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.

Two Places at Once

Though I'm all about Mary Magdalene and Adventures in Sobriety these days, this is also the week that all these student films I worked on late last year get their official screening. 

Big shout-outs to the gangs at Humber College and York University. I wish I could be there with you to see how everything turned out. In the meantime, here's the trailer from one of those films, The Sheppard, which premieres tonight at the Bell Lightbox, home of the Toronto International Film Festival.

[vimeo w=400&h=300]

The Shepherd Official Trailer from Tenebre81 on Vimeo.

Can't wait to see the whole thing!


DOUBLE BILL: Mary Magdalene and Adventures in Sobriety and [boxhead] 

Arts Court Theatre  2 Daly Avenue, Ottawa, ON 

April 18th to 28th, 2012 – 7:30 p.m.  Pay What You Can Matinee: Sunday April 22nd – 2 p.m.  (no show on Monday)  Tickets $25, $20 for Students/Seniors  Available by phone by calling Arts Court at 613-564-7240 


Cool People Doing Cool Things

Meet Joanna Maracle. Joanna and I met last year when I auditioned for a student commercial project she was working on at Humber College.  Her skill level and professionalism really impressed me and I was thrilled when she later asked me to read for a short student film she was producing.  That last project, entitled The Sheppard, was a blast to work on (and having just watched a picture locked version of it, I can tell you it looks pretty damn good too!) and I would drop everything to work with that gang again.  That's why it's with great pleasure that I let you know of another project that Joanna is working on.

She is currently the Volunteer Captain for the Female Eye Film Festival, Ontario’s one and only annual international independent film Festival showcasing films directed by women, which will be taking place from March 28th to April 1st in Toronto.

She is currently looking for volunteers and would love to have you as part of her team.  If I wasn't going to be in Ottawa for rehearsals, I would sign up myself.  Details below:


THE 10th ANNUAL FEMALE EYE FILM FESTIVAL, March 28th - April 1st, 2012 (Toronto, Ontario)

The Female Eye Film Festival (FeFF), a registered not for profit organization, celebrates its 10th Anniversary edition, March 28th - April 1st, 2012.  The Female Eye is a competitive annual women directors film festival. The FeFF simply couldn't offer such a broad range of initiatives without the impressive skills and commitment of our volunteers. We are grateful for the ongoing contribution made by our many volunteer teams.

THE FEMALE EYE IS ACTIVELY RECRUITING VOLUNTEERS FOR THE FOLLOWING POSITIONS: Hosts: Program hosts are wanted for theatre screenings. Hosts greet the audience, introduce the film program and moderate the audience Q & A's with the filmmakers in attendance following the screenings. Film programs are 120 min in duration. Hosts must have a deep appreciation for independent cinema and must be knowledgeable in regards to the status of women directors.

Volunteer Coordinator: The Volunteer Coordinator ensures that volunteer information forms are complete and up to date with volunteer contact information, and assists the Volunteer Captain with her duties via the dissemination of information.

General Volunteers: The FeFF seeks ushers for film screenings, as well as, volunteers who can assist with the set -up and tear down of the media /registration suite, panel discussions, script readings, round table discussions and Best In The Biz Tribute Series.

All industry sessions take place at the Novotel Toronto Centre.(45 The Esplanade, TORONTO, ON).

Photographers: We seek creative and talented photographers to capture the energy of awards nights, panel discussions, opening and closing ceremonies, and more.

Drivers: The FeFF needs capable G class drivers with excellent records to help in the transportation outof-town special guests as well as the safe transport of festival equipment and supplies.

DONATIONS: We seek articulate, communicative volunteers who are able to solicit donations/gifts for the VIP Registration/ GIFT Bags.

STREET TEAM (PR & Marketing) The FeFF seeks individuals who can disseminate flyers, postcards and provide ticket give-aways to local businesses in the GTA two weeks prior to the event.

NEW Volunteer or a past Festival Volunteer?

If you are interested in volunteering at this years festival please email or

FEMALE EYE FILM FESTIVAL (FeFF) "Always honest, not always pretty" 10th Anniversary, March 28th - April 1st, 2012 Female Eye Headquarters • 905. 264-7731 50 Wallace Street, Woodbridge, Ontario, L4L 2P3, Canada

The Red Dress

In one of my last posts, I mentioned booking a student film. Being more regularly in Toronto, I had been submitting myself for student films which I find either on the Casting Workbook or through the ACTRA Apprentice Audition site (I'm no longer an Apprentice Member, but I had signed up for that particular site with it's updates years ago.) I had been warned about student films, because you really don't know the level of quality or professionalism you might be dealing with, but I didn't really care. At this point in my career, I just want to get stuff on film that I can use as a demo reel.

