Actors – Mi 5 rules for short films

Hello fellow creatives, I bet if you’re like me, you got up this morning and thought “what can I do to be creative today”. In some ways, it’s easy for me, as I have a steady diet of actors training sessions to organise as well as short films and corporate (yuk) gigs too. So, I usually have something or someone, to film, edit or train.

I have in the past, however, been on the other side of the line, a TV and film puppeteer for over 15 years. So I understand the ‘being creative’ conundrum is not always your decision to make. But what I also understand is, you have more to say in this matter than you may think. Now one or two of the points I want to raise will echo mi thoughts in a previous post Top 5 tips for good auditions, so you may want to read through that as well.

Mi Thoughts on Shorts

Short films are a great way for actors to get on screen and perhaps jump to the top of the pile, as a male or female lead. At their best, they will provide you with a solid piece of showreel material, some great on-set experience, a few quid in your pocket and even a trip out to see the film at a festival or screening. At their worst, they are a waste of everyone’s time and money. So how can you, as an actor, reduce the chances of hitching your cart to a dead horse??


1- Is it Me or not Me? Before you start sending bright and jolly emails (or surprisingly unhelpful “interested” comments on Facebook) to a short film casting, first ask yourself “Does this fit with my branding as an actor?”. Developing your career is much easier when you know what types of parts you should apply for. If you have a great ‘look’ as a thug or heavy then the great comedy role you just saw may not be best for you. Why?? Well, firstly you probably won’t get the role because you’re wrong for it. This will feed all your insecurities (which we all have) and somewhere in your mind, an alarm will go off saying “You’re just not good enough” Secondly, knowing ‘you’ and ‘your branding’ is important, to a successful career because you project yourself as organised and professional. Random applications for roles you’re not right for will make you look the opposite, plus if you have an will piss them off too. Finally, remember what a fantastic BBC series producer (Jane Tarleton) told me “Careers are made by the jobs you turn down, not the jobs you take”. Make sure this short film will help you develop your career, in the direction you want it to go.


2- Is it a student film? Don’t be a snob, there is nothing wrong with student films! So why do I mention it? Well, a film course at most reputable establishments will run for three years. Generally, the students in year three will have decidedly better skills of production and organisation than a first-year student. It’s a legitimate question to ask, so you will know who you’re dealing with. There are also different college and university guidelines for the production of third-year films, as the students need to work with professional actors, (not just fellow students) and they are encouraged to pay, at very least, the actor’s expenses. So they get used to professional working practices. The benefit to doing a student film is that, on the whole, they will get completed (or the students may fail their course). Careful judgement will ensure you get a good, well-finished film for your showreel, not one which was ‘abandoned’ to hit a college course deadline.


3- Food for thought! Pardon the pun but this is a ‘beef’ of mine. When you come over to the Telsen Studio, there are always drinks and a few biscuits on offer. It’s courtesy, I do it to make mi visitors feel welcome. So, why would I expect anything less on a film shoot? If a short film is being made, there has to be some budget to cover food and some expenses. Even a fiver for petrol and a KitKat is an honest contribution to the actor who is offering their considerable talents for (pretty much) free. In short, No food, No expenses – No show!


4- A team effort? In these days of social media, there is no excuse for not knowing who the creative team is. Find out who the producer and director are, then look at what they’ve done before. Do they make good films; Was the film finished; Do you know anyone who has worked with these people before? It’s well worth your while to find out who you’re getting into bed with. Also, check out the script (if possible). In mi experience, scripts that are written with little or no descriptions or directions; actors directions like: “Peter reacts.”; and clichéd and cheesy dialogue probably won’t give you the quality of showreel material that will get you future, paid, work.


5- Film Festivals. To be good for everyone involved, a short film should be a creative journey with a definite destination. “Making it for YouTube” is well, meh! The difference between the former, and a film being “Made for film festivals” is enormous.  You want your work to be seen and hopefully appreciated. So, entering an established film festival will be good for the creative team and put your work amongst your peers. Film festival attendance and a possible screening will raise the profile of the film and the people associated with it. If you’re lucky enough, an award will put the film into a higher league altogether. The same cannot be said for the critical acclaim or disdain you’ll receive from a YouTuber ranting from their mother’s kitchen.


Mi final (bonus) point is one all actors should take to heart.  Short films should not be treated like a training camp, don’t turn up and act like the new kid at school and expect to be treated as ‘talent’.  As I say to everyone on my courses, be prepared and be a pro. Arrive on set, know your words and exceed the crew’s expectations. That way when the bigger jobs come in, you’ll be a pro already.

OK. Time for me to leave you alone and go film something. I hope the post is helpful and it will improve your good project radar.

As always email me if you have any questions or comments and catch you next time.

Written by Mark Alexander Todd

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