I get asked all the time about student films and if they are worth it. By “it” I mean the auditions, low budget conditions, no pay, and sometimes disorganized shooting schedules. Personally, I think when you’re in the beginning phase of your acting career, doing student films make sense.
Student films could be a great way of getting great material for demo reels for new actors. They don’t pay so at the very least the production will supply you with footage of your part in the production. For somewhat more seasoned actors, student films can be a great way of staying sharp under tougher than usual conditions and are generally entered into as a passion project. All-in-all, they are fun (usually) and give you the opportunity to meet and work with people that you will inevitably run into professionally during your career.
The understated bonus to student productions is that you may very well be working with the next Scorcese or Speilberg, but like anything in the acting business, there are the pros and cons of student productions.
Student Film PROS:
- Much easier to get auditions. Student productions aren’t relying on named talent to put people in the seats. Many of these films are shown once or twice and get put away in the archives.
- The possibility of getting Lead or Supporting role auditions and/or bookings. Never underestimate the advantages of securing the lead in a film, student production or not. It means a great deal of face time for your reel and looks great on your resume.
- Good demo material. A well-edited student film, that is a major portion of the creator’s final mark, will have significantly better production value and look a lot nicer as part of your reel that is sent in by your agent to casting.
- Adds to your resume. If all you’ve done is commercials, then film/short film experience in invaluable to show casting your acting chops.
- Provides auditioning and potentially on-set experience. Again if you come from the background world or are just getting started in your career, what you learn from auditioning for anything is very valuable. Also, if you’re an actor, your full-time job is auditioning. Get good NOW at pulling off an audition and it can only help you in the coming years ahead.
- Networking you do now may enable you to get legitimate parts in future when these students graduate and are working in the industry… this happens more quickly than you’d think!
- Student productions keep you auditioning when you may not be otherwise. Let’s face it, acting is cyclical work and it goes through the same ebb-and-flow as any other industry. Keeping your skills sharp during the quiet times mean that you will always bring your “A” game during the busy seasons.
Student Film CONS:
- Not reliable in quality (writing/direction/set dec/location/script/acting ability of other cast). These are student productions and with that, very low budget and the quality is as varied as the people working on them. You can mitigate potential bad experiences by having a talk in advance with your agent about which types of student films or schools you prefer auditioning for.
- Sometimes disorganized in auditions and on-set. This goes without saying because they are students. Try to keep an open mind, but, you will have both good and bad experiences. Take extensive notes and report everything of note to your agent if the experience is especially bad.
- You may not receive demo material despite promises and quite frankly, the school isn’t going to chase students down for you. Again, take notes and keep track of the principal people you interacted with on set (Director/1st AD/Producers). Make certain you have everyone’s contact information, including your fellow actors.
So this is a brief of the good and the bad that you may encounter with student productions. Before you commit to going out for them remember that you are working for student but also future industry professionals. As an actor, you should treat every single booking like a paying role. This means that you should show up on time, prepared and ready to give your best performance. You must honour your commitments once you are booked and present yourself as a professional. You just never know if the student director you blow-off today isn’t an Oscar-nominated director in a few years that passes you over for a very high-profile part because you treated them like a “student director.”
In the end, it’s the love of acting that should keep you fuelled for this business. It’s easy to get frustrated but you need passion, tenacity and consistent effort to succeed.
Take opportunities whenever you can get them but be strategic in prioritizing your efforts. Partner with your agent to make sure you are pursuing the opportunities that will benefit you most. Make sure your agent knows your goals and will partner with you to succeed.