VIP Ignite Live - SAG-AFTRA Actor Davy Williams

SAG-AFTRA Actor Davy Williams

June 14th, 2020 | Deneen White | music

Welcome to the VIP Ignite podcast.

I'm your host, Deneen White.

Today, I am so excited to introduce you to Davy Williams.

He is someone I had the opportunity to meet in Los Angeles this year in June at our live interactive event.

He is a SAG-AFTRA actor who has numerous credits to his name.

He is currently working on one of his first productions called Chinese Speaking Vampires, which is in pre-production.

A little bit about his background: he grew up in Montana, and worked in LA in the early 2000’s until he moved to China.

So I'm very excited for you to hear all about his experiences!

Hi Davy, how are you today?

Davy: Good. Can you hear me okay?

Deneen: I can hear you perfectly!

Welcome to the VIP Ignite podcast.

Thank you so much for joining me today.

Davy: Thanks.

And I hope to help.

I'm connecting with some of the folks that I met in LA in July, it was a great time then and I hope to see you all again.

Deneen: Excellent. So this is probably going to be the fastest 30 minutes of your day.

Can you start by telling my audience a little bit about yourself?

Davy: My name is Davy, and I grew up in Montana.

I went to college in Seattle and got a civil engineering degree, but I started to get the acting urge before I even graduated.

So I did a student film, and took an acting class in addition to the civil engineering courses.

I moved to LA after college and tried it out for a couple of years, got into the union, and then I kind of fizzled out for a little while.

I ended up going to China in 2006 and eventually reignited my passion for acting.

I learned the language on my own so people could talk me into different opportunities, like jobs and hosting and acting.

So it was pretty exciting.

I did that for quite a few years and then came back here last year.

It's pretty awesome.

LEARNING THE ROPES WHILE WORKING ABROAD

Deneen: Can you talk a little bit about your time in China?

What was it like moving to another country, and learning a different language and acting there?

That sounds pretty intense.

Davy: Yeah. When I first started I had no idea I'd end up doing so much acting.

I just wanted to get the language down, and it would help me in other areas of life like getting jobs.

So I was pretty passionate about keeping my tiny learning cocoon in my life of just constant Chinese and not much English for the first year and a half.

I was pretty motivated and I got it down, then I started meeting people in that industry; agents and brokers, things like that.

They talked me into different commercials and things, then I started to get bigger jobs.

I was featured on their star search type show and sang a Chinese song on that.

So that helps the identity over there.

I ended up doing some long series and movies over there between 2008 and 2012.

That really helped the demo reel of my abilities, and my confidence in acting.

I took classes before I went there at Beverly Hills Playhouse, but acting classes in LA didn't help my confidence or my abilities too much.

Once you get on camera, you pretty quickly get over your stage fright and your nerves, and the more you do it, the better you get as an actor.

So I always tell people to get on screen, or make your own projects if you have to, because it's worth it over than taking acting classes all the time in my opinion, especially for your ability.

That helped me in China to get tons of skills, a long demo reel, and lots of experience in different roles.

So it was a worthwhile experience, and it was fun for a few years.

STAY IN THE CLASSROOM, OR GET OUT IN THE WORKFORCE?

Deneen: I love what you said there, Davy, that you've built your confidence more by doing, and by actually being on camera than being in classes.

I'm not saying anything against taking classes, but I know a lot of people that take classes and then come in saying “I don't know how to do this.”

I’m thinking “Well, you took all those classes.”

Now what?

Did you not put that into practice at all?

So I love that you said that.

Davy: I was just going to add, before I went to China and didn't have hardly any experience, I would still do extra work in Hollywood.

And I remember standing behind the main actors as an extra and thinking, “Boy, I wish I could be one of them right now.”

Then I was thinking, “But wait, I would be terrified and I wouldn't know how to speak my lines.”

As opposed to now, it'd be “Wait, if I'm an extra, oh my gosh, I could easily be on camera with that person.”

I know exactly what to do.

It's just a different mindset now.

Deneen: Yeah! And I think so many people get hooked on the need to take classes to do this, or the need to do that, when really you need to just get out and do it.

A lot of times what we recommend people do is if they don't have students films or something like that in their area, at least do community theater to get the experience.

Like you said, the more that you do it, the better you get.

The more comfortable that you get and the more that you expand, the more that you can do in the long-term.

I love that you mentioned that. That's awesome.

So now you're back in the United States.

What's been going on since you've been back?

RUNNING YOUR OWN PRODUCTION FROM SCRATCH

Davy: Over the last few years I had come back more and more from China, and had longer and longer stays where I would go home for a month to Montana.

I never was so permanent that I bought a new car or anything, but to establish my permanency this time I got a new car.

That just helps me feel more like I'm definitely full-time in America now.

