When you do something for free, anyone needing help comes out of the woodwork. If you offer a free service, free goodies, or free anything else, everyone wanting a hand-out will appear, even those not qualified or needy of your product or trade skill.
But sometimes—like as with attorneys—it’s worthwhile to offer something for free. Lawyers call it pro bono work. You defend someone you believe in but whom can’t afford your services, or if there is a cause that you support, like being arrested for activism. Sometimes a band or author will give away free pieces of their work to gain reviews and gossip. There are reasons to give something away, in order to benefit all of those involved.
Sometimes it backfires.
I am relatively new to the acting game; however I have each under my belt: a television episode, a major film, a commercial, and a fictional podcast episode.
But, half of these don’t show up on actor “resumes” like IMDb.com, as commercials and podcasts usually don’t end up on the website. If you go to my IMDb page, the podcast and the commercial doesn’t show up, so it looks like I’ve only have half of the experience that I actually have. Getting more paid work, or getting involved in a small production could be key to getting more added to my IMDb body of work.
I saw in a local Facebook group a post about a production company needing help—they wanted extras. No biggie. It’s not hard work. You basically dress according to the role, try to blend in, and most importantly follow instructions.
I checked my calendar and saw that I indeed have the date available, and the previous day I was to do a friend of mine’s wedding nearby. It was perfect. I’d officiate a non-Christian LGBTQ wedding (because religious officiants won’t do it), get a hotel, explore the area’s thrift stores, and do a few hours of shooting, and then head home with two good deeds under my belt.
To build my list of relevant contacts, I established connection with the directors of the film—a married couple—by becoming “friends” with them on Facebook. Then I saw the religious posts: thank god for this, thank god for that. I try not to judge people, but knowing that Facebook doesn’t show you every post your friends post, so I hide their content in order for more relevant content to leak into my feed.
It was at this point, I wasn’t going to do this film. The title was ambiguous, and the last thing I wanted to do was perpetuate proselytizing and religious division. I personally can’t support anything that would tell one group of people they’re horrible by no fault of their own, nor can I support (for free!) anything that would say a majority of the world is destined for punishment based on not worshiping a specific deity.
The next day, I saw the movie poster and the work was done quite well. I had checked their production credits and all this company had under their belt was a couple of stage plays. This was their first film. But the poster looked great, and the movie was supposedly rated R. While ratings come from the MPAA, it gave me an idea that it might not be a religious film.
The title wasn’t specific, but it seemed it could be an action or heavy drama. Maybe it was about abuse? I could get behind a human rights issue. Or just have fun on set of an action or thriller. The role was for being a nameless bad guy. And they’d feed us and give us IMDb credit. I checked for their IMDb and there was nothing. Maybe it’ll come soon.
I sent them my head shot.
After a couple of weeks, I got the part and days before shooting, I was given time for call and the location of the set. It was stated that it’d be an hour or two of filming, and we were asked to bring clothes we didn’t mind ruining. While I have clothes for working on my house, the jeans looked too rough for pre-blood acting and the two shirts I have contain logos, which usually cannot be used in movies.
I had to go out and buy clothes that would end up ripped, fake blood-splattered and thrown away. So now, I’m in the hole the cost for a hotel room, a pair of used pants, a used t-shirt, food, and gasoline. But I’m not against helping those trying to come up in the world. So the expenses are a small price to pay.
I showed up promptly on set, directed by GPS, and walked into the warehouse with my change of clothes with the sale tags still on them and my coffee thermos—you never know if there will be water or caffeine.
There were no signs showing designated areas, so I lingered about for a moment and eventually asked where holding was. Behind an unmarked closed door, there were catering styled trays of food and some containers of water and soup from a local establishment. It was a sort of break room connected to a storeroom. I signed in on the clipboard though it took me a moment to locate where it was placed.
I changed in a bathroom and saw the taco toppings were dried out from being there the rest of the day—it was now about 4pm. Instead I had a half of a cold cut sandwich and passed on the paper containers of soup that was probably there as long as the taco toppings. I sat and waited for our scene to shoot. They were behind schedule. It happens even to the best of them.
Eventually the other extras that I was filming with were called to set. But we were called to an area we thought we’d film at, but instead we watched two scenes be shot in this area, and we had to hide from being in camera view. For an hour, we drank our water, tried to be quiet and unseen, and wondered when and where we would be actually filmed.
This kind of thing happens, but it’s usually on very large sets. Instead, we watched the camera (with microphone) operator act as director, and the one doing the slating was her daughter. The husband was on set as an actor. Yes, very small-time, but one has to start somewhere.
After these two scenes were shot in this large room in a warehouse (I assume one of the married couple works there and utilized the place at night), the others doing the same scene with me were brought into the dock area of the warehouse. This is where my scene would be shot.
