Why ‘The Last Jedi’ Is The Star Wars Movie We’ve Been Waiting For

BY JAMES PRESCOTT

The Christmas season is fast becoming associated with popular movies, such as the Star Wars franchise, and this year is no different. The Last Jedi, the eighth chapter (and ninth movie) was released earlier this week, and I was lucky enough to see one of the first showings, at 0100 on Thursday morning.

I’m not sure I’ve felt quite as nervous and excited going into a film. I had no idea what to expect. I stayed free of spoilers (as this article will do), if there’s one movie to avoid spoilers with, it’s this one.

I’m glad I had no preconceived ideas of what it would do, because director Rian Johnson does an excellent job of turning all of them on their head, in what is an epic addition to the Star Wars saga. It’s the longest film in the franchise, but it earns its length, and the pacing and story are strong enough to keep you engrossed all the way through – I barely noticed the time passing.

The previous chapter, The Force Awakens, now feels more like what it was, a gentle re-introduction to the franchise, based on a familiar formula. This is where the real story begins, where we begin to see a real progression in the story – and it’s worth the wait.

The Last Jedi bears no resemblance to any predecessor. This is a great thing, and makes the film a real game changer. Johnson takes the franchise in new, bold, and interesting directions, and there are no rules he won’t break to do so.

The film begins with the resumption of hostiles between the First Order, the successor to the Empire, and the resistance – now led by General Leia, Organa, played by Carrie Fisher in what is a phenomenal and deeply moving last performance – with final scenes tenderly and beautifully handled by Johnson.

But the real story, of course, is happening down on the island, where Rey meets Luke Skywalker, and goes on a journey of her own. Without giving the game away, as time goes on we begin to understand more of why Luke has disconnected himself from the world, and Rey begins the journey into her own identity and exploring her powers, and her past.

And the other big story arc is Kylo Ren, fresh off killing his father Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Kylo – or Ben Solo – is a dark, conflicted, tragic figure, struggling to find his true path and the call to darkness.

In many ways, both Rey and Kylo are both on the same journey – trying to figure out their place in this story, both powerful with the force and wrestling with the call to explore their powers, tempted by the raw power of the dark side.

We see more of the history of both Kylo and Rey in this movie, all linked together by Luke, brilliantly played by Mark Hamill in arguably his best performance yet in the franchise, in the middle of it all – in many ways a broken man also wrestling with his own demons, yet trying to bring wisdom and guidance to Rey.

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One thing which impressed me hugely in this movie is the balance between light and dark in it’s tone – and this balance is in many ways an underlying theme of the entire movie. It’s one of the darkest Star Wars films, but it combines this well with, mostly earned, laugh out loud moments, and tender, intimate and deeply moving scenes.

This movie had me scared, in fits of laughter, and in tears of both joy and sadness, all kept in perfect balance. It’s very rare for a movie to combine these three experiences without going too extreme into one area, but The Last Jedi does this perfectly.

The Force Awakens feels like mere prologue to the events of this movie. The Last Jedi is without doubt the biggest, most epic Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back. It’s also one of the most spiritual and mythical of the Star Wars franchise, exploring deep philosophical and spiritual questions, without becoming too self-pretentious. But it combines this with lots of action, great fight sequences and lightsaber duels, and the amazing visuals we’ve come to expect from Star Wars – and some surprises too.

The real genius of this movie though, is how Rian Johnson takes all the fans questions and expectations and predictions of what will happen in this movie, and about who the characters are and what they will do, and turns them all on their head. He also, with great subtlety, takes the audience down what looks like one path, only to turn a completely different way to what we expect.

Some hardcore fans won’t like where this movie goes, simply because it shifts the franchise in a whole different direction. By the end of this movie, we’re in new territory for Star Wars, yet there is no doubt that to be true to the heart of what Star Wars is, it’s where the story needs to go.

Many criticised The Force Awakens for being too much like a predecessor – I suspect some will apply the exact opposite criticism to this movie. But such criticism isn’t justified in my eyes.

The Last Jedi is the Star Wars movie we’ve been waiting for – a truly fresh addition to the story, which takes the saga into new places. It’s an epic, thought provoking, innovative, action packed, sometimes funny, mythical and at times deeply moving addition to the Star Wars franchise, and will leave you with many more questions for J.J. Abrams to answer in Chapter IX, in two years time.

