I truly believe 99% of people who consider themselves actors, have no idea how difficult it is to be a producer. From the moment I wake up, until the moment I try to go to sleep, there is a constant, low droning voice talking in my head: “I have to find the money… I have to find the money…” Sometimes that voice is loud. Sometimes it’s soft, but it is ALWAYS playing on a loop. It’s never not playing.
Money is always the priority. Without the money, there is no movie. The budget can be $100,000 or it can be $5,000,000. There is never a moment when I’m not looking for investors and never a moment when I’m not having to take care of an investor who is on the fence about possibly investing. My life is shaking monkeys out of trees and keeping a thousand balls in the air.
Once I get the money, casting becomes crucial. Finding a great crew who is willing to work cheap. Budgeting, scheduling, production and months of post-production. Then marketing and festivals and the bane of everyone’s existence: distribution.
I started off my career in casting, working with Cynthia Stillwell in 1991 on the TV show I’LL FLY AWAY. I was an extra and in a very short period of time, was bumped to a casting assistant. I worked my way through college in casting and doubling for actors in films like Matthew Modine and Neil Patrick Harris.
I graduated and went to work at TBS in the non-fiction series and specials department and eventually went back into casting. I started a theatre company that worked out of 7 Stages and the 14th Street Playhouse. And then I moved to LA.
I lived in LA for 13 years, working at Central Casting and handling nearly 100 TV shows and films such as ALIAS, CROSSING JORDAN, COLD CASE, AMERICAN DREAMS, JUDGING AMY, CATWOMAN, MISS CONGENIALITY 2, WHITE OLEANDER, SCARY MOVIE 2, and SPIDER-MAN. I also worked in reality television, but spent the better part of five years writing scripts for people who didn’t know what they were doing and were optioning them “for free,” thus tying them up and unavailable for people who DID know what they were doing.
It wasn’t until my friend Adam Cuculich said, “you should just start making your own movies,” that the light went off. He was right. I was smarter than the people I was giving my scripts away to NOT get made.
I started producing my own projects about three years ago. I started by researching and writing a biopic about Joey Stefano, a porn star, who died of a drug overdose in 1994. I spent two years flying all over the country to interview the real life people and gained their trust so when it came time to shoot the film, I would have their support.
This led me writing a few horror movies and finally producing and directing my own short films (all of which went on to win awards), a web series (PROJECT: PHOENIX, which premieres in April) and my feature film BIRTHDAY CAKE, which continues to win awards on the festival circuit and will be released on May 20, 2014.
I moved back to Atlanta in October of last year and I am beyond excited to have three feature films prepping to shoot in Georgia before the end of summer. However, my wipe board in my loft in Atlanta, currently has 15 projects in various states of work: from development and script stage, pre-production, post production and into distribution.
And every morning, I wake up to fifteen projects screaming, “I have to find the money…”
Recently Charles Judson asked “what can filmmakers do to help actors” and the responses (GA Actors Tell GA Filmmakers What They Want) were very informative. I was a part of the response team and we all agreed with each other that communication is key and we want good, strong rich characters with good scripts.
But as a producer, I would like to share some of the things ACTORS can do to help FILMMAKERS.
HAVE A SOCIAL MEDIA PRESCENCE
In the low budget world, it’s all about social media. I need actors who can act, but who also have a presence on social media. Their participation in Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns are essential to the success of getting the money.
I can’t tell you how many conversations on one of my big features shooting this summer has revolved around the sentence, “and she has two million Twitter followers.” As local talent, it’s not expected that you are going to have millions of followers, but when people discover you at a festival, they want to follow your work.
Recently, I had a project with an Indiegogo campaign and an actor who was on a television show in Europe. I was informed by many different people that because of his name, we would get approximately $50,000 in donation support. He never once mentioned the project in interviews. He never mentioned it in social media (other than postings from a friend he had in America) and the campaign flopped. On its face. Big time. Epic fail. We cleared about $3,000 and when it became evident that we would not have the money in time to shoot the film when he was available, the entire project came apart at the seams, and this was after I spent three months killing myself. (AND I ended up giving about $2,000 back to his fans who were no longer supporting the project because he was out.)
In addition to helping get the word out about any crowd-sourcing, I need their support of the project, once the film is done and into film festivals and into distribution.
This may sound like a no brainer, but I had a gigantic cast on BIRTHDAY CAKE (which I shot under the SAG-AFTRA ULB, thankyouverymuch) and I can count on one hand how many actors actively supported the film on Twitter and Facebook by saying, “go check out my film @BDayCakeMovie if you live in DC this weekend! It’s winning awards!”
