Today we’d like to introduce you to Clare Cooney.
Hi Clare, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
In short, I do a little of everything — I’m an actor, director, editor, writer, casting director, and programmer. I trained and worked in Chicago for seven years and then moved to Los Angeles shortly before the pandemic hit.
I was born and raised in a Detroit suburb and fell in love with performing in the school plays and musicals. I never even got cast in a lead role, I just enjoyed being involved in the productions, even in small roles. I didn’t think I’d pursue acting or the arts after high school, but on a whim I auditioned for a play my freshman year at the University of Notre Dame and was truly shocked to get cast. I kept auditioning and kept surprisingly being offered lead roles in the plays and musicals. I also directed a musical and a few scenes for classes and found that I really enjoyed directing as well. I graduated with honors as a double major in Psychology and Film, Television, & Theater. I then moved to Chicago to pursue acting after I graduated from college, always with the notion of “trying it for just a couple of years.” We know how that goes. My first year in Chicago, I auditioned for School at Steppenwolf, a really fantastic actors training program, and I was surprised and honored to be accepted. After that, I started expanding my interests in the artistic community to include more than acting — while I continued to perform in plays and was thrilled to land small roles in film and television productions, I also worked a bit at a casting office called Paskal Rudnicke Casting and became the casting director at an equity theater called Theater Wit. Those years in casting allowed me to work with actors and continue to develop my skills and instincts as a director.
After a few years of getting to know the independent film scene in Chicago, I wrote and directed my first short film, RUNNER, a thriller about a woman who witnesses a violent incident. I pulled together a few very talented friends, and with two shoot days, very little money, and the support of many generous people, the film was made. With my producer’s Premiere software and some basic pointers, I taught myself how to edit and cut the film myself. RUNNER ending up playing at over 15 film festivals and winning six awards, and I received a “Filmmaker to Watch” nomination from the Academy-Qualifying Atlanta Film Festival. RUNNER has now accumulated 750K views online on the short film channel Omeleto. After RUNNER, I directed two other projects, a series called DAD MAN WALKING by John T O’Brien and a short film called GO AHEAD, GRAB TIME BY THE THROAT by Abby Pierce. I also edited both those projects, in addition to editing a web series, four other shorts, two music videos and over one hundred actor reels. I also started working with Elevated Films Chicago, a non profit that hosts screenings of independent films on rooftops and other unique spaces around Chicago. I made Newcity Magazine’s Film 50 list in 2019 and 2020 for being one of the “50 screen gems who shape Chicago’s film scene.”
As I was growing my experience as a filmmaker in Chicago, I was also building my work as a film actor and had been cast in the Steve McQueen feature WIDOWS, NBC’s CHICAGO PD, Pop TV’s HOT DATE, and several independent features and shorts. After seven years in Chicago, I felt the itch to continue my acting and filmmaking career in a larger market, so in late 2019 I moved to Los Angeles! Obviously, the industry took a pretty long pause shortly after I arrived, but a few months ago I started working as a short film programmer for Omeleto (the same folks who programmed RUNNER two years ago!). They’re YouTube’s top showcase of award-winning short films, with over 3 million subscribers, and it’s been incredible getting to watch and program short films from all over the world. Right now, I’m in post-production for a short film I wrote. We filmed during Covid with a cast and crew of just four people. Once again, I’m directing, editing, producing, and acting in it. One day I’ll have an actual budget and won’t have to wear five different hats on a project, but until then I’m really enjoying getting to do a bit of everything!
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It definitely has not been a smooth road, nor has it been a straight one. As you could probably glean from my description of how I got here, it has been filled with twists and turns that involved me going down a bunch of different paths, some of which intersected in unexpected ways. When it comes to the struggles of pursuing acting, I always knew it would be difficult, but honestly it has been more difficult than I could have imagined. Because trying to make a living as an actor is a bit crazy. It honestly feels like gambling most of the time. Because, unless you were born into wealth or have incredible connections or your uncle is Tom Hanks or something, then you’ve also got to be really, really lucky (obviously you have to be talented and ambitious and hard-working, too… but that goes without saying).
While I’m very proud of my acting career thus far and feel thankful for the roles I’ve gotten to play, it is still incredibly hard to get an audition as an “unknown” and that can be painful. Because of my experience as a filmmaker and casting director, when I’m lucky enough to actually GET an audition, I usually know how to deliver a great audition and my callback rate is pretty high. But I simply do not have the opportunity audition much (particularly not THIS year), and at times that has been really discouraging. Another struggle when it comes to acting, is that I’m usually too tall for roles (I’m 6 feet tall) — particularly for stagework, but for film/tv work as well. Once when I was leaving a callback, the casting director called after me:
“How tall are you again, Clare?”
“6 feet, I replied.”
“6 feet with shoes on, or 6 feet with no shoes?” she asked coyly.
“6 feet in bare feet,” I answered.
She smiled a little sadly and marked it down, and I walked away knowing I wasn’t going to get cast — sure enough, the “star” who was playing the boyfriend role was only 5’8.” There have been several experiences like that, and it’s definitely frustrating at times. That was part of why I made RUNNER — I wanted to give myself the opportunity to play a role that I likely would never be asked to audition for. It is a role that deals with the experience of an ordinary woman — her looks and her height have nothing to do with the story.
As a filmmaker, the struggle has always been a financial one — again, those with money and connections are obviously able to flourish in the film industry much more quickly than those without, and that’s just the reality of this industry (and life!). I paid for RUNNER out of pocket and I paid for my most recent short film, PICK UP, out of pocket, and while it can be a really rewarding challenge to make miracles happen with very little money (necessity is the mother of invention!), I’m really hoping that there will be more financial and/or institutional support for my work in the future.
Finally, I can’t talk about struggles in this career without mentioning that I’ve had a speech impediment since I was four years old. After many years of speech therapy, I’m very adept at controlling and/or hiding my stutter. It doesn’t interfere with my acting work, and most people in my life don’t even know that I stutter until I tell them. However, it is certainly a constant struggle in a career that focuses so much on public speaking. It’s never been easy, but I’m proud that I’ve never given up and am constantly growing.
Any big plans?
As I mentioned, I’m in post-production for a short film called PICK UP that will be released online any day now! Extremely proud of this script. I have another short film in development that will hopefully shoot in April/May, and I’m playing a lead role in RELATIVE, by Michael Smith, a feature film shooting in Chicago. In addition, I’ve just signed on to direct my first feature film — nothing is announced yet so I can’t say more than that, but I’m hoping the project gets the funding and support it needs and that the country is safe/healthy enough that we’re able to proceed this summer. Aside from that, I’ll be auditioning, writing, and continuing to program for Omeleto.
- Avg price for actor/director reel: $200
- Avg editing rate: $45/hr
- Website: http://www.clare-cooney.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cooneycm/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cooneycm/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PKtGVJEpdg
- Other: imdb.me/clarecooney
Matthew Fischer; Sally Blood; Jason Chiu
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