How do actors get a break in the hyper-competitive film industry? An inside look at the European Shooting Stars programme, which aims to give Europe’s ten “most promising and internationally versatile” young actors a tailor-made career boost.
“I was speechless! I got the phone call and for a moment I couldn’t say anything!” says a bubbly Luna Wedler, remembering when she was told she was one of ten Shooting Stars for 2018
The 19-year-old from Zurich was the youngest of the “Class of ’18” who in February attended the Berlin International Film Festival to pick up their award and spend five days doing some serious personalised networking.
“The Berlinale was so cool and the other nine Shooting Stars are so nice and so talented. It was really stressful because we had a hard schedule every day, but it was also great because I got to meet so many directors, producers and casting agents,” Wedler tells swissinfo.ch.
Criteria for the programme, organised by European Film Promotion (EFP) since 1998, include having a lead role in a recently released film and fluent English. Wedler, who speaks excellent English, starred in Blue My Mind, a surreal coming-of-age drama which premiered in SanSebastián and swept the Swiss Film Awards in March.
“We look for up-and-coming actors – that’s of course the whole idea behind the programme,” says Laura Daniel, responsible for talent and awards at Swiss Films, the national film promotion agency, which every year nominates one talent – like 37 other EFP member organisations.
“It’s not a programme that aims to showcase already-established talents. It’s trying to push people who already have a certain national success and are ready for an international career,” she adds.
Wedler, who is currently studying at the renowned European Film Actor School in Zurich, says she would like to be part of international projects in Britain and France, “playing some really interesting and challenging characters”. She says she’s less interested in the United States, “although if a role came from Hollywood, I wouldn’t say no! But it’s not my goal. Not yet.”
When asked about support and guidance for young actors, she says she has been with the Berlin-based agency Schlag for about half a year. “They’re really helpful about choosing projects together, but in the end I think you always have to help yourself and be happy with the project.”
Laura Daniel agrees on the importance of a good agent. “It’s getting harder and harder to reach people because there are so many actors! It’s crazy. Switzerland already has so many in such a small country. So you really need someone who will take you forward, who is professional, who will help you find the right people to work with,” she tells swissinfo.ch.
“What I think is a terrible idea is if you just go to parties and hang out with people. That’s not how you’re going to get a job.”
Daniel explains how Swiss Films goes about selecting a name to put forward as a potential Shooting Star. “We have a pool of talent that we follow, and with Luna we’d seen her in another film [Amateur Teens] and thought there was something there. We then saw her in various other roles, and when we saw Blue My Mind we thought ‘she’s ready for the next big step’.”
She adds that they don’t necessarily look for the youngest – Shooting Stars can be aged 16-32 – “but sometimes the youngest are the most convincing”.
Switzerland’s unique language situation – it has three official languages: German, French and Italian – in effect means the country of 8.4 million people is made up of three even smaller markets. Surely this makes life even harder for aspiring Swiss actors?
“For me, personally, it makes it more interesting because there’s a broader variety to choose from,” Daniel says. “And usually the people we follow have already started to work internationally with the bigger markets they are connected to because of the language they speak. So for Kacey Mottet Klein [a Shooting Star in 2016] it was France and Belgium, for Luna it was Germany and Austria. But for the actors themselves it’s really difficult as it’s such a small scene and they don’t get a lot of possibilities to present their talent.”
Wedler agrees that it’s a really small industry, “but a really interesting and good one. You just have to get that one opportunity – which I had in Amateur Teens – and I think once you’re in the film industry, you’re in”.
Despite these challenges, Switzerland has an impressive record in Berlin, with 16 Shooting Stars since it joined the programme in 1999.
“I take it as a compliment that we’re doing our job well!” Daniel laughs. “We really try to find the perfect fit – the actors have to be part of a promising package: an outstanding main performance in a convincing film with international potential, preferably running at the Berlin Film Festival.”
Swiss actors have a good reputation abroad, she thinks. “From what I hear from casting agents and agencies in general they have a reputation for being very reliable and versatile, because most of them speak at least two or three languages and they can adapt to various cultures,” she says.
Being versatile paid off for Soraya Sala, Switzerland’s first Shooting Star in 1999. She speaks four languages and says her appearance – her father is Egyptian, her mother Italian – means she can play a range of ethnicities.
Sala, 45, describes being a Shooting Star as a “very positive experience”. “I met loads of interesting people, had inspiring conversations, got a taste of the film business and had a lot of fun! It really strengthened me as a person,” she tells swissinfo.ch.
“I can’t say whether I was invited to more castings just because of the Shooting Star award. I’d lean towards saying no, since the casting agents have other selection criteria. But what was certainly useful were the annual invitations to the gala evening for the new Shooting Stars in Berlin – that let me make new contacts and keep up old ones.”
Sala landed her first role in a feature film – Vollmond(Full Moon) by acclaimed Swiss director Fredi M Murer – while in her last year at the European Film Actors School. She appeared in more film and ended up moving to Germany.
“The Swiss contacts I’d cultivated didn’t ‘forget’ me when I moved to Germany – once a year I was booked for a production [in Switzerland]. I still get offers from Switzerland,” she explains.
“At the same time, I could go to castings in Germany and this would never have been possible the other way around: I don’t think German productions would have got me over from Switzerland because here [in Germany] there’s enough choice [of actors].”
‘Don’t give up!’
Of course, many successful actors were not Shooting Stars and continue to enjoy successful careers.
When asked what advice she could give aspiring film actors, Sala mentions discipline and focus. “Constantly work on yourself and your craft. In periods when you don’t have a job, use this time and learn something new – a language, a sport, a dance – whatever interests you,” she says.
“And think hard about what type of production, film, story you’d like to work on. What type of role you’d like to embody – and why. Be authentic, be true to yourself.”
For Wedler, it all comes down to hunger. “I think if you have this will, if you live for this job, then I think you can do it. I just had a Plan A – I don’t have a Plan B! I’m just going for it and I hope it’s going to work. But you do need a lot of luck. The whole thing’s a big challenge but you just have to be brave and really want it,” she says.
“You’ll have a lot of disappointments, but you just have to keep going for it! Don’t give up!”