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The Red Flags to Look For Before Signing on to an Indie Project

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

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Having cast and produced many, many film projects over the years, I’ve had a lot of experience—and I’ve seen everything from the good to the bad to the ugly. From the audition process all the way through your on-set experience, you’ve got to keep your eyes open for red flags that risk derailing the project or even yourself.

I was casting a big-budget studio film years ago, and the director proposed a scene in which he wanted me to cast two very young children. Once he explained the parameters of the scene, which included shooting late at night, explosions going off near the kids, and them being shot at, I immediately said no and attempted to explain why he wouldn’t be able to hire children for this scene: He’d never get a work permit in these conditions. His team then told me that they wouldn’t get a work permit or pay them through payroll—they’d pay them out of petty cash. I alerted the producer, who said he’d take care of it. The next thing I heard was that the kids and the lead actor had been killed while shooting the scene. A helicopter that was part of the scene came down on top of them after a Quonset hut was blown up and fragments of it flew into the tail rotor of the ’copter.

It’s an extreme example, but it shows that no one can afford to cut corners. And yet, I’ve noticed a lot of that on some of the films I’ve worked on. It’s especially prevalent in the indie film space. They lovingly call it “guerilla filmmaking.”

But if you’re asked to do a stunt and they don’t have a stunt coordinator to meet the required safety regulations, you must refuse.

Sometimes, the filmmakers request a voluminous amount of research and training when there is no offer. Within reason, some of these requests are valid. If you’re doing a baseball movie, we need to see you play. That said, if you find yourself in weeks of training for a part you don’t actually have yet, you might want to rethink these requests and get your rep involved.

So, use your “spidey-sense”; everyone has one. If you’re sent an audition with a request to meet after hours at the director’s home, request a daytime interview in an office setting. Remember, you have the right to bring a peer with you if you aren’t comfortable going alone. Or if a filmmaker says to you, “You know, it would be easier just to make the deal with you,” or “Ugh, reps are such a nuisance,” an actor should not engage. This is exactly why you have representation.

These issues can also come up with nudity riders. If you ask about one and the director’s response is, “You’re cool, right?,” that’s your sign to walk away. The SAG-AFTRA Basic Contract requires a nudity rider to specifically outline the nudity that is agreed upon along with any intimate contact. Make sure you’ve agreed to all of the terms together before you arrive on set. The production is not allowed to ask you to do anything that you haven’t agreed to in your rider.

Not all indies are bad, of course; just keep in mind what we all learned long ago from our parents: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is! Listen to your instincts.

Make sure to check out my online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.)

Hollywood Has Become The Wild, Wild West

01072016_Nick_Bertozzi_NCD.jpg.644x650_q100Illustration By : Nick Bertozzi

By Marci Liroff

If you’re in L.A. and haven’t RSVPd to my April Audition Bootcamp, take a moment and check it out. Only a few seats left!

As a casting director, producer, and acting coach, I read, on average, about 20 scripts a week. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that indie filmmaking has become the wild, Wild West. People who have no experience decide they’re going to make a movie, wave a wand over their heads, and call themselves a writer, producer, or director. Make sure you know who you’re jumping in bed with before you start the project.

Recently, I was sent a script from a newbie producer to see if I could help him attach talent. The script was mediocre, extremely predictable, and filled with tired dialogue. Worse yet, it was absolutely riddled with typos, incomplete sentences, bad grammar, and giant leaps of logic.

Rather than answer with my usual, “Sorry, it’s not my cup of tea. Best of luck to you,” I took the time to send him my detailed notes. He answered with a very curt, “Thanks for your feedback.”

Today I mistakenly received an email from him that was actually meant for the writer: “We will not be using this casting director, she was pretty arrogant with her comments. Sorry. But she brought up several errors we should clear up because she’s right and I didn’t even notice them before.”

I’m all for creating your own content. It’s a great way to get your work out into the marketplace and not wait to be asked to the party.

That said, just because you have a camera (or a laptop) doesn’t mean you should use it. Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean it’s fully formed and ready to go out into the world.

If you’re going to create your own product, make sure to surround yourself with the most creatively talented, like-minded people you can find.

