On Saturday, July 23rd, an open casting call was held at Young Studios in Hartford, Connecticut for several key supporting characters and featured background players in an upcoming SAG production, entitled Diamond Ruff.
The movie is a part of the Diamond Ruff Project, which includes a novel of the same name written and published by Joe Young, Jr. The book is a social commentary set in the backdrop of Hartford. Young adapted the Diamond Ruff novel into a screenplay, and is not gearing up to turn it into an independently produced full length feature film. The plot follows the main character, Diamond Ruff, who is a con artist who crosses paths with a preacher, Rev. Trek Woods, and together, they end up becoming an impetus for change in the world around them.
The production is currently seeking both union and non-union performers, as well as models and newcomers. The cast calls for a range of children and adults of all ages and ethnicities, with many roles open for African American children and adults. The film will be shooting in Hartford.
For those that were not able to attend the open call, you can email a current photo and your contact info to: [email protected]
With the increase in movie and TV productions taking place in the New England area, more and more people are finding an interest in working in front of the camera. Open casting calls are now a common phenomenon in Boston, helping casting directors find the background talent they require for projects featuring big name celebrities. The cache of spending a day or two on a movie set appeals to everyone from your typical college student, to your full-time paramedic, to your friendly neighborhood retiree. As all of these would-be thespians find their flair for the dramatic, one has to ask–at what point do a few fun days on set turn into a legitimate career option? Furthermore, does it make sense for those that are simply working as extras on a casual basis to join the union?
We spoke to Terri Becherer, Director of Background Actors at the Screen Actor’s Guild offices in Los Angeles, to get her take on what joining SAG can mean for people who are working as background actors in the area.
HEC: When should someone who has worked or is working as an extra join SAG?
Screen Actors Guild background actors are professionals. When making the decision to join, here are some questions to ask yourself. First, is this something you plan to pursue as a career? Are you ready to dedicate a lot of time to actively seeking jobs that have no set hours or location, networking, promoting yourself, building a wardrobe and all that goes into being a professional background actor? Second, are you at a point in your career where you can sustain a living doing only union work? When you can enthusiastically say “yes” to those questions, you are ready to join Screen Actors Guild.
HEC: What are the benefits to being in SAG?
Screen Actors Guild has contract coverage for members in our lower budget and student film projects. SAG members enjoy the benefits of many great learning and networking opportunities through our Conservatories around the country. The Screen Actors Guild Foundation has several seminars and events for members such as the Life Raft series, Conversations, Casting Access Workshops. iActor is our members-only casting database where members can post resumes and look for casting notices. The Screen Actors Guild magazine is an award winning publication that goes out to members quarterly. As a member, you can participate in the governance of the Guild through committee work and exercising your right to vote. Our website (www.sag.org) has countless resources for members. Not to mention the cache of “member of Screen Actors Guild” on your resume.
HEC: Are there any drawbacks?
Only if you join believing that, by doing so, you will have access to more work or be guaranteed an agent. Because of our limited jurisdiction, background actors sometimes find the market more competitive.
HEC: What are the requirements and costs involved?
To become eligible to join Screen Actors Guild, you need one job as a SAG principal performer or three jobs as a SAG background actor. The initiation fee is currently $2277. Dues are assessed twice a year based on work done.
HEC: Becherer also had some words of advice for those that might be interested in making a career out of extra work for the sake of glitz and glamour.
Always remember that background acting is a job. It can be very hard work, but it can also be fun and rewarding. Always treat everyone like they are going to give you your big break. You have to decide at what level you are willing to participate in this field. Tennis players love to play tennis- they aren’t going to quit just because they’ve never won Wimbledon. Not everyone is going to be a 7 figure super star, but if you love to act, there is a place for you.
Locally based actress Sarah Nicklin has always had her sights set on becoming a star. Through hard work, perseverance, and dedication, she’s gone from small plays at her high school in Connecticut, to starring in dozens of indie films as well as attaining parts in big budget films. She shared with us some of her favorite (and least favorite) experiences of life as a New England actor.
HEC: How did you become an actor?
