FEATURE FRIDAY: Meet Amanda Melby—Actress, Acting Coach, Film Producer, and Owner of Verve Studios

Michelle Glicksman

Amanda Melby has worked as a professional actress for over 30 years, with a resume that reads like a Hollywood dream—film, TV, commercials, voice-over, and theatre. She is also an acting teacher and coach, and a film producer.

On top of all that, she is the owner/head coach of Verve Studios, a professional-actor training studio in Scottsdale.

The four-time Emmy® nominee—for her work as producer and host of the television show Screen Wars and the Raising Buchanan trailer—has been honored with the 2019 Phoenix Film Festival’s Best Arizona film for Raising Buchanan, was the 2007 Phoenix Film Foundation Board Member of the Year, and was nominated for the 2011 Governor’s Arts Award for her contributions to the Arizona Entertainment Community.

Melby is also now beginning her first term as president of SAG-AFTRA Arizona Utah.

We caught up with her to talk about her training studio, her favorite projects, and what’s ahead for films, television, and commercials in Arizona.

 

Tell us about Verve Studios …

Verve Studios is a professional actor-training studio in Scottsdale. Since 2005, Verve has coached aspiring to working actors. Verve offers adult and youth group classes, workshops, and workouts, plus summer camps, private coaching, and audition taping services.

Amanda Melby. Courtesy Amanda Melby

How did you choose the name?

I was looking for a name that was inclusive and not exclusive. A name that described how we work, not just what we do. I didn’t want to name it after myself as it’s not about me as an individual. I love the definition of Verve and thought it perfectly encapsulated what we do.

     Verve (noun)

  1. enthusiasm, energy, or spirit, especially in the expression of artistic ideas
  2. lively vigorous spirit

Can people who don’t train at Verve film auditions there or coach there?

Absolutely. Those that haven’t yet taken a group class are welcome to take private coaching. Anyone is welcome to tape or record their auditions with us.

We have short- and long-term classes and one on ones. That’s the beauty of how the studio works. We have conservatory-level classes, but students can take them in the order that fits their interests, schedule, and budget. If you take everything we offer, you will have received an education equal to a college degree.

Amanda Melby. Courtesy Amanda Melby

Any big success stories?

We have so many working actors in our 18-year history. I am not one to brag about the big jobs, because being a working actor is a marathon and is about linking one job after the last. We train actors to book job after job after job, which is what being a working actor is. So, you’ll see our students in national commercials for United Airlines, Hilton, Marriott, and local ones like Arizona Lottery, and AAA. Our TV students and coaches have credits on all of the major networks, cable, and streamers: This Fool on Hulu, Young Sheldon on CBS, Chicago Fire on NBC as recent examples. Plus, hundreds of independent films, short films, and smaller roles in studio films.

I also had a ton of fun working on Candid Camera. I did four episodes for the TV Land reboot and got to do long-form pranks on people.

How long have you been acting?

My parents met doing theatre in college (and my mom’s parents met doing a play, too!), and they were actively involved in community theatre both on the boards and on stage. My first play was The Miracle Worker in 1984. I desperately wanted to play Helen Keller, but had no experience, so was cast as a “Perkins Girl” instead. After that