Tips on Choosing a Student Film

I love the fall: the fashion, the colours, the abundance of student films requiring actors... Yup, one of the great things about being a union actor living in Toronto is that every single film school in the GTA has an agreement with ACTRA, allowing you to work on some pretty cool, demo-reel worthy projects with some up-and-coming young filmmakers. But hold on: just because there are plenty of films for you to work on, doesn't mean you want to be working on all of them. As a good friend of mine so carefully reminded me, "You are not desperate." I've had some really great experiences working on student films, and I have had some pretty crappy ones too. I don't blame the students because they are still learning, but that doesn't mean I want to donate my valuable time to be their teaching guinea pig.

First of all, I usually find all my student film auditions through This is a great site for both Union and Non (ACTRA offers a certain level of protection against scam auditions. For all you non-union folks, use your judgement. If it feels off, best avoid it altogether.) Under casting, I search for Female, ACTRA only contracts & Paid/Lo No. You can also find some student auditions through the Casting Workbook (which requires a yearly membership, but is required if you have an agent) or the ACTRA Apprentice site. That last one is rarely updated but if you put in your email address you'll get notified whenever it does.

So how can you separate the good from the bad? It can be tricky, but here are a few things I try to keep in mind: (Please note, these are my personal views. In no way are these hard and fast rules.)

  1. Breakdown: A well-written breakdown can tell you a lot about the professionalism of the film being produced. Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. A detailed, properly spelled breakdown tells me that they have a clear vision for their project. They know what story they are telling and their characters are fleshed-out human beings. They know when they will be shooting and for how long. They are committed to doing it well and aren't just looking for a school credit.
  2. Script: Though the script might not be finalized, do they have something you can read? Most of the time, you can tell from the sides if the writing is good and interests you. If you read it and your first reaction is Oh dear God, NO!, you might want to reconsider. Remember, contrary to what the little voice inside your head is saying, it is ok to turn down an audition.
  3. School: Not to lump everyone in one basket, but some film schools are a bit more recognized than others for a reason. Also, know where they are located and how you will be getting out there. I don't have a car and some shoots do take place in the greater GTA. If I decide to work on a project that's located off the main transit line, I expect transportation to be included (see the breakdown for more).

How these rules came about: I once applied to a very vague audition breakdown about a couple cleaning out a dead family member's home. No audition date, no shoot dates, no sides available because it would be a cold read. I applied late one night only to be asked the very next morning to come audition at 6 that same day on campus, but they didn't give me any precise directions on how to get to this out of town school.  I emailed back and tried calling the number they had left but no one answered. This should have been my warning right there. Eventually someone did get back to me and I schlepped all the way out to the audition for 6. A half a dozen other people were there waiting, all told to be there for 6. I read over the sides and the copy of the script on the table while I waited and my heart sank at the incredibly bad writing. I went in, did the audition once and the three people behind the table applauded (???). Then they told me the shoot dates, which coincided directly with a trip I was taking out of town so I wouldn't be able to do the film anyway. #fail

A few weeks later, I found out that they did want to cast me in the project and would work around my schedule. Unfortunately, due to the unprofessionalism I had experienced, I decided it really wasn't worth taking a day off work to be in a project that didn't inspire confidence.

Recently, I found out that I was cast in a student film that shoots in November and I couldn't be more excited about this one. It fit all my criteria above, the sides were interesting and fun to prepare, and so far the crew has been incredibly professional and keen in their emails. There are some really great projects out there, but it needs to be as much a right fit for you as it is for them.

If you have any other tips or student film stories, feel free to share them in the comments below.