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Wonder Woman: More Than a Feminist Icon

Motivated by compassion and love is Diana of Themyscira, the Wonder Woman who is the latest superhero to grace our cinema screens. We all know her as the powerful goddess who answers to no man and seeks to defeat Ares, the god of war, thus saving humanity and making it pure again.

If only it were so were so simple.

Wonder Woman stands as an empowering testament of female capability, yet it masks itself in the desire to make life mean something. Men and women alike can relate to her character because of what she stands for: the desire to ‘make a difference’ in a suffering world, and the desire to continue doing so even in the realisation that the world will always suffer.

Before the age of disillusionment and cynicism rises to meet us, young adults often face a wonderfully powerful Messianic phase in which desires of finding a ‘cause’ to cling to come to fruition. Many times these desires are enacted upon and take many forms, whether it is through education, donating to charity or placing oneself in the midst of the trouble, it is common to give a damn.

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Perhaps this is why we see so many people entering fields such as medicine, social work and law enforcement – these are practical ways of enacting this Messianic phase.*

As someone who never had to care before, who didn’t even know there was a world to care about, Diana instinctively latched onto the idea that the world needed her. She was not aware of the power she possessed, and she was never told the purpose of her creation was to save the world from itself.

A powerful scene towards the beginning of the film shows Diana sneaking away from her home in the middle of the night to embark on her journey of Ares’ defeat, when her mother finds her and warns her that she may never be able to return. “Who would I be if I stay?” she replies. She became aware of a cause, and as a result felt responsible to do something about it.

Similarly, in our society, once a social issue is brought to light, it becomes our responsibility to do something about it. Ignorance is no longer blissful, and if one so chooses to do nothing, it becomes wilful – and who wants to be guilty of that?

Wonder Woman urges us to fulfil our perceived duty as human beings: to realise our common purpose, to live for something bigger than ourselves and to leave our comfort zone when doing so, even when it seems like nothing will change.

The themes of compassion, justice and ‘making a difference’ in the world is pertinent in the film. More insightful, though, is Diana’s journey from being the ‘saviour’ to realising she is actually powerless to change anything in a world that is self-destructive – in a world not wanting her help.

How do we, as those who do want to have an impact, respond to this? Furthermore, why should we even care? Why should we, like Diana, keep on fighting for humanity even as we watch humanity make the same mistakes? Diana’s partner in the film – American soldier and spy, John, insightfully outlines his motives for his actions. He says he can “do nothing or do something… I already tried nothing.”

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This is a statement I believe resonates with many people, yet the perplexing question for me is: Why do we even feel like we want to do something? For Diana, it was the purpose of her existence – her “pre-ordinance”, she called it, and so it makes sense.

Is it also our pre-ordinance? What is our motivation and why do we persevere even as the world continues in its suffering? Interestingly, superhero films, such as Wonder Woman, all carry these similar themes of responsibility, duty and ‘saving the world’. They are the highest grossing films of our time.

It seems like a collective fantasy we have as a human race: to make our lives count for something great. Perhaps we project this ideal onto films such as these. They make us question our own pre-ordinance, and if we don’t have one, then we crave it. They call us to action. Ultimately, they are representations of what we could be.

Wonder Woman, albeit an empowering female figure, is a picture of the human purpose – a motivation to contribute to the common good of humanity. She calls into question our desires and motives for making a difference in our dark world, and challenges us to continue doing so even when nothing seems to change.

Written by Hayley McGarvie.

 

*Going into medicine is one way for people to enact that Messianic phase.

Anatomy of the Best Loglines

Knowing where to start in the creative process of writing can be daunting for a first time filmmaker. I know it was for me. I’ve tried building a story around every possible thing imaginable, and I found Blake Snyder’s longline method from his infamous book, Save the Cat, to be the most effective.

His argument centers around starting your writing process by creating something called a logline (your entire movie summarized in a sentence). He would say, if you can’t do this in a compelling way from the start, then you don’t have a story worth telling.

Many of you more seasoned writers may find this approach “formulaic,” however for writers starting out, this is a great place to begin.  

