One of the most frustrating things about being an actor is waiting to get the footage back from a short or independent film. It really can drive you up the wall! Think about it, you work on your craft, you audition for a project, you go through a couple of callbacks, you get the gig, you nail it on set, have a great time and the wrap party and then what? Weeks, months even years can go by without a peep! Especially if you are trying to put a reel together this process can be incredibly frustrating. So in this article, we will give you a few reasons as to why this process takes so long and what you can do as an actor to ensure you get the footage you need from these projects.
Getting footage of a short film you were in can be really tricky. Sometimes producers cannot let footage be seen until after the film has premiered. The process of post-production can take years and all in all it’s a tricky process. But with a mixture of patience and determination you can ensure you get what you deserve – footage for your reel!
Set Clear Expectations
One of the first things to do when you book a short film is to have a conversation with the production team about the post-production timeline. When do they expect the film to be done? Are they submitting it to any festivals that require a worldwide premiere and, all of that being the case, when do they expect that they’ll be able to get you a copy? It’s important to make the point, especially if you are working for free, that the real payment for this job is the footage for your reel. Having a showreel of professionally shot short films that really showcase your ability as an actor is so useful for your career that it makes the hassle of doing student or independent shorts really worthwhile. It is just important that you and the production team are crystal clear about expectations and deliverables with you and you with them, so everyone is on the same page.
So, Why Does It Take So Long?
This is a great question and one with a couple of answers. But let me run through the reasons why getting your footage is taking a literal age:
#1 The Edit
Friends. Editing doesn’t happen quickly. No matter how good or experienced the editor is that is attached to your film, it takes time and honestly, it has to. It is extremely rare that the film will turn out in reality as exactly what was put down on paper. Inevitably, in the edit suite, the film will change and this causes a lot of conniptions. Whether it was the weather that ruined a shot, a card getting corrupted, a below-average performance in a moment where they needed something extraordinary or just realising the way the film was written made no sense, editing can take an age. This is the first thing that can stop you from getting your footage in a timely manner.
#2 Post Production Bottlenecks
There are two things that nearly always slow the release of a film. Sound mix and colour grade. Now, this is no shade at mixers and colourists, more a point that for every 1000 actors there is a single sound mixer and .5 of a colour grader. These are highly specialised positions and the people that do it well, in both of these roles are in demand and under pressure. They are also both, extremely expensive. The same goes for VFX. I pity the short film that is highly VFX dependant. There are so many specialist roles in VFX work that are all, again, mind-blowingly expensive, again who are all mind-blowingly busy that they usually are working in low-budget shorts around their high-paid, tight-deadline professional work. All of these roles conform to the theory that you can have your project be good, quick or cheap; pick any two. Usually, producers go for good and cheap meaning it takes a long, long, long time to get through this process.
Ahh yes. The real reason why everything does or does not happen in life is usually because of that sweet cash money. Cheddar. Green. Benjis. Yes, if your production is running low on money, if the budget blows out, if they are waiting for funding to arrive before they can pay key post-production creatives, you will not be seeing your footage for a long time. Money can obviously be a huge stumbling block between your film being in post-production and your film never seeing the light of day. Generally the more experienced the producers, the better the likelihood of your film coming into reality, but there are no guarantees here. Especially in a world that is battling the pandemic money can be a major reason why your film isnt seeing the light of day any time soon.
So here is a tricky little situation. For the filmmakers, the big drawcard to make a short is the international recognition of a film festival. Some of these festivals, particularly the biggest and best ones like Tribeca, Venice, Sydney, Toronto, Berlin etc will all want an international premiere for the film as a condition of entry. Meaning you won’t be able to have a copy of it, until it has gone on at the festival. Production cannot risk the film being leaked, it will jeopardize the entire project so they will not be sending copies out to cast and crew until after the festival premiere is confirmed and shown. This is a good thing to be aware of, after it has premiered they should be fine to sling you a copy.
Follow Up with Producers
So the only thing you can do as an actor to get your footage from a short or independent film is to follow up with the producers. It is absolutely vital that you keep your email professional. Ask what the timeline for the film is when they are expecting picture lock (when all changes to the film cut have been done and approved) which festivals they are looking at and most importantly when they expect to have a copy in your hands. As a producer myself I would be looking to allay any fears the actor might have and give them a solid timeline so they don’t keep hassling me! Keep it polite and professional with your tone and if you don’t hear anything back follow up in a fortnight. If you don’t hear anything back from that second email, give them a call.
If they don’t pick up or you can’t get a hold of them, reach out to the director or another member of the production team to see what has happened. Especially for low budget or no budget shorts, things can go downhill in post-production! So keep working till someone gives you an answer. Once you have a timeline from the production team – leave them alone! Get out of their hair and let them do their jobs. Follow up with another email when the film is supposed to be ready and see if they can sling you a copy!
Again it’s a tightrope balance of getting the footage you need without putting the production team offside. Remember, this entire industry is a people-based industry. You must foster good relationships with people. But at the same time, you don’t want to be a pushover, your payment is this footage and they have an obligation to get it to you. So be polite, assertive, patient, kind and understanding while also holding people accountable to do what they said they would do. Good luck!
So there you have it, an in-depth guide on how to get your footage back and what might be holding up the process. Remember, producing a short film is damn hard work and it is important to be kind and understanding with producers, especially new ones just starting out. That being said, so many actors work their backsides off and never see the results of their labour because production falls through the cracks. So keep on them, be polite, respectful and understanding at all times, and ensure you get what is rightfully deserved – great showreel footage!