This is a rather important topic, as I consider ‘doing stuff with your mates’ the bread and butter of an emerging actor. It will get you miles ahead of the people who are not doing stuff with their mates and… you get to work with your mates. Get all your giggles out now, because I’m going to use the phrase ‘doing stuff with your mates’ repeatedly in this post, because frankly, ‘making art with your colleagues’ sounds just as dirty. So let’s just roll with it.
Basically I’m referring to creating your own work. This is generally known as ‘freelance’ (securing your own acting work without an agent) or ‘independent’ (putting on your own shows/shorts/webisodes without ties to a major company). This type of work is largely unfunded or ‘co-op’ (where you split any money the show makes between whoever was involved, also called profit-share or box-office split). Sadly, you probably won’t make a lot of money from this sort of work, because your box-office income will most likely go towards recouping costs for equipment and costumes and all that, but the experience and exposure is really going to be the biggest benefit to begin with. Yes, this is one of the few times where being paid in exposure dollars might actually be worth it.
Why do stuff with your mates? Why not just wait til the right role comes along and you nail that audition?
To start with, if you don’t have an agent, you may not be able to get one until they see your work, or at least see a few credits on your resume. And if you don’t have an agent, you might find it hard to get decent roles, or any work at all. You might also find that even once you get an agent, you’re still not getting the chance to play the meaty roles you’d really like to play – those challenging roles that would really help you develop as an actor. This is pretty common when you start out, because it’s rare for a professional company to cast newbies in the big roles. They’re not being mean, it’s just that an emerging actor may not have the experience (life or acting-wise) to pull off that difficult role, in which case they would be taking a huge risk if they hired you.
When that happens, you’ve got two options: go amateur, or go indie. Which one sounds better to you? The one that’s just people acting for fun, or the one that’s full of people like you, who are on their way to being professional but haven’t quite cracked it yet?
I hope you chose the second option.
If you’re going indie, which you probably will at some stage, it’s still possible to audition for indie stuff and not have to organise it (produce it) yourself. You can absolutely do that. But then you’re competing against other actors and you have to WAIT for the opportunity… and again we’re back to putting your future in someone else’s hands and sitting around until ‘the right time’. If you work like that, you could end up wasting six to nine months of the year.
So who are your mates? Who should you be working with?
Your mates are anyone with whom you share a language or experience. Usually that means someone you’ve trained with in some way, whether it’s at high school, uni, or just a weekend course. Having trained together in some way usually means you’ll have similar stylistic interests since you were attracted to the same training, you’ll have similar expectations about process, and you’ll have bonded at least a little bit. You need to have bonded at least a little bit! Ideally, the longer you have known each other, the better, because you won’t have to spend as much time building up a sense of trust or understanding of the work.
On that note, just briefly: yes, working with your friends can be as hard as sharing a house with them. You may occasionally feel like killing them. But you’ll also probably forgive them quicker than you would a total stranger and if you’ve chosen to work together, chances are you’ve got a lot in common artistically, which will make things easier. You can have huge amounts of fun, and you’re friends will probably trust you more than a professional company would, so they’ll be happy to give you a meaty role (at some point – taking turns is often required!).
I won’t get into the practical details of how to make work with your mates, because it varies hugely depending on what sort of work you want to make. I think the best advice I can give you is:
1) Don’t let lack of money stop you. Plenty of art has been made all over the world with no funding behind it (and in my opinion, is often better than the well-funded stuff). With the crowd-funding platforms available to everyone now (eg. Pozible, Kickstarter, Indie-gogo), it’s easy to raise a couple of hundred bucks to start you off. Have a bake sale, for Pete’s sake. Carry chocolate boxes. Run a quiz night. It just takes a little time and energy, and you can divide that amongst the group.
2) Know what’s essential. What do you really need money for? Could it be borrowed or bought second hand instead? Make a list and see what essential and what you can do without. Try to beg, borrow or steal it first before you pay for anything.
3) Start bare-bones. DO NOT put money into fancy opening night invitations or cinema screenings because you think it will get you more attention and therefore more financial support. Chances are, it won’t. At least not to begin with. Start small and build up. Online advertising (particularly FREE social media opportunities, FREE e-newsletter and invitation programs) is a great way to start off and often looks very, very professional.
4) Do up a budget, even if it’s very simple. You need some sort of idea of how the money is going in and out or you’ll just end up in debt. Think about the very LEAST amount of money you might make from this venture and use that figure to do your budget, not the maximum. Sounds obvious, but it’s very easy to kid ourselves.
5) Research. Talk to people who’ve recently done what you’re trying to do. They can help you get an idea of what you’re up against. Don’t be shy – most emerging artists are happy to help out someone who’s starting out, because they know what it’s like to be in that position. And if you do get knocked back, don’t take it personally. Just ask someone else.
6) For the love of God, make sure you’re insured! It’s just not worth the potential cost of someone getting injured. This might mean rehearsing at a space where you can pay a membership fee and be covered by their insurance, or it might mean you have to raise a bit of money to insure yourselves. But do it. Seriously. Please. You don’t want to deal with thousands of dollars debt because someone tripped on a cable.
I suppose the last point to make is… maybe you don’t feel like you have any artistic mates. It’s pretty common to feel like that when you start out. To find your mates, you just need to get out there! Go to auditions, shows, films and most importantly, workshops and courses. If you haven’t found them yet, that’s usually where you’ll find them.