Matt Damon. Ben Affleck. Mindy Kaling. Vin Diesel. Emma Thompson. Aziz Ansari. Brit Marling. Kristen Wiig. Greta Gerwig. Lena Dunham. Billy Bob Thornton. All these actors have wildly successful careers, but their achievements did not float down from creative heaven, and land in their laps (not that I know of anyway). If there’s anything I’ve learnt since graduating drama school, it’s that you cannot sit around and wait for s#*t to happen to you. You must, must, must create your own work. It’s definitely going to be hard, but we already knew that. But creating your own work is actually the most satisfying and soul enriching process you will ever go through. So, we’ve put together some tips on how to make your own work as an actor.
7 Ways to Get Started
Do your homework. Watch films & documentaries, read books, see plays, listen, ask questions, get curious. (Actually this is just a tip for being a better human being) And also a great excuse to stimulate yourself creatively, but as if you need one.
Change your mindset.
Moping around at cafes over an Almond Chai Latte with your actor friends about how you’re getting no auditions, is not going to help you get auditions. Duh. We complain, all the time, about all kinds of things, and ultimately it achieves absolutely nothing. It allows us to excuse our problems, not accept responsibility, blame others, and it keeps you stuck. If we just stopped complaining for 1 day, what would we discover about ourselves, and our lives? So you can still have your Almond Chai, and meet your friends at cafes, but instead of hosting a fabulous pity party, do something about it! Write, draw, brainstorm, plan, read, research, be productive.
Find a mentor.
The best way to learn, and get inspired, is by listening to other people. I don’t like using this word, but all ‘successful‘ people attribute their ‘success‘ to advice or support they received from someone they know. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you’re not supposed to be perfect, and no one expects you to be. It may seem daunting asking for advice from someone you really look up to, but you will be surprised by how willing these people are to help, after all, they were young and inexperienced once too.
Hold yourself accountable.
Set timelines, even if you don’t meet them, simply having a due date on creative projects will motivate you to meet them. And when you do, you can reward yourself with food, or a night off, or both. A wonderful human, Mark Manson, once said “the more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.” He calls this Manson’s Law of Avoidance – people can successfully spend years talking about that screenplay they’re going to write, and invent wonderfully elaborate reasons why they haven’t started, and then never actually do it. Set timelines for your goals, then hold yourself accountable, I want to still be alive to witness your greatness.
Help out a mate!
You are bound to know someone who’s creating their own work, offer to help them, and whilst you’re there, ask for advice, learn what worked, and what didn’t. And by the way, I am so not okay with this whole notion of actors not wanting to help other actors, in case it helps them succeed (leaving you in the dust.) Will you listen to yourself? Stop that! Everyone is embarking on their own unique journey, what comes around goes around, karma, all of that wise stuff – suck it up, and be generous.
Now’s the time to write. I’ve heard that it’s always best to write about yourself for your first project. You’re all actors, I’m sure you have plenty of pent up emotions and a deep, dark well of scarring childhood experiences to draw from. Writing about you or something you’ve experienced will be much easier than writing about a grandpa who murders his whole family because he thinks someone stole his pet guinea pig (unless, of course that happened to you, in which case, I’m very sorry). This doesn’t mean literally writing an autobiography, it might just be one moment, and of course it can still be fictionalised and dramatised. Perhaps writing isn’t your strong point, so my advice here would be to produce something. I’m sure you know someone who’s got a writer’s brain, bribe them with cookies, write it together, and get it done.
Get it out there.
Social media, submit to competitions, put it online, have a local screening, apply for grants. Do your research, there are people out there who want to see new content – find them, and ask them to help you. And remember all those mates I told you to help out earlier? Now you can ask them to help you, you cannot do it alone. Yes, it costs money to make films, and put on plays, but it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Be thrifty, ask for favours, strike deals, crowd funding – put it out into the universe, someone will answer. Or, you can work your butt off, collect those flybuys points and save wherever you can.
Make your mark.
Sometimes it might feel like there simply isn’t enough room for you in the industry. You’re too white, too tall, too short, too ethnic, you’re not ethnic enough. I spent a lot of time trying to fit in, only to realise that I didn’t actually fit in. So why bother? Making your own work, creating your own characters, your own world, is like creating a gap in the industry where you can be yourself, and flourish. There are so many wonderful examples of this. Who would have thought we’d fall in love with Aziz Ansari, or Lena Dunham, until they told us that we needed to fall in love with their quirky, hilarious, genuine selves? Basically what I’m saying is, take your career into your own hands. If you’re passionate about it, and you work hard, you’ll make it happen.
If you’re sitting there thinking, “stop talking smack Indi, you don’t know what you’re saying” – well, first of all, that’s not very nice, and second of all, listen to my friends, they definitely know what they’re talking about and can prove it!
Here’s some advice from wonderful actors who are creating their own work, and it’s bloody brilliant.
Frisky, a feature film written and directed by Claudia Pickering is a comedy about two twenty-somethings who move to San Francisco to chase their career, but end up chasing tail instead. And guess what the budget was? $5,000… $5,000!
