Reel

Today, an actor needs a good demo reel. Many agents won’t even look at representing an actor if they don’t have one. So what are the elements that need to go into a demo reel to make it effective?

  • Brevity. Us directors and the casting directors don’t have a lot of time. I’m not going to sit through a 6 minute demo. I will make it through a one minute demo. And that might even leave me wanting more. Which is what you want.
  • Quality of Acting. I want to see beats or turns. Not just effusing drama. So you can cry. What caused your character to start crying? That’s what I want to see.
  • Quality of Production. I understand that many actors use what they can get– that the filmmakers have been too busy to give the actor a high def quality clip. But when you do have a high quality clip, it does give a stronger impression. But bottomline– use what you’ve got.
  • Does Slating Matter? Not to me. But it’s a good idea to have your name and agent if not both at the beginning and end, at least at the end. And don’t fade it out. That way when it stops on the last frame, it keeps your name up there.
  • It’s not a bad idea to have a commercial demo reel, a feature film or dramatic demo reel and modeling demo reel. That way you can keep them short. I wouldn’t have a four minute demo reel that shows them all. I’m not going to sit through it. But if you don’t have much material, you can put commercial and feature stuff together on one quick reel.
  • If you have scenes opposite famous actors, put it in. If you have three seconds and the rest of the scene is the famous actor, just put your three seconds plus the next few seconds of the famous actor. Yeah, it means something if you were in a scene with Tom Hanks. So you can let me know that– just don’t make it a Tom Hanks reel.
  • I don’t believe you have to chop something waaay up– in other words, a scene between you and another actor and you cut all the other actor out, leaving a very choppy scene of you speaking. I would rather scene the *beat*, even if it includes a cutaway to the other actor. But do try and limit close ups of other actors. I’ve watched demo reels where I wasn’t sure which actor I was supposed to be watching. Often. I get half way through a reel and realized “oh, it was that other guy I was supposed to watch!” So cut if you need to, but don’t go crazy.

So hurry up and get that reel done! Casting people are waiting.


Dan Millican is a feature film director. He also writes, shoots and edits original scenes for actors to put in their demo reel. Next demo shoot is Feb 7 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. To register, go to the store.

New Demo Shoot

New Demo Shoot

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Actor Demo Reel FEB 21

We are tentatively scheduling a new actor demo scene shoot for Tuesday Feb 21.  We usually shoot in the afternoon and evening (to allow for those who can’t get out of work or school).  Go to the store to register.  We need to have a minimum for the shoot to take place.  The cost is $350 per person.  But brand new– if you do two, we will give a $50 discount (use coupon code “doubledemo”) so that 2 is $650 and not $700. Go to Store.

Demo Shoot

Rehearsing actors demo scene.

Here’s how it works:

  • You register
  • I contact you for headshots and to discuss your demo reel needs.
  • I write a short scene, pairing you up with another actor who has signed up.  I try to give you 20 to 40 solid seconds and same for the other actor in your scene.
  • A few days before the shoot, you get your call time.  We also talk about what props and wardrobe you need.  I usually supply a makeup artist.
  • At the shoot, we’ll talk it over, then run through it a bunch.  I shoot feature film style, and we’ll do multiple takes as I direct you.
  • After editing, I provide you with a high def quicktime file you can use in your demo reel.


In addition, due to demand, I’ve started editing reels together if you so choose.  We charge $150 to put together a one minute demo of your work,  and we can also shoot a slate for you at $75.  If you choose to do both the edit of the demo reel and the slate, I’ll put a moving shot of you at the beginning of your demo reel like this:

What are people saying?

I both like the fact that you offer more than 1 take and are willing to work with the actors so that their reels are the best they can be.


…watched the [other actor’s] reel, she and I loved it! made me wish we would of done two sepereate ones with you!


The story line is intriguing!  I want to know more!

Ron Gonzalez Headshots

The Actor Headshot

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Yesterday we discussed the resume (read it here).  If you’re coming to the Acting: A Director’s POV for Child/Teen actors on Jan 21, bring your headshot and resume and we’ll discuss it right there and then.  To register, go to the store.

The Headshot

As the director, the majority of headshots will come to me in the audition room.  Yes, throughout the year, people will hand them to me.  At church.  At industry events.  At my house unannounced and uninvited.  To my wife when I’m not there.  The truth is that outside the audition room, I don’t have a system for collecting headshots.  It might go in a folder that I forget all about.  Your best bet is to cozy up to casting directors.

So you’ve appropriately handed me your headshot as you walked into the audition room (or the casting assistant handed it to me moments before you were ushered in).  I will study the picture ont he front for a moment and then flip it over to read your resume (which we covered yesterday).  So let’s talk about that picture.

First, headshots lie.  Some people will walk in and I swear it’s not the same person.  But that’s okay.  It’s to be expected in this industry so no points off for this dishonesty.  You need to have a professionally taken headshot that has been touched up.  That’s what you do.

BTW, what you don’t do is something goofy.  One time, we got several headshots– the gentleman was sitting in a nice leather highbacked chair in a classy office situation… until we looked closer.  There were tags on the furniture from Ethan Allen.  Really?  You went to Ethan Allen with a buddy and took a couple quick posed pics before the sales associate kicked you out?  It provided much mirth and laughter at our office on that one.  We really didn’t take him seriously.

