Yee Jee Tso

Frequently Asked Questions

On Acting

  • "If you live in Albuquerque, New Mexico and you can't afford the traveling costs to make it to an audition in Los Angeles,what should you do?"

    That's a really good question. A lot of actors face a similar problem. The only thing I know of to help with that is to put together a good demo reel. Every time you work on a show, make sure you ask them for a copy of it on DVD. Then pick the scenes that feature you, and edit them together into a montage of your work (or have it done at a video post production house). If you don't have any professionally shot material, shoot your own. With digital video, you can actually make a decent looking demo at home. Elijiah Wood did it to get his part in LOTR. Your demo reel is ideally 5 minutes long. Slightly longer is okay, but never longer than about 10 minutes. With this, your agent has something to send to casting directors who are out of town.

    Additionally, you can get your agent to submit you to the castings in LA, but instead of going to LA, put yourself on tape. Meaning, when you get the sides, tape yourself doing the audition, and get your agent to send THAT in. It's the next best thing to being there yourself. If they like your tape and want you for a callback, then at least it's a better reason to shell out for the bus ticket or go on a road trip! I've been cast from a taped submission before.

    Last but not least: DON'T GIVE UP! Lots of actors from places further away than Albuquerque have made it in Hollywood :)

  • "How can I get into acting if at times I have confidence problems, and I'm not in Theatre class at school?"

    EVERYONE has confidence problems, MOST of all actors :) You are definitely not alone there. As you practice more and more, just like anything else, you will improve your acting skills and your confidence in them will naturally become stronger. Don't worry about that.

    As for classes, if you aren't enrolled in Drama at school (even though it's a great place to start) it's not the end of the world. There may be good acting classes outside your school at a private institution or theatre. You can also visit my website for tips on finding a good acting coach . There are a lot of scams out there to avoid.

  • "I live in Richmond, VA. Even thought I am not some big time drama person/actress, is it still possible for me to try out for plays?"

    You don't have to be a "big-time drama person" to try out for stuff. In fact, sometimes it's the non drama people that end up getting hired because they don't have that whole need-to-get-famous thing that can get in the way of good, honest acting. I would suggest you try out for stuff if you're interested. It's fun doing auditions whether you get the part or not. Think of it as 5 minutes with a captive audience :)

    As far as finding classes and such, usually I direct people to SAG (the actor's union). But I don't think there is an office in Richmond, VA. Go to their website and find the contact details for the office nearest you. Then call them and tell them you're looking for actors' support resources and good classes in your area. Hopefully they'll be able to point you in the right direction.

  • "This might sound like a stupid question, but how much do looks count? I'm not ugly, but I'm not Halle Barry either, and that worries me."

    I'm not going to lie to you, looks count, but not always in the way the you think. Even though Hollywood has made a very narrow set of characteristics the standard for "good looks", in the end, we would tire of everything they showed us if it didn't include some kind of diversity. What I'm saying is, even in Hollywood, there's room for all sizes, shapes and, to a more limited degree, colors.

    So don't worry. If you love acting, and you're willing to put in the time to become really good at it, the industry will not be able to ignore you just because of your looks. There are plenty of actors out there who have successful careers, who don't look like Halle Berry, myself included :)

  • "I'm from Scotland and I'm a Muslim (Pakistani). My main problem is being a Muslim, I'm very limited to go for certain roles...I have martial arts background and I was thinking maybe stunts would be better for me? I am going to work an independant film which I got cast for...the character gets to kick the lead character's butt! I've thought about moving to the US, but it's hard financially, and I don't even know if I'm guaranteed work there. Can you give me any advice?"
    1. If you are worried that your Muslim heritage will get in the way of your acting, I won't lie - it will be harder. Just like being a visible minority in Canada and the USA can hinder one's acting career. I've never been to Scotland, but I can only assume it is similar there. HOWEVER, don't distress, there are many actors of ethnic origin who have had successful careers here, and in the UK, and in the end, there is a role out there for EVERYONE. Just work hard, have fun, and the career part will follow. And for heaven's sake, don't change your beliefs for anyone, or be ashamed of them. They are part of what makes you unique, and even in the commercialized world of entertainment, uniqueness is still the most powerful asset.
    2. About moving to the US: the two places you'd want to go in the US for acting are LA (Hollywood) for film/TV acting and New York for theatre. In both those places, even though there is a LOT of work to be had, there is also a LOT of competition. There are hundreds of thousands of actors in the US, and they have the advantage of already living there, with US citizenship and the right to work there. You (or I, being a Canadian) would have to go through a long immigration process just to join the ranks of all the other actors. My agent told me once that it is better to be asked to go to LA before going, and there is some truth to that. For example, Parminder Nagra did really well in England (with Bend it Like Beckham) and NOW she's in the US working on ER. There's something to be said for making a name for yourself where you are, first.
    3. Congratulations getting a part in that independent film. Hopefully you had fun on that. You are doing the right thing there. Keep going out for those, put them on your resume. And keep up the martial arts, they will definitely come in handy. Take some acting classes to brush up on your skills. You can check my website for tips on how to find a good class . I don't know much about the biz in Scotland, but in England there is a resource called the Spotlight . They should be able to point you in the right direction for your area.
  • "I have always been interested in acting, but felt I should go to college and help my family out financially. I am almost thirty but still have that urge. Is it too late or even worth trying?"

    It's always worth trying if you're interested. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to throw your whole life away to pursue acting. Some people do - they pack up their old cars and "head for Hollywood" and sometimes they make it. Unfortunately there are many more stories of those who don't. But you don't have to go into acting with that cut-throat, competitive, or "winner-takes-all" attitude.

    Have you ever had a friend, or heard the story of someone, who later on in life decided to take up painting because they always wanted to do it? They are not worried about whether or not they're going to "make it big" as an artist because they are doing for their own enjoyment. Acting, however, has gotten a bad rap because of how the star system and the media portray actors: they focus too much on the success (or failure).

    Keep your job that you went to college for. And once a week, go to an acting classs. You can check out my website for tips on how to find a good teacher and avoid the scams. See if you really enjoy acting by trying it out - for fun. Then if you decide to pursue it as a career, you can make the necessary adjustments to your life, like asking for more flexible hours at work, etc.

  • "Do you have to have a professional head shot to send them out to agents and things?"

    It is better to get your headshots done professionally. That being said, if you have good photos and you want to get them out there just to check out the response, by all means try it out. Attach a resume with your acting experience. If you don't have much experience, you may or may not get a response. Even if you DO have experience you might not get a response. But don't let it discourage you. Take some classes or something and hone your skills. And remember to HAVE FUN along the way. Seriously, for some reason that is the best way to get hired :)

  • "I live in Houston, Texas and I am not sure how to get into acting..."

    The best place to start would be the local SAG office. You can find the office closest to you by visiting their webite . Then go down there and ask for a list of SAG franchised agents in your area. They don't officially recommend any of them, but the agents on the list are usually at least somewhat reputable.

