When I was an actor, I reached a point in my career when I decided I would no longer submit my headshot and resumé for roles in short films. I figured that I needed to focus my energy on feature films, commercials, stage, and episodic TV work. Short films were something I could leave behind, like corporate videos, industrial films, and voiceover work. I mean, I wanted to be in projects that would get seen, right? My rationale made perfect sense to me: Short films are rarely seen outside of the festival circuit, they’re never bought by distributors, and why would I want to waste my time on a project that would shoot for four days, tops? Waste of time, short films.
Boy, was I wrong!
Of the seventeen films I’ve cast in my three years as a casting director, eight have been shorts. That’s not why I’m recommending you pursue roles in short films — it’s why I know the caliber of work that can come from films that clock in at under a half-hour. As I assemble this week’s column, three of the shorts I’ve cast are burning up the festival circuit, winning awards, and generating lots of heat for everyone involved. A fourth will have its big screen debut on May 9th in Beverly Hills (you’re all invited). But it’s not just the “what could come of this” factor that is of value, here. Let’s break down the reasons you (if you have the attitude that I’d cultivated, when I was an actor) should reconsider your position on doing shorts.
You Need Tape
Obviously, actors need demo reels. That’s a given. Because most shorts are going to cost FAR less to produce than even the cheapest feature-length film, you’ll find that filmmakers will actually use better equipment and spend more time making sure the film looks fantastic. They can afford an extra few days in post, since the entire budget of their film is going to come in under $50,000. All three of the above-referenced festival-happy films I cast were shot on 35mm. And they look amazing. The chance that you will get a meaty role in a feature-length film that is shooting on 35mm when you are still in the “gotta get tape” stage of your career? Next to none. So, right there, that’s a great reason: You can get great-looking tape, if you’ve chosen a project you feel strongly about and will be working with people you’re excited to get to know. And that brings me to the next major reason to do short films.
You’re Building Relationships
Exactly like I take on casting gigs with first-time filmmakers I believe in, you’ll need to take on roles in projects with first-time filmmakers you believe in. We’re all investing in each other when we say YES. We’re investing in the concept that this won’t be the only project any of us ever does. We believe that we’ll be at this a long time and that our paths will cross again. When I took a look through IMDb to find a few well-known films that were first shorts (list below), I noticed that most of the feature-length versions included more than a few members of the cast and crew from the original short. That’s not an accident. People reward those leaps of faith we make with more opportunities to work. This is another one of those long haul type things I’m so fond of mentioning.
Shorts Do Get Seen
I cannot begin to count how much email I get after a short film I’ve cast screens at a festival (and that’s 17 festivals thus far). If the work is good, it will get seen. People will take notice of it. You will be praised for your hard work. And although a short film will probably never be distributed or sold into nationwide release with a major ad campaign, sending you on a press junket to talk about it all, short films do get bought. In fact, people with job titles such as “shorts acquisition agent” scout film festivals looking for shorts to buy. Short films are huge internationally! And several websites (iFilm.com, StudentFilms.com, MovieFlix.com) have made it their business to showcase great short films. There are regular shorts programs on cable channels like IFC and Sundance, and I understand that a Canadian channel called Movieola is a ’round-the-clock shortsfest. I love that! And who knows what’s to come with the iPod/PSP generation of visual media? Even outside of handheld devices, TVs are mounted (and shorts are being bought for screening) in hospital waiting rooms and at airports. Heck, anywhere there’s a long line and people with an interest in more than just whatever is on daytime TV becomes a potential venue for short films.
Additionally, you may find potential agents and managers quite interested in viewing a short film in which you starred. I know that I enjoy a good short film more than most demo reels, simply because a well-told story is always interesting to me, as a consumer. Yes, demo reels will always be essential to an actor’s toolbox, but keeping a few copies of your short film around is a great idea too.
Short films will be listed on IMDB once they screen at festivals, so you can look forward to that addition to your online resumé too. Oh, and if festival screening doesn’t seem like such a big deal to you, as shorts are concerned, let me ask you to consider that little segment of the Oscars each year wherein filmmakers of documentaries and shorts are awarded little gold statues. How do you think that happens? Turns out there are several festivals around the world for which award-winning shorts are automatic qualifiers for Academy Award nominations. I would be hiding my glee if I didn’t mention that two of the shorts I cast in the past couple of years are now potential Oscar nominees for 2007. Whatever happens next, the excitement is genuine. No one cares about the length of the film, when you get to put the words “Academy Award-nominated” on your resumé somewhere.
Shorts Get Made
The last thing I want to mention is that shorts actually do get made! I bring that up because I’ve seen funding fall out from under feature-length filmmakers right before the first day of shooting and suddenly everyone is out of a job until financing is (re)secured. Shorts don’t frequently fall out of funding, simply because shorts-makers are dealing with far less money to begin with. So, when you’re weighing working on a short film against working on a low budget indie feature, perhaps consider that the four days’ work on the short may be more likely to yield tape, a festival run, and who knows what kudos… while the feature could halt at post, due to lack of finishing funds. By the time the filmmaker gets the money together, he could be “over it” and on to his next project, then you never even see your raw footage. Dang. And you were on set how long? Twenty days, maybe? Quite an investment for such a risk!
Okay, so now that I’ve gone back in time and had “a good talkin’ to” with my former (actor) self, I’ll end with a short list of some pretty well-known films that were first shorts (oh, and it’s not just feature-length films that come from shorts! Consider that Charles Stone’s short film True became the Budweiser “wassup” campaign and that many TV series came to being by way of short films that were shot on spec). Happy short film acting, everyone!
- Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson’s film starring newcomers Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson)
- THX 1138 (George Lucas made the short while at USC)
- Meet the Parents
- Sling Blade
- Ellie Parker (Naomi Watts even produced these films)
- Napoleon Dynamite
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000388.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.