I made Frisky for a bunch of reasons, the main one being that I had a ton of stories burning a hole in my heart and brain, trying to get out – so that had to be dealt with, and I had fortunately got in the habit of dealing with those sorts of things by putting them in a script outline. I had some friends who were making some great music that got my blood boiling in a great way, which somehow visually framed those stories I mentioned before – I’d hear the music and see the scenes play out. Then I went to a screening of a friend-of-a-friend’s micro-budget feature film that I got completely swept up in and inspired by. That was the tipping point where everything around me and everything that I was doing that wasn’t making all of those feelings into a film were like rising water in a basement – I had to get out. So I quit my job and wrote the script in 6 weeks. We shot the first draft and the whole thing was completed (with the help of a group of incredibly creative, talented and passionate people from Craigs List) and being entered into festivals 6 months after its conception.
With a budget of $5k, there aren’t terribly many challenges as a lot of your decisions are made for you… As long as you’ve got a cast and crew who respect and appreciate each other… and you’re feeding them well every day. Yes, there was some problem solving to be done, but the script was written knowing what we had at our disposal and what we did not. Perhaps the most challenging part was scheduling around everyone – as all cast and crew were on a profit-share model, rather than upfront payment so I wanted to make sure that everyone was accommodated in the schedule. Difficult though that was, it did make for a fairly seamless shoot!
As an actor, it put the power back in my hands, making my own work. I cottoned onto that very early on in my acting career. There are too many stories to tell and waiting to be told what roles I was and was not allowed to play didn’t really appeal to me. I don’t think there was ever going to be a version of me that didn’t involve writing and creating work. Very, very satisfying.
Get Frisky on Facebook
or on Insta @friskymovie
Rebecca Day & Tiffany Hoy are writing, directing, producing and acting (!) in a play for Sydney Fringe Festival, called #ArtistLife.
#ArtistLife came from a place of dissatisfaction. A few months ago, Tiffany and I were in a place where we felt our careers were not our own. We were losing control and going to audition after audition, waiting on others to give us a magical ‘Yes’. We have big dreams and nothing that we could sink our teeth into was popping up. That leads me to my first golden piece of advice. Just go and do it yourself. It sounds like a NIKE ad but it rings true. The best way to learn is to do. Everyone I admire has an origin story of getting of bunch of people they loved working with, and on a shoestring budget, just made something. All you need is drive, an openness to play and the fearlessness to take the leap and begin. You keep working, you learn on the go and end up incredibly happy because you are doing something. You got the power!
Advice Number 2 – You know more than you think. Tiffany and I chose to do the whole production ourselves; devising, directing and producing. We’ve been daunted by insurance policies and budgets and that is probably been the hardest part so far. But in saying that, time after time each step you take in making your work you find you already know what to do. There’s no manual to draw from, because you’ve actually been learning all along. But what do you mean? See, you spend time observing on a film set, in a rehearsal room and on stage. Each time you’ve done something for your career, you’ve been gaining skills that can now come into play in full force. You know exactly what to do as you’ve been doing it all along, and if not, at least you know who to call.
Speaking of people, talk to everyone you know. You don’t have to do it this on your own. Everyone is there to support you and I can guarantee, are stoked you are making your own stuff. You will not be turned away in approaching anyone in admiration. There is no doubt the people you are talking to were in the same place as you and are still learning. Just know, we are all scared. It’s hard making the first jump. But I promise you it’s worth it.
Web series ‘METHOD’ is a universal comedy grounded in lots of truth, loosely (and sometimes not so loosely), based on the stories & situations Jerome Velinksy and Tawni Bryant have personally lived through during their 10 year careers in the Film & TV industry.
Tawni and I have known each other for over ten years. We met in an acting class and have been friends ever since. We recently started sharing stories with each other about some horrible audition experiences we’ve had & it just got to a point where we were like “We need to make a series about this!”… And so, Method was born.
Every actor knows how frustrating it can be between auditions & having the feeling that someone else is in charge of your success. What’s worse than that, is feeling like those same people are deciding what you can or can’t convincingly play on screen. We just didn’t want to wait around anymore for something that might never have come. As serious as it sounds – we had to truly take our careers into our own hands and create something.
Was it hard? Heck yes! It was so, so challenging and we were facing new problems every single day. Tawni and I created, co-directed & co-produced the series as well as having me write it. It was a lot of work, but don’t let that discourage you because we can honestly say it’s been 10 times more rewarding on the flip side. To have something of your own, something you’ve created when nobody’s asked for it and just off the bat of your own self determinism… THAT is an incredible feeling. It’s addictive. You finally feel like you’re in control.
Another challenge of making Method came in the very early stages: Telling people we wanted to make a series about two struggling actors. This was met with a lot of eye rolling and attitude like ‘Oh, how transformational of you both…’ sort of stuff. Even though we believed & knew our series was different, it was pointless trying to convince certain people to believe in us or to be excited about what we were doing. We had to believe in us, and I think that is a crucial piece of advice for budding creators out there. Believe in yourself, believe in your project. You have to be your biggest fan and surround yourself with likeminded people who do share your vision and will support you. That’s vital.
On a final note of inspiration to any actors out there, I don’t think any bad can ever come from creating your own work. Even if you feel it’s the worst thing that’s ever seen the light of day and Meryl Streep herself gags when she watches it (Ok, that would be bad) – there’s still something admirable in artists just creating something & doing something. Don’t be that actor waiting by the phone. Get out there, get a good team together, don’t overthink it & make something!
And if you need even more convincing, watch these:
Multi-Facial: by Vin Diesel
Sling Blade: by Billy Bob Thornton
Brit Marling talks filmmaking, and just life in general.
Now I hope you’ve changed your mind about me, and are inspired to get off your couch and dramatically open a fresh Word Document and start typing…