Ingredients for the best logline:

  • One Character
  • One Goal
  • One Source of Conflict with a dash of Irony

In short what you will be creating is the following equation:

Your hero is going for their goal, but something ironic happens to stop them.

If you cannot put your story within this simple formula, then perhaps your story is too complicated, OR missing a crucial element.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Disgraced pilot, E. Ripley is left with PTSD after her encounter with the xenomorph and tries to rebuild a life for herself. However, when a human colony is overrun with xenomorphs, Ripley may be their only hope.

From the film Aliens

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Element 1: Establish Your Hero

The first step is to insert your main character into your logline. This isn’t a place to go into great detail on their backstory; all that’s needed are one or two descriptive words. Sometimes the scenario they find themselves in is sufficient enough information.

As Blake Snyder says, you want to paint a clear enough picture in the minds of those who will hear your logline. They need to be able to see where your story is going. This includes who your character is.

In my example, I defined Ellen Ripley as a disgraced pilot with PTSD. We know she’s an underdog, and it will be easy for the audience to get behind her.

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Element 2: Establish Your Hero’s Goal

The next step is to show what the character is trying to accomplish before they are confronted by the story’s major conflict.

In Vertigo, Scottie is investigating Madeline for her husband (his goal) before he begins to fall in love with her (the conflict).

In Beauty and the Beast, Belle wants more than what her small town has to offer (goal) before she is held prisoner in an enchanted castle (the conflict).

Sometimes the goal can be something more passive, or simply keeping the status quo. For example, in Toy Story, Woody isn’t actively trying to do something new, but is enjoying the “status quo” of being the toy on top.

Don’t just tell us WHO your character is, but where we find them at the start of the story.

For Ellen Ripley, I have her trying to rebuild a life for herself.

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Element 3: Conflict with a Dash of Irony

Lastly, we introduce our story’s major source of conflict into the logline.

This is where people tend to struggle the most, either because they realize they have no real source of conflict throughout their story. Even if they do it’s lacking the crucial element of irony which gives a story it’s hook, edge, or bite.

Conflict is truly what starts your story and what moves it forward. Without this element, there is no story.

In my example from Aliens, the conflict comes from the xenomorphs overtaking a colony, forcing the corporation to turn to Ripley for help.

It’s conflict, because it’s both stopping her from starting a new life, while giving her an opportunity to gain her old life back.

Irony?

Before I explain how irony comes to play in this equation, let me explain what irony IS. There are two forms of irony: situational and irony of fate. Situational irony is when events defy expectations, while irony of fate is when it seems the gods, fate, the universe, etc are toying with humanity for their own amusement.

Situational irony would be getting robbed by a police officer (an amoral act practiced by someone who is sent out to stop such behavior). Jesus being crucified by the very people he was to save is another great example of situational irony. Both examples play on your expectations and subvert them.

Irony of fate is when something occurs with lasting consequence beyond a specific situation. A former athlete who is now paralyzed is an example of irony of fate. Beethoven, one of the world’s greatest composers lost his hearing. He can no longer hear the beautiful music he puts out into the world. Irony of fate.

Irony is all about subverting our expectations in an effort to hook us.

The irony in Aliens is drawn mostly from the situation Ripley finds herself in; she was seen as a pariah and a liability by the company at the start of the film, and becomes the very person who could save them.

That’s irony.

There’s no right way to go through the writing process, but by beginning with a logline my writing has grown simpler and stronger. I hope it helps you on your own writing journey. For more great film advice, check out Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat.

Written by Brenden Bell.

 

Top 10 Movies Every Actor Should Watch and Why

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Who hasn’t deeply been touched by beautiful cinematography, amazing performances by actors and successful adaptations of extremely creative and ingenious screenwriting?

Films speak to everyone on a deep, personal level. They reveal, celebrate and criticize humanity and are therefore a powerful tool.

If you’re an actor, you’re probably driven by the same desire to tell stories worth telling. I’ve compiled a list of movies that will challenge, inspire and help you in your endeavour to become a better actor.

1. Sophie’s Choice

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There are so many reasons to watch this film, if you haven’t already. Pay close attention to Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline’s performances. Their characters are so multifaceted, complicated and emotional, and both are able to portray them convincingly. Streep nailed not only the Polish accent when speaking English but also when she spoke German.

