Updated: Mar 26, 2019
When you're just getting started in acting and you don't have any credits or reel footage, it's easy to fall into the trap of doing anything and everything you get offered. I'm here to tell you, do extensive research before agreeing to do a project. Here are some things to consider before committing your time and energy to a non-paying project:
1. You need to do research on every project you audition for. Who's the writer, director, producer, casting director? Have they ever worked before? What have they worked on? Did the project actually get released or is it just a floating credit on IMDb forever in "production"?
If it was released, is there footage available? What's the quality like? Is the audio muffled? Is everything in focus? Is it well lit? Is the writing decent? Is the editing choppy? Are all of the women in bikinis or topless for no apparent reason?
Would I want to use this footage for a reel?
You can look anyone up on the internet or IMDb. If they have no previous experience and you don't know them, don't do the project. I say this for multiple reasons.
One is to save yourself time and a headache. You spend hours, days, weeks, and sometimes months on a project. You'd expect at the very least to get the footage at some point. I've known people to spend months on a web series and that web series was never finished and released. There was something wrong with the audio, none of the footage was in focus, or they never hired an editor and none of them know how to edit. There's nothing worse than telling all of your friends and family all about this project you've been working on for months, and now they never get to see it. Palm to face. You feel like an idiot.
"I swear I really was filming, I didn't make it up!"
The other reason I say this is for women in particular: There are a lot of creeps that will take advantage of the fact that new actresses are desperate to build an acting resume. It's incredibly common for low budget projects to have women strip down for absolutely no reason other than getting possible views. Don't ever let someone tell you that you aren't a real actor if you aren't comfortable with nudity, especially if they want you to do it for free. It's absolute insanity that anyone gets away with this.
2. Ask to read the entire script. There's nothing wrong with asking to read the script first. If they have a script finished (which they should) brownie points! Believe it or not, this isn't always the case. It's completely valid to want to know what role you are agreeing to before committing your time to doing it. You want to make sure it's either furthering your career, or it's educational to you in some way. The last thing you want do is to sign on to a project knowing nothing about it, and have a horrible experience. Do your research.
3. I encourage people to make their own content whether that be a short film, sketches, or a web series. Learn skills needed to create quality footage. Learn how to edit, shoot, do sound. Most of these skills are available to learn through numerous channels on YouTube. Find scenes on Showfax or Mock Sides and shoot those to practice your acting if you'd like. Shoot it as a self tape audition. Watch yourself, learn from that. I do this all the time!
There's nothing wrong with doing no-budget projects. Just be smart about it. I say create your own content because you have complete control over it then. It's your project, on your schedule, and you control whether it gets finished or not. Plus it's a ton of fun producing your own original content! Don't waste your time on someone else's project that doesn't care enough to get it edited.
Side note: Do not ever upload something you've downloaded from Showfax onto the internet. That is for educational purposes, only to be seen by you. These are real audition sides for real TV shows/feature films. Don't get sued. :)
In closing my main point is this: Know your worth! You are the business. Do your research, be selective, and focus on quality, not quantity.