And I just go back to China occasionally for acting or hosting jobs.

If the price is right, I go back occasionally, but for the most part, the reason that I came back is I was there for the golden years.

The good times were from 2006 to 2012.

It was still pretty good, with a super low cost of living, and not many regulations.

People are friendly.

After 2012, I kinda started going downhill there.

It became more expensive and everything, so it became less and less easy and attractive.

So I finally kind of gave it up a year ago.

Deneen: What are you doing now in the United States?

Talk to me about this movie, the production that you're doing.

The Chinese Speaking Vampires.

Davy: Oh yeah, it's awesome.

I'd thought up that story four or five years ago when I was taking an ASI summer class in Hollywood, and the speaker and the two men told us, “Don't wait for the phone to ring.”

Go make your own project.

I thought, “Hmm...well, I've written a book.”

I've never tried scripts.

Let's see.

I can speak Chinese, and vampires are kind of popular.

Oh, Chinese Speaking Vampires.

They get bitten by the teacher and they're suddenly fluent in Mandarin, but they forget their English.

That'd be funny.

So I went off that premise and built it from that scene to a feature, which took several years of rewrites and rethinking.

About a year ago, I just started to reach out to investors, and I had a potential one in China.

I flew from LA to see him and he sounded promising, and said, “By the end of the year I think we should be able to reach funding, and we can start up a production company together in America.”

I thought that was great.

And then December came and nothing happened.

He said, “Oh, I'll wait till you know, April.”

April came, and nothing happened.

So I just ended up starting a movie company on my own, Kung Pao Pictures, and went ahead and just used other ways to find investment.

It was uneasy at first, but I learned a lot of things along the way…

  • how to do a pitch deck...
  • how to do a trailer...
  • how to make a poster...
  • how to make a business plan...
  • how to make a website...

And once you build all these things out, you become more bulletproof to people's hesitations and doubts.

You have to show them a script, then they say, “Let me see your pitch deck.”

Once you get all those things prepared, like a pitch deck, business plan, poster, and a trailer, you're ready to roll.

And people are serious about investing, and are ready to help you out.

So one way to get smaller investors, which are called executive producers, is to say ”Look, you want a role in a Hollywood film, right?”

You can pay us thousands for acting classes, or you can put some investment with us, and we'd give you a role.

That way you're a producer and an actor in a Hollywood film.

So that's something that has helped us to find a few people, and we’re very blessed and thankful for those people.

Deneen: I think what you're talking about is the stuff that people don't know about Hollywood, or about just being in a film.

Everyone says “Oh my God, I'm going to show up to Hollywood!”

I'm going to be in a film, it's going to be awesome.

But I think a lot of people forget that it's a business, because I can't tell you how many people I talk to and ask “Do you have a business plan for your career?”, and they respond with “Yeah, I'm just going to get a role.”

No, take this a step further.

LEARNING THE IMPORTANT STUFF THAT NO ONE TEACHES YOU

Deneen: So can we talk a little bit about how you learned all of this?

Obviously you have a lot of experience now, but how did you learn it?

Did you learn this by the school of hard knocks?

Did you have a little bit of both?

Davy: It's a long process, because even five years ago, I was just like you said.

I thought I might get back into acting in LA and get nice head shots, or go to acting class again.

Things like that.

You're still in the frame of mind of waiting for the phone to ring and getting yourself all prettied up, like a pretty pig for the state fair.

But that's not how the business works.

If you're not getting phone calls based on your pretty look, it's time to make stuff yourself; write a little story and make it into a short film.

So the reason is like when I first started: I just thought about the acting side and not anything about business.

It's the business aspect.

When you start creating a story for a script, you'll see people will start asking for things.

All those things I've mentioned and then you think, I can't do that, I've never done that.

But if nobody's there to help you, find a way to do it on your own, through trial and error.

And my info pack is not perfect, but it looks pretty decent.

So do the website pitch deck and everything.

It's good enough, and it's been good enough to get people to give us money.

That's what's most important.

Deneen: Everything in the entertainment industry definitely costs money, doesn't it?

Davy: And it's funny because you can do it on your own sometimes more easily than hiring people to make your business plan, or pitch deck, or trailer, or poster.

You just find ways.

People help you for cheap, or you go on Fiver, or websites that have cheap people to do that.

There's a lot of ways that you can start doing it, and you'll find out how to do it as you're going.

Deneen: I have a question for you, because you've mentioned this at least two times on our show so far.

How do you go about just putting yourself in a film?

A lot of the people that listen to my podcast as I'm sure you're aware are pretty new to the industry, right?

Davy: This might go over the head of a new person like myself when I started; I wouldn't understand half of what I'm saying right now.

THE STATISTICS OF MAKING A SHORT FILM

Deneen: Well hopefully they'll do some research, because it's also a lot about research. 