    Also, ask them about acting classes. Or you may see a bulletin board in their office with brochures on acting schools. Make sure you read my tips page on finding a GOOD class . There are a lot of scam artists out there.

  • "I decided to audition for a local theater that is performing The Wizard of Oz. I've never done this before. I need tips --- lots of them!"

    Congratulations on jumping in there and trying out acting. THE most important thing to remember when auditioning is: HAVE FUN. I know it sounds hokey, but it is in fact, the most effective way to "knock their socks off" and get the part. When you stress out too much about the "job" and are worried about what they might think of you, generally your audition is less interesting. Check out my tips page for more info.

  • "Aside from waiting tables, what is an ideal job for an actor to have that will allow time for auditions while putting food on the table?"

    The service industry (waiting tables, tending bar, valet parking, etc.) is well suited only because of the schedule and flexibility. Auditions for roles almost always happen during business hours, so if you have a job where you have to work the same hours, it will be very difficult for you. Usually, in the service industry, you can ask for night shifts, or if need be you can try to have a shift covered by someone else.

    That being said, ANY job that allows you to get your shift covered on short notice, and is otherwise fairly flexible with scheduling, can be an ideal job. It depends more on your relationship with your employer. I know someone who works at a bank, which is one of the more unlikely jobs for an actor due to the working hours. However, his employer is so supportive, they will let him sneak off here and there to go to an audition - right in the middle of a shift!

    It is hard trying to balance the two - acting and financial sustainability. However, with a little luck and perseverance, it CAN be done!

  • "How do you get a young boy to cry for an audition? He's a good actor, but he holds back the emotions. The hard thing too, is that he has never experienced pain in any form. Any suggestions?"

    How young is your boy? Usually younger kids are pretty open emotionally. If he's not, perhaps he harbours some type of fear about being open, or he feels pressure, which can lead to performance anxiety.

    The other possibility is he simply hasn't experienced that part of his emotional spectrum. This may be the case (though doubtful) if, as you say, he has "never experienced any pain". If so, you must let him develop emotionally at his own pace. More likely, however, is that he knows how to cry, he just doesn't want to do it in front of a camera or onstage. The willingness to do so will come out of his wanting to do the work, his eagerness to perform and create a role. This too, must develop naturally.

    It's not entirely necessary for all actors to be able to cry on command. For more about this, see a previous Q&A: Acting Chops (2nd question). It's more important, especially at a young age, that he has fun acting. If he enjoys it, he will want to pursue it and improve at it, and his abilities as an actor will naturally grow with time.

  • "I am from Saskatchewan and am interested in doing some stunt performing. I have taken some courses but don't have a clue as to how to get started looking for work. Everyone says there is a shortage of female stunt performers in Sask but where do you start - do I find an agent, find a website posting auditions?"

    You are lucky in that your profession of interest is very likely in high demand, Sask. or anywhere else in Canada. However, starting a career as a stunt actor is something I'm not personally familiar with.

    Stunt performers ARE covered under ACTRA contract (the film/TV actors' union in Canada), so a good place to start would be ACTRA Saskatchewan . Give them a call and ask them the same question. They should have a list of agencies in your region, and I have a funny feeling you won't have too much difficulty getting an agent, because of what you want to do and your qualifications.

    Websites or mailing lists posting auditions are a good place to start for aspiring actors, and useful tools for seasoned actors as well, but I've yet to see a posting for stunt performers on the ones I subscribe to. I think because they are such a specialized thing, that the few people who are already known for doing it get the calls as soon as the jobs come up. I don't know, I'm just guessing. HOWEVER, this doesn't mean you can't break into the industry. On the contrary I think you would be a welcome addition to a pool of professionals that are in short supply.

  • "How can I keep my face seriously straight like the people from the Matrix and X-men? What do I need to do in order to have a dramatic breakdown [by this I'm assuming you mean crying, etc.]? And how should I react to someone else's speech whether it's dramatic or funny?"

    Okay, all these things are really the same thing: commitment. Good actors don't have serious faces because they're thinking, "I have to keep my face seriously straight right now." They are commited to the circumstances that their characters are in. In both those movies you mentioned, what is at stake? Human civilization!! The characters are trying to save the world! The actors who play these roles have to commit 110% to that reality - the circumstances of the characters - in order to take the whole thing seriously. Imagine (oh yeah, did I mention you need imagination?) that YOU are REALLY in charge of saving the world, and if you fail, everyone you know and love will perish. In that situation, I bet your face would be pretty serious without anyone telling you to do it. Now the trick is to do it in front of a camera.

    As far as reacting to the other actor: same thing. The circumstance is usually that you have never heard the other person say what they are saying. So if you commit to what they are communicating to you, and really listen to them, your reaction will come out of the circumstances. For example, are they telling you someone you love has died? If you commit to that , what that really feels like, you won't have a hard time reacting appropriately.

    All of the above is easier said than done.

  • "What does it take to get a comedy film role?"

    Good comedy is one of the most challenging feats for an actor. A lot of the times, comedy also arises out of an actor's commitment to the circumstances. However, if it is comedy specifically you're interested in, a lot of actors go the route of sketch comedy or improv. Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, and many others all came from a sketch comedy background on shows like Saturday Night Live. You train yourself by doing improvisation work, stand-up comedy, and of course sketch comedy. In Toronto and several US cities, The Second City is a good training ground for comedic actors.

  • "Could give me some tips on how to practice on my own? Are there any books or movies that I MUST read/see?"

    There are a couple of books on acting that I would really recommend, and they are: Audition by Michael Shurtleff and On Acting by Sanford Meisner. There are many others out there, but these are the two I'm most familiar with and they will give you a good start into the world of acting.

    As far as practicing on your own, pick up a monologue book such as: The Contemporary Monologue Men/Women by Michael Earley & Phillipa Keil, or The Theatre Audition Book by Gerald Ratliff. Most of these books are available at Theatre Books in Toronto.

    Choose a monologue you like and start working on it. If there are friends of yours who are into acting as well, you can start a group where every week you prepare a different monologue and perform it in front of your peers. Just be careful not to "direct" each other. The group is for support and a captive audience, not criticizing.

  • "Have you ever heard of the company \"Fame by Phone\"? They send you a text message to your mobile telling you of auditions for TV and film extra work, giving you the contact details, etc. You take it from there. Each text they send you, they charge you at £1.50... Would you say it is a good idea to join this company or is it just a rip off?"

    I'm not exactly sure how things work in the UK, but here in Canada, casting calls are free. There are several free mailing lists you can join that send out casting notices. For actors who have agents, it is the agent's responsibility to get them auditions - free. There are agents who specialize in background work as well.

    I'm a little wary of services like the one you describe, because they have no vested interest in your career, only that you pay them for random casting calls. However, there is no guaratee that all the notices will apply to you. What if the call was only for females? Or people over 7' tall. Would you still have to pay for the notice? Even if the notice did apply to you, what if you can't get an audition time slot because they are full? Or they're only seeing union actors and you are not? Do you get a refund on your £1.50? This whole thing leaves you extremely vulnerable to spending money for nothing.

