Filmmaker’s Connection – Indie film networking advice from CD Donna McKenna

Friendly – Helpful – Inspirational

For actors looking for a place to connect with key industry people, The Filmmaker’s Connection is so much more than your typical networking event. It helps actors, producers and directors form teams, produce films and create long lasting friendships.

Hosted by Casting Director Donna McKenna, the monthly Filmmaker’s Connection began as a way, to connect actors and filmmakers, so they can see each other in person.

Each month a guest comes in and talks about their project. Actors can get jobs, drop off their headshots and network, Donna says. There are so many ups and downs and struggles, so I wanted to form a group that inspires people.

Inspiration and opportunity are priceless gifts for actors, so NYCastings met up with Donna McKenna to find out more about this Long Island Filmmaker’s Connection.

Starting with…

Benefits of The Filmmakers Connection:

It’s all networking and everyone is there as friends. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere. You can ask questions and we also have a show and tell. I give the first five people to sign up the opportunity to show their work, either a short film, promo or to tell something exciting.

Also, there is a big festival, The Long Island International Film and Video Expo. Members can submit short films, feature films, and are also eligible to submit for finishing funds.

Who attends these networking events?

Everyone attends, even crew members. At the event there is a lot of card exchanging and the same people come month after month from Queens and Jersey, not just Long Island. Everyone is friendly and talks to each other.

How does The Filmmakers Connection differ from meeting a director at a 1:1 event?

It’s not an audition, its social networking set at Five Towns College in Dix Hills, NY. It takes place in a classroom and I begin the meeting by giving announcements about what is going on in the industry from Long Island to New York City. I let them know about NYCastings, because I am there to inform and help them get jobs in the industry. I will have literature on locations of where films will shoot for both actors and crew. And, I go over the SAG No list, that tells of certain films to stay away from or managers who take too much commission.

Also, because we have both seasoned and new actors, I will explain that they should watch out for Craig’s List ads, never go on an audition at 10pm, never pay for an audition or an extra part. I have kids in my meetings as well, so we guide them too.

After my announcement everyone introduces themselves so everyone connects. The meeting goes from 7-9 and afterwards we go to the cafeteria and have coffee and pastries and network.

Why do you mention NYCastings at the events?

A lot of our members have gotten jobs through NYCastings. One of our members got a really big episodic, recurring role on the show Kings because of a post on NYCastings.

How can NYCastings members learn about the guests?

We put out a newsletter once a month and it says who the guest will be. It may be a filmmaker, entertainment lawyer, agent, manager or crew member. And I host the meetings, and I am a casting director, so they already know they will see me.

I had a meeting last October where a new guy walked in and I ended up casting him for a print project that a lot of NYCastings members were also cast in.

Who is speaking at your November 15th event?

This month I have Elias Plagianos, who has a film out called, The Crimson Mask, that has won awards all over the place. He’ll come in and speak with the actors and crew and tell his story of how he made a film on a shoestring budget and was able to become a great success. That is what these meetings are about, to inspire people.

Do you announce new members?

I do welcome new members, so the older members can bring them into their knit. There are no groups. I have seen a SAG actress take a brand new actor, who she just met, and help her make a resume.

Sounds like a unique group!

I am fortunate that I got this group of people coming together and playing nice. Last year there were seven or eight of them who made movies together. We have DPs, screenwriters, gaffers, sound people – and they all collaborate. You can’ wait for the phone to ring. That’s another reason I promote NYCastings, because you have to get out there.

How do NYCastings members get involved in The Filmmakers Connection?

The membership for an actor, producer or industry professional is only $30 and that also gives them access to many industry events throughout the year like festivals and comedy shows. If you don’t want a full membership, it is $5 to attend the meeting. And if you join the next month, it’s only $25 still as a thank you. There is no limit to the amount of people and it keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Should an actor follow up with you after an event?

I love getting notes and I save all of my thank you letters. I also answer all my emails personally. I don’t have my assistant answer my emails, which is why it takes me a long time.

Do you take headshots?

Whenever I meet an actor, I ask for them to email me their headshot, resume and reel. A lot of times I can even cast someone without meeting them

For the last photo job I just cast, which I posted on NYCastings, I got 4000 submissions. I sent 100 actors to my client and he whittled it down to the best 40 and then told me to pick the best 20 out of 40. I went with my gut and they loved everyone I got for them.

Do you believe that persistence pays off?

Absolutely! I like to see that an actor is hungry, the more passion in their eyes, the better.

What keeps you passionate about the industry?

I get excited if someone I know is in a film that I had nothing to do with. I’ve gotten people involved in films that I wasn’t working on, because it’s a passion. I love it and like to help people. I have even pulled in people who have never acted before and put them in movies. If I think they are right and can take direction, I will give them that chance and fight with the director for them. I like to mix it up and not use the same people all the time. There are so many actors out there. I like to give everyone a chance. And I like taking actors out of the type casting’. If you are a good actor, you can do it all.

How involved do you get with the projects you cast?

If I’m casting and producing, I am there the whole time. And, if I am producing and I want you to have the role, you will get it. I have changed guy roles to female roles and female roles to male roles, White roles to African American roles and African American roles to White roles.

Sounds like you really stand behind actors?

I do. I usually don’t even have callbacks because I know how nerve racking auditions can be and I feel for you guys.

I make it a point to know an actor before they come in. I don’t audition a lot of actors for one role. I do a lot of pre-screening, because I hate telling people when they don’t get the job.

When someone gets seen in my room, they are hand picked from thousands and they are meant to be there. So if they do not get the role, it’s not because they aren’t talented. It could be your height or hair. A lot of roles are lost by just that.

I also try to get my actors the entire script, because an actor needs the best tools to do their best.

What projects do you typically cast for?

I cast principle roles, infomercials, cable commercials, SAG films, and just started with photo shoots. I just want to get people jobs and help them make a couple of bucks.

Any advice for NYCastings members…

Don’t give up. Don’t ever listen to anyone else.

About 27 years ago I was told, You will never make a movie. Raise your baby, be a suburban house wife. I could have stopped and now it’s 29 movies later, a million commercials and shorts.

People will try and derail you, especially people outside the industry. Do not give up no matter how tough it seems. We all wonder where our next job is but do not give up. When people say you can’t do it, do it just to show them you can.

And, treat everyone equally. I don’t care if it is the PA – treat them with courtesy and respect. And, as an insiders tip, that PA will be your director one day. So be kind.

I just had an actor send me a reel for their friend, trying to help their friend work and that touched me. He saw the breakdown, didn’t think anything was right for him and was more concerned for his friend. I’m going to make sure he gets a part too, even if the director has to write something in, because it’s so important to help people.

About Donna McKenna…

As a casting director, independent film producer and Board Member of the Nassau County Film and Television Foundation, Donna McKenna has worked with many award winning actors from film, television and Broadway. Ms. McKenna believes in discovering unique new talent as well as recognizing the seasoned professional who has the desire to take risks and play against type.

For more information on The Filmmaker’s Connection visit

Thank you Donna McKenna!!!

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