Poses?  Most people do a serious countenance for feature film.  They might smile for the commercial/corporate look.  Maybe change outfits.  It’s a good idea to have two or three headshots, each targeted to feature film, tv and commercial/corporate.  And this director– I don’t mind if you hand me two different headshots showing the different looks.  I want all the information I can get.  So maybe you’ve handed the film headshot to the casting people, maybe when you walk in, offer me an alternative.  Love it.

There are lots of headshot artists out there.  Get one who knows what he or she is doing.  Personally, I recommend Ron Gonzalez of Deadmen Productions.  He’s also been my DP on my last two films and handles a lot of headshots in the Texas market.  He’s incredible, quick and inexpensive. (www.deadmenproductions.com). Not only does he take beautiful pictures, he knows how to quickly photoshop it and get the curves right to make it really pop.  The featured image is one of Ron’s headshots.

White border?  Black box around?  Certain font for your name?  Doesn’t really matter to this director.

Actor Resume

Actor Resumes

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For those coming to the Acting: A Director’s POV for Teen and Children actors on Saturday Jan 21, bring your headshot and resume and we’ll talk about them.  (Register for the morning or the afternoon session here).

The Resume

Most of the time, I get handed a headshot as I sit behind the table about to hear your audition.  I might have been handed the headshot by the casting associate or given when you walked in the room.  I will glance at the headshot (more on the next blog) and then turn it over and read. Here’s a bullet point of things I see:

  • SAG or SAG eligible — A very common question is whether a non SAG actor who is eligible should put “eligible” on there.  I’m fine with that.  It tells me you’ve worked on a SAG set above Ultra Low contract.  Go ahead– adds a little more credibility.  If you are neither, leave blank.  In the Dallas and Texas market, many actors choose not to join SAG because a lot of commercials and corporate video gigs are non-union and they can earn more revenue.  I get it.
  • Because I mostly work in feature films, I look at this section intently.  What have you done?  What type of roles?  Principle?  Featured?  Extra?  If you have none here, I recommend that you take whatever student film, no/low budget indie you can get into.  I don’t recommend listing films you were an Extra in.  All that tells me is you’ve been on a set.  Featured Extra is better than Extra.
  • TV is usually the next paragraph.  Here in North Texas, almost everyone’s resume for years listed Walker, Texas Ranger.  Now that’s been replaced by Friday Night Lights or Prison Break.  If you’ve got it, put it down there.  Same rules apply as far as listing Extra work.
  • I might see Corporate/Commercial next.  Commercial is more valuable.  If it’s a national spot, put that there.  If it’s a local, maybe not so much.  If you were a corporate spokesperson or did a corporate job for a large production company, you can list that.
  • I also see Theater.  This is just one director’s opinion, but I wouldn’t put a lot here.  The number one problem with local actors is that they bring theater acting to film.  It’s a totally different thing.  I develop a bias against you (shame on me) before you even read if half your resume is all about how you were the lead in Streetcar Named Desire at the community theater.  (BTW, Broadway and Off-Broadway is different.  If you have that, put it down).
  • The last section is usually Training and Special Interests.  List the workshops and classes you’ve taken.  I look at that.  I know a few of the local acting coaches and if you’ve gone through someone’s system it does tell me a little about your approach to the craft.  If you like dance, that tells me something.  If you’ve gone through martial arts training, that’s good info to have.  If you sing or play a musical instrument, I like to know.

Director Dan MillicanAvoid having too little on the resume (lots of white)– which is the challenge for you just starting out.  It’s okay to have a lot of training and special interests for you new actors… so if you don’t have much, get training.  Then list it.

If you think this blog is helpful, subscribe to us and/or retweet.  We could use the help getting the word out.  And if you have a question, feel free to ask away. Thanks!

What’s a Parent of a Actor To Do?

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We’re going to be having another seminar on Saturday January 21.  This one is Child/Teen Acting: A Director’s POV.  To register, you can go to the store.  When I’ve taught this seminar before, I’ve gotten some very interesting questions.

“The Director wanted to take my child into a different building, pretty far away from me and wouldn’t allow me to come.” 

Although on the face of it, this seems a simple “hell no.”  But there are a lot of conflicting thoughts that run through the head at this moment.  You want you and your child to be a team player.  You want the director to like your child actor so that they won’t get cut.  Or their part lessened.  Or maybe the thought flitters through your head that maybe in this industry, it’s just the way it’s done… that it’s perfectly normal.

Well, from this film director, let me tell you my perspective.  While it is extremely true that for many child actors, the presence of the parent within sight can mess up the performance, there are other work arounds.  So as a director, I don’t want the parent in the child actor’s sight lines.  But I also want the parent within earshot, with the ability to watch what’s going on if they.  The trick here is that some parents think their presence actually helps the child actor.  That’s really, really rare.  So have a chair by the crafty table, or in video village, and stay as hidden as possible.

Now for the actual question I fielded that day from the above concerned parent.  No, this is not normal or acceptable.  I would raise a red flag if they wanted to take your child to a different location without you.  At this point, don’t worry about trying to be a team player or fit in– these people are not reasonable.  Think about it from the director’s side– if something were to happen to the child, he’d be in a world of trouble.  So what he’s doing is stupid.  And we don’t have to be team players with stupid.

So my rule of thumb– be within shouting distance, but invisible if possible (behind a curtain, monitors, or a big burly grip snacking on some cheese crackers).