    In my opinion, it's better to find an agent, or at least a service that provides free casting notices. At the VERY least a service that lets you pick the casting notices you pay for, so you can screen out the irrelevant ones. If you do some research, chances are you will find such a service. Remember, people who put out casting calls want to find you.

    You can also go to the Spotlight for more information on the acting scene in the UK.

  • "To be able to have an agent do you have to have any experience in acting?"

    Some agents will want you to have experience (usually the more established agents who are themselves experienced), and some agents will focus more on other aspects (e.g. whether or not they have someone like you in physical type on their roster already.) A good place to start getting some experience is in an acting class. Good training can sometimes make up for lack of experience on your resume. For some tips on picking good classes (there are many bad ones out there) check out my tips pages .

  • "Do you have to pay an Agent before you make any money in films?"

    NO. An agent only makes money when you get a job. They work strictly on commission. Again, there's a section on finding a good agent in my tips pages .

  • "I live in Benalla, Victoria, Australia and I was wondering if there was any way of me getting in touch with an agent?"

    Even though I've never been to Australia (I really want to someday) I'm guessing the best place to start is The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance . On the right-hand side of their homepage is a set of links for agencies in Australia.

  • "What do you think about the New York Film Academy (NYFA)? I'm thinking about taking a four week program there to see if acting is something that I really want to do and could do well, and then I'm thinking about taking one of their year-long courses."

    I don't know anyone who's been to the NYFA, but I was personally considering taking their film making course. Any school with affiliates like Universal Studios and Disney-MGM can't be all bad. Besides, they boast an impressive alumni.

    I think you really have the right idea: dip your toes in with the four week program. By the end of it, you should have a pretty good idea if you want to commit to acting for a year...or your whole life. If you're unsure at the end of the four weeks, I'd take a little time to think about it, and maybe take a part-time class somewhere else to test the waters a little more. The NYFA may have a great program, but a year is a long time to spend doing something you don't like, right?

  • "How do you know if you want to be an actor/actress when you have never tried it before? Are there ways to tell?"

    Acting is hands-on. The only way to know is to try :)

  • "After you send yourhead shot and resume to agents, what happens?"

    You might have to wait a little while. At very big agencies, they might have a whole load of pictures and resumes to go through, and even an independent agent might simply lack the free time to look at them right away. If you don't hear back from anyone after 3-4 months, send your pics and resumes out again. The best time to hit agents (in Canada anyways) is in winter, when there is less filming going on.

    When an agent is interested in you, they will contact you (make sure you have your contact details on the resume :) and set up an audition/interview. Most likely they will expect you to have a monologue prepared and to perform it for them during the interview.

    From there, it depends on many things: whether or not your catagory is well-represented in their roster, whether they like your acting style and think they can work with you, etc. etc.

  • "What do the agent(s) ask you in the interview?"

    They just want to get to know you as a person. There are no right or wrong answers; just be yourself. Remember, though, that no one-person holds the key to your success. If an agent wants you to do something you're not comfortable with, tell them you're not interested and look for representation elsewhere.

  • "Are some monologues better than others?"

    It really doesn't matter what monologue you choose so long as it's right for YOU. Pick something that shows your best qualities. Do you consider yourself a strong dramatic actor? Pick a dramatic monologue. Is your specialty comedy? Do comedy. It's really about being yourself, and showing who you are...cause there's tens of thousands of actors out there, but there's only one YOU. (a cheesy cliche, I know, but true nonetheless)

  • "Would I be able to do any monologue, (like Pirates of the Caribbean for example) and if so would I do an accent? Should I have the monologue memorized?"

    Again, choose whatever monologue you want, unless they ask for something specific. Either way, be prepared. YES, have it memorized thoroughly, and explore the reasons behind the character saying what he/she is saying (otherwise known as "motivation"). If you can empathize with the character's story, you will be better at telling it.

    Accents are optional (unless they specifically ask for it). If it gets in the way of you doing your best work, or pulls focus from the style of the piece, then leave the accent out. If it's something you're really comfortable with (e.g. your parents have an accent that you can imitate easily) then go ahead and use it.

  • "If I was auditioning for a tomboy, would I wear that style of clothes?"

    Your wardrobe doesn't have to be specific to the role. Many times I've auditioned for one role and booked a different one in the same show. If I had dressed too specifically, I might not have been hired at all. BUT, I've also scored good roles when I've made a specific choice about costume, so it's really up to you. Of course if they ASK for a specific look, go for that.

  • "When doing your monologue, do you look at the casting director?"

    Not while you are performing a monologue. If you are reading DIALOGUE and the casting director happens to be the reader opposite you, then by all means, look. In a monologue, you try to keep what is known as the 4th wall.

  • "Is it ok if I bring in the monologue with me just in case?"

    Yes, but rehearse it until you're sick of it, and then rehearse some more. It's for confidence and comfort level that we do this, in addition to remembering lines.

    If you still blank out in the audition, it's probably just nerves. Take a deep breath, stay in character and calmly look down at your monologue. Find your line, look up, and continue. It'll feel like it's taking forever, but trust me, it's way better than freezing, frantically flipping pages looking for the line, or coming out of character and asking: "Can I do it again?"

  • "In a cold reading, should you really get into it, or more just read it with attitude?"

    Cold readings are a challenge. I wouldn't try to use "attitude" for any acting exercise, though, audition or otherwise. It tends to make your character flat, or 1-dimensional. If you can come up with one or two strong choices about who your character is, and why he/she is saying what they're saying, that should carry you through the audition nicely. Remember, they know you are cold reading and should not expect perfection.

  • "I have a problem. I want to be an actress a little later down the road, but I can't do it alone. I need to take classes and things. I don't have money though. I want to tell my family, but if I do my dad will try to change my dreams like he always does. I don't know if I should tell them or not."

    You're right about it being hard to do alone. Acting classes, an agent, support from your friends and family...these things are almost prerequisites to a career in acting. I know it's very frustrating when financial restrictions seem to hold you from your dreams. Some of the closest people to me have gone through the same dilemma, and myself as well, to a lesser degree.

    There are several reasons why your Dad might be trying to "change your dreams". It might ease your mind a little to know that he is probably not doing it to hurt you or keep you from being happy, but in his own way he is trying to do the best thing for you. That being said, DON'T LISTEN TO HIM! Your dreams are yours and yours alone. No one can take them away from you unless you let them. Anything is possible if you try hard enough and are lucky enough :) If you ignore your dreams, you might end up with that unfulfilled feeling for the rest of your life!

