I can be short about shorts: every starting actor has do them. Unless you were a child star or had your breakthrough in the very first project you did. In that case good for you! But if not: join the club. Shorts, and particularly student shorts, are the way to get experience and build a showreel without having done professional acting before. I just got home from the set of a short, and although it was no-budget and unglamorous I would still like to spill some words on shorts, hopefully helping your acting career while at it!
Yes, when I dreamt of being an actress as a child, I dreamt of impressive movie sets, gorgeous co-stars, hand made costumes…I dreamt everyone would be polite and would adore the actors. And then- in my pre-teens, still very much believing that dream- I read a quote by Juliette Binoche. While I don’t remember the exact words, what it came down to was that in the beginning of her career she had to help carrying the sound/light wires from set to set. I was shocked, honestly. Because I hadn’t really given my acting dream that much realistic consideration until that point. I didn’t think of the fact that acting in my room by myself was different from acting in front of a camera with 20+ people around where hitting marks indicated by tape on the floor is highly important. I didn’t think about acting as a craft, which you need to learn by training and doing no-budget projects with other starting people. I didn’t think of acting as being 80% waiting for the people of light and sound to build and rebuild their stuff either. But acting is all that. It’s working long days, sometimes in uncomfortable circumstances, and usually for low salaries. At least when you start out.
My very first acting job was a student short called “Fairlane.” I had never been on a filmset until then and let’s just say I was quite overwhelmed by everything. By the amount of people present, the novelty of the filming proces, my first close shot, the equipment…They had an outrageous amount of equipment for a no-budget student project: a whole bus full from one of Holland’s biggest film equipment companies. The director apparently knew a guy who knew a guy. There were even some costumes. A sailor costume, to be specific. A stripper sailor costume to be even more specific, with those velcro straps so you can tear of the sleeves etc. in one smooth move. Uhm, no, it wasn’t that kind of movie. The costume was used in it’s complete, non-teared form. Even though this short was actually one of the more comfortable ones to do, it was still a reality check. This was the real experience of what acting on film was all about, and I found myself being quite unprepared for that.
So I did another short, and another one, and another. And along the way I found myself getting more and more comfortable with the proces and with being in front of the camera. You really learn so much by just doing. Especially because here in Holland lots of professional, even famous actors do student projects to keep working, offering fresh and clean newbies the opportunity to get wonderful advice. And that’s exactly what I got on the set today from a much older, experienced actor, getting me to a much better performance. Also, doing a short is an excellent reason for sending casting agencies a hi-remember-me-mail disguised as a resume update. On top of that the film business is a closed little world and doing shorts is a good way of getting to know people who are in that tight-knit group. Because the students creating the shorts almost always do internships at bigger projects, which comes with even another advantage: they can borrow fantastic equipment. Who minds stripper costumes when you have a kick-ass beast of a camera?
So yes, doing short can be hard, unglamorous work sometimes but don’t let that discourage you. That moment when you see your name in the credits makes you feel like you’re just a little bit closer to the dream than before, and isn’t that why we’re all doing it in the end? Because how can you appreciate a nice, juicy steak if you don’t know what it’s like to eat crappy meatballs? That was a
carnivo metaphor for appreciating the climb just as much as the view from the top. I want meat now.
So, how about you? Have you ever done a short? What was your experience like? Did you feel like it helped you realize the level of your acting or the reality of the industry? Share your stories! And if you would like to receive free e-mail updates every time I post here, enter your e-mail address in the upper right corner and press I want to follow! Thanks!