Student films

  • Claire Dodin


    Hi guys,

    I often see rants about student films, so I thought that for a change I should tell you a happy story.

    A few months back, I accepted to help some students with their film because it was just an easy voice over, they were very nice, I didn't need to audition and I had the time.

    A little while later I was invited to see a screening of the film at a cinema.

    When I arrived I was given a fully produced DVD version of the film and I sat in the auditorium with a couple of hundred people to watch all the graduation films.

    The films I saw blew me away, I was stunned, all the films were really good and mine turned out to be one of the best shorts I've ever seen!

    Now the film is going around the festivals, and it's winning them all! :-) It just won the Hollyshorts in LA tonight

    So yes, I'll admit that it was pure luck; but all big film directors were students one day.

    I guess I just ended up doing a film for one of the best schools, I just didn't know it, it was a very happy surprise.

    By the way, the school is USC in Los Angeles.

    I can tell you that I would absolutely do another student film for this school, it restored my faith in students.

    So if you want to do a student film, do it! Just select the school carefully, expect nothing from it, not even footage and you may end up with a happy surprise too!

    So yay!! for talented students who treat their cast very well!

    • 24th Aug 2011
    • 5758
    • 12
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    That's really cool. It is good to hear that not all experiences end with a sit in outside a student flat waiting for a dvd :-).


    • 19th Aug 2011
    • 1
  • David Laurence


    I have to agree with your views on student films.

    Some are certainly worth doing.But you do have to choose who to work with very carefully.

    The better the school you work with,the better equipment they have to use and the better prepared they are to direct you.

    Im going to frightfest in London on the last Sunday of the month.Im really excited about it.

    A film I did with a school near me,was entered and accepted for the short film section playing on Sunday.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my time working on it.

    The postive results from this experience are,I made some great mates,who could turn out to be future film makers.I enjoyed the luxury of working in front of camera for long periods.I got treated with a lot of respect.I get to watch myself on screen at a well known London cinema.And best of all I got paid ..yes!

    Maybe it will get on TV sometime,as the school is backed by Bafta and Channel 4.If not then its not the end of the world.I just wish there were more jobs out there like this.

    • 19th Aug 2011
    • 2
  • Rob Talbot


    The nature of the beast is that people are far more likely to rant than praise.

    Fact is - most of the time you do get your DVD. Of the ones that don't, I've found contacting the head of department in good time (before they have graduated) usually gets you a copy ... though they will never use you again - as if :o)

    Of the DVDs you get - some are simply not worth having.

    But the good ones make it worthwhile - and on balance a far more valuable experience than paying some bloke with a camera to film showreel scenes. It is definitely about choosing the right script and right group.


    PS ... I did completely fail once last year (same film as ForbesKB) ... still waiting for the tutor from Greenwich to call back.

    • 19th Aug 2011
    • 3
  • David Laurence


    I also should add here,that like most people here,I would love to do more film work,but I always have to weigh up the offer really carefully.

    Ive been offered a fair few student projects of late,but all at least 3-6 days in length,with no fees attached to them at all.

    I even got offered a chance to cast for a pop video a short while ago,which i was told would be broadcast on all the major channels.Again though no real fee.

    Every time I get approached with such a project,I have to fight the urge to get angry.

    Its this view that actors are just waiting around to do projects for free,as if we arent worried about paying bills,that winds me up.

    Most of us would love to be more active,& filming more,but I think there comes a time when you have to tell people if they really want you,then they should at least offer you some fee.

    If a mate does your plumbing,you dont expect him to take petrol money,you offer him a reasonable rate of pay,a mates rate.

    Hes travelled over to you,hes used the tools of his trade to fix your problem and you make him a sensible offer of money.

    This is a major reason why I would happily go back to the school near me where I got to film the short film last a few months back.

    I got equity min.I didnt get any fancy treatment.I did the job,had a great time doing it.And treated it as a proper job,because thats how it was viewed by everybody involved.