2. Wall-e

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This movie is an excellent reminder of the importance of story. The immense impact this film has on the audience is incredible. The actor is not the most important part – the story is. And it can be told without words. Films should be made to create a connection with the audience. The actors are merely servants of the director who carries the vision.

3. The Descendants

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In this film, director Alexander Payne chose to leave the camera on the cast longer than what would be a good point to yell ‘cut’. It’s fascinating to see how the actors explore this opportunity. You often hear the saying ‘the magic happens outside of our comfort zone’ and this is a perfect example.

4. Drinking Buddies

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Drinking Buddies is an example of successful mumblecore. What this means is, the performances are natural and more realistic because there are guidelines instead of scripted dialogue. Watching this will inspire you to really listen and react to your scene partner and see what happens. Don’t be scared of improvisation, it’s a breeding ground for magic to happen.

5. La Vie En Rose

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Marion Cotillard’s performance blew me away when I saw this film. No wonder it garnered her an Oscar. Her commitment and dedication to portraying Edith Piaf is inspirational. It’s a perfect example of Ugly Acting. She does not look flattering in her performance, she masters the degression of age and sickness and makes very bold character choices. I’m a strong proponent for watching foreign films as well, and to start with La Vie en Rose is an excellent choice.

6. Bronson

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Confidence is a key lesson that improved my acting, and Tom Hardy’s confidence in this movie is incredible. He seems to have completely forgotten the camera. His performance is raw and unforgiving. Also, Bronson is just one bizarre human being, and to understand his psyche and wrestle with the character development must have been a challenge.

7. Sunset Boulevard

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This is a classic black comedy and, even though it is an oldie, it still shows the ‘behind the scenes’ of Hollywood/Stardom quite plainly. It shows the extent and consequence of Norma Desmond’s love for fame, herself and greed. Stardom is fleeting, the fruit of pride is disgusting. Mommy Dearest explores this topic as well. It is definitely a topic every actor needs to grapple with for their personal life.

8. Singin’ in the Rain

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Whether you are fan of musicals or not, you must have seen this movie at least once. Film is first and foremost entertainment and should appeal to your audience. Gene Kelly is a wonderful example for his standard of excellence. Only dreaming for a breakthrough in acting will just continue to be a dream if you don’t work on your craft.

9. Amadeus

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Amadeus discusses many topics worth mentioning. But what struck me while watching the movie was observing how both Mozart and Salieri failed to steward their talents well and as a result, both their lives end tragically. Instead of composing for the love of music and others, Salieri chose to let comparison and jealousy get the best of him. And Mozart indulges so much in the futile pleasures of life, it results in a disgraceful death.

10. Kramer vs Kramer

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What’s fascinating about this movie is, it refuses to take sides. Humans are intricate, complicated beings. Their personalities and decisions change. There isn’t always a black and white, right or wrong. The focus is not on the child who suffers from his parents’ divorce, but on the ‘grown-ups’ who cry out for just as much attention and identity as the child does.

Read Roger Ebert’s review for a further exploration of the film.

Bear in mind

This is a very limited list and not ranked in any way from best to worst or vice versa.

My advice to you – watch ‘em all. But be strategic with your choice of movies. Watch good ones, watch bad ones, popular movies and unpopular ones, independent and foreign ones – but watch them all with a healthy dose of skepticism and awareness and take away from them what you can and apply to your own craft.

How to Decide if a Movie is Good or Bad

Written by Brenden Bell.

There are so many creative and wonderful films out there; some we love and some we hate. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. What makes a movie good? What makes it bad?

If you’re confused, this article is for you. I’m going to give you some practical tools to assess a film based on both subjective and objective factors, and then take you through a film so you’ll be comfortable doing this yourself in private.

Download the worksheet here as a PDF: An Objective Journey into Subjectivity.

Then, follow along as we learn how to decide if we think a movie is good or not. The analysis of the film is based on a point system. Each positive answer is given one point, while negative answers are given zero points. The final section asks you to rate your answer on a scale of 1-5; the point value is equal to this scale.

If a movie got more than 16 points it’s probably a movie you’re ok with watching, more than 21 then it’s probably a good film. More than 30?? Probably an all time favorite for you.

Let’s test it shall we?

I’m going to take you through it with one of my least favorite films: The Phantom Menace.

