Career Advantages to Film Festivals

IMG_2740Sublime and Beautiful stars Laura Kirk, Anastasia Baranova and me in the middle!

By Marci Liroff

I just got back from the Slamdance Film Festival, where my film, “The Sublime and Beautiful,” made its world premiere. Aside from coming down with a wicked case of bronchitis, it was an amazing week in Park City, Utah. I got to see many new films and meet the filmmakers; as a casting director and producer, I always have my eyes peeled for great filmmakers on the rise and actors I’ve never seen before. It’s such a great marketplace to discover new talent.

I had the pleasure of seeing a little gem of a movie called “Three Night Stand,” starring Sam Huntington, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Meaghan Rath, and shot in Montreal. I’d known of Sam from his work on the film “Detroit Rock City” and, of course, playing Jimmy Olsen in “Superman Returns.” Emmanuelle you’ll remember from “Entourage.” New to me was Meaghan Rath, who is beautiful, smart, funny, and quirky—such a great combination in an actor.

Being a filmmaker with a film at a festival is one thing, but I was curious what it’s like for an actor. I had a chance to talk to Meaghan after Slamdance, me from my sickbed (!) and Meaghan on the set of her Syfy series “Being Human.” I asked her, “From the actor’s point of view, what can one do to ‘work it’ to your advantage? Did you take any extra steps, like hire a publicist?” She replied, “I think Slamdance is a whole other ball game when it comes to festivals. For the film, we did hire a publicist. We wanted to take full advantage of all the potential press. The best thing you can do for your film at that point is exposure. You want people to see the poster, see the actors, and hear the title.”

She continued, “As an actor, I’d been working with my own publicist for almost four years when I started doing my show, ‘Being Human.’ For the festival, my personal publicist is able to work with the film’s publicist to secure press opportunities where I can promote the film, as well as myself, and the other projects I have going on.”

I asked if she thought Slamdance differed from other festivals in terms of what an actor should be doing to network and interact with filmmakers. Meaghan responded, “In regard to networking, I have to be honest—I’m not a big networker. But I think the energy and general feeling of Slamdance is one of support. So I made an effort to go to the parties and meet the other filmmakers, see their movies, and participate in the festival as much as I could.” And indeed she did, because I saw her everywhere I went!

For me, the parties are not necessarily my scene. However, there are so many other ways you can take advantage of a film festival. I spent my time seeing as many of the films that were competing in our category as I could, along with going to several of the panels. Stay tuned for part two, in which I explore some of the panels at the Slamdance and Sundance film festivals, along with my thoughts on indie filmmaking!

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.

Please share your comments/stories on being at a film festival.

We’d love to hear your experiences

Glad you’re here – Marci




By Marci Liroff

The new year brings new revelations. You’re training, studying, and constantly doing research and reading articles like mine. You’re trying to follow everything to the letter. Then an audition comes along and blows everything you thought you knew out the window.

If you’ve been reading my blogs, and articles in Backstage, you’ll remember that I encourage you to not only be off-book but to treat the script with respect. Use it as your bible and don’t change the dialogue unless you’re asked. That said, I rarely work with a director or producer who says it’s OK to actually change the dialogue.

Last year, I had the singular opportunity to cast and produce a very low-budget feature film with writer-director-producer-star Blake Robbins, entitled “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which was selected as one of 10 films competing in the narrative features category at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City. It is an emotional story about a family torn apart by a drunk driver, and all the scenes were very raw.

During our auditions, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Blake tell the actors to “throw out the script. You know your character. You know what she’d say. Just follow the template and let it flow.” How rare to find a writer who’s confident enough to say that! As Blake was the star and was in every scene, he read with all the actors. He was not only their scene partner but their guide. Can you imagine being given such an opportunity? You’d be surprised at how many actors adopted a “deer in headlights” look on their faces. Most of them held onto the text they’d rehearsed like a life raft, and couldn’t fully make the leap into their character.

When I teach and coach actors, I tell them that every room they walk into (and what the people in that room ask of them) will be different—every single time. This is why your research and prep is crucial. When you do a thorough character breakdown (not just what you’ve gleaned from the breakdown), you’ll know everything from what your character had for breakfast to all the hopes and dreams she has for her children. Doing this not only lets you easily slip into the skin of your character, it helps you learn the dialogue so you can “throw it away” (so to speak) and just immerse yourself in the scene when you audition.

The actors who were able to let go and give in to the emotions were so fascinating to watch. The scene came alive because they were truly in it. The director was also interested in the “space between” the lines. He was happy to have a lot of silence and pauses. This made many of the actors who were auditioning extremely uncomfortable because they felt they weren’t doing anything. Yet the simple act of listening and feeling is so compelling.

This exercise taught me so much. It showed me how much you need to be on your toes, but also to do the proper preparation and trust that you will be enough.

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.

Please share your comments/stories on being given new direction in an audition or on set and how you handled it – or not!

We’d love to hear your experiences

Glad you’re here – Marci




By Marci Liroff

Twitter, you ask? Do I HAVE to?! Yes, you do and I’m gonna tell you why.

I came to Social Media kicking and screaming in 2009. Being an extremely private person, I was deathly afraid of opening up too much of my life to the public. My friend Angela Shelton just about chained me to a chair and taught me what to do. Dragging my feet and protesting, she made me sign up for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, a YouTube channel, and a Vimeo channel. I knew I had to make the leap of faith because if I didn’t jump on this Social Media train soon, I was going to be dragged down the tracks by the upcoming newbies in the business.