I’ve wanted to be an actor since middle school when I first became obsessed with Jonathan Taylor Thomas and decided that the best way to meet him would be to become an actor. I did a bunch of school plays and then once I graduated high school, I started looking for films. I was living in CT at the time, but got cast as the lead in a short film north of Boston called La Bolsa, which was my first introduction to film. I then went to Emerson College, and figuring that there has to be more films to find in Boston, started looking around for local projects. I did a few student films, then a few short independent films before getting my “first real movie role” as the lead in Splatter Disco (which stars Kens Foree, Lynn Lowry, Debbie Rochan, and Trent Haaga). After that I basically auditioned for anything else I could find everywhere from Maine to New Jersey.
HEC: What are the best/worst parts of your job?
The best parts are meeting so many great people, the chance to play and explore with being someone else, and seeing the final product. I can’t imagine living a “normal” life where all you do is go to work, go home, maybe go out to a bar, and that’s really the only people you get to meet. Being an actor, every production is a whole new group of people, and you all automatically have something in common already. Of course you get along better with some more than others, but I’ve had very few experience where I’ve met someone I didn’t like – and everyone always has such great stories to share!
I also love being able to play with being someone else – thinking how they would think, acting how they would act. It’s like a permanent make-believe game from when you’re little. I’m pretty shy in real life, so it give me the opportunity to go beyond myself and try out other personality traits with it still being “safe”.
And then of course seeing the final product is always one of the highlights. Unlike stage, in film there is so much more that it outside the control of the actor. There are so many different pieces and people that come together to make a film work. You can be made to have a good or bad performance simply by the choice of the editor. Film is such a collaboration, and I love seeing how each piece makes up the whole.
The worst parts would be some of the travel time – driving 5 hours in a car one way just to get to an audition or to a set is no fun, but it does give you time to go over your lines! The other big negative is when you get stuck on a set where the crew doesn’t really know what they’re doing – everyone is sitting around wasting time and you know that the end product isn’t going to be good. But you of course can’t back out since you’ve already committed, so you just have to soldier through and finish it.
HEC: Most memorable experience thus far?
I have so many great memories, it’s hard to just pick a few…
One would be on Splatter Disco when I was 20 and there was a somewhat “naughty” scene between one of the other actors and myself, so, to loosen us up, the director bought us shots of tequila even though I was underage.
Another would be on the set of Nun of That when we were running out of time to get one final shot and we had just shot the big fight scene of the movie, so to keep continuity I would need to at least have some sort of marks on my face from getting hit. We didn’t have time to get out the makeup kit and do an effect, so the director turned to me and said, “Do you trust me?”, and I immediately knew what he had in mind from a story he had told me about shooting The Exorcist, and I said “yes, do it.” So he somewhat gently slapped me to get my cheek red, but he was too nice about it and it wasn’t enough, so he did it again, a little harder this time, and still it wasn’t enough for the shot. Then from across the room comes the producer and wham! Hard slap across the face – face was red and ready to go!
A bit of a “nicer” memory would be on the set of Missing William – I had a very small day-player part in a scene with Brandon Routh and Courtney Ford, and I was so nervous even for this small part because it was my first speaking role in a “big movie.” The thing that made me relax was that I noticed that Brandon Routh wore a hearing aid in one of his ears. I know that’s just a random little thing, but for whatever reason seeing that even Superman isn’t perfect and is a “real person” made me feel much more comfortable being in the scene with them.
And then also on the webseries I’ve been working on -” The Salinger Spies” – this set has been a blast every day I’ve been on it, but especially the days we did all the fight scenes and rehearsals. Getting flung and flipped around – reminds me of the days when I was little and did gymnastics. I love opportunities to be physical and use your whole body to its full extent and not just your face or voice.
HEC: Any advice for fellow actors?
Don’t go SAG too early. I think this is a BIG mistake that many actors fall into, especially in New England. They get their waivers doing extra work and then jump into SAG as soon as they can thinking that now they’re “real” actors and that they’ll be able to get parts in the studio films that come through here. 99.99% of the time, this is not the case. More often than not what happens is the only work they can get is background work. Most of the roles for the studio films, even the small ones, are cast out of NY and LA, and the only actors they are hiring locally are extras. So then you end up with a resume full of extra work, but little to no speaking roles because most of the local indie’s don’t cast SAG actors because they can’t afford them. And then you’re pretty much stuck since you don’t have the experience to land a speaking role, but you can’t get the experience because the indies won’t hire SAG. I think a far better thing is to wait as long as you possibly can before joining SAG- until you are forced to – that way you can build up your resume with speaking roles in legitimate indie films and have a reel that will show off what you can do.
