Ahead of Get Your Short Film Seen on 19 September, award-winning directors Linda Ludwig and James Curle write about the most common mistakes made by actors when creating their first film.
Five Mistakes Actors Make When Creating Their Own Short Film
We live in an exciting digital age that has created many new opportunities. One great advantage of our time is that filmmaking has become a lot more accessible. For actors starting out in screen acting, that’s excellent news. But as with everything, there are some big pitfalls when it comes to actors venturing out to create their own work for the screen. Here are some of the most common mistakes you might be making right now, and some advice on how to do it right:
1. You didn’t realise you’re now a producer
Great, so you’re going to make your own short film. Congrats — you’re now a producer … with no experience. Most actors underestimate the importance of this role and become extremely stressed when they realise too late that you have to know a lot in order to produce a good short. As a result, the film turns out below everyone’s expectations. Solution: Team with someone from the start who really knows what they’re doing and ideally has experience producing short films. Often they can also attract more budget to a short film and know how to tap funds. Win win.
2. You try and grab anyone who you know who has made a good one
When you know a film has won lots of awards, you try and get that team, right? In principle, not bad thinking. But in reality this team works so well together because it has a long working relationship. If you just take parts of it, then the whole thing will fall apart and be of no use to you. Good producers are good at matching the right teams with the right projects and often they already have a fab team behind them. Look at some film festival selections in the UK and connect with producers whose work you like. Don’t just pick anyone because they won awards. Pick people whose work you actually like and resonate with!
3. You don’t know what ‘Industry Screenplay Standard’ is
If your immediate reaction is “What?” then you’re already making this mistake. Even if you have experience writing plays, screenplay standard is very different and a lot stricter with its format. Many actors don’t know this. Without following this standard, your script will become “unproducable”. Learn how to write for screen or team with an experienced screenwriter, for best results. If you’re writing yourself, the BBC Writers Room website has fantastic resources, including downloadable templates for UK screenplay standards.
4. You thought, whilst you’re at it, you’d give directing a shot
If your primary interest in being in a short is to show off your acting, then do not choose to direct as well. Doing two jobs at once means you’ll do both half as well as you could. It is much more useful to team with a director who knows what they’re doing and who you love working with. Pick someone who values up your work. If you can trust them, you can trust them with your performance and they’ll be able to push you beyond your best.
5. You think casting yourself will get you there faster
It can be very frustrating to stare at that inbox and wait for an email from your agent. In fact, this is one of the top reasons why actors go: “Sod it, I’ll do it myself.” The thought itself is a very useful and empowering one, but the way it is executed often gets the actor into trouble. Many actors underestimate how long making a successful short film will take. If you can get something done in under a year, that’s pretty impressive for high-quality short. You might think that this short film can be your ticket — but the truth is that it takes a lot more than one short to get you there. So don’t work against your agent. Trust them. Make this short film an opportunity to create something that your agent can use to push you for screen work.
Some advice: Don’t rush yourself to get there. Don’t think awards will impress casting directors or get you seen. It’s about a lot more than that. Enjoy the process. Making a short film is about meeting new people, creating something exciting together, working with a great crew, working with other great screen actors, gaining experience, being proud of your work, entertaining an audience, being able to invite casting directors when the film screens in a festival, going to that festival to mingle, meeting more likeminded people who may now love your work… the list goes on. And yes, ultimately one of those things will lead to you getting cast more often – and if you do your short film right, it will be a very fun and rewarding experience that can advance your career and confidence in ways you didn’t even expect.
We talk about the points above in more detail in our classes, and also many more pitfalls you will want to avoid. So if you had fun reading this, come along and join in!
Get Your Short Film Seen takes place on 19 September and is open to Actor and Industry members. For more information as well as booking info, please click here.
About Linda Ludwig and James Curle
Linda and James are award-winning directors, directing drama and commercials together since 2011. Their film "Man of the Hour" won Best Short at the Cannes Film Festival 2018, AmPav, and was selected for over 10 festivals, including BAFTA and Oscar qualifiers. They are now working on their debut feature.
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