I was not prepared for how much I love it! OK, truth be told I’m addicted to it! Not only do I use it for work (I interact with my community of actors and find new talent), I learn about all the breaking news on Twitter. Being a news junkie, that’s music to my ears! A couple of years ago I was asked to speak at the #140Conference in NYC on the topic of Social Media and the Casting Director. Here’s my short speech:



Truth be told, initially my main reason for getting on Twitter was to sell my DVD. Much to my chagrin, I quickly learned that Twitter is not a place to sell yourself. I got my head handed to me on more than one occasion by angry Twitter followers who didn’t like that I was trying to sell them my DVD. I thought, “But, you’re following me! Obviously you want to hear what I have to say!” Turns out that couldn’t be further from the truth and that’s not at all what Twitter is about. I decided to sit back and LISTEN and learn. My friend, actor Ben Whitehair, says that in the beginning you should “use Twitter as a listening device, not a megaphone.” Sound advice indeed!

 Once I stopped squawking about myself and started listening to the folks I was following – a world opened up.

I learned that Twitter was a place to CONNECT to my community – a place to learn from those that I’m following, hear their needs, and contribute great content. Since I’ve been in the biz for over thirty years I realized that I have a lot of great info to give. I’ve become quite the “content curator” over the last few years. I’m finding some really interesting stuff for actors—from other people’s blogs or other casting directors, producers and directors I know, or open calls that I hear about across the country—and mostly posting useful information that has nothing to do with me but will be helpful to actors. It’s about sharing great content. Twitter is limited to 140 characters, so you have to be concise and to the point. You basically want to give a headline and a link to something.

Casting Directors used to be an elusive and exclusive bunch. That business model is outmoded these days and I think you’ve noticed the abundance of Casting Directors who have made themselves available to teach/coach/and advise you on the acting business. You may hear on Twitter that they’re casting a project – but follow their lead and go about the usual channels to procure your audition. Here’s a list I put together of CDs who tweet. You’re welcome! Here’s another list from Wayne Chang (@wonderfulcow on Twitter) of CDs who have websites.

Last year when I was casting my movie The Sublime and Beautiful  I was contacted by an actress in Los Angeles who had been following me on Twitter and Facebook. She said she could be considered a local hire and were there any roles for her? (We were shooting on location in Lawrence, Kansas and had no money in the budget to bring actors from L.A. except for the lead characters). She sent her demo reel,which was very good, and I sent her the sides for the role I thought she’d be right for along with our script. Within the week we had auditioned her and hired her for a pivotal role in the movie. I had not even known her work before she introduced herself on Twitter. Here’s what she did right: she used good Twitter Etiquette. She was polite and had already established somewhat of a “relationship” with me already on Twitter and Facebook before tweeting her request to me about the role in my movie.

A couple of years ago I got a tweet from a woman in Akron, Ohio who was in charge of hair and makeup on a theatre production of A Christmas Carol for a charity which sends kids fighting cancer to summer camp. She was put in a bind by the producer when she was told (two weeks before their preview) that he had NO budget for hair and makeup and that she would have to get it herself…somehow!  She tweeted  asking for donations of hair and makeup for her play.  I contacted her to make sure it was legitimate, then reached out to my makeup connections from my movies and TV shows and in a few days I received a GIANT box from one of my makeup artist friends full of make up, wigs, and facial hair.  Another makeup artist friend hooked up the Ohio woman with a deal from MAC makeup.  Everybody came together in a matter of days…all through the power of Twitter.

OK, so I was now officially hooked!!  Hey, this thing really works! I love how a very large community of strangers became a small community of friends, helping each other. Twitter just made my world a little smaller and I loved it!

Many people mistake Twitter as their own personal P.R. firm and they talk about “me, me, me” all the time. Isn’t it boring to hear someone talking about themselves non-stop? Don’t repeat the same EXACT tweet. It’s against twitter rules and you could be reported & kicked off for spam. For example I always get these kinds of tweets: “@marciliroff are you casting anything?” Then I check the tweeter’s feed and see that they have asked this same question to 50 people. That is considered spam and I block and report them. OR – if you get a tweet like this from someone you don’t know – “@marciliroff check out this link”- BEFORE YOU CLICK THE LINK – check out their twitter feed and you will probably see that they’ve sent this same link to hundreds of people. This is spam and you should block and report them.

Think about Twitter (and all Social Media for that matter) as a cocktail or dinner party. Would you barge into a stranger’s house and scream, “Watch my short movie! Here’s the link!” So when you’re approaching a casting director or ANYONE on Twitter and in Social Media, get into the conversation and establish a relationship first before asking any favors. It’s just good manners.

Another gem I want to share that many twitter users don’t seem to know is this. I blogged about this a few months ago and it is hands down the most viewed blog I’ve written. What Everybody Should Know About Twitters Dirty Little Secret. I won’t go into detail here, but as I mention in the blog, you may need to read this a couple of times to fully understand the concept.

Another widely read blog is “10 Things Guaranteed To Get You Unfollowed on Twitter”.

In the beginning you’ll notice that you don’t have many followers. Don’t worry, your twitter follower count will grow when you start following people and get in the conversation. You should also retweet (RT) content that speaks to you and that you think others might benefit from. Thank people for RTing your tweets – it’ll encourage them to RT for you in the future. But it’s really not about your “follow” count. It’s about interaction between you and your followers. It doesn’t matter if you have thousands of followers if you’re not responding to their questions or RTing their content. It’s about joining the Twitter conversation and content is king. I’m not interested in following someone who just blasts out tweets and doesn’t interact with their community.

If you want to learn from some of the best on Twitter, here are some good people to follow to learn more about Social Media.

I’d love to hear (in the comments) how you’re using Twitter (and other Social Media platforms) in your work. Let me know what’s working and what’s not working!

Do you have any questions for me? Feel free to ask them here!

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!