David Epstein came to the New York Film Academy from Vancouver to pursue his passion for acting in the heart of the film industry, Los Angeles. “Growing up, I was always very active on the stage, and after my undergraduate in theatre I felt ready to get auditioning for film and TV in Vancouver. After a year and a half, I didn’t book a thing! I figured it was because I had no idea what I was doing when it came to acting for a camera, so I started looking into programs,” said Epstein. “New York Film Academy seemed like the most hands-on school I could find. I thought, ‘I could wait it out and audition in Vancouver for another two years with nothing to show for, or enroll at NYFA. Not only would I get to complete a Master’s Degree, but I would also gain the hands-on film experience day in, and day out.’”
And right after graduation he landed a role in the animated feature “The Son of Bigfoot” directed by Jeremy Degruson and Ben Stassen.
Congrats on getting the part. How did your role in “The Son of Bigfoot” come about?
Epstein: I was actually camping in Yosemite Valley for the weekend with no wifi or cell phone service. We were about to go on a hike for the day when we stopped off in a lodge. I guess we hit a cell phone spot and my phone just started blowing up. Text messages and phone calls galore from my mom, brother, and agent all trying to get a hold of me. When I called them and, they told me that I booked this part in an animated feature – a project that I had zero recollection of ever auditioning for. Weeks earlier, I had just gotten my reel from school and was showing it off to a friend of mine. Fast forward a couple of months and her dad is directing this project called “Son of Bigfoot.” I don’t know the details, but apparently one of the other actors had to drop out and they needed to fill the roll very quickly. He listened to my reel and decided to give me a shot. It was one of those “right place, right time moments.”
Please tell us about your experience working on this project. What did your learn as an actor?
Epstein: While I had spent many hours working in the NYFA booth, this was my first time acting in a proper animated film, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I remember flipping furiously through my voice over textbook leading up to the shoot, giving myself a quick refresher before going into the studio… ironically the writer was actually playing one of the leads in the film. The first thing I thought when I got there was: “Where’s that smell of bacon coming from?” Of course, I followed it and saw walls just covered in classic cartoon cells and a huge trophy case filled with Emmys. It was very surreal. I got the chance to meet some of the other cast members and we were all called in one by one into our recording sessions. None of the animation was done at the time of the recording, so we didn’t have to worry about matching the characters’ lip flaps, which was nice, but that said, there wasn’t a whole lot to work off of, either. It was a really steep learning curve trying to figure out how to create the world without any other actor to work off of and no real picture of what the scene would look like. That said, it was a pretty freeing experience too, in that there wasn’t really a wrong answer. Only limit was imagination.
One of my biggest surprises about the experience was how quickly everything moved. It was like a machine gun session in there. I was given my script, asked to give a few reads of each line and we would move on. Occasionally, there was a redirection, but I was in and out of the studio within an hour. It was crazy!
Were there any challenges working on this project?
Epstein: The biggest challenge working on the project was not being able to really prepare. I wasn’t given my script until the day, so I was really going in blind. There was a small character description that was sent to me in advance, but everything was really explained to me on the day. Also, there was no animation at the time, so to this day I still have no idea what my character even looks like. The director just said “alright give me the voice you were thinking of doing,” and I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. I guess it worked because we just kind of went with it. I would have loved the opportunity to play a bit more and really find my character, but everything moved so fast. Just trusted my gut and hoped for the best.
What projects are you currently working on?
Epstein: Next week I start shooting for my role in the show “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce.” I am also excited to collaborate with my friend/coach Carol Stanzione, Elliot Herman and NYFA alumnus Kevin Chua in an upcoming animated series called “Lei Gong: Chronicles of the Sword.”
Until then, I have been fortunate enough to get a gig hosting a game show for Hyundai at Auto Shows around the states. It has been such a great experience getting to travel around the country and work a job that is creative in nature.
Who do you believe will get the most out of the NYFA program?
Epstein: I think anyone with a true passion and the desire to learn will get the most out of the program. There are so many great opportunities and teachers, that if you care to work, you can learn so much! That said, you’re only going to get what you put into the program. It’s one thing to be in class and to do your assigned work, but it’s the work you do outside of the curriculum that is really special. NYFA’s consult program lets you meet with any of your teachers outside of class time. It’s a private coaching session with industry professionals. I don’t know many other places that offer that.
What, if any, do you think are the biggest obstacles for new actors in Hollywood?
Epstein: I think the toughest thing about Hollywood is being seen. You could be doing great work, but it’s getting the right people to see your work that is the real challenge. Coming to LA you hear it over and over again, “there’s so much competition!” At first, I took that to mean that I would be sitting in an audition room with 50 David Epsteins that look just like me. The truth is, the competition is really getting into the door. A good part can get 3000+ submissions. When a casting director has three hours to see 90 actors, why are they going to pick your headshot over anyone else’s? You hear it all the time: This business is all about networking. It’s figuring out the creative ways that you can get on these casting directors’ radars and then about winning them over so they bring you back again and again.
If anyone has come to LA to become rich as an actor, they could have a rude awakening. It is a super competitive job and while the payday can be sweet, work can definitely be sparse (especially at the beginning). I have often found myself comparing my lifestyle to my doctor and lawyer friends. It can be very disheartening to hear about the condos they are buying or the cars they drive, but it has begged me to check in with my passions. While my car and apartment are far from fancy, I wouldn’t want to do anything else in the world.