This BLOWS MY MIND. You’re an actor! You’re IN an award winning film! WHY would you not support and tell people to go see it!? Even if you think, “well, my role is really small in it,” NO ONE IS GOING TO KNOW UNLESS THEY SEE IT! Otherwise, you are still telling people, “I AM IN AN AWARD WINNING MOVIE!”
I will remember these people and they will not be appearing in any future films of mine any time soon. If you expect me to hire you and support you, I need a little support for my project once it’s done. And again, YOU’RE AN ACTOR. YOUR VERY CAREER HINGES ON MARKETING YOU! Market yourself!!
LEAVE A NOTE
We used Breakdown Services and Actors Access for two roles on INSTALLATION (my next film I start shooting in the Spring). It’s a very dark, psychosexual thriller and I was very specific in the breakdown about the characters and the sexual situations and nudity.
We had about 1,500 people submit. That’s 1,500 thumbnail headshots that appear. Of those 1,500, less than 100 left a note. Some of those people were completely not appropriate for the film, but they pitched themselves saying, “This film sounds really cool and I would love to read for you.” Or “Hi, I just finished shooting a guest spot on TRUE BLOOD. Thanks for considering me.”
If you want to get their attention, leave a note. Send a headshot. Make it personal. Tell us what you’re doing. Tell us about classes. Talent who actively take classes are always considered first, because we assume you’re learning something.
DON’T ANNOY ME
I have a new rule. I use Facebook for friends and family. I don’t accept strangers, because inevitably they like every single picture or make comments like “you should cast me!” It’s like inviting a stranger to a party. And eventually the stranger decides to play “Devil’s Advocate” on a marriage equality post and I can’t unfriend them fast enough. If you want to communicate, follow me on Twitter.
And READ THE BREAKDOWN. If the breakdown says I’m looking for an attractive 30 year old Caucasian male for a role, I’m looking for a 30 year old Caucasian male. I’m not looking for a 60 year old African American male. Don’t submit for something you’re not appropriate for with no explanation (again… the note helps here… if you are NOT right, but you are convinced you would kill the role, leave a note. Let me call your bluff. Take the risk. I love risk takers.)
Again, having put the description of the sexual situations and nudity on Breakdown Services, when I sent out the requests for auditions, I had about a dozen people write back, “not comfortable with nudity.” IT WAS IN THE BREAKDOWN! I picked your picture when I could have picked another guy! READ THE BREAKDOWN.
DON’T LIE ON YOUR RESUME
I can’t tell you how many times I brought someone in for a casting in Los Angeles because of a special skill on their resume… only to see them fail at it.
Don’t say you were in productions that you were not. I caught countless people lying about that. I cast the extras for all five seasons of ALIAS. I remember every single extra that worked that show and I had to cast stand-ins for every single star and day player cast by April Webster and her team. If you claimed you were a guest star on ALIAS and I don’t remember you, I’m calling your agent.
I cast a feature film in LA and I once called a guy to inquire about a role listed on his resume and I asked him who cast him. He threw out a name and I said, “actually, no. I cast that movie and I didn’t cast YOU.”
And don’t lie about the size of the role. If you were “featured” in the movie 42, but you were one of 4,000 extras during a ball game, just say you were an “extra.” It will come up in a conversation with you in a room and it becomes very uncomfortable.
KEEP YOUR HEADSHOTS AND INFO CURRENT
If your headshot is black and white, we know it’s at least twenty years old.
If you’re eight months pregnant, stick a note on your picture.
If you shave your head for a role, snap a selfie in the mirror, go to Target and use their “photos in a minute machine,” and paper clip the new do to your headshot.
If you gained twenty pounds and it shows in your face, then start doing cardio or get new pictures.
And for the love of God, DO NOT get photos taken of yourself as a cop, nurse, clown and homeless person as a composite.
A casting director at any given time is casting two to ten projects. (Or in the case when I quit at Central Casting, 14 television shows and 5 feature films.) You want to make the biggest impact with your picture.
My suggestion: If you do a lot of cop work, get a shot taken with a tight t-shirt or dark blue button down. Doctor work? White button down and tie. Lawyer? Coat and tie.
ALWAYS have a good commercial (smiling) shot and lead with it. I used to have a rule at Central Casting that I didn’t want my assistants or non-union casting directors to book anyone who didn’t smile in their picture. (Weird and stupid, I know… but I don’t trust people who don’t smile. It’s my thing and it has served me well.)
