How To Prepare For A Role In An Indie Film
As a performer, there’s a question to ask yourself. Are you in love with acting or do you love the idea of acting? Acting is a hard game to play but few speak directly about the realities involved with this line of work. The dominance of social media in the 21st century has begun to muddle performance and this is a key stance to launch these tips and observations from.
Professional acting skill sets have become diluted in recent years. Regular attendance at London drama school showcases since 2010 informs my opinion here. There has been a cultural shift and work ethic has suffered. Even the UK acting directory Spotlight changing their acceptance criteria reflects this. More people in the industry mean more noise for genuine talent to cut through. Understand this implicitly; to stand out from the rest you need a work ethic of the highest calibre.
Be ready for the opportunity
In my last feature, THE CHANT OF JULY actress Alina Desmond was a late casting, originally lined up for a small role availability issues arose with our first choice lead and Alina was offered the opportunity to step in as a replacement. Prepared and ready to go, Alina, in the title role of ‘Jane Thunder’ makes the film. If she wasn’t ready to take on the challenge the chance would have passed her by.
High calibre team. Director Al Carretta, actress Alina Desmond and musician Luke Dalton at the premiere of Carretta’s 21st indie feature THE CHANT OF JULY in March 2023.
If you’re looking to be cast, look up the production team. Research. They might not have done anything. They might have done a lot but don’t ask questions that are already answered. Read information carefully. Follow instructions. In recent years, I’ve seen the administrative standards of casting applications decline. The pandemic left lots of actors rusty but keep things simple. Introduce yourself, be courteous and sign off neatly within a few lines.
The traditional actor will always bring something to the production table but filmmaking in 2023 isn’t just about showing up for the shoot. It’s accepting that a $2k film can happily sit next to multi-million dollar projects. Working with filmmakers is an absolute must; the project simply won’t get traction if you don’t help push it. If you have a social media presence and your film is on Amazon, Tubi, Apple TV and a million other streaming services, you actually have something worth shouting about, so do it. Promoting what you are in positively and consistently offers you subtle recognition and elevation; you’re a team player. And you are clearly reliable.
No-budget films and multi-million dollar productions sit next to each other on menus on streaming sites such as Amazon Prime. Actress Zoe Lewin as ‘Lana’ in Al Carretta’s 20th indie feature; EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLAR VALUE.
A positive attitude means everything
Producers might desire talent with a profile but a profile takes years and multiple projects to build. Profile also stagnates. Time renders your CV irrelevant but saddest of all, most performers will never reach the status of ‘profile’. Why? Actors simply don’t stay in the industry long enough anymore. People give up just when they’ve started to assemble a body of work that will get them noticed. On the flip side, people get bored and stop because they weren’t actually actors in the first place; they just wanted to be famous. “Ay, there’s the rub” to quote Hamlet. Remember how I said social media was muddling performance? Modelling and acting are two very different skill sets.
When you do get a chance to prove your mettle, embrace it and think about this golden rule; empathise with the limitations of the production you’re involved with. Don’t walk into a no-budget set expecting Hollywood. Walk into a no-budget set appreciating that this is the best situation the company can deliver on the resources available. Creativity is a demanding emotional state. A production team needs to be on ‘creative edge’. Your role might last a day but they’ve been working for seven days already and have seven days to go. They don’t need an actor criticising what the production might be lacking when the limitations have been explained from the get-go.
Listen to creative control
Whatever production you’re involved in, aim to behave impeccably. Do what you’re told and accept that the creative control present is going to be hierarchy based. This means you might need to learn which authority to listen to. Come to set prepared, not with questions, but answers and solutions to the challenges the performance might ask of you. You don’t need to waste any director’s time with trivial concerns of stagecraft when the clock is ticking. Yes, you might have to do a pick-up to a blank wall or pretend to walk to an exit that isn’t there but filmmaking is cheating, this is how it gets done and it’s your job to know these basic elements. You shouldn’t need to ask for motivation; you should know it beforehand and be prepared to be directed. If orders aren’t present, don’t seek validation, accept that you might be doing exactly what’s expected of you.
Come to set prepared to be directed. Serena Bunn as ‘Stella David’ in THE CHANT OF JULY.
Adopt this positive attitude of preparation and you become invaluable. Learn how to protect yourself in performance and you hone yourself as an actor who is going to get consistently booked. Don’t accept a role you aren’t mentally equipped to deal with. Be real. If you do accept something on your limit, don’t overthink, learn to externalise the character mindset required and limit character immersion until your experience allows you to make calculated performance risks. Don’t do TROPIC THUNDER, just go full TEAM AMERICA and use your acting for what it is. As a prepared individual you will know exactly how you are in terms of mental health but part of the professional acting skillset is being able to decompress and compose before, during and after production.
Treat confidence with care
Your respective skillset is everything in performance but a consistent mistake that can hamper anyone is misunderstanding the egotistical power of confidence. It lies to you beautifully. Confidence lets you take on the World but if you’re inexperienced you have to acknowledge skill limits so humility is a better emotional state to revise. It’s control of mental capacity that lets skilled performers audition in the morning, shoot on a production in the afternoon and run a play in the evening. Confidence might make you believe you’re capable of this but the reality is you can’t learn psychologically demanding skillsets overnight. To be super busy and highly effective you first need to learn how to manage your headspace. This comes through a process of compartmentalising and it’s not for everyone.
To be truly prepared, it also helps to understand the subtle irony inherent to highly intelligent creatives. Personal to my experience, countless performers ignore my knowledge base. They mistakenly assume I’ve only made short films, don’t listen when I say my training ground was theatre and read my stylised cynicism as negativity. Acting requires you to be prepared to face all manner of directorial styles. Through experience, you learn what types of authority get the best out of you but it’s also worth remembering that across all disciplines of art you will face intimidating levels of creative knowledge. Don’t be out of your depth in these situations; all you have to do is listen and absorb.
Learn to listen and absorb. Alina Desmond as ‘Jane Thunder’ in THE CHANT OF JULY.
Different experiences help you find your niche
I know a whole generation of actors who grew up in a local youth theatre under a dominant director. They were all highly disciplined performers but entirely conditioned to being shouted at if they got things wrong. As a thirteen-year-old, I walked out of this set-up after one session as I thought there was a more civilised way to teach people but the boot-camp method worked for many of the people involved.
From left to right, the six indie features Al Carretta has made between June 2020 and March 2023. The first three were productions produced during the pandemic.
I don’t crowdfund, my films get made through debt I personally incur. Collectively, my last four films since 2021 cost $20,000, yet the current royalty return on them is sub $200. These are hard conditions to keep producing in but this is an indie film at the bottom end of the scale and most people would just give up. I have to identify risk versus reward and examine my own failures. As a producer, I have to be objective and analyse what is lacking in any given film.
As an actor, the greatest asset you can bring to the table is a desire and passion to cooperate in the production of art. If you can demonstrate this attitude, your personality begins to stand out in productions, your confidence grows naturally and your profile develops. By clearly wanting to be part of something and not taking your selection for granted, you’ve created a pedestal for yourself. People recognise presence, and after twenty-one indie feature films, I hit my 22nd knowing that preparation is everything.
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About the Author
Never afraid to experiment, Al Carretta is a trailblazing British filmmaker. Never funded and working tirelessly with ingenuity and the resources available, he has delivered 22 multi-genre indie feature films since 2010. His content is now widely released on streaming platforms across the World....