    Dreams, however, are not easy to fulfill. You'll have to be prepared to make some sacrifices. I DON'T mean in your safety, self-respect, or anything like that. Don't let people take advantage of you by promising to make your dreams come true. ONLY YOU can do that...but you'll have to work for it. Maybe your Dad doesn't have the resources to put you through theatre school or acting classes. You might have to get yourself a part-time job to pay for it. This has been the path of many actors, and thus the old waiter/actor cliche. (by actors I mean actresses too)

    When you have decided you are ready to dedicate yourself to your dreams and contribute to their realization, then that would probably be the best time to tell your folks. Instead of saying, "Dad, I wanna be an actor," which may lead him to believe you are just dreaming, wouldn't it be great to say, "Dad, I wanna be an actor, and I know that acting classes are $350/month. I've just got a job at _______, where I'll earn $250/month. Can you help with the rest?" This shows your family a few very important things:

    1. Initiative. The fact that you went out on your own, did the research and got a job shows that you are capable of motivating yourself to action, and are thus more likely to find success in your endeavours.
    2. Maturity. You demonstrate your understanding of the costs involved, and that you've spent time analyzing the situation and have come up with a solution.

    This is just one suggestion on how you can go about this. Also, I'm also assuming you are old enough to legally work :) My point is, though, when dealing with parents, you have to show them you mean business and that you're not just interested in acting for the fame and glory. If you are willing to really dedicate yourself to it, and can show your parents this, chances are you will gain their support.

  • "What do you actually do in an audition? Does it depend on who is doing the casting, and what you are auditioning for?"

    Yes, it very much depends on those things. Refer to the table below:

    Type of audition What you do
    Theatre Perform a monologue; they may ask for comedic, dramatic, classical or any combination. You may also have to read a scene from the play they are considering you for.
    Musical Theatre Sing a song; they may want a Broadway/show tune or other specific style of music. You may also have to fulfill the requirements of a regular theatre audition.
    Musical Theatre dance call or Dance Company Dance; either a routine you've prepared or one they will instruct you on when you get there.
    Film/TV series Perform "sides"; sides consist of one or a few scenes excerpted from the script to provide material for the audition. On rare occasions, you might be asked to perform a monologue, such as in a pre-screen for a particular casting director. Prescreens are so that the casting director can see your work before bringing you in for the actual audition. On even rarer occasions, the director for the project may not ask you to read anything at all - just to sit down for a meeting. The theory is that by finding out who you are as a person, they can tell if you are right for the part.
    Commercial Stand in a line of other "actors" and say your name. Sometimes they may want you to improvise the scenario in the commercial, or some other general situation. One popular example is playing strip poker; you don't actually have to strip, but people in commercial-land seem to think that the way you pretend to play strip poker is an accurate indication of your acting ability and personality.
  • "What is the best way to learn and remember script(s)?"

    In my opinion, the best way to know what you're saying is to know why you're saying it, and to immerse yourself in the reality of the scene. Also, there are some visual cues you can give yourself to help remember the details.

    In the following example, I use lines of dialogue from an audition for a TV show. The character I'm looking at is Archie. In this story, he is the personal assistant to a recent murder victim, and is being questioned by the authorities. It's not the most exciting script in the world, but actors have to memorize this sort of stuff all the time.

    Did Ms. Healy have any enemies?
    She was in charge of Purrfect Meals, Glomar's cat food subsidiary. The pet food sector is a competitive, cut-throat business, but not in the literal sense.

    Archie responds to the question of whether or not his deceased boss had any enemies. Essentially his response is no , but because his character exists solely to provide information, he must elaborate. So the first thing he does is explain who his boss was and what she did: She was in charge of Purrfect Meals...

    Now if you have trouble memorizing even that first little bit, then we have to break it down further:

    • "She" - his boss was female. Think of a female boss you've had or known, and you'll remember to say she instead of he.
    • "was in charge" - instead of was the boss or managed , he uses the phrase was in charge . So maybe think of a thousand cavalry charging down a mountainside, like in "Lord of the Rings", to help you remember to use that phrase.
    • "of Purrfect Meals" - say the word Purrfect a few times. Kinda reminds you of a cat purring, right? There's your visual. Why Meals instead of Dinners or Foods ? Meals sounds the most like Meow , which is the sound cats make!! Almost rocket science, but not quite.

    I'm not going to break down the whole dialogue like this, but you get the picture. Use imagery and logic to help remember the details.

    Immediately after saying that last bit, he has to explain what "Purrfect Meals" is, because the audience, and Brooke the cop, don't know what the hell he's talking about. Purrfect Meals is a subsidiary of Glomar. It makes cat food. Therefore Purrfect Meals is : "Glomar's cat food subsidiary." So he's explained who his boss is, and what she was the boss of.

    Next he gives the cop some background about the business: The pet food sector is a competitive, cut-throat business... This is how he views his job and the whole industry that he works in. When the cop asks if his boss had any enemies, he immediately assumes they are talking about business-related enemies, because his relationship with the murder victim was business. Also, it is a common perception that competition and big business can escalate into an environment where the stakes are high enough to motivate murder.

    So the dialogue could be described like this:
    The cop asks if his boss had enemies. He explains that she was the head of a major pet food corporation, and their competitors could be considered as enemies.

    BUT he qualifies his statement. Risking murder just to sell more cat food seems a bit extreme, and unlikely. So the phrase but not in the literal sense basically answers the question: No. Only the character is playing on his own choice of the words "cut-throat". He's saying: the pet food business is cut-throat, but not enough to actually cut someone's throat over . Ha-ha.

    Now, I don't necessarily do this with every little bit of dialogue I need to memorize, but for the parts that are giving you trouble, break them down.

    Ask the questions: What is really being said? Why is the character saying it in this particular way? What are the character's feelings and motivations in regards to this line of dialogue? Attach strong or bizarre visual cues to bring out the details, and after rehearsing the dialogue several times, you'll likely find that the words just start to come naturally.

  • "Where can I find work as a TV/film extra without having to pay for fees?"

    It depends if you want a background (the P.C. term for extras) agent or not. If you want to do it on your own, thereby avoiding all agency commissions, there are mailing lists you can join that send out notices for background calls and auditions. In Canada, try AACTION .

    On the other hand, if you can handle the 10-20% commission (it shouldn't be higher than that) for an agent, then go to the ACTRA website to find a branch in your area, then check the local agency lists to find a licensed agent that works with background performers. Not all of them do. In some cases, it will say so in their agency description, in other cases you will have to call and ask.

    The advantage of having an agent is that your chances of getting work should increase. However, this only applies if you manage to find a good agent who has room on their roster for someone in your catagory. You can check out my tips page on how to find a good agent, although finding a background agent is a little different from finding a principal agent.

    Note: many background agents charge a sign-up fee. This should be less than $50. If they want hundreds of dollars for a photo session, etc etc. then they are planning on making their money on your registration, NOT by getting you work. Obviously, avoid those agencies.

  • "I just started a course on acting and am finding it hard. I need some tips on how to express myself through acting."