One particular breakdown caught my eye. In the film, the lead character (who lacks confidence and second guesses herself) switches places with the reflection of Herself in the mirror (who is sexy, sassy, and uber confident). Any actor playing this part would get to show some pretty great range. I submitted the day before the auditions were to be held, not thinking I would hear back, but I did.

Long story short, I had a lot of fun at the audition and about a week later, I heard that I had booked the part.

*insert Snoopy dance here*


The film is shooting in Hamilton, which means that the production is paying for my Go Train tickets and giving me a lift from the station. It takes me about an hour and a half to get from my place in Toronto to the shoot location. Good thing I've gotten used to this travel thing. The Go is just another train.

Last night, I had rehearsal for the shoot. The director picked me up and we had some good chats. We have a very similar sense of humour, which is great. We stopped by a mall because she wanted to pick up just one more red dress for me to try on, as tonight I'd be getting a costume fitting. The dress didn't look like much on the rack and the price tag was one that would make me avoid it altogether, but when I put it on? Wow! It's stunning. It fit me like a delightfully skintight glove and was a size smaller than I normally wear. It's something that I would see Nadine rock on a regular basis, but would never manage to find it's way into my closet. Needless to say, I loved this dress. We tried on all the others they had gotten as well, but we came to the conclusion that this was "the one". Since the director wanted to hem it for extra sex appeal, she realized that she would not be able to return this expensive dress to the store when we were done. Guess who gets to keep it after shoot? I think I just found my Les Prix Rideau Awards dress.

Free clothes aside, I can't even begin to tell you how impressed I am with the whole set-up. The director and her DoP husband turned their basement into "my apartment." This seems simple, right? Wrong. There's no bathroom in the basement. They've built a bathroom set, complete with flooring and holes in the wall for when I do the "mirror image". I'm really hoping I get to take pictures to share because it is just incredible.

The amount of effort and passion that has gone into this "little" film shoot is just beautiful. I'll get to work with green screens and go through mirrors and witness first hand a ton of movie magic in the making.

I am so excited for the the weekend.

Brushing Up Against Slings & Arrows

Last Sunday, I did background work for what I hope will be a future CBC Pilot.  I won't name the show unless it gets picked up (because names could change, ect.), but I will say that it was written by Bob Martin & directed by Don McKellar, the killer team that brought you The Drowsy Chaperone. The scenes we were shooting that day also included Jen Irwin & Martha Burns.  For those of you keeping track at home, I had a veritable Slings and Arrows reunion on my hands and I was geeking out hard-core. Now, if you are in any way involved with the theatre and you do not know what Slings and Arrows is, please stop reading this right now and go flog yourself for a few dozen lashes before renting/buying/stealing a copy of the 3 Season boxed set.  Don't come back until you've watched all 18 episodes.  Go ahead.  I'll wait.

For the rest of you, I'm sure you can understand my thrill when I said hello to Mrs. Paul Gross and, not only did she speak to me, but she also introduced me to Bob Martin.  It was very very cool.

And then, it got even cooler:

It was a small day for extras.  There were only 5 of us in a little office scene.  Early on, I got asked to sit in the adjoining office next to Martha Burns'.  My back is to the camera but you can probably assume I'm some coworker or lowly underling or something like that.  That's it.  That's all I did all day... until the very last hour of shooting.  The other background performers were getting wrapped, but I was asked to change my clothes (different day in the chronology of the show) and stick around.  On the reverse angle of the shot I would be standing with Martha Burns at her desk, taking notes when Bob Martin's character rushes in, says a few things and runs out.  Mrs. Burns joked that I was probably her receptionist.

So, let me get this straight, I'm prominently featured in a scene for a potential CBC Pilot?

*Record scratch*

Here's the deal - I have no issue with doing background work.  It's good money and, thanks to my union, some of it gets put aside in an RRSP account.  However, when I do it, I try to pretty much stay, for lack of a better word, in the background.  There's always this worry that people will only see you as movable furniture and nothing else.  But, there's also always a possibility that a background performer might be upgraded on set.  I've seen it happen first hand.  I don't count on it when I get to work on set, but the hope is always there.

What happened to me on set did not count as an upgrade... at least, I don't think it did.  That said, after the wrap announcement, Mr. Martin shook my hand and thanked me for my work.  And then Don McKellar approached me to do the same adding a little: "if this show gets picked up you may have gotten yourself a little part there."

*Record scratch*

Say what?

Now, don't go cheering and jumping up and down for me just yet.  It was awesome to hear him say that and totally made my night, but this is a fickle business where a million and one things that I have absolutely no control over could come in and jinx it all.

Then again, you just never know.

Take the Lead

A few weeks ago, when I was on set for the feature film House at the End of the Street, the sound guy told us a story about his time working on the Super Dave Osborne show.  A lot of it filmed outside Toronto and, along with the typical stunts, they would have a concert of some kind. On this particular day, Ray Charles was the musical guest.  He would be playing with a local house band and backup singers.