I can’t imagine any other business where you’d send out your product in such a half-assed manner. When I read a script that has several typos on the first page, it gives me great pause. Didn’t anyone proofread this first? If I get to Page 30 and nothing has happened to set up or move the story forward, I stop reading. If you’re this careless in presenting your project, how can I be partners with you?

You need to vet the people with whom you’re working. I had a writer call me the other day to cast his film, and a simple Google search found that the producer was being sued by the financiers for lying about an actor being attached and forging contracts. I called the actor’s manager, a good friend, who confirmed that her client had never been involved in the production and the team had to send a cease and desist letter to get them to stop using the actor’s name in reference to their project. They had shot the film for several weeks and production was halted because the producer hadn’t paid the crew, vendors, or locations for two weeks. And they wanted me to hop on to this moving train wreck?

Another producer hired me to cast her small, self-financed indie film. After things started moving too fast for her (because of a looming start date that she had approved), she got cold feet and pulled the plug and decided not to pay anyone on the crew. (I later recouped for my time worked.)

Moral of the story? Ask a lot of questions. Unless the filmmakers are a known quantity with a history of professionalism, protect yourself and check out the people with whom you’re going to be working—and do a thorough search.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you experienced this?

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Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions.  Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.)

The Power Of Inspiration

photo(1)L-R Anne Hubbel, Tiffany Shlain, Rose McGowan, Mamrie Hart, Kamal Sinclair

By Marci Liroff

In my last column, I wrote about how my film, “The Sublime and Beautiful,” made its world premiere at this year’s 20th annual Slamdance Film Festival. Slamdance started as a ragtag festival running simultaneous with the Sundance Film Festival, and features emerging talent in films made for under $1 million. While I was there, I tried (to no avail!) to get into screenings at Sundance, but tickets are at a premium and mostly sold out—or you stand in a long line outside in the cold, only to be turned away. But then I discovered the panels! The panels at both film festivals were eye-opening. Beyond being there for my film, I found my true reason for being there: inspiration!

Inspiration can sometimes be an elusive thing, but when it strikes, it’s so powerful that you just know you’re on the right path.

The Women in Film panel at Sundance was especially inspiring. Anne Hubbell from Tangerine Entertainment moderated, with guest speakers Tiffany Shlain (founder of the Webby Awards), YouTube sensation Mamrie Hart, actor Rose McGowan (at Sundance with the short film she directed, “Dawn”), and Kamal Sinclair, senior manager of the Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Story Lab.

One of the themes repeatedly discussed was “community supporting community,” and the notion that you should not wait to be asked to the party by looking for permission to create. There are so many different ways to “crack the nut” to launch your projects, whether it be in film, television, Web series, or theater. Whatever your art is, surround yourself with advocates, put together your team of like-minded, incredibly talented, and creative people, look for your mentors, and keep your eyes open for your inspiration.

A Slamdance panel discussing short-form content had Chad Hurley (the co-founder of a little thing called YouTube!) and brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who were at Slamdance in 1997 with “Pieces,” before Steven Soderbergh hired them to direct George Clooney’s “Welcome To Collinwood.” They then directed the pilot of “Arrested Development,” became executive producers–directors on NBC’s “Community,” and most recently co-directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

In this panel, they talked a lot about how short-form content (i.e., Vine videos, short films) can be a “point of access” to decision makers. Joe Russo says his daughter doesn’t watch comedy TV the way we used to. Now she watches Vine videos for an hour and laughs hysterically to get her “hit” of comedy. He mentioned Vine star Rudy Mancuso as a good example of how you can be discovered, “because somebody like me sits in an office, laughs, and says, ‘Find this guy.’ ” They liked him so much, they contacted him about doing a project, all from watching his six-second videos! I wondered if all this short-form content was fostering short attention spans in the viewers. I think our brains, especially in the younger folks, are actually being rewired to only be able to view and retain short-form content.

The Russo brothers suggested that if you’re a filmmaker, you should have scripts ready so that when you get the opportunity, you actually have content to show. Decide what kind of career you want and use the question, “What do you want to be doing in five years?” to reframe your thinking and choose your path.

So I ask you: What do you want to be doing in five years, and how are you going to get there?

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

Glad you’re here.

Marci

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