By Scott Shaw
I believe it goes without saying that pretty much everyone has, at one time or another, dreamed of being a movie star. Growing up in Hollywood, I saw all kinds of nonsense, related to that issue, throughout my youth. When I got into filmmaking in my thirties, I witnessed it from an entirely different level. There/then, I saw what people were willing to do to get a role and/or the things the people who claimed to filmmakers would do to get people to do the things they wanted them to do. It wasn’t/and isn’t a pretty picture. That’s why when I developed Zen Filmmaking it was all about the essential element of providing a positive/conscious give-and-take relationship between the actors and myself.
When people have come to Hollywood chasing the Hollywood dream, very few of them have made much progress except for paying a lot of money for classes and headshots. Maybe they even went on a few auditions that equaled no role. Some have jumped on the extra bandwagon—being as they are now politically correctly called, “A background performer.” But, that leads to nothing—nothing at least in terms of the pursuit of stardom. In fact, it is detrimental to that process. But, at least as an extra they may see themselves on the silver screen. It may be the first gig or it may take a hundred times on the set, but maybe they will be seen. That’s something, I guess?
But, for most who pursue the dream of acting, they want to actually be noticed for who and what they are. They want to actually act. They want to be a star. But, how does someone get there?
I was watching the film, The Tattooed Stranger, the other night. It’s a fairly obscure, sort-of Film Noir from 1950. In that film, Jack Lord (of Hawaii 5-0 fame) had a small speaking role but he was uncredited. That has happened to me in the A-Market, as well. It’s kind of crushing. But, it is not uncommon. I believe that my career may have taken a different turn if that had not happened in a couple of instances in the early stages of my immersion into acting. As no one knew who was playing the role, no one could seek me out. But, that’s life in the industry. That’s the life of being an actor. You have no control. But, just like Jack Lord was in, The Tattooed Stranger, I was in those films. Screen credit or not, you can’t deny that fact.
The thing is, and this is what I have always warned people about when they come to Hollywood with hopes of stardom; you have to expect the unexpected. This is especially the case on the indie film level. You’ve got to be careful. As I have said so many times to so many people, there are a lot of people who claim to be filmmakers out there. There are a lot of people who want to be filmmakers out there. But, having the dream of making a film and actually being able to complete a project is very different. Many films never get finished. So, all that time, hope, and energy equals nothing.
The thing about acting and about filmmaking is, it should be seen as an art form. Art as the filmmaker sees it and art as the actor interprets it. That’s why I allow my actors to improv. With this, they are adding to the process of creating a piece of cinematic art.
Another important point to keep in mind is that, especially on the indie level, few films make money. At least not the level of money that most people imagine. It is like myself being an author; everybody believes that the minute you get a book published by a major publishing company you are a millionaire. That is anything but true.
I know some people have criticized filmmakers, including myself, for not always paying their cast in dollars and cents. Though this has only sometimes been the case with my films, the fact is, do the people who launch these criticisms realize how much it costs to actually make a movie? Do they realize that the return is generally very small, if anything at all? I don’t believe that they do. Because if they had ever actually made a film then they would possess a completely different perspective of actualized understanding.
Moreover, as the title of this piece questions, “What would you do to be in a movie?” Admittedly, some indie filmmakers expect their cast to be locked in for days, weeks, or even months. That’s why I always shoot the dialogue-driven part of my narrative films for a maximum of two days. I do not take much of an actor’s time to make them a star. Plus, as I complete all of the films I begin, that actor does get an actual role in an actual film. They do get their names in the screen credits. They do get their name on the Internet Movie Database in association with the film; which is invaluable. They do get a copy of the movie to use as a demo reel—which as any newbie actor knows is essential. …Many pay thousands of dollars to have faux-demo reels produced. (Me too… I foolishly did that via the insistence of a manager way back in the way back when).
So… The point being… They are getting paid. Just not with money.
As an actor, I sometimes worked in the indie market for free when I was getting started. I learned a lot. So, that was the price I was willing to pay to be in a movie. What is the price you are wiling to pay?
Though I am speaking about movies here, because that’s one of the things that I do; make movies, this same concept can go to whatever it is you are pursuing in life. What are you willing to do to get what you want?
You really need to define that in your mind as each person has a different set of standards just as each person has a different set of morals.
Know what you want. Know what you are willing to do to get. But mostly, know what you are going to do if you don’t get it, because that is the fact of life for virtually all of us.
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