Taking the long road to relating to the words will serve you best
At the Stella Adler Studio in New York, where I did a lot of my acting training, words were given a position of huge importance. By the way, did you know that the word huge also means limitless? Stella Adler alumni will get this inside joke, since we were commanded to bring a dictionary to class with us every day. When working with text, we would often get challenged on the meaning of words, and it was amazing how often our understanding of a particular word was wrong, or at least off-base. We also got to learn more about the history of a word, how it evolved over time, and what it meant at the time the text was written. This process of verifying our understanding of text led to some positive enduring habits that still serve us today.
In script interpretation class, we were trained to not just consider the words of a script or play, but also the whole social, political and historical context of the work. We also worked line by line through the text, to check our understanding of each of the characters and what was going on in a scene. This was amazing, because when you begin to develop that level of relationship with the words, you can suddenly see a vastness and richness that can be built upon as a performer, in service of the audience. Unfortunately, the work of modern film and TV can make us a bit sloppy as actors, a bit content to do the minimum and just memorize lines. It's not entirely our fault, because we often only get "sides" rather than context, and frequently have little time to do more than memorize. But memorization is only entry-level performing. If all you have done is focus on your own lines, then you are likely to be too worried about getting your lines right and waiting to hear cues from your partner. That's not really being there, for your partner or for the audience.
One of my favorite exercises, that I have adapted for use in my own teaching, is one that Stella Adler herself used. Fellow Stella Adler alumni will recognize this as the "Gibran exercise." This work involves developing a deep understanding of a piece of text, and then freeing yourself up from its constraints. The text in question is the book "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran. This is a beautiful collection of essays that considers the important aspects of life, deep topics such as love, marriage, reason and passion, crime and punishment, joy and sorrow, and so on. The ideas in "The Prophet" are timeless and universal, even to a non-religious type like me. I've done this exercise several times myself over the years. Here's how it works, and how it can make you a better actor.
It's the mark of a professional and you owe your cast and crew the credits
Whenever there are two actors having a chat, you can be certain that the subject of IMDb credits will come up. The most frequent complaint I hear from people who worked on indie or student films is that they never got the IMDb credits they were promised. In fact, the films themselves never even ended up on IMDb. Why is this? Why don't producers get IMDb title pages for their projects, when it only requires a half-hour or so of focused effort, some tenacity and some patience? Having an IMDb title page for your film is the gold standard of recognition and legitimacy around the world. By getting a title page, people everywhere can find out about your film, who worked on it, and all kinds of other helpful information that helps market the film, even while you sleep. More importantly, it lets you bestow well-deserved IMDb credits on the people who helped you as cast and crew. If you want to be a professional, you need to understand how the IMDb title page process works, and how to use it effectively. You don't have to spend a penny if you don't want to. Here's how:
Tips to maximize your chances for festival success
Getting your films into their first festivals is a major career milestone that is a real cause for celebration. To get into festivals, you need to be resilient, persistent and organized. Here are some tips to maximize your chances.
1. Submit often, and expect to get rejected. Rejections are a good thing; the more the merrier. It means you are submitting at the right volume to eventually get accepted. Despite what it looks like on social media, NOT getting accepted to festivals is overwhelmingly the norm. The ratio of around 25-50 submissions to 1 official selection seems to hold true for everyone. Keep getting rejected, and don't give up!
2. Build your film roster. Having more "product" to submit works in your favor. As you make more films, give some thought to having different lengths and genres to submit. Add a one-minute micro short or a short documentary to your palette of films; add some comedy or drama; broaden your themes. Shorter films in general are easier to fit into a program and have a better chance.
3. Target appropriately. Getting your first short film into Sundance is a great fantasy, but it is largely a fantasy. There are a lot of terrific festivals out there that are smaller and will give you good exposure and a nice feather in your cap for you and your cast and crew. Look on FilmFreeway or another similar site to find festivals, and aim your film at a festival that will appreciate it. Spend your time and money wisely.
4. Have your materials ready. Don't get caught by surprise when a festival asks for a high-quality download of your film, a poster, a synopsis, some production stills and a director's statement. Make it part of your DNA to prepare these things right away without being told, and have these items organized for easy access and sharing.
5. Be a good friend to festivals. Help promote festivals you have applied to, connect up with them on social media and share their news. When you get an official selection, make some noise about it! Stay in touch with festivals from year-to-year. Most festivals are delighted to hear about their "alumni" and their future successes.
When you are organized and focused, managing your festival submissions just becomes another routine producer task, usually requiring less than an hour or so per day. Be prepared, methodical, thorough, and diligent in your follow-through and success will surely follow. Good luck!
Robert David Duncan, award-winning director, actor, writer and producer with a passionate interest in art, storytelling and the whole amazing journey called life. Founder of Fat Punk Productions Ltd. and Festival Director of the Miniature Film Festival.