Casting directors see thousands of pics a day. They want to see happy. They want to see joy. We get hit with countless phone calls from agents and managers and production. While you might think your “I’m serious and mean looking” dramatic shot makes you look like an “auch-tur,” it makes me think you look like a brooding hot mess.
“But I want to be on VAMPIRE DIARIES!” Fine. Take a shot with darker surroundings in a dark shirt. But smile. Otherwise, I’m skipping you.
Disclaimer: A dramatic shot IS important! But keep it soft. Look at headshots of people like Jennifer Garner, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, etc… There is a connection in the eyes and a softness in the mouth. More sexy. Less murderous.
AND AVOID PHOTOSHOP! It is your worst enemy. If you have a scar or a natural bump on your forehead that I can see when you come in, it better be on your photo. There’s make-up and then there’s CGI. And we aren’t using CGI on actors’ faces.
COME TO THE SET PREPARED
Know your lines. Seems basic, right? You would be surprised.
And if you have some sort of actor prep that gets you into character, do that away from the set. If that means you need to moo like a cow (or any other animal) or talk to the other actor in the scene as your character to pump you up… do it off the set. It annoys the crew and annoys the director. And if the other actor doesn’t realize what you’re doing and asks repeatedly, “what are you talking about!?” just understand that they don’t understand you’re trying to “prepare.” They are already in the moment.
I don’t want to see your process.
Don’t schedule anything else for the day. Schedules change. Other actors mess up their lines and require multiple takes. If you have somewhere you need to be later that night, tell production you are unavailable for the shoot day and let them replace you. When you double book yourself, you place an extreme amount of pressure on the production team and if they don’t get everything they need, you just hurt production.
KNOW YOUR TYPE
If you’re a character actor, embrace that. If you’re not “that” attractive, realize you’re not going to get read as a “leading man.” Don’t lie to yourself. That’s the worst thing you can do.
This is NOT to say you can’t play those roles. But again, out of 1,500 submissions, they are going to book the “sexy, built, 30s” with someone who is in fact, sexy. Built. And 30s.
Which leads us to….
CREATE YOUR OWN WORK
I realize that I am a very specific type. You’re not going to see me in a sports movie. I’m not ever going to be playing the romantic lead opposite Emma Stone. It’s a stretch that I’m going to be a cop. But I love acting and that’s why I started creating my own work.
I’m still trying to find the $625,000 I need to make the Stefano biopic, X-RATED, but with every award win, that adds to the cache and value of my “brand.”
No one would ever cast me as a sexually aggressive sociopath. They would immediately go for someone with a ripped body and a beautiful face, which is why I created the role I’m playing in INSTALLATION. We all know that “sexy” is in the mind. “Sexy” is an attitude. I’m over 40. My body isn’t Channing Tatum and by Hollywood standards, I must be hideous, right? I don’t think so. I guess we’ll see later this year.
When I wrote GROOM’S CAKE (the short) and went on to play the same role in the sequel feature film, BIRTHDAY CAKE, I had a lot of people ask me why I didn’t hire someone more attractive. It stung. I even wrote it into the script in the sequel. I mean, I don’t think I’m THAT unattractive, but Hollywood tends to cast these beautiful actors in roles that are “normal people” and we forget that. It hurt. But you know what? It didn’t hurt so much when I won a few awards as Best Actor, Best Comedy, Best First Feature, and Best Film.
We have to create our own work to express ourselves and to play to a broader audience than just the people selling advertising. If you come out with a great project and you work hard to market it, people will come. People will talk.
I recently started teaching One-On-One consultations for people interested in developing their own content: web series, short films and low budget features. I help take ideas and get them into scripts. I help take scripts and get them into marketable business plans. I help take business plans and get them into production.
If you’re interested in my assistance, check out my website at chaddarnell.com. I only charge $100 for a two hour consult and then $50 for every two hours following that for a “check-in.” It’s like therapy. Only no couch.
The most important piece of advice I think actors can do to help filmmakers is to COLLABORATE. Get involved in the Atlanta film scene at mixers and networking events. Find the people you want to work with and avoid like the plague anyone who doesn’t seem to know what they are doing.
Chad Darnell is a writer, producer, director and sometimes actor. He has handled casting on over a hundred television shows and feature films. He is currently in pre-production on THE DAMNED, INSTALLATION and HELL HOUSE (all shooting in Georgia this year). He also producing a documentary with actress Faye Dunaway. For more information, go to chaddarnell.com or @chaddarnell on Twitter.