Main Media Filmmaking
Certificate in Collaborative Filmmaking at Maine Media College

How to Be a Good Team Player as an Actor on Smaller Projects

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By Sara Sue Vallee

When beginning as an actor, you will often find yourself doing independent short films and indie feature films to build your portfolio and gather footage for your demo reel. Something I recently encountered working in independent productions is the importance of teamwork. Teamwork is crucial in this collaborative artistic industry, but especially so when it comes to low budget and no-budget productions and smaller projects.

Sara Sue Vallee on the set of an independent film

If you agree to be part of a smaller project, you should always remain respectful with all creatives involved and give your best to help out in any way you can. You should communicate your thoughts and ideas with a desire to help tell the story and maintain a positive attitude to bring a fruitful energy on set. Your positive energy is what people will remember and therefore think of you for future projects. Beyond respect, there are some key elements to adopt as an actor when working in independent productions. These key elements include listening, punctuality and asking for your frame.

Let’s begin with listening, which is the most important of them all. Listening means being attentive to the director’s notes when he/she is speaking to you. You should always be fully present and ready to work when the crew is ready for you. That said, avoid being on your phone in between takes and even at all when not necessary. Leave it in your bag, your messages can wait. Staying in the moment will help you prepare yourself mentally for the scene ahead. Our world is becoming increasingly filled with distractions and checking our emails and social media has become a habit, an unconscious mechanism. We must always work against that and other things that might serve as distractions so that we can stay focused and present, both on and off the set.

Punctuality is another key element to any successful set. I’m still amazed to see some actors behaving differently when it comes to independent productions as opposed to unionized projects. If your call time is 6AM, make sure to wake up early and be ready to step into the makeup chair when they need you. You don’t want to delay the crew because of your personal preferences. Professionalism transpires in your actions and in order to attract bigger opportunities, you must first prove yourself in smaller ones. If you treat some work less importantly in comparison to others, people will remember that and won’t refer you in the future. This is a small industry, so always remain professional no matter the size of the part you play. Everybody is working collaboratively to create a film, so immerse yourself fully in the story and bring your personal essence to it.

At last, another way to stay on top of your performance in smaller projects is to ask the director of photography about your frame. Knowing your frame (close-up, medium shot, wide shot) allows you to adjust your performance in consequence. If it’s a wide shot, you have more room to use your entire body to tell the story with gestures, mannerisms, posture, etc. When it’s a close-up, you must find stillness and canalize your energy; the eyes become the vector of this energy. The more you know about the technical aspects of filmmaking, the more tools you have to tell the story appropriately. However, you should not think of the technical aspects when performing because it will remove you from the present moment, but let it become second nature with time and practice. Don’t force it, practice and enjoy the ride.

Sara Sue ValleeSara Sue Vallee is a bilingual actress working in both Film and Television. After graduation, she began her journey in independent productions; allowing her to shape a career in the film industry. She is also writing and producing her own content which allows her to understand the world behind the camera better. In her articles for The Student Filmmakers Magazine, Sara will explore the world of acting in an attempt to guide new actors and filmmakers.

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