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Our first step is to fill in the information in the text box in the left corner of the worksheet. You’ll reference back to these as needed.

If you’re confused about how to tell who your main character is, it’s usually the character who is the most changed at the end of the film.

The theme/thematic material is the big idea behind the film; the idea the filmmaker wants you to take away from the film. If you’re still confused, check out this blog to explain it a bit more.

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Once this is done you can move on to the next several sections of questions; you want to answer as honestly and fairly as you can. They revolve around story, character and theme.

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  • the first question refers to your ability to write the story in a sentence from the previous section. If you’re unable to do so simply (as I was for this movie, then the answer is no). The rest are fairly self-explanatory.
  • The next two sections play fairly similarly, both with one question taken from the information you gave in the first written portion.

The next section of questions is a bit more objective, focusing in on the artistry/craftsmanship involved in the various departments involved in the filmmaking process. Movies you love can be made poorly, and films you hate can have good aspects to them. This section helps add a bit of objectivity to your subjective opinion of a film.

Rather than YES/NO the positive distinction is HELP while the negative distinction is DISTRACT. Ask yourself, did the following aspects of filmmaking HELP tell the story, or did they DISTRACT from the story and feel out of place? If you didn’t notice either way, then you can assume they were natural and helped tell the story.

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For this section, when I had mixed feelings (such as production design), I decided to go positive. Your levels of grace and compassion are totally up to you.

The last section, and perhaps the most important. There is always a part of a movie for me which is indescribable and separate from the story, and other elements of filmmaking. I call this… THE X-FACTOR.

Ultimately, this section is a way to measure how much this film resonates with you on a personal level. A movie can be poorly made but resonate with you, causing you to generally enjoy it as a result. A movie can be executed brilliantly from a technical standpoint, but if it doesn’t resonate with you, then it’s not going to become one of your favorites.

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  • Each section should be filled out on a scale of 0 – 5: 0 meaning not in the slightest, and 5 meaning absolutely.
  • For the final question in this section, the emotion I am referring to should stem from the story and the contents therein, and should be divorced from poor quality in filmmaking or storytelling. If you’re angry at poor quality, then the answer would be no. If you’re angry because of the subject matter or the character’s choices or how the story turned out, then this film had an impact on you and the answer is yes… and is something you should unpack.

Final score for The Phantom Menace? …5/32.

According to my scale this means I “absolutely hate this movie to the point of offense.” This test is pretty accurate.

Now you try; think of a movie you’re unsure how you feel about and run it through this test.

Perhaps you’ll learn it’s a good film but you just didn’t connect with it emotionally. Try out a few different popular movies or some not so popular ones and let us know what points you gave them in the comments below.

How To Dirty Your Actors Without Using Dirt

Written by Keaton J. Evans.

Across popular movies there have been teams of make-up artists getting the right look for characters who seem to never take showers. I’m talking Sam Neill in Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Matthew McConaughey in Mud, and Jack Sparrow.

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You get the point. Whenever a character rolls in the mud or falls off a pirate ship, there needs to be an authentic dirty look for the character.

I researched different ways to get the dirty look for any upcoming short films where I would need to portray a character who skips on the washing.

Here’s what I found.

Before I get into the steps of applying make-up, you’ll need to find these supplies:

Supplies needed:

  • coffee grounds
  • loose tea leaves
  • lotion (sunscreen)
  • brown eye shadow (I used Vino colour)
  • wet sponge
  • willing victim…er, helper

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After acquiring these supplies you’ll be ready to start with step one.

Step 1: apply eyeshadow

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In this step, you’ll use your index finger to apply the eyeshadow to the parts of the face where you think someone might get dirty. I noticed that the forehead and the upper parts of the cheekbones get dirty more than other parts, also the nose.

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty then you can choose to use a small make-up sponge.

Gently rub the eyeshadow back and forth over the surfaces you think is best. After doing this in all of the appropriate areas you’ll be ready to move onto the second step.

Step 2: mix lotion with coffee grounds

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For this step, first ground the coffee beans, preferably of a darker variety, and then mix with the lotion. I used sunscreen in this step, and it worked well. This step is quite messy.

You don’t need to use much of either. Small chunks of coffee and a bit of lotion should do the trick. After mixing the lotion with the coffee grounds, then move onto the next step of applying.

