Since the moment I arrived in Los Angeles, I followed one rule all the way up to the present day, “Working on set is better than not.”
The first “student” film I worked on was through the American Film Institute (AFI). It was a gang-related movie and I played the role of a disloyal gang member. I would get use to playing a lot of gang members, criminal tough guys and drug lords. I worked on student films from UCLA, Chapman University, Loyola Marymount, Columbia School of Film and Television, Los Angeles Film School, and the behemoth of most of my student film career, USC.
My philosophy was that no matter where I was in my career, I would always seek out student films for three reasons;
Reason 1 – Most of the shoots were on weekends and that fit with my weekly schedule of auditions, work and meetings.
Reason 2 – I get to work with young new talent that if they are successful, they would remember me and hire me again when they reach the big time.
Reason 3 – I was usually treated like an “A-List” actor. During the productive years of my career I was doing commercials (both English and Spanish), episodic television, and the occasional short film or pilot, and less frequently, feature films. These young writers, directors and producers loved hiring me because what little clout I had in the “real world,” it magnified in the student film world.
My experience with these young filmmakers, with the exception of too few to mention, was always highly professional, friendly, and resulted in a creative collaboration.
I have kept in contact with most of the filmmakers I have known over the years. Some have gone on to bigger opportunities in their careers, others switch disciplines inside the business, and some have left the business altogether. I must admit there is a great sense of accomplishment that I feel that, for so many filmmakers, I was either in their first films ever, or I was one of their first actors they had ever directed. A lot has changed since I started thirty years ago. The technology has changed from 16mm to 4K, from getting food instead of pay to a decent one-day rate. The quality of the scripts has also grown in depth, diversity and risk.
I could go on and on about the individuality of each film school and tell you many stories both sublime and tragic.
The bottom line is that student films from the beginner to the professional actor have the most important thing in common. We are a collection of artists collaborating, struggling and triumphantly succeeding in creating art together. Actors and filmmakers are my friend, family, my tribe. There is no other place I would rather be than with my fellow artists on a film set. Has it been worth it and will I continue to do student films? The answer is easy, as long as their is a dream of a story being told, I will submit, audition and perform for at the very least; copy, credit, and a meal.