But I want to ask you a specific question. 

When you talk about doing a short film, I know you help someone that works with us do a short film. 

How can you describe that process

For someone like me, that sounds daunting; you say, “Oh, you should just do a short film.” 

Can you describe that process to me?

Davy: Well since I've done it myself, I just tell them to think of a personal story. 

Something personal doesn't have to be exactly personal, but something that you know or get excited about. 

Try to make it into a five page story, and I can help them look at it and make it in the script format. 

A story doesn't exactly look like a script until you format it correctly. 

Make a little story that's somewhat close to you, whether it's about your past or something funny. 

With me, it was something that I can act, which is a Chinese speaking American; I made it funny with vampires. 

That way, it was something I could get excited about. 

If you can do that and make a short scene, with my production company or somebody else's, you can find a way to film it and set a couple locations. 

See how many actors you need and then try to keep the budget low, and finally you become a main actor in a short film that you wrote.

Deneen: So when you're an actor and a writer, you get lots of credits when you do that, right?

Davy: Exactly. 

And you get more confidence, and you can point to this as what you’ve done instead of one of those fakey demo reel places that give a really insincere look.

Deneen: Now what is the average budget to do a short film? 

Just a range, or an average.

Davy: Depends on how many locations and days

Maybe with just two locations, one day, two actors maybe…$800 or so. 

It goes up from there because I have a good DP and cinematographer, and he brings all this stuff and does this sound, lights, and filming himself

I kind of helped him. 

So that's how we keep it low budget

I look for locations that friends of friends or people I know own, like a restaurant or something, to keep the budget down too.

Deneen: That's awesome. 

So I hope anyone listening really takes notes on this part of the podcast specifically because that's a great way to get yourself out there. 

Again, like you said, you get more credits; you get writing credits, main actor credits, and also that can serve as your reel, right? 

You're showing all facets of what you can do.

Davy: Great option. 

Do a couple of those shorts, and now that's your reel

Take the best moments from one or two short films.

THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN YOU FIRST START OUT

Deneen: So again, because my audience is primarily people who are new to the industry, what kind of advice would you give them? 

So many people go into the entertainment industry with all of these crazy notions. 

What advice would you give them? 

You've definitely given great advice, like getting in front of the camera, and doing short films

But for someone who's starting out, and saying “I don't even know how to get in front of the camera and do a short film”, what advice would you give them?

Davy: I would say get an acting partner and just film, and make funny skits.

You can do that for no money and you can practice angles, and mime things you're supposed to say and do on camera. 

Even if it was just recorded with an iPhone, maybe he'll eventually meet someone that actually does have good equipment.

Then you can ask another friend, “Why don't you go be in a scene with me?”, and then you'll film it and eventually get better and better quality. 

And maybe, with just a little bit of money, you can start to make your own scenes and little short films. 

I wouldn't say spend a ton of money on acting classes, but I guess if you haven't done anything, you can do that for a while and do the short film idea on the side.

Deneen: Even like getting into community theater or joining a local theater would be a good idea. 

Cut your teeth in acting

I’ve talked to so many people who want to be an actor, and I think “Okay, well have you ever acted on stage?” 

They say “No, but I know I'm going to love it.” 

Well, maybe you want to try it first.

Davy: I would like to tell a story about when I first started in Seattle, and I was just an engineering student.

I had crazy acting, so I tried out for a free home theater in Seattle; it had some kind of festival every year for plays. 

I got a role in a play, and it was just a tiny role. 

Maybe one line. 

But I was so nervous that I kinda...blacked out. 

I can hardly even remember being on stage because I was so nervous. 

Then my dad came and that was in Seattle, and he's a lawyer from Montana.

So he's probably thinking, “Gosh, this is crazy.” 

What a waste of time. 

But he was nice enough to go, and I cannot even remember if I said the line right or anything.

I was so nervous

Once again, I was in a movie production at the Stella Adler theater in Hollywood about 15 or 18 years ago.

I was so nervous; I was just playing one of the soldiers, and I just had to announce that the King is here, or something like that. 

And I was just so nervous that I practically blacked out. 

I don't think I did a good job at all

That's how I was when I first started. 

So if anyone else out there is nervous on camera or on stage, I was the worst

It's come full circle.

Deneen: The moral of the story is you kept trying, and the more that you tried, you can remember a lot of your roles, right? 

You have to start somewhere, but then keep going. 

If this is something you know you’re going to love, and you fall down once, get up and try again! 

If you fall down twice, get up and try again, and if this is something that you want to do, you have to get out there and do it.

First of all, you're not going to be good

You may not be good the first time. 

Like I tell people all the time, when I first started doing this podcast, I was absolutely horrible

I was so nervous, and I had all the questions written down; if anyone jumped off script, I'd say “Uh oh.” 