    Expressing yourself is definitely what it's all about, and in a way is a prerequisite to acting. Without knowing the specifics of your situation or work, I can only assume that you're letting the whole idea of "acting" get in your way and that you need to come out of your "shell" a little more. (Perhaps your teacher gave you a note to "be yourself more" or "don't be so inhibited", or something similar?) If this is the case, try this:

    A lot of the times when we feel inhibited on stage, it's because we don't want people to judge or laugh at us. So instead of risking humiliation, we shut down our emotions and do absolutely nothing. To get over this, you must do something excruciatingly embarrassing (acting-wise; NOT taking off your clothes or anything like that). Try pretending you are four years old and having a temper tantrum. Cry and wail like a baby and beg for your "ma-ma", or do something else that embarrasses you. Remember, it must be something personal that you really don't want people to laugh at you about. (*For those people who hate singing and think they are terrible singers, singing is a perfect choice.)

    Then in your acting class, or some other safe environment, take centre stage and really give it your all - really commit to embarrassing yourself. Think of getting an "A" in your class, or being rich and famous, or whatever will motivate you to do your embarrassing thing wholeheartedly and truthfully. If you have to, run this exercise several times. Once you've mastered embarrassing yourself on stage, and realized that humiliation does NOT actually KILL you, you'll start to feel more freedom to experiment, make mistakes, have fun, and play. All of which are a part of good acting.

  • "What would an actor need to know before going to college?"

    Before you dedicate four years of your life and a whole bunch of money on a diploma course in acting, why don't you take a part-time class somewhere for a month or two, just to see if you really like it? Then maybe you will be better equipped to know what kind of acting you want to focus on as well: theatre, musical theatre, film and TV, etc. This is important to know in order to choose the college that is right for your specific needs.

  • "I live in Colorado, and I went to a casting call for an agency and got a callback but the classes cost too much. Do you have any ideas on how I can market myself without a talent agency and get acting classes in Colorado?"

    First of all, don't hire an agent that makes you take classes with them! If they're a good agent, they don't need to make money running a school and vice versa. If they are an agent that truly thinks they can work with you, there won't be any strings attached (other than your hard work and dedication to your job as an actor).

    Because Colorado is such a different market from mine and I've never been there, I can only offer you resources available on the web like I did with the person from Arizona. BUT, here's a good place to start: the Colorado Film Commission . Follow the links to "Production Guide" and then "Catagory Index". Look under "Talent Agencies" and "Acting Coaches" to find what you need. Then, using my Tips page as a guide on how to find GOOD classes and GOOD agents, call the people listed, and weed through them all until you find something you like.

    Another thing you can try is going down to your local SAG office ( , or the phone book under "Screen Actor's Guild of America") and asking for help there. There will likely be a bulletin board or something with acting classes advertised. They will also have a list of SAG-franchised agencies in your area. USE YOUR JUDGEMENT; just because they're SAG-franchised or on a bulletin in their office doesn't mean they're good, it's just a good place to start.

    I tell you all this because marketing yourself in Film and TV without an agent is actually fairly difficult and time consuming. If you really want to do it on your own, write me back . I have a couple of suggestions for you on that front.

  • "What are the elements of acting?"

    Blood, sweat and tears? I dunno...that's sort of a vague question, and perhaps a bit too reductionistic. If there were a formula whereby one could add A to B with a dash of C and get good acting, everyone would be climbing over each other to get it, and it wouldn't mean much once you got it, because it wouldn't really come from you. I guess what I'm saying is: it's different for everyone.

    For some actors, it's all about technique. They've studied the Meisner "Method" or another Stanislavsky offspring and they focus on that technique as their sole inspiration. It does work, for a lot of very talented actors (and some not so talented). Other actors have an insatiable thirst for experimentation and an inborn sense of play. When they rehearse a scene, they jump in with both feet, make a strong character choice and immediately start attacking their scene partner with widely varying takes.

    I personally like to have a balance of both, but there are as many methods to acting as there are actors out there. So the only thing that is elemental, or an absolute prerequisite to acting, is you. Or more precisely: your humanity.

  • "I am having difficulty crying. Is there any kind of technique I can try to help me with this?"

    Crying is like an actor's holy grail. It's as if the ability to cry means automatic acceptance into the ranks of brilliant actors. So many times you see an actor on screen really going for the cry, (perhaps because their director demanded it) and when they don't quite make it all the way, they start to indicate (over-act). This is such an easy trap to fall into, and it looks terrible.

    In my opinion, the important thing is the reality behind the tears. Does the actor impart a sensibility to what is making the character so sad? If the actor really empathizes with the character's plight in the way that only an actor that has given him/herself completely to the circumstances can, the audience will feel for the character whether the actor cries or laughs. That was a confusing sentence, but I don't have a better way of putting it.

    I could ramble on about this forever, but basically what I mean is: don't worry about crying. Worry about believing. You're basically playing "pretend" when you act. Learn the tools that are effective for you to truthfully create the character and the circumstances - from your own humanity - and the crying and all those other external actions will fall into place naturally.

  • "I REALLY REALLY want to act but my mum and dad don't approve and think it's a waste of time!"

    If your parents don't approve of you acting, you need to communicate to them just how important this is to you and that you are serious and commited to pursuing your dreams. (If, in fact, this is how you feel.)

    In order to show them you mean business, you'll have to make some sacrifices. For example, instead of partying with your friends on the weekend, take up a part-time job to pay for your acting classes, etc. If this really, really is your dream and you're willing to work hard for it, I think your parents will eventually come 'round to supporting you.

  • "There aren't any acting classes where I live (Hull, England) so I can't gain any experience!"

    The best, and I mean the BEST, resource for actors in England is the Spotlight . In fact, I'm going to add the link to my tips page, they're so useful. Get a publication of theirs called " Contacts " - order it online, heck take a train to London, whatever you have to do to get this book. Inside you will find listings for schools, agents, and almost anything else you might need from all over England. If it's not in that book, it probably doesn't exist and/or is not worth considering.

  • "How can I get an agent!?"

    Getting an agent is difficult, especially a good one. Check out my tips page for advice on how to find a good agent, and links to web pages that can help you put together a good package.

    After that, it's Hard Work, Dedication and Patience. Take some classes, and keep submitting your stuff to the agents you want every 6 months. If you keep at it, eventually you'll get signed!

  • "I live in Birmingham, Alabama and I was just wondering if there was any acting coaches in Alabama."

    Unfortunately I don't know of any coaches in your area, and the SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) website doesn't offer much help either. BUT, check out the Alabama Film Office for links to talent agents, and news on casting calls, etc. Also, look in the phone book for your local SAG office. Go down there, check out the bulletin boards and ask questions. These are usually the best places to start to find schools and other resources in your area.

    You can even call a couple of agents (look for SAG-franchised agents; the SAG office should be able to provide you with a list) and ask them what schools they recommend. Just be wary if they recommend you to their own school!! Agents should be agents, and teachers should stick to teaching, in my opinion.

  • "I live in Saskatchewan (Canada), and I want to go to an acting summer school or singing school. Which ones do you guarantee, that are cheap? What about vocal coaches?"

    Unfortunately I'm not too familiar with acting schools in Sask. BUT I do suggest you contact the ACTRA Saskatchewan union office. I'm sure you will find some useful resources there.