During the sound check, though decent, the band was not at its best.  However, that did not stop Ray Charles.  He picked up the tempo and coached them through it all in what the sound guy described as the most magical performance he had ever witness.  His only regret being that no one was rolling at the time.


My point for this story?

Show of hands: How many times have you had an audition, a scene in class, or even a performance where you felt like the people you were working with weren't giving it their all?  How many times have you walked away thinking "I would have been so good if it hadn't been for that other guy/girl"?

How about if the next time sometime like that happens, instead of giving up and blaming the other person, you just work harder and raise them up to your level and go even higher together?  How about you don't wait for someone else to give you permission or do it for you?  How about you try and be a little more like Ray Charles?

How about if next time you take the lead?

Where's the Pause Button?

Can I just make it stop for a second?  Not forever, but just a little bit.  Just stop everything.  The bills, the responsibilities, the whole world, the unknown.  Can I just take a little break from it all and pretend it doesn't exist? On Friday, during a particularly long (yet rewarding) day on set where I got to be Elisabeth Shue's stand-in and, during scenes where she was on the phone, I got to read the other side of the conversation from off-camera.  (Where my thought process totally went "Who me? What? Oh yeah! I'm totally ready!" *Trip over a chair and drop my sides* followed by an onslaught of self-doubt and "OMG! I am giving the world's crappiest read! She must think I am such a shitty actor!" But of course, all of that happened in my head. Except for the tripping part.)  I got a nice thank you from the first assistant director after it was all done thanking me for stepping up to the plate.  It was very cool and almost made this stupid cold that suddenly took hold of me during the evening worth it.

Yeah, I got sick and I've pretty much been hiding in my apartment ever since, trying to get over it.  And you know what? I liked it.  I like hiding out at home, watching marathon sessions of Lost, snuggling under the covers with a box of Kleenex, a cup of tea and a giant furball named Winston.  It's cozy in here.  It's safe.  I don't want to go back out there and work, dammit!  I don't want to worry about bills or people or where my next meal is going to come from.  It's scary out there!  I don't know what I'll be doing after September 4th.

What a ridiculous statement.  Technically, I don't know what I'll be doing tomorrow or two hours from now.  I have a general idea, but you know life happens when you're making other plans...

So yeah, can I just stop it all right now? Just for a little bit?


Ok.  Well, I guess I better get dressed then.

Are You Ready for This?

A couple of days ago, mere hours before opening night, I get a call. "Can you be back in Ottawa on August 6th to meet with the Director of Photography of a major motion picture starring Elisabeth Shue in the hopes of getting a month-long job as a stand-in?"

Uh. Whaa?

This caught me a little off-guard.  Sure, I had heard that they needed experienced stand-ins, but since I was in Calgary, I never thought I would even be considered.

I had hoped The Last Goddamned Performance Piece would have been accepted into the Edmonton Fringe Festival, which would have kept me out West until at least August 22nd.  In between Calgary and Edmonton, I would have visited with my sister in Red Deer.

Since we didn't get into that festival and I had no return ticket home, I was still going to visit family and join the rest of my crew (who have now confirmed work with various other shows) in Edmonton for a bit.

But now?

I checked flight schedules. I called my mom.  I talked to my cast & crew.  If I leave right after our final (Goddamned) performance on Friday, I can just catch the last direct flight from Calgary to Ottawa.

I'm writing this from my sister's place in Red Deer.  I've used my one day off in Calgary to come down and visit her and her new baby.  I'll be heading back soon because I have a show to perform in tonight.

This feels so crazy sometimes, this business.  Can you be consistently available?  Can you drop everything and turn on a dime when a work opportunity presents itself?  I know I can.

Welcome to the wonderful life of an actor!

In other news, Ottawa, I'll see you soon!

A Learning Experience

Happy World Theatre/Earth Hour Day! It's my only day off from both stand-in work and the day job and my agent got me a sweet little gig on a student film. When she first asked me if I'd be interested in working with students from La Cite Collegiale so they could get experience working with professional actors, I immediately said yes (after all, I would be getting paid to do it). I didn't know what to expect, but figured we'd be in a classroom at the college, working through scenes as they directed us and moved lights around. Boy was I pleasantly surprised when I got the script and callsheet (really?) and saw that we would be filming in an actual bar. Although I brought my own wardrobe, I was called in early for hair and makeup (even more awesome that the makeup person is the same gal who's working on The Stepson - I guess we're both making use of our day off). Wow! I might even be able to use some of this footage in a demo reel.

The crew is really sweet and somewhat nervous. Most of them have never done this before, but you can tell they're very keen.

We have to be done at 7 p.m. before tge bar opens, which means I might still be able to make it to the Ottawa Theatre Challenge at the National Arts Centre, organized by A Company of Fools. I can't think of a better way to spend my 2010 World Theatre Day.