    I say good luck to all the students trying to get projects off the ground.And good luck to all the actors supplying their skills to the mix.

    A lot of patience is required on both sides in producing a polished project which everybody is happy with.

    But remember,good will only goes so far and it doesnt pay the bills.

    Give an actor a reasonable fee for learning your script,hiting his or her marks,and giving you the best performance possible.

    Thats when it becomes a proper job,and not just something that people are fitting in between their paying gigs.

    • 19th Aug 2011
    • 4
  • Forbes KB


    In addendum to Robs comment, it wasn't a complete fail as we both formally withdrew consent after it was clear the student group were using the film we shot to promote their commercial company!

    The film is now dead as a doornail but we, the actors, are in the driving seat!

    • 19th Aug 2011
    • 5
  • Claire Dodin


    I agree with you about working for pay and not getting exploited.

    However, I also believe in giving back, so every once in a while, when I have the time, I pick a charity or a student project. And I do it for nothing, I expect nothing. It's just to help out because people have helped me along the way so it's my turn.

    And the funny thing is that once you start thinking this way, when you truly don't expect anything in return, that's when the good things happen like the story above.

    We feel exploited when there is a discrepancy between what you give to them and what you expect in return.

    I've felt exploited on paid jobs.

    It's not about unpaid, it's about getting the right compensation according to the circumstances.

    • 21st Aug 2011
    • 6
  • Lee Ravitz


    Student films can often get a bad rap, and sometimes this is warranted, and sometimes not.

    As David wisely says, a lot has to do with the resources / professionalism that the particular institution brings to bear upon the film making process in the first instance - generally speaking, the better the reputation of the school and the larger the concern they take over the quality of both their equipment and their intake, the better the end result for the actors who participate in their films! For instance, in a recent thread on CCP, a large number of actors were prepared to come to the defence of the LFS when they read that one particular student at the institution appeared to have mistreated an actor. This is because many of them know of the LFS's good reputation, and have worked successfully on well mounted films for the school, and were frankly surprised by the lack of professionalism seemingly being shown on this occasion - I, too, have only happy memories of working on a very professional shoot at the LFS. Some institutions, by comparison, run their courses poorly, fund their student projects poorly, and are very poor in enforcing on students the need to 'pay' actors back with a copy of their work, after they have often given their services unpaid.

    As I will always say, there also tends to be a logic in the fact that the more advanced the students, the better the resulting film will be. It does not take a genius to work out that 99% of the time an MA student director on a top flight postgraduate course at a leading film school, who has already done some well recieved independent short film work, is likely to craft a better showcase for your work as an actor (and is more likely to take your need to obtain a copy of it seriously!) than a first year BA student who doesn't yet know a focus pull from a camera pan.

    Actors cannot be expected to second guess the quality of the projects they commit to every step of the way (and frequently in film the unexpectedly disastrous occurs as well as the unexpectedly delightful), but I honestly believe many 'moaners' have not done their research properly before they agree to take on a student film role that turns out poorly - have they seriously considered the reputation of the institution the film is being shot at, and the track record of the graduates from the school? Have they determined whether it is well supplied with funding, and patronised by significant film makers? Have they seen whether the teachers are primarily industry professionals or theorists, who will talk film, but don't shoot it? Have they seen footage from what the school considers model examples of the best work it produces? Have they confirmed their expenses and accomodation needs before they fully agree to take on a shoot - or even gone so far as to present the students with a self - penned contract ? Have they demanded that the wardrobe department communicates with them before they turn up, ensured that they have their measurements, and worked out whether they are expected to provide costume of their own? Got hold of everyone on the production's team addresses, so that they can be continually chased thereafter as to when the film may be screened, how the production of the film is going etc. etc.? Even with all these failsafes in place, a student film experience may still prove unhappy, but an actor is infinitely more likely to ensure that they get the results they want from a piece / decide themselves on the fact that they are better off politely declining the project than turning up to shoot it.