As usual, we were given some direction of how to respond to the action that would take place. Loose, but we all knew what we were supposed to be doing. Action! was called, camera was rolling, and we did what we were instructed to do. And the camera kept rolling. And rolling. Improvisation is key, but when your instructions are almost too loose, you don’t know what do to stay in frame, not talk, or make a face at your co-workers.
Next was the action shot, ideally to be done in the same take as the previous shot, but because there is only one camera on set, they did this for a different point of perspective. There might be other reasons, but this my understanding. I could easily be wrong so don’t me to this point.
As far as I know, I’m the only person that asked for a retake on anything that day. I knew I wasn’t up to par. I’m not a stuntman and I’m not going to hurt myself for free on a set, but I laughably know I did the first take horribly. The second time, I gave it a little bit more.
However, the one take was done and completed. I wish we were told that it would be done in one take. We would have acted out the scene a little better. Most films do 5-20 takes and chop it up in the editing room. Even the most sloppy acting can look almost graceful after editing several takes on a few cameras. Fight sequences are done like this, so everyone can keep their distances without getting hurt.
This scene I’m killed. I mark my fallen ground with a prop, go get makeup done by a special effects artist, and come back for another take with the wounds, redoing what we just did. How the editing process will be to merge both, I’m no technician, so I don’t know the process.
After this wounded version of the scene was shot, we wrapped (ended filming) and were sent on our way. I changed and drove the two hours home.
I added the work I did to my resume, feeling pretty sure the scene I was in won’t end up on the cutting room floor. It’s a significant scene, and it was the last day for filming. But I couldn’t add it to my IMDb page, because it didn’t exist. I waited almost two weeks and checked back. Nothing on IMDb yet and the Facebook group for the movie was pretty quiet except for a very raw, amateur trailer released.
Earlier in the summer, I had helped finance two small-budget films that were made and when I mentioned the lack of their IMDb pages for the film, the writers, directors and executive producers said that they didn’t know how to.
So I helped them. I made a bare-bones entry on IMDb, which doesn’t take a lot of time, but the site does take some getting used to, what with the verification and clarification on each item added, changed or deleted. I told those involved that a page existed for each film, and they could edit it as they see fit. It’s easier to edit a page than add one. They were grateful and got to work on each movie title on IMDb. I like to help.
This I did with the film I acted in. I made a bare-bones IMDb page with pretty much the necessities: the title, director and writer names (the married couple), my name under the role I played, and the date (I had to be specific in order to add the page, so I put either January 01 or 31, 2018—it can be changed later). That is, if the producers knew the page existed.
Yes, I totally forgot to tell them.
About two weeks after making the IMDb page, I got a Facebook message from the wife of the production duo (that is, minus the child of course). Did I make a page on IMDb for the film? “Yes, ma’am.” Besides their names, my name was the only other credit, as the other actors can add themselves. It’s easier to edit a movie page than add one. I was about to type that I totally forgot and was about to copy-paste the URL for the IMDb link if she needed it. I didn’t get the chance.
She went off on me, demanding to know who gave me the right to add a page for their film. Honestly, I didn’t think they were going to. Pages are usually added when the movie is first announced that it is to be made, in order to cause buzz about the film. An early page is good marketing. I told her that making the page for them wasn’t done in ill will.
I stressed that I didn’t mean to offend or disrespect. She continued to send long messages belittling me and saying that I’m not her boss, as she’s self-employed. It got to where I knew I should just ignore her long messages with bullet points on where I stand and where she stood. I apologized for not telling her and her husband about the page.
And yes, it slipped my mind. This, she ridiculed. I pointed out that there wasn’t a page and I was merely trying to help. Anyone who knows me, knows I try to be kind to everyone. Heck, I just helped gay friends of mine to get married, since religious people won’t do it. And I did it for free, also paying for the hotel the night previous to the wedding.
Apparently, she internalized something I said about people having lots of kids and blame others when their lives start becoming chaotic. She felt this was about her, though I had mentioned that I heard 4 different people say this, and said I “bashed” her business.
I give the italics as it’s a quote, but I include the quotes because she used actual quote marks. No biggie, as her Facebook messages contained many typos. It happens, especially when using a phone, and to write long paragraphs. No biggie.
But, since I was non-specific about officiating a wedding the day before filming, the director alluded that she expected more from a religious person—which I’m not—and then blocked me on Facebook. Her husband remains my Facebook “friend,” either because he’s not trivial or just doesn’t have the time. Maybe he’s eavesdropping on my wall.
Essentially, I gave half of a day, wasted money on an outfit, and paid for a hotel only to be insulted for trying to help a small-time new company to put something out that they believe in.
No job is perfect. But when you do it for free, it’s hard to look back on what has happened—while on duty or afterward—and be able to say, “Well, hell, at least I got a paycheck out of it.”