    I don't personally guarantee ANY school, even those I list on my website, because I have no official affiliation with any of them. I can only RECOMMEND, and for your location, ACTRA will probably be your best starting point. If you follow the guidelines I've provided on finding a good teacher, you should be off to a good start.

    Also, your acting teacher should be able to refer you to a good vocal coach in your area. For questions about resources in other provinces, feel free to ask me.

  • "I recently received a question, \"What are some questions asked in your first interview when you are about to begin?\""

    I'm guessing this is about the first interview I ever did earlier in my career? Well, it was quite a long time ago and I'm afraid I don't remember it. I'm sure it was about Dr. Who, but exactly how the interview went - your guess is as good as mine :)

  • "What current projects are you working on?"

    I'm currently residing in Toronto, Canada where I'm acting in a stage play for the Toronto Fringe festival and producing some theatre as well. [This was 2003.]

  • "What was it like to work in the presence of a great actor like Tim Robbins?"

    I'm always kinda shy around people like that when I'm working. I didn't have any scenes directly with Mr. Robbins, but just knowing he was in the building was slightly intimidating, and exciting as well. He seemed like a nice enough guy - he complemented me on my work! Assuming he was sincere, it was a great honour, as one might guess.

  • "What schools do you recomend? I'm interested in TISCH Acting school in New York..."

    Ok, the TISCH I've had no personal experience with, but it is quite well-known and boasts a respectable alumni. However, I can't honestly recommend it simply because I don't know enough about it.

  • "...The American Academy Of the Dramatic Arts..."

    The AADA is a very respectable school as far as everyone I've heard from. Again, I don't have first-hand experience, but I don't think you'd go wrong with them, really.

    Other schools in New York to look for:

    Circle in the Square - One of the leads on "Madison" went there and he loved it.

    The Actor's Studio - you may have seen on t.v., they have very good and usually famous actors go in and do talks with the classes. A friend of mine went there and said she had a great experience. [They'

  • "...Vancouver Film school?"

    I'm sure they're fantastic for film production, but not my first choice for acting. There are better acting schools in Vancouver, in my opinion, and although you may not get a degree, they will train you well. Try the Lyric School of Acting or Kate Twa Studios, and tell them I sent you ;)

  • "Getting the job is 1% what you do, 9% what you look like, and 90% dumb luck?"

    Yep. It may seem like a pessimistic viewpoint, but I've heard a lot of seasoned career actors say it, as well as casting directors and the like. This business has no rhyme or reason. That is not to say that you shouldn't work on that 1%, because a lot of the times, it comes down to the last 1% between you and the other choice for the role!

  • "Do I have a better chance making it in this business here in Canada or acting centrals like L.A or N.Y?"

    It depends on what you're interested in and how you want to map out your career. Here are some pros and cons:

    In Canada, you have a better chance of getting started and gaining a few credits on your resume, because the competition is less fierce. Also, you won't have to deal with the cost of getting a green card for the U.S. and living down there spending American dollars.

    If you have unlimited resources (i.e. your parents are willing to give you all the financial support in the world), then ask them to hire a good immigration lawyer for you, rent you an apartment down there, pay for your living expenses and classes, etc. and then the whole process of "making it" in L.A. or N.Y. is not that daunting at all. In fact, if you can get all that - GO FOR IT!!

    But most people don't quite have all those advantages, and regardless, you will still be competing with 150,000 SAG members and something like 300,000 non-union actors JUST LIKE YOU.

    However, if you want to make a real go at acting, and you want to be really successful financially and otherwise, you will HAVE TO go to L.A. or N.Y. eventually. In Canada, you can only get so big. There's like a limit to how rich and famous you can get in Canada, for a number of reasons, too many to list here. Every Canadian that has made it really big, (there are LOTS: Jim Carey, Mike Myers, Michael J.Fox, etc.) has moved to the States.

    That being said, often when Canadians go down there and do really well it's because they've been ASKED to go down: someone saw them on something they did in Canada and contacted their agent, or they went to an audition and got the job for a pilot in L.A., something like that. When you are ASKED to go to L.A., you are already ahead of 90% of those 450,000 other actors, and probably have a good shot.

    To get asked: learn your craft, do the best work you can, and cross your fingers. You can do all that very comforably in Canada.

    FINALLY: There is something to be said for pure, unadultered dedication and drive. If you're one of those people who are absolutely inexhaustable in your resolve, then sure, hop on a plane and go to Hollywood. If you're ready and willing to do ANYTHING it takes (and you will probably get chewed up and spit out many, many times) for as long as it takes (perhaps 10 or 20 years) may lead to stardom and all your dreams coming true. It does happen, still. But my money's on the hard-working, studious actor who simply loves it for what it is - money, fame or nothing of the sort.

  • "I'm doing as much background work in movies as possible, taking lots of acting classes and theatre as well."

    You are doing the right thing. Eventually your agent will tell you to stop doing extra work, only because you are getting lots of principle work. But for now, you are really on the right track.

  • "I've gone on about three auditions so far, got one call back but no parts yet! Is that normal?"

    Actually, a call back in one of your first three auditions is amazing! Good work, keep it up. Seriously, most actors will go to 5, up to 30 auditions before landing a role, and some will go without work for a year or more!

    It really depends on so many factors, that you should be wary of counting your auditions and waiting for the job. I say that only because it will cause you unnecessary grief. Consider each audition as simply a chance to have a captive audience of 1 to say, 7 people, who will give your acting their undivided attention for a few minutes!

    If you can be happy with that, doing your thing and forgetting about "the job", then you will be a happier, more confident actor, and your chances of getting hired will actually improve! Also, if you can do that every single time...tell me how you did it, cause after 10 years in the biz I still can't!

  • "If you have any advice I would greatly appreciate it!"

    Have fun. Believe in yourself. Love your work. Know that what you are doing is noble and worthy.

    AND - be respectful of other actors and the people you work with. Gone are the days when actors can be a--holes and treat everyone else like they're inferior. Those actors still exist, but eventually no one will want to work with them.

    You'll notice the really successful ones (Tom Hanks is the best example) are also NICE PEOPLE!! Everyone who has worked with Tom Hanks ONLY SAYS NICE THINGS about him, because he's an awesome guy! If people can love you in real life, they'll love you on the screen.

    And remember your days doing background work when you're the lead on a film and an extra comes up to you and asks for advice...

  • "I am a \"Dark Angel\" fan. How did you like working on the show?"

    I had a relatively small part on Dark Angel, but I'm grateful for every part I get because I acting is the best job I can think of.

  • "Where is the \"Dark Angel\" set?"

    When I worked on the show, they were using Lions Gate Studios in North Vancouver (map ).

  • "Did you become Dark Angel's friend?"

    Ha ha. No. I'm not much of a "trying to make friends with the lead actors" kinda guy. I'm not against making friends on set, but I don't really socialize too much when I'm working.

  • "\"Who is it?\""

    I can only assume you're asking about the lead, Jessica Alba. You can find out more about the show on IMDb.