    Similarly, when a DVD is not forthcoming is an event that often goes hand in glove with student dissatisfaction with an end result. Yes, I'm sure there are some students out there who are just lazy or cheap, but I suspect most who make a good film are justly proud of it, and happy for you to indirectly promote it further to all around you, by sending you a copy, and allowing you to use it on showreel, distribute amongst friends and so on. Very often, you can tell whether a student director is actually confident that they will produce a good result the first time you meet them for audition (!), and it is not coincidental that the ones who doubt their own abilities, have grown tired of film making courses, resent their own editors, or lack any kind of vision for their film, are the ones who thereafter fail to send you a DVD no matter how hard you chase - they have written the end result off as crap, and they hope that you will decide to forget about it, too.

    As far as payment on student films goes, though, this is where complaints start to muddy the waters. In this respect, it is never the students' fault that you, the actor, cannot be paid properly - they are students, after all, and they do not control their own budget allocations. Unlike low budget independent film makers, whom it is quite right to argue should factor in pay for the actors before they deign to shoot, students are frequently given an exiguous budget on which to shoot, have no resources of their own to draw on (most live at subsistence level, just like jobbing actors), and yet *must* complete their film in order to get the qualification they are working so hard for. The reason that actors are not paid satisfactorily for student film work must be laid squarely at the feet of the institutions who allocate the students their budgets, flout NMW legislation with alacrity, and are, all too often, well financed by subsidy, but still argue they are too 'cash strapped' to compensate for the employment of those who are contracted to help graduate their own intake! I personally consider this state of affairs to be virtually a national scandal, and, sadly, although Equity has seen fit to draw up a student film agreement, the only school in the country that has prepared to sign up to it is formally the NFTS. There is little Equity can do to force the rest to comply at the moment.

    Finally, it is worth remarking that Claire's story (that started this thread) relates to a US Film School. Whilst I think it's great to hear such a positive tale, I also think it's worth remarking that US film schools may be very different in terms of attitude, subsidy, vetting procedures for candidates, and resources to UK film schools. I don't actively know, so am prepared to concede this may be nonsense, but I suspect that many film schools in the USA are considerably better resourced, and considerably better respected in terms of the wider industry, than film schools in the UK. Screen work is, after all, the lifeblood of the US acting industry, and it can be truthfully said that the best screen actors in the world (as well as directors, producers and probably writers) are taught there. The UK, even in the 21st century, has a remarkably limited attitude towards screen work - screen training can be overly theoretical, the relationship directors should have with actors is not taught well, and the market for most qualified screen practitioners once they graduate is not huge. I believe that the UK has a great reputation for the *technical* aspects of its training, and I know (from personal experience) that many students come to the UK, from across the globe, in order that they can learn expertise here that they can export internationally across the wider market. All of this can result in the peculiar situation whereby the products of UK screen schools are surprisingly poorly integrated into the wider UK screen industry, and that this has a knock on effect on how seriously even graduate pieces are taken seems relevant.

    The overall truth remains that working on student films need never be a chore if you research well, choose your projects wisely, write off the no-hopers, campaign hard to win as many concessions from hard pressed students as you can (if you need accomodation, and they can't provide it, you need to turn them down...politely...etc.), appreciate where the pressures on student film makers will lie, keep good channels of communication open, and treat those who treat you with respect with respect. Sometimes, you will even be in Claire's situation and ultimately presented with a marvellous film that exceeds your expectations. But, at the very least, you should be able to have a decent time while shooting, if you've committed to a low budget, expenses only job, and not having to complain about things afterward!

    • 21st Aug 2011
    • 7
  • Mark Kempner


    "....and on balance a far more valuable experience than paying some bloke with a camera to film showreel scenes"

    Hmmmm...I think not!

