This past Sunday, the Montclair Film Festival in partnership with the Film Institute at Montclair State hosted a series of informative talks with established actors, directors and professionals in the industry right in our very own School of Communications. As an aspiring actor and writer, I attended the talks hoping gain insight into the film industry, tips on how to get ahead and overall knowledge on the business I’ve wanted so badly to be in. These workshops not only catered to those needs but allowed for myself and many more to benefit from their expertise. The event began with a masterclass on acting held by Patrick Wilson and Dagmara Domińczyck. So many artists in attending were eager to hear what seasoned actors had to say to those who are just starting out, and the most important pieces of advice I could take away I also found to be the most crucial. This career is a long game. Many actors know this but in order to avoid setting yourself up for failure, you have to be patient and go into the business knowing it’ll take a while to get where you want. They mentioned auditioning which is something that everyone of us will have to learn how to handle because hoping time and time again that this audition will be your next big break can actually harm your talent. The constant ups and downs you may put yourself through and expecting too much can gradually wear you out, and a casting director can see that on your face. Despite that reality, Dagmara and Patrick expressed the importance of having a positive outlook on the business you’re trying to succeed in. It isn’t productive to expect the worst, don’t be afraid to put yourself put there and make connections while allowing yourself to be seen. I found that to be incredibly reassuring as I choose to remember that you’re not alone in this. You may want so desperately for a film producer to see you but just remember they want to see you too.
Avy Kaufman, a renowned casting director, also spoke to us about her career and her experience as a casting director while also providing tips for actors from her perspective. The topic I’m sure many actors in the audience, including myself, wanted her to cover were the “Do’s and Don’ts of Auditioning”. Avy explained what she’s seen in audition tapes and what could really change the direction of the audition that actors do. It is important for actors to listen, as many do not unfortunately. Do Not just read the material, Understand it as well. Actors should have the appropriate reactions to certain dialogue even when they’re not speaking because not doing so can let the casting director know that you don’t understand the material. In relating to what can be seen as distracting in your audition, extra hand movements, unscripted actions or sounds can be detrimental. I took from her recounting her experiences that its best to just dive into your audition. Although it may seem that most of this information is geared towards young artists, it’s not. In both workshops, the age insecurity and fear of starting too late came up. As Avy put it, “It’s all in your head”, it’s not too late and your career won’t suffer simply because you may have chosen to come back into this industry some time later. I say we all start somewhere and it’s up to us on where we end up. A friend of mine posed a question after the session about how to stand out if you find yourself walking into an audition with 20- 30 “you’s” there. It was a great question, one I often find myself thinking about but I believe Avy answered it with her advice. Casting directors want to be surprised, even if they have an idea of what they want, they’re generally open to seeing something new and want people to bring something they’ve never thought of to the table. Just remember to be believable in your audition.
Erin Lee Carr, a documentarian whose most recent work includes Mommy Dead and Dearest and Thought Crimes, gave us some insight on the world of documentary filmmaking. She also clarified a misconception about Documentaries and how they can relate to Journalism. She concluded that the journalist’s job is to write the story, write the facts and do the research. Now a documentarian’s job may not sound very different but she expressed that the difference can be as simple as providing your feelings and opinions by way of execution, the attention to detail, the musical elements and so much more that allow you to provide your own touch into your documentary. Starting out in the documentary film world, Erin said to not be surprised if in the beginning you’re the only one shooting, financing, researching and producing your own film. That’s where many people start with documentaries. I also found it fascinating the level of composure and respect she has to maintain for a subject of a Doc. No matter who it is and to continue to have both even after the film is made because the subject may not like it, sometimes they won’t. A crucial tip for future documentarians, don’t just sit and interview someone, take in what they are seeing. Take background shots and make the experience as natural as possible. You may be amazed at what you might get. Erin’s current project is documenting the sexual abuse scandals in USA gymnastics.
A panel of very talented and enthusiastic professionals from various television networks spoke to us about a serious component in television making, how to pitch your show. They shared their experiences in reviewing pitches and what to do in general meetings, which is not the place to pitch several ideas but to get a feel for the interests of the people in the room and build a relationship with them. Pitching is an obstacle that everyone must go through in order to make their story a reality, in a sense. The professionals spoke about “The Elevator Pitch” which is a three sentence idea that allows you to be as specific and interesting as possible when presenting your idea. I believe in doing so, you should be an advocate for your own work. They also stressed that in preparation for pitching, it’s incredibly beneficial to gather as much research as possible about the network you are attempting to pitch for. Why? Because if your show is very similar to a show that’s already on air or has failed on their network, they’ll probably not want to consider. But being similar doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad idea, their advice was to research why the similar show failed and work from there, or even pitch to a new network.
The day of events concluded with a conversation about harassment from members of the #MeToo movement. We were shown a couple very graphic and disturbing PSA’s created by David Schwimmer called, “That’s Harassment”. They were uncomfortably familiar and opened our eyes to how casual these situations can be. Social media’s influence and the feeling of solidarity as well as safety in numbers were also topics that were expressed. We heard stories of harassment and abuse in the industry and how it felt to speak up. The talk was upsetting at first but in the end, I felt empowered and hopeful.
I can only speak for myself when I say I have been amazed by all the knowledge and access I now possess in this business because of the Montclair Film Festival and all of these brilliant speakers. Being able to hear what it was like to be in our shoes and the journey to get to where they are was incredibly gratifying. I thank them all who took time to help guide us in our own path, but not without the assurance that I’ll keep working towards my own. Like Patrick Wilson said, “You don’t become a better actor by not acting”.
Montclair State | New Jersey