  • "Do you check your performances by video?"

    I don't actually watch a lot of TV, and I miss the majority of shows that I work on. But if I think I did a really good job, or had a sizable part, I contact the producers for a copy of the show for use in my demo reel .

  • "Which actors do you respect the most?"

    Tom Hanks is one of my favorites, not only for his acting, but for the fact that he's apparently a down-to-earth, nice guy. And hey, he knows how to pick the winners. Others include: Leonardo diCaprio (esp. in "Gilbert Grape"), Chow Yun Fat, Ed Norton, Kevin Spacey, Jodie Foster, Daniel Day Lewis, Renee Zellweger (esp. in "Bridget Jone's Diary")...there are too many to name here. Maybe I should start another web page devoted to the topic. Feedback ?

  • "Can I see your movies in Japan?"

    The only one that I think would have made it over there is "AntiTrust". You can search for it on your Japanese browser to get relevant sites in your language, or check IMDB . Who knows, maybe some of the other ones are available in Japan, too.

On Production

  • "Are there any walking techniques to reduce movement? I'm using a SonyDSR-PD170 to make hunting videos and the film is very shaky. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated."

    There are several ways to reduce camera shake:

    1. Use a dolly. This is the most effective, but the least practical. Camera dollies and the equipment that go with them are extremely expensive and take a lot of time and expertise to set up. Also they are heavy and chances are you cannot transport them while you are hunting. So that's out.
    2. Use a SteadiCam rig. This may be do-able for you. Professional SteadiCam rigs for film cameras are also extremely expensive, but you can get ones for digital cameras and they are more reasonable (although still not cheap). A SteadiCam rig is a device that attaches the camera to the camera operator's body in a way that keeps the camera as steady as possible while still allowing movement of the camera. They can be quite heavy, though. It is usually tiring for the camera operator, and it's best if he/she is skilled and/or experienced with SteadiCam.
    3. Use the cheap version of a SteadiCam. That is, attach your camera to a monopod, extend the monopod to about 3 feet, then attach a 20 pound sandbag or other weight to the bottom of the monopod. DISCLAIMER: this method is not recommended as it poses some risks to the operator and the camera. I assume no responsibility for anyone using this method. However, if you're desperate and can't get a SteadiCam rig, this may work.
  • "I have Sony analog Hi8 Camera, and I'm intending to make a short movie. I have the computer and the software necessary. Can I get any good quality from my camera and the computer in my movie?"

    It depends on what you mean by "good" quality. Analog Hi8 generally produces video quality approximately equal to or better than VCR, in my opinion. For most applications, this is perfectly acceptable, as VCR is still a popular format. [This was 2002.] For personal use or video festivals and the like, I think Hi8 would be fine, UNLESS you plan to sell the final product. Usually for broadcast purposes, a buyer will require a higher quality and resolution than Hi8 can provide. In that case you should really think about using miniDV for capture. You can still edit on your home computer either way.

  • "What's the title of the crew member who deals with the music for the film? They don't compose, but finds the music already out there to use for a scene."

    A lot of times it's just the director who chooses the songs used in a movie. Many directors have a distinct style of music that they like to use, for example Quentin Tarantino. You could almost pick out his movies from his contemporaries by just listening to his soundtracks. Occasionally the editor may have something to say about what music to use. The editor (and/or sound editor) is the one who actually acquires the music recordings and mixes them into the film during post-production.

  • "What is a Foley Artist?"

    Foley refers to the man-made sound effects in a movie, which can range from doors closing, to nuclear weapons exploding. The foley artist creates these sounds to fit in synchronicity with the visual action.

  • "Who is in charge of research for films? Like in Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman, who does the research on Autism to make sure it is the correct information for the character/ topic? Do the studios have someone for that, or is it all based on the role of the director, writer and actor?"

    In Rain Man, it was most likely Dustin Hoffman himself who did the research, as his performance is his responsibility and no one else's. However, some information may have been provided to him by the director, writer, or project researcher. Yes, some projects actually have people on staff whose job it is to research stuff, and of course the writer and director will generally do research of their own accord so they can tell the story effectively.

  • "We are a new band and we want to make a music video, but we don't know anything about film production. Can you please guide us about the cameras and video formats for TV production?"

    If you're just starting out, I'm assuming you want to keep costs to a minimum. MiniDV is the format most commonly used for "prosumer" applications (not quite professional, but higher quality than consumer grade). MiniDV, when shot with a high-quality 3-Chip (or 3-CCD, referring to the fact that it has 3 light detecting chips as opposed to just 1) camera, looks good enough to broadcast or at least transfer to broadcast-quality mediums, but is very economical to shoot (a 60 minute MiniDV tape costs less than $10). So that's the format I'd use.

    As far as cameras, there are lots of high-quality 3-CCD camcorders coming out now, but the two that I have experience with, and can recommend fully, are: Sony PD-150 and Canon XL-1. However, these are being superceded by new offerings from JVC, such as the GR-HD1 which offers higher resolution than MiniDV with only 1-CCD. Go figure - the technology moves fast these days. [This was 2002.]

  • "I'd like to know why a director of photography's job is so important?"

    Check out my " Essential Film Crew Positions " pdf file for descriptions of the DOP and other jobs on set.

    The DOP is vital. Think of how hard it is to take a good, professional photo without a professional photographer. It would be even harder to make a decent motion picture without a cinematographer. Especially nowadays when audiences are better than ever at picking out bad cinematography.

    For example, if there was no DOP on a particular set, no one would know the best kind of film to use for that project's particular needs. No one would know how to light the scene without overexposing the film. Imagine watching a movie that was so dark, you couldn't see the characters' faces? That would be due to a bad (or non-existent) DOP.

  • "How would you describe: Productive Resources, Natural Resources, and Capital Resources, in the theatre?"

    You'll have to explain these concepts to me a little further. They may or may not be applicable to theatre production.

    I know that capital resources may refer to sources of funding, such as third party investments, or perhaps capital costs such as a new sound system that may be considered a resource, once installed?

    Otherwise, these terms seem more like general business concepts that aren't really relevant to theatre production, at least as far as I know. I asked a seasoned professional in the business, and he also hasn't heard of these terms in the context of the theatre.

  • "Who are the people and jobs needed for a show? Who is responsible for each job, when producing a show?"
    1. Director
    2. Set and Costume Design
    3. Lighting Design
    4. Sound Design
    5. Stage Manager
    6. Musical Director (if applicable)
    7. Choreographer (if applicable)
    8. Fight Director (if applicable)
    9. Depending on the size of the production, these people may have whole departments and staff under their supervision to realize all these different aspects of the show. I'm working on a tips section for theatre production, similar to the one for film/TV production and acting . It will include a detailed document on this topic, just like the one on film crew job descriptions . Check back soon for updates.
  • "I'm looking for different job titles in the film industry...something to do with props and scene set-up, crafty, stuff that doesn't require years of school experience..."

    Download Film Crew Job Descriptions pdf.