My husband and I recently had parts in an LA based webseries that shot here in Rhode Island and one of the things that the production company was impressed with was the size of our resumes. According to them, even many actors in LA don’t have the experience we do simply because it’s hard to get speaking roles when you’re a “no-name” and SAG- so you need to have them before you join to prove that you can do them once you are. I’ve been SAG eligible for about 3 years now and in that time I’ve had speaking roles in around 50 films – of course a lot of those films are crap and will never see the light of day, but there are a lot of them that are also really good, and they have given me good material for a reel and the invaluable gift of experience. I think one of the hardest thing in this industry is to get people to take you seriously, and one of the best ways to do that is to have a big resume that proves you are dedicated to doing this.
HEC: What do you like best about working in New England in the entertainment industry?
The close community. Everyone knows everyone here, which is really nice. Word travels fast if there is a production happening or if there is one falling apart, so that you then know who to stay away from in the future. Its great going to auditions and running into 5 familiar, smiling faces. Or working on a set where you run into the same crew members again and again. It’s almost like having a really big extended family – you see each other every now and then, but when you do, its like you just saw them yesterday – there are no awkward moments, you have lots to talk about and stories to share and you get along great. Then once it’s done, you go your separate ways until the next time your paths cross.
Filmmaking is a challenging and rewarding endeavor that is usually pretty costly. Luckily, there are many opportunities for filmmakers to help get funding whether it be for their work or schooling.
There are currently several organizations that have started their application process including the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and the KODAK Scholarship Program. The KODAK Scholarship Program awards current college students who have demonstrated “superior professional filmmaking production skills and creativity along with academic success.” The deadline for this highly competitive scholarship is June 13, 2011.
Offered only to SAG members, the John L. Dales Scholarship helps members and/or their children attend college. It is also meant for SAG members who need financial assistance to obtain further education to change their career. The deadline for applying is April 22, 2011.
Other possible funding opportunities not limited to those attending college are the ASCAP Foundation Grants, the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting and Creative Capital. The ASCAP Foundation is “dedicated to supporting American music creators and encouraging their development through music education and talent development programs.” Their foundation grants are rewarded to non-profits that are dedicated to music education programs for aspiring songwriters and composers. The application deadline for non-profits is October 1, 2011.
The Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting is hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is for screenwriters who have yet to earn more than $5,000 writing for film or television. This prestigious fellowship awerds up to $30,000 to promising new screenwriters who submit an original feature film screenplay by May 1, 2011. Applications for the program will be available after January 2011.
Perhaps the most unique form of grant funding is Creative Capital which is “the only national grantmaking and artist service organization for individual artists with an open application process.” Creative Capital also makes a multi-year commitment to its recipients, making their application available only every three years. Those with projects in Film/Video and Visual Arts are eligible to apply this year starting February 1.
Of course these are only some of the ways that artists can receive funding for their projects. There are many other scholarships, grants, and fellowships available. There are also fundraising sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. For more listings of funding opportunities, be sure to check out our career scene page.
On October 8-10 this fall, at the PondView Equestrian Center in Pascoag, Rhode Island, the Action Seminar of the East Coast (A.S.E.) will be taking place. This three day course is being produced by Hollywood stunt coordinator Ross Clay. Clay has worked on a number of films and TV shows, including The Hurricane Fist, Lost Treasure, and Wild Things 2.
Classes will include in-depth seminars on proper conditioning to be in stunt-ready shape, how to use stunt rigging for rappelling purposes in stunts (students will need to provide their own climbing harnesses), sword training, hand to hand combat, falling and tumbling exercises and techniques, and how to fall from heights between 10 and 50 feet safely using an air bag for landing purposes.
A.S.E. is committed to preparing actors by providing them with valuable training in movie and television stunt work. Upon completion of the coursework, at the end of the weekend, students will take an exam, and upon passing it, will receive a certificate of completion that states they received training in each of the aforementioned areas by a qualified stunt coordinator.
