In an industry that values youth, you’d think that being a young filmmaker would be an asset, but when “young” means under 18, that’s not necessarily a good thing. In fact, sometimes age can get in the way of filmmaking. Below, 16-year-old Long Island, New York-based filmmaker Devon Narine-Singh, who recently completed work on his short film “Of Darkness and Light,” highlights the 3 downsides to being a teenage filmmaker:
1. SAG-AFTRA is Not Designed for Filmmakers Under 18
If you want to work with someone who is a member of SAG-AFTRA on your project (the teen filmmaker’s project would be considered a “non-union” project), you have to fill out paperwork and get permission from SAG-AFTRA to use one of its members. Yolonda Ross (“Go For Sisters,”) a member of SAG-AFTRA, signed onto the film shortly before Christmas break.
I had wanted to make a feature film, however due to SAG-AFTRA’s rule about having payroll for feature films, I could not do it since I do not have a company or a payroll. SAG-AFTRA does not require a payroll for their short film agreement, so I decided to scale the film back to a short. Once I contacted SAG-AFTRA and explained that I was making a short, I was sent the necessary paperwork. However, I ran into a roadblock: since this is an official document, I could not sign it since I was a minor. I asked my SAG-AFTRA rep if my mother could sign on my behalf. He said he would have to get permission to do this. In the end everything worked out and SAG-AFTRA made a “special exception” and allowed my mother to sign on my behalf.
The real question here is, how will SAG-AFTRA deal with other teen filmmakers? If you are reading this article, you might say that this is a one time situation in which a teen filmmaker was able to get a well known member of the indie film community to star in his film. Maybe it is.
But SAG-AFTRA is not only for famous, established actors. Many unknown and up and coming actors are members of SAG-AFTRA. With the right resources, a teen filmmaker could cast one of these actors or even someone more prominent in their film and SAG-AFTRA will have to deal with them.
Teen filmmakers, on a professional or at least semi-professional level, will be appearing more and more in the upcoming years due to the democratization of filmmaking technology. SAG-AFTRA needs to implement rules that will allow teen filmmakers to utilize members of SAG-AFTRA without extreme hassle. If the current system remains in place, it will be a struggle for teen filmmakers to have SAG-AFTRA actors/actresses in their film.
2. Most of Your Actors are Teenagers
Let me say upfront that I love all of the actors that have worked in my films. The majority of actors in my cast have been teens that I am going to high school with or I know through a friend. They are my age and they are the average American teenagers. They are all extremely talented and give wonderful performances. However, that does not mean working with them is easy.
Most likely a teen filmmaker will not be paying his/her actors. Their actors may not even be “actors” in the traditional sense and may their be friends. Because their film is not a “professional film,” it does not always take priority in the actors’ lives. Some of them want to hang out with friends rather than make the movie.
Scheduling conflicts emerge on all film sets, however, in the films of teenage filmmakers working with teenage actors, they are even more of a problem. Teenagers, by nature, are already heavily scheduled. Since teenagers are the majority of the actors a teen filmmaker can use, teen filmmakers have to work the filming around the actor’s schedule. The teen filmmaker’s film will most likely be the last priority for the (non-professional) teen actor. The teen actor would rather focus on the school musical, sports,etc. The teen filmmaker’s little film may never get anywhere.
This is how many teen actors think of teen filmmakers – as that kid that likes making movies. The key word is kid. Sometimes a teen actor will be professional and serious. But then sometimes they don’t treat the teen filmmaker or their film as something extremely serious.
On top of these issues, as a teen filmmaker, you have few actors to work with and, therefore, you have to shape your film around their needs. For example, the actors might not be comfortable doing that epic makeout scene you have in your head. And you need to compromise. Depending on what you have to change or tone down, it may be artistically frustrating for you, but this is the reality of being a teen filmmaker.
3. No One Takes you Seriously
My first experience with a group of members of the Industry was a regional Art House Convergence. At the convergence, various theater owners and film distributors were present. I was pitching my film “Single Souls, Two Bodies.” Some theater owners took the screeners, but never got back to me. As for the film distributors, a lot of them gave me a nice little pat on the back. One began to chuckle when I told him I was in high school. One distributor did take me seriously, and when I completed “Of Darkness and Light” even took a screener of that movie. That distributor was the exception and not the rule. Some theater owners turned me down point blank saying they wouldn’t program the film.
I will name two people at the conference that did, and always have, taken me seriously—Dylan Skolnick and Charlotte Sky. The event was held at their theater, the Cinema Arts Centre in Long Island. Dylan and Charlotte have always treated me as an adult, not as a kid. It means so much to me that when they watch my films they take them seriously. I held the first screening of “Single Souls, Two Bodies” at the Cinema Arts Centre and words cannot describe how awesome it was to finally share my work with the general public.
I will say that my encounters with filmmakers have been generally positive. I have worked with filmmakers such as Alexia Anastasio and Glenn Andreiev, two major players in the Long Island film community. For the most part, filmmakers will treat the teen filmmaker with respect, while theater owners/film distributors will look down on the teen filmmakers.
So my parting piece of advice to teen filmmakers— is to find your Dylan, your Charlotte, your Glenn, your Alexia. It may be hard at first and you may have just one person to believe in you, but that one person will support you and help you grow as an artist.
Devon Narine-Singh is a 16-year-old filmmaker based in Long Island, New York. He began his journey into film under the mentorship of filmmaker Alexia Anastasio. He recently completed work on his short film “Of Darkness and Light” starring Independent Spirit Award Nominee Yolonda Ross (“Go For Sisters.”)