Independent Producer/Director Zak Forsman’s Advice to Actors

Zak Forsman, independent producer and director, gives advice from his side of the auditioning table.

Zak-ForsmanThis post is one of three in a series of posts from the San Diego Film Festival. If you ever get a chance you really should go. Great films, great people and incredible access to filmmakers.

The festival is in — and I would have posted these sooner but I had some major audio issues and transcribing the panels were difficult.

Zak Forsman is a writer, director and producer of independent films. His films are mostly improvised which makes all of the performances look completely real.

Take a couple minutes to read what he said on the panel. It’s a peek on what the other side is thinking… and if you look at it from an actors perspective, it can be excellent advice.

Zak Forsman: How many filmmakers are in the audience?  Because that’s about all I can share.  I can’t really share the actor’s point of view on this.  But I can tell you some lessons I’ve learned and some of the experiences that I’ve had and what I’m hoping for.

The key thing that I’m looking for with an actor is whether they’re able to internalize direction and actually make a change.

So, we provide them with 2-3 pages of sides.  They’ll come in.  They’re asked to read it however they’ve prepared it, and if that goes well enough and we like them, I’ll give them an adjustment that could be ridiculous.  It could be off the wall.  But I would like to see them chase a different objective using the same words to see if they can truly internalize my direction and be authentic.

That for me is sort of like the first thing that I’m looking for.  And it’s proved, it’s very provable in terms of discovering actors that are (laughter) – a lot of actors in the audience – that are suitable for the kind of productions that we do, which are highly improvisational, very collaborative.  I’m not the sort of person who is casting people based on how they look.  I’m not looking for people to match the idea or image that I have of the character in my head.  I’m looking for people who are skilled and who have ability and then I’m going to mold the character around you.

Another lesson that I’ve learned and if you’re familiar with my work, you know I use a lot of grass roots social media, social networking to kind of build an audience and a community around the films that we do.  And to me that has been very valuable that way.  The way that the Internet has not been so, has been a bit of a hindrance to us has been in the casting process.  This submissions process that you’re able to do visibly online now has in my opinion really kind of lowered the efficiency of our casting process.

And what I’m saying is that when we put an out in backstage, we put our casting notice there.  The sort of, from our point of view, what we seem to see happening, the sort of actor who’s going to the trades, finding the casting notices, physically mailing out their headshots to the casting office, is the sort of person who is much more professional, much more serious than the person who is able to log into their account and say, yeah I want to submit to this one, etc.

Truthfully, with the digital submissions, in terms of who shows up to the casting process, it’s 50/50.  I mean, it’s LA.  You know, it’s already a flaky town. And I think the digital submissions process, it’s reflective of that.  Most of the people that we do end up casting are people who originally sent a physical headshot and resume.

Another piece of advice I can give to actors is sort of true across the board in filmmaking in general:  Know your audience.  There’s definitely a difference if you’re coming to audition for me in terms of the preparedness level.  We do provide sides for our first stage of auditions, but when we do callbacks, we don’t give any sides.  We actually have you come in and we set you up with another actor that we’re interested in, and we do improvised scenarios and we give each of the actors opposing objectives and we let them play off of each other.  And I step in and I whisper adjustments into the actor’s ears and see how that plays.  So there are a few other ways that filmmakers are trying to suss out actors for their projects, and if you come and see me again, you know improv is gonna be key.  I would recommend having that strength in your arsenal.

3 thoughts on “Independent Producer/Director Zak Forsman’s Advice to Actors”

  1. Lance so glad you posted this and I can only hope more actors read and reread this…

    Knowing the directors’ (producers, client, etc.) style, history, something about them, etc. is so crucial.

    When I co-host the we talk about this in depth.

    and of course the submission process quotes…

    It’s more about knowing people and building relationships than hoping to play the lottery by clicking and submitting to everything.


  2. It definitely makes sense that those actors that take time and effort to physically send their headshots and resumes in are the ones that are the most serious.

    Great advice, thank you for sharing!

  3. Give me a break. Come into the 21st century. Sending in head shots is a more laborious process for everyone involved. Digital submissions are the future.

    And telling the actor to do something random is just a way to make sure you have an actor who is good at doing what they are told to do. Sometimes people who are good at doing what they are told to do are not also good actors. The best actors audition roles to suit them, rather than auditioning themselves for roles.

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