All participants must be 18 years of age or older. If interested participants register by September 20, 2010, they will receive a 10% discount, or 15% if you are a union member (SAG, AFTRA, DGA, and AE) or municipal (police, fire, EMT). For all military, including active or non-active, the cost is $1,000. For more information, download this flyer or call 661-607-8026 or email [email protected] Make sure you tell them Hollywood East Connection sent you!
The Screen Actor’s Guild serves as the primary labor union of film and television, representing over 200,000 actors, actresses, and other on-camera performers.
The Boston location of SAG represents most of New England, including Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The state of Connecticut actually falls under the SAG New York office in terms of New England representation.
Lead by Boston Branch President Doug Bowen Flynn, the branch provides resources to actors around the state and beyond who are seriously pursuing the craft as a career. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which also represents through the SAG Boston office, has a members-only hotline, which is regularly updated with casting notices and other time-sensitive union news, and is available by both phone and email. This service is available only to members in good standing, and is among a host of other benefits available to members, including better day, hourly, and overtime rates for films, meal penalties, and even costume change kickbacks, as well as pension and health insurance.
The branch is located at 20 Park Plaza, suite 822, in downtown Boston. The office regularly holds membership meetings, seminars, and informational talks on issues that arise for working actors. The hotline number can be reached at (617) 262-8001 or [email protected]
Are you a member of SAG? Tell us about your experience!
With a budget of only $200,000, Putt Putt Syndrome was the first New England film to shoot with high definition technology using the Sony F35 that is said to be worth $500,000. The film recently completed 18 shooting days of in Winthrop, Maine.
Putt Putt Syndrome is a dark comedy about a happily married man, Johnny, who starts to believe his bitter friends hypothesis on why marriages fail. Johnny decides to see if his buddy’s theory has any truth to it only to find out he’s got all the symptoms of, “Putt Putt Syndrome”. Johnny’s perfect life slowly unravels as he tries to put his life back together and save his marriage. The film was only a screenplay six months ago when local Winthrop, ME writer/director Allen Cognata contacted independent producers Rene Veilleux who is also from New England and Donald Roman Lopez of Verite Films through an ad they placed on New England Film.
“I was surprised when Allen got in contact with us,” said Veilleux, a Boston University grad who spoke through a speaker phone joined with Lopez. “We started emailing back and forth. Allen sent us over the screenplay and we fell in love with it.” Veilleux and Lopez talked about Verite films mission of truthful film making. They said it’s important to have honest stories that have an impact on the audience. After reading Cognata’s screenplay, Verite films knew they wanted to be a part of it. Cognata, Veilleux and Lopez joined together to give the green light only six months later.
Veilleux and Lopez just returned to their home in LA a day before we spoke, opting to drive cross country rather then take a four hour flight to LAX. It was obvious through the cell phone connection that the two were still feeling the adrenaline of completing the project. A film they refer to as “Independent Film Boot Camp,” Putt Putt Syndrome started filming in early June. Unfortunately they picked one of the worst months in New England to film. “It rained a lot in the month of June and that made it difficult but we worked through it,” said Veilleux. “Allen was well prepared for each shoot with shotlifts and storyboard. He knew exactly what he wanted in his film”.
Veilleux and Lopez bragged about how amazing the community of Winthrop, Maine was to their cast and crew. They were over joyed with the friendliness that surrounded them. The community opened their homes and businesses for the cast and crew. They talked about how everyone involved was so passionate about the project. Many of these people weren’t even getting paid.
“We all had to where many hats,” said Veilleux and Lopez commenting on how many different roles each person had play to get this film off the ground and finished. Veilleux and Lopez talked about how lucky they were to have a phenomenal casting director, Rosemary Welden, who played a critical role in casting. Some of the actors include Jason London who is best remembered as a young stoner in Dazed and Confused; David Chokachi who stared along side Pamela Anderson in “Baywatch” and Thea Gill who stared in the Showtime hit “Queer as Folk”. All the actors agreed to getting $100 a day under the SAG ultra low budget contract.
London was quoted by the Sun Journal saying he couldn’t put the script down and that no one was doing it for the money. Veilleux and Lopez said the next plan is to submit copies to Film Festivals this September and to start promoting it. Both are very proud of this film and hope it will be featured in the spring of 2010.
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