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Dance-tress Acting Up: No/Low-Pay Productions


In one of my previous blogs, I believe I may have mentioned that student short films are a whole new story in itself. Well, here it is. This blog is dedicated to all wonderful and frustrating things about student films/shorts that are low pay or no pay. The most important thing you have to remember is that...they’re students. They’re learning as they go. They are not professionals so this is their time to learn and make mistakes. 

A few years ago, I don’t remember which student film it was in particular, but I do remember after my last day on set I called my boyfriend up and vented for about 20 minutes, “today was awful”, “they don’t know what they're doing”, “we could have been out 3 hours ago”, “all they did was stand around and goof off”, “what a waste of time” etc. I think it was my final straw and I had no patience left to be on set for student film ever again. The worst part is that sometimes you 1) may not get your footage back at all, ever and 2) you may get your footage back but the quality is so poor you may not be able to use it. This was one of the main reasons why I decided to start make my own sketches and films. 

Fast forward a few years later, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to be a part of a short he had written. I admit, I was incredibly hesitant to accept, but I am also the sort of person who encourages others to make their own stuff. It would messed up not to support. So, I said yes and even okayed one of the scenes to be filmed in my apartment. I liked the idea of just acting and not have to put a production team together. And, I am in the process of putting a new reel together so the idea of getting new footage was appealing.

Call time for the shoot at my apartment was 1pm. I got off work at noon and rushed home to get ready and prepared for the shoot. 1:10pm arrives and nobody has called me or rang the doorbell. My first reaction was, “here it goes again”. Finally, everyone else shows up- me, the writer/actor, director, camera dude, sound guy, 2 grips, an actress, her boyfriend, and a small dog. What?! Who brings a dog on set? To someone else's house? Luckily it was a really small dog and they were apologetic for forgetting to ask. They also took very good care of it and were really respectful of the house. Still, I didn't anticipate so many people at my house. I have 3 roommates and I am responsible for their belongings. I was just thrown of guard for a little bit. Oh, and I don’t have air conditioning so it was a a lot of sweaty bodies in a small apartment, :)

Well, now that everyone is on set, let’s get to business! The other actress and I have already been going over lines and were ready to roll. The director then sits us both down for about 45 minutes to talk about our characters. This could have been done before shoot day. In the mean time, the crew and everybody else were standing around waiting. Then we went over blocking. Then we went over actions. Then there was a timely discussion of if a certain action was even necessary. Then there was confusion over tone. Then, we finally rolled on our very FIRST rehearsal. Ha, and that’s exactly what it was, a first rehearsal mess. Then we talked again some more and finally began shooting around 5pm. Yes, that’s what I said 5pm. Maybe even later. We were supposed to be at the second location at 4pm so the actor that was there waiting for us, also came over to my house.

Scene one wrapped at 6:45pm. It’s not that it was a complicated scene, but I think a lack of preparation from the director was at fault. Everyone helped clean up my house before leaving to set up at the next location, a diner down the street. I stayed at home for about an hour to finish cleaning and I had a few emails to send. As I got to the second location I saw that not a single thing was set up and everyone was just sitting around. Then food came and we all ate. Then 2 hours later we filmed the 2nd scene. 

Part of me expected the day would unfold this way. I looked at it as a way to practice my patience and practice being able to keep a clear head while acting. My two scenes could have easily been finished in maybe five hours or less. Instead, I wrapped around 10:30pm. My goal for the day was to remain positive and learn from this experience. Sometimes learning from others mistakes are just as valuable. I’m not saying that this was a completely miserable time or that I am mad at anybody (because honestly I’m not), but this is something that may occur working on a smaller, no pay production. Everyone must pay their dues, be positive and pleasant to work with, network, etc. Just wanted to share this experience.