    Risk 2-3 UNPAID long days or more on a film set run by inexperienced students with no guiding college official in sight! Very often pretty disorganised, and very often leaving you with iffy footage and clunky empty script for which you have to beg for several weeks/months after the shoot? Most of the time you will only have a few lines in a student film....and if not....the scenes are not edited to feature yourself, unless you are the lead. that's if you get the scenes at all. Then you very often have to wait for ages and try and get another role in another project, and repeat the experience to gain some variety in your reel? How long does all this take in time and cost to yourself?

    This business is all about maximising your PR, and showing your casting range. Student films, very often do not produce the desired results required for a "showreel"

    A showreel is a specific marketing tool, and often confused with needing to be a mini feature film in look and content...which it should not be at all.

    Despite your statement; Not all showreel providers are about simply "paying some bloke and a camera" anymore than all student films are waste of space. Some student films might produce excellent results....but that aint the norm!!

    Sorry, but I am not sure making sweeping generalising statements like that is the best advice for actors.

    Contacting the College heads is good advice though, but time wasting and frustrating, and why risk getting a bad name blocking use of the film either!

    Both very effective in gaining your footage I am sure, but who needs all that ass-ache?

    If you are simply trying to promote yourself and your casting type, then paying some bloke and a camera....if they know what they are about, will be far more effctive adn valauble to you in the long run.

    • 23rd Aug 2011
    • 8
  • Maurice Hunt


    Ahhh...Student Films.

    It Can be a mixed bag ive Recently had two Contrasting experience's With Them.

    The first one was for The Met Film School it was a very small part about Three Lines.

    I missed out on the lead But was offered the smaller one,i turned up at 7 o'clock in the Morning to Find the crew were running 2 hours late!!

    I was professional did my scene and was told by the director that a DVD would be sent out in about Three weeks,so i waited three months and sent an email she told me she can't give me the DvD as it was on the wrong format to burn to disk but she's working on it so i left it another Three Months and Emailed her again.

    She Replied:

    "Why should i Send out a DvD to you when you got your lines Wrong on every take and looked into the Camera Every Take!and Displayed an Unprofession atitude!! Now Please im very Busy."

    I could Not Believe what i was hearing!!

    I was Up at the crack of Dawn for no Cash,And Did everything what was Asked,In this time i could have been looking for paid work i Complained to the head Tutor and got a full refund from the School.I blocked all Use of My Footage.

    But a few Weeks later i did some work For Newport University Which was a very Professional,Payed me 30 quid for about 4 Hours Work and Email me every two weeks letting me know the shows Going to to Festivalsand have even invited me to do a talk about about my Role at a festival in Sheffield.

    It just goes to Show that Student Films Can be Pain as well Fun.


    • 23rd Aug 2011
    • 9
  • Claire Dodin


    I agree with Mark on this one.

    If you want Good quality footage for your reel, student films are not the best way to go.

    More often than not it will take months for you to get the footage and when you get it, if you get it, the quality may or may not be good enough. It's a gamble.

    If you do a Student film, do it for the right reasons: to help, for fun, to gain experience, to meet new people.

    If you get good footage at the end then it's a bonus; don't count on it or you may be disappointed.

    • 23rd Aug 2011
    • 10
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    I get a little confused when actors expect good things from student films. I any other walk of life we wouldn't expect too much from people that are learning their craft.

    But we are so desperate for footage etc that common sense goes out of the window. I don't do student films anymore because I'm at a stage in my career that means I can't afford to really. However, I have in the past. Some were terrible experiences others not too bad. We are all learning in this game and are different stages.

    Be prepared for the worse when doing a student film. See it as chance to get some acting in, if nothing else. Then if it's good that's a bonus like some people have experienced. Or don't do them.

    Simples ;0)

    • 24th Aug 2011
    • 11
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    Student films are a lottery, simple as that (in my opinion). My experiences have ranged from first class to bottom of the barrel. I don't do them anymore, mainly due to the very fact that it is a lottery and so much of it is out of your control.

    • 24th Aug 2011
    • 12