    If you want my advice on how to start working in film/TV, I'd say there's one job to start with, no matter what department you want to get into: PA (Production Assistant). This is the job that is open to almost everyone. You have to be hard working, quick on your feet, resourceful, and able to deal with long hours, but by "paying your dues" as a PA, you can find the department that you enjoy the most and start to work towards it.

    It's like this: the PA is the general help on set. You can be running errands for the production under the supervision of the Production Coordinator, as is common in TV-land, or be assigned to a certain department, as it happens more frequently in Film. Every department has specific hierarchies, and the PA is at the bottom of them all.

    For example, at the head of the camera department is the cinematographer, then the camera op, 1st and 2nd assistant, camera grips, and lastly the camera or technical PA. However, in the camera dept., even the job of PA requires some previous experience or schooling. The camera dept. is the most revered and technically involved, and camera teams can be quite selective about who they bring on. As an alternative, try getting "in" through the locations dept. Locations PAs do a lot of crappy work, such as guarding parking lots or taking out the garbage, but they are always looking for Locations PAs because the turnover is high (good PAs move onto something else ASAP).

    As far as getting the jobs, check out for vacancies in your area. Some of these jobs require experience, some don't. You may find that you will have to volunteer on a few gigs before people start hiring you for pay. Don't get discouraged, the money will come. It's a hard industry to break into, but it rewards hard work and competence very well. Also, do a search for film schools in your area. They usually need volunteers to help with their school projects. For example, the Canadian Film Centre has contact info on their website for people who want to volunteer for them.

  • "What are some of the best and fastest ways of raising a budget?"

    I am by no means an expert at raising money, but these are the options and the pros and cons that I've found, both through personal experience and by watching others.

    1. Government/foundation grants. Although you can raise a sizeable budget through grants, it usually takes a really long time for the application and approval. Also, you risk having to sacrifice some creative control, as many granting bodies have specific mandates that you will have to conform to before they will fund your project. If you can deal with all that, grants are good because you don't have to worry about profit or loss. If your product tanks and doesn't sell, you don't have to pay back the grants.

    2. Private investment. Really the backbone of the industry; private investment can range from big-time executive producers with money and/or venture capitalists at the ready, to execs from big studios with huge budgets at their dispsal, to smaller businesses wanting "in" on film & TV action, to your best friend with 50 bucks to loan you for mini DV tape stock.

      Although terrific if you can get it, private funding is usually the hardest to get, unless you have a lot of rich friends who are willing to trust you with gobs and gobs of their cash. Shopping around for private investment requires an extremely strong and commercially viable script, and/or talented and respected people on your creative team, and/or lots of dumb luck.

      Additionally, private investment comes with a big string attached: make money or screw off. If you lose money for your first backer, your chances of getting a second one diminishes exponentially. You may even have to pay the money back, depending on your specific deal.

    3. Hold a fundraiser Usually for smaller budgets, a fundraiser can be an effective way to raise cash quickly, although it requires more work and friends to help out. The concept is this: hold a low-cost event that will attract numerous small donations and generate a profit to fund the "real" event, in this case the filming of a film/TV project or the staging of a play.

      For example, to raise funds for our short film The Winner, we threw a fundraiser after we had already made the film, in order to pay back our smoking credit cards. One of the guys worked at a bar, so we had a free venue. The bands that featured in the soundtrack provided free entertainment, along with a DJ friend of mine, and someone in our group acquired donations to give away in a raffle draw. We charged cover for the event, brought some of our own alcohol to sell, and made money off the raffle, so that in the end we raised over 80% of our budget!

      This is the power and "fun" in fundraising, although not all fundraisers have the same success. It really depends on how many people you can get out to support, and your willingness to put effort into the endeavour.

  • "What is grey card?"
  • "What is a documentary, the suitable length for a documentary, camera and editing techniques for documentaries, etc.?"

    Wow, those are big questions...To answer all those in detail would require a full year in school, not an email (or web page).

    There are many types of documentaries: historical, biographical, of or having to do with wildlife or marine life, scientific, educational, etc.

    Basically a documentary is non-fiction.

    The length varies upon the market: full length (e.g. Bowling for Columbine) for theatrical release, short, 22/44/88 minutes for .5/1/2 hour TV slots, or even longer for a mini-series or special.

    Camera and editing techniques specifically for documentaries: I'm not experienced at all in these areas and couldn't offer you the slightest help, although my guess is the more you shoot and cut documentaries, the more you develop your own style. For specific techniques, I'd take a course on documentary filmmaking. If you don't have access to a good school, just go out and start shooting with a camcorder. Make up any random topic, like: "Riding public transit on Wednesdays." Go around and interview people and try to come up with an interesting product.

    Sorry I can be of more help than this, but it's a really broad topic. It's kind of like asking, "What is a novel and how do I write one?" It would be best answered by a qualified instructor on the subject.

  • "We have a Canon XL1s and want to make a film. Where do we start?"

    That depends on what kind of film you want to make: documentary, feature, short or experimental? A good first project would be to make a short film. It gives you the chance to explore all aspects of filmmaking, from script development, to shooting, to post-production work. Check out my Tips page to see how we made our first short film. Most likely you will start with writing a screenplay.

    If you don't want to make a short, please resubmit your question with specific details on the kind of project you want to produce. There's simply not enough room here to go through how to make every type of film :)

  • "I am making a video on DV in five different languages. How do I do the voice-over and translations without screwing up my timing? The video lab I will use does not have good audio for doing voice-overs. Should I tape the person talking and extract the audio? PS - I'm using imovie2."

    Okay, when you get your final DV master, make a copy of it and put it aside. Run copies off the other one, or do whatever you have to do with it, but make sure you have at least one or two copies of the master completely untouched. You can use one of them as the source when you go to dub in your translations.

    Now I'm not sure how imovie works cause I don't run a Mac [back then], but in Avid Express (a professional editing suite that a lot of studios run - Mac or PC) there is a way to do audio replacement ("dubbing", "looping" or "ADR"). This is a process whereby the actor doing the voice-over can watch the video on the computer and lip sync to it. The editor records this sound into a digital file that can be manipulated and synced with the video, all inside the Avid software.

    Perhaps this option is available in imovie as well? Google it!.

    If imovie doesn't do it, try playing the video in a separate VCR and monitor for the actor to watch, then you can record the sound into imovie while the actor lip syncs to the video. Then play the new audio together with the video in imovie and see if they're in sync.

    It's trial and error from there. You should be able to get something close using this method. However, if the sound you get this way is really unsatisfactory, the only other option I can think of (besides using a really expensive post-house) is to find someone with an Avid setup.

  • "How do you properly calibrate a portable color field monitor while on location?"

    There should be a button on the front panel of the monitor that brings up the color bars (like the ones you see on TV when the station is closed). If not, feed the monitor color bars from whatever camera you're using. Color bars are a universal standard, it doesn't matter where you get them from.

    Then, follow the instructions on this page from the Video University site. (They're quite lengthy and I don't see the need to regurgitate it here :)

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