What will you be/have you done this year?

Having My Cake

In the feast or famine world of the arts, I've now parked myself in front of the buffet table. You're already aware of my stand-in work and I've mentioned the Improv (check out my next turn at a special "Ladies Night" Tuesday Make 'em Ups with Crush Improv) and Playback stuff before. Maybe you even knew about my stint with the Cube Salon? Well, things just keep getting better and better. I am proud to finally announce three other wicked awesome gigs that have come my way. First, Evolution Theatre has commissioned a translation of a Québecois play and I will be participating in a workshop and, later on, a public reading of the piece. This is a very exciting undertaking for us as a company on so many levels and I look forward to sharing more information with you about this very soon! Second, next weekend I start rehearsals with A Company of Fools for Shakespeare's Interactive Circus. This production will be toured in schools around Ottawa and Montreal during the last week of April and the first week of May. And thirdly (though hopefully not finally), after much perspiration, I have been officially cast in a production entitled The Amorous Ambassador which will be presented at the Upper Canada Playhouse in Morrisburg this June. This incredible show will also mark my first steps into the Canadian Actor's Equity Association. All I can say is that it's about damn time.

For once in my life, my performer dance card is full for the next four to five months. I'm so happy I'm practically crying. To top things off, I'm still working full-time at the GCTC. Yesterday, I had a brilliant chat with my boss about my schedule and somehow we can make it all work. As I left her office, she had a big grin on her face and said: "See. You can have your cake and eat it too."

I don't know how I'm doing it. I'm pulling 75 to 80 hour work weeks at the moment, but everything gets done, I still manage to see plays, socialize a bit with friends, feed the cat, and keep a somewhat clean home. then again, hasn't my schedule always been like that? The only difference this time around is that I'm getting paid for every minute of it. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Check out my Upcoming Appearances page for frequent updates!

Taking a Stand

As previously mentioned, I've been hired as the stand-in for a TV movie shooting in town.  The production is called The Step Son and features Adam Beach and Christina Cox.  I am Christina's stand-in for the duration of the shoot. So, what's a stand-in?  As always, I refer you to the bible of all random information, Wikipedia! For those of you who don't want to click the link, here's the gist of it:

A stand-in in film and television is a person who substitutes for the actor before filming, for technical purposes such as lighting.

Stand-ins are helpful in the initial processes of production. Lighting setup can be a slow and tedious process; during this time the actor will often be somewhere else. Stand-ins allow the director of photography (DOP) to light the set, the camera department to light and focus scenes. The director will often ask stand-ins to deliver the scene dialogue ("lines") and walk through ("blocking") the scenes to be filmed. In this way, a good stand-in can help speed up the day's production and is a necessary and valuable cast member on a film.

Stand-ins do not necessarily look like the actor, but they must have the same skin tone, hair color, height and build as the actor so that the lighting in a scene will be set up correctly. For example, if the lighting is set up with a stand-in shorter than an actor, the actor might end up having his or her head in relative darkness.

I've done stand-in work in the past (and since I've had a blog for many years now, I realize that I haven't done it in almost four years...), but I've never been the official one for the entire shoot.

Some people think I must have a pretty easy job, and it can be (yesterday we shot a scene where the main actress was laying down on a couch, which means I had to lay down on the couch while the crew set up around me), but it also requires an incredible amount of focus and concentration; like a runner always waiting for the gun to go off. I have to somehow stay out of the way and yet still be present whenever shots are being set up, rehearsed or blocked and pay careful attention to every movement the actors make. I have to be ready to jump in at any moment because the whole point of having a stand-in is to move the production ahead, not make it wait. I also have to have frequent discussions with the hair and wardrobe people so that I know what I should look like (hair up or down/blue shirt or purple cardigan in this scene?) The call sheet lets me know what "day" it is in the movie's chronology and I've started making notes on the actor's appearance at that point just in case we come back to it later on. I've also got a backpack filled with hoodies and sweaters in different colours so that I can quickly slip one on. It can be stressful, but I think it's an awful lot of fun!

The pros of being a stand-in are many. For one thing, I get to be on set everyday working with the director and the DOP. If I do a good enough job, chances are they will use me again for future projects, perhaps even in an actor capacity. In fact, I've seen that happen first hand. A friend of mine was a stand-in on two productions for the same company. By the second film, they gave him a cop role, which gave him one of his first ACTRA credits. Thanks to the union, I get a good paycheck and, if they keep me on set for more than 9 hours (8 hours plus 1 hour for lunch), I get overtime. Not to mention that spending three weeks on set with craft services means that I don't have to buy groceries...

It bears repeating myself from three years ago: being a stand-in truly is the next best thing to being an actor on set. I can't wait to go back for more!