Step 3: apply the mixture

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As far as applying the coffee/tea and lotion to the person’s face, you’ll need to do step 2 a few times, as there may be a few spots to cover.

Do a little mixing, then a little applying. A little mixing, a little applying, you get the drift. Apply the coffee and lotion to the same places which you touch in step 1, to have those layers.

Add to any place where you think dirt would be, say if the victim fell down face first into the dirt. With the coffee grounds, you don’t need to apply heavily, just a few small chunks here and there, unless you really want you character to look like dirt was just caked on.

After doing this enough times you should get a result similar to this one. (For me, I was trying to get a “stuck-on-a-deserted-island-for-years” look).

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After you’ve gotten all the shots you need with your actor, wash the makeup and coffee off with warm soap and water. Once you’ve washed the coffee and lotion off as well as the make-up, be sure to dry with a clean towel.

And there you have it! You now know how to make your characters look as dirty as ever, and best part is, you don’t even need to use dirt!

What is nice is you can also apply the make-up in a variety of places on the face as well as a variety of thickness, to get a unique look for each character in your film.

Hope this makeup tip helps all you independent filmmakers out there who are trying to get that professional look.

How to Promote Your Acting Career for Success

BY CHARIS JOY JACKSON

Actors need to get creative and build a community around their career. In other words, they need to promote themselves to become more successful.

This is not success in the manner of earning the bigger bucks, or becoming famous. Those can be byproducts of your success, BUT they should never be the reason to promote your acting career.

The success you’ll find in promoting your career come more in the community you build. The more you relate to your fan base and fellow dreamers, the more likely they’ll want to watch you in a film.

Here’s a couple tips to get you started on the path to success.

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CREATE A SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM

Create your own Facebook page, start an instagram account, jump on Twitter, and build your own website. This can be a huge help to boost your career.

I’ve heard rumors of some agencies who won’t even look at you as a potential client unless you have a certain amount of followers on Instagram and Facebook. While I can’t confirm or deny this, I can understand the principle behind why an agency would do this.

If they can find someone who’s already showing themselves to be a bit of an “X-factor” then they are more likely to want to work with you. In some ways it means less work for them too, but it can also show them you mean business and acting isn’t just a hobby, but your life.

I would recommend you start with building your own Facebook page, but don’t do this unless you know you’re ready for the hard work of pursuing your dream. Acting is fun, but it is a lot of hard work and takes incredible tenacity to stick to it in the long haul.

If this sounds like you, then you should create a Facebook page. Invite everyone on your friends list if you can. The more personal the invite, the better. Send it to them in a message versus just clicking the invite button.

Then start your own Twitter and Instagram accounts. Follow other budding actors you know and hopefully they’ll return the favor. Follow casting companies like Backstage to get updates on potential auditions and jobs.

Having your own website can be helpful too. With platforms like Weebly, who do most of the hard work for you, it’s really easy to build your own site. If it’s done well, then it will aid your professional appearance, making it more likely for agencies and films to hire you.

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BE CONSISTENT WITH THE CONTENT YOU SHARE

An important key with your social media platform is to be consistent with what you produce. Set aside some time to figure out what you can realistically produce in a week, then create a schedule for yourself.

Research when each site’s high traffic times are and schedule posts for those times. Take advantage of the almighty hashtags on Twitter and Instagram especially. Ask questions, take pictures of the projects you’re a part of and be real with people.

The more real you are with your growing fan base, the more fans you’ll acquire.

For example, look at Robert Downey Jr. If anyone had the excuse to not promote themselves, it would be him, but if you’re like me and follow him on facebook, you know he’s always active with his fans and more than that, he’s real with them.

Zachary Levi is another actor I’ve noticed who is incredibly active with his fans. Almost daily, he’s responding to fans on Twitter, being real, sometimes even cheeky, but he’s still taking the time to see them as individuals versus a whole.

This is something I wish more actors would do as they build platforms to promote their careers.

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“Don’t tell people your dreams. Show them.”

(author unknown)

I know it can be a bit scary to think about promoting yourself. Maybe you’re afraid it’ll look a bit pompous or narcissistic. Think of it more as you inviting them on the adventure, make them feel like they’re part of your inside team. Build a community of dreamers and creatives.