But the more that you do it, the better you get. 

So moral of the story: if there's something you want to do, get out there and do it.

Davy: That's true. You get over your fear of public speaking and being on camera the more you do it.

WORKING WITH EXPERIENCED COMMUNITY MEMBERS

Deneen: So true. When you and I talked last week, you were telling me about something that you're doing in LA about connecting new people with more veteran people. 

Can you talk a little bit about what you're doing there?

Davy: I have a WeChat group. 

It's a meetup group, and we have meetups twice a month.

I try to invite at least a few people besides myself that are industry veterans

Maybe they have a production company, or they've already produced a pilot, or a short film. 

Then I invite everyone I met from VIP, plus other people in the Chinese entertainment industry here that don't have connections to Hollywood, and try to put all of the people together.

Everyone, make friends!

I think that connecting people is so important, and you don't sit by the phone; you get out there, you meet people, connect, network. 

That's really important. 

I'm still trying to build my new network here because I was gone for many years. 

So that's helpful to me, and to them to make as many friends and contacts as possible.

It's annoying to me; a lot of people know that I've got a movie coming up, and I say come out to the meetup.

Maybe there's a young actress and she says “Oh, maybe next time you know, I'm going to go walk my dog today.” 

It's just annoying to me because personally I want to be able to meet someone in person before I feel good about working with them in the future. 

Maybe I'm old fashioned

I'm doing me a favor by asking them to give up their time by meeting with me and other people, and then I'll repay them in the future by working with them. 

By giving them jobs, referrals, whatever

But if they can't take an hour or two once a month, or just at least come out to meet us and not just at shows, that's bad to me. 

I don't know why they do that.

RELIABILITY IS KEY: ALWAYS SHOW UP

Deneen: So I have a question for you. 

If you're talking to someone and they know that you have a movie coming up, say they want to be in your movie. 

They say “It's so awesome.” 

But you need them to come out this Thursday for an hour. 

And they say “Oh no, no, no. I have to wash my hair.” 

I have to walk my dog

Or I have to do whatever.

Are you going to work with that person in the future?

Davy: I usually give them a few chances. 

If they don't even try any of that, I just have a bad, not so great feeling about that person. 

And I'm really about loyalty

There's a girl from VIP, Michelle, that I told you about. 

She's at almost every meetup. 

She's got a great attitude. 

Those people with a great attitude are who I just feel loyal to work with in the future, on whatever I can do. 

Someone that's taking time out of their busy day to come and meet me and other people.

Deneen: So everyone listening, since you're all new to the industry, take note

If you want to be part of this industry, when someone offers you an opportunity to come out, get a dog walker and wash your hair tomorrow

Do what you have to do to get out there

The thing is, you never know what these types of events are about; we see this all the time when we do coaching. 

So they say “Oh, I can't make the coaching call because of X, Y, Z or whatever.” 

Okay, so if I had a casting call for you to come tomorrow at 9:00 AM, are you going to be there, or are you going to walk your dog? 

That's what people don't understand

I think you touched on something that's usually important that everyone needs to understand.

If you want this, and an opportunity is available to you, you have to make yourself available

You have to clear your schedule because you literally never know who you're going to meet. 

So I hope everyone who listens to this, listens really hard to that point. 

If you didn't hear anything else, make sure that you care

You have to be dependable

You have to show up

If you say you're going to be there, you have to be there, please. Period.

Davy: That's awesome

Just try and be there. 

For me it's also that when I was in China, I would organize huge meetups for all the American bros in China. 

So I know a couple hundred Americans over there, and I would try to keep people connected

That gives them a sense of home, even though they're far from home. 

I'm coming back here and trying to do networking meetups, but that's a different thing. 

It's for the industry

But for me, it's friends and connections that are so important. 

I don't know why people just want to be by themselves at home.

Deneen: Yeah, get out and make friends, people. 

Get out and make friends

Well Davy, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to be on the podcast. 

You gave a lot of great pointers that I think everyone needs to hear. 

I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to be on the podcast with me, and I look forward to talking to you in the future because I'm really excited about this movie

I've been waiting to see it since you told me about it in June.

Davy: It's getting closer!

Thank you everyone

God bless, and I hope I helped somebody out there today.

Have a great day.

Deneen: I want to thank everyone so much for taking the time to listen to the VIP Ignite podcast. 

I hope that you enjoyed my conversation with Davy. 

If you did, please make sure you hit Subscribe because I have a lot of great guests lined up over the next couple of weeks. 

If you are interested in learning how to become an actor, a model, or a musician and possibly getting to network with people like Davy, please visit our website ammsociety.com where you can get registered for our next live lesson. 

Thank you so much, and have a great day!