Christa Valdez doles out advice on the visibility, training, networking and mindsets that lead many performers to their "big break".
NM Film Focus: Talent 101
BY CHRISTA VALDEZ
Everybody needs a real head shot. The fact that we live in the age of selfie dominance doesn’t mean a bathroom mirror shot or party pics will get you cast or help you build your brand.
A quick, clear photo taken with a phone may suffice for an impromptu call to fill a scene with a gaggle of folks blessed with your “look.” But to really begin promoting yourself online, in correspondence, at meetings and on social media, you need professional photography.
Fortunately that doesn’t require an exorbitant photo shoot contingent on a second mortgage. Albuquerque, Santa Fe and the surrounding areas are teeming with established and highly regarded pro photographers. Shop around, get some references and recommendations and view their body of work before hiring any photographer.
Scam alert: Never pay for photography sold with the promise of leading to a job. There are many such “talent packages” out there that rep themselves as a gateway to connections and auditions, but that’s just not how it works. Your photos are your personal promotional assets, not a prerequisite for job placement.
Train, train, train …
New Mexicans are fortunate to have an abundance of acting classes and workshops at their fingertips. Try every one you can. Continue on to upper levels of training with instructors who tap into your abilities and really help you improve on your strengths. Then branch out and expand your comfort zone to even more challenging or wildly different training styles. Again, do your research.
Referrals are key. Some classes are pricey, and sometimes, that’s because they’re worth it. Outstanding instruction is a valuable investment and can only help you grow as a performer and a person. Like truly professional photography, reputable training courses never come with the empty promise of leading to a “gig.”
Take-this-class, get-this-part is a sleazy tactic. Do not fall for it. Several of our state’s top instructors go out of their way to accommodate financial constraints by offering a few scholarship slots or trade; some even accept volunteer hours with local charities as payment.
Network, network, network
The old show biz saying is, “It’s all who you know,” but that doesn’t mean your mom has to be a studio head or your dad a talent agent. Networking is everything. No production worth its salt is going to knock on your front door and ask if you’d like to join them . . . unless they’re interested in casting your house (à la Fran Padilla, owner of the world famous Walter White house).
Through training classes, volunteering on independent film sets and attending industry mixers and social events, you will meet helpful people. Overall, the local film community is very welcoming. Most folks are quick to offer advice and assistance to newbies. They’ve learned that sharing information is imperative to growing the New Mexico film industry and that furthering each others’ careers leads to more shared opportunities. The same goes for crew hopefuls. A gaffer or a scripty may not need a head shot, but crew needs to network just as much as talent.
Industry events and independent projects are opportunities for introductions to all of the above. Social media can also be key in learning as you go. There are several online groups that explore project opportunities and help connect talent with productions. On Facebook, check out NM Film Vendors and More; New Mexico Extras & Actors Forum; and Casting Coffee.
Learn to cultivate extreme humility. Accept that it may take years to build the professional relationships that will lead to your “big break,” and that “overnight success” comes after hundreds of rejections and failed projects.
A common trait among the best in the business is keeping the smack talk to a minimum. Sure, there are vocal naysayers out there who’ll come after you when you declare your aspirations or publicly celebrate your victories.
That’s their cross to bear, and no amount of their negativity should deter you from your goals. When you get knocked down, and you will get knocked down, just tell yourself, in your best Robert De Niro (or screen idol of your choice) voice: “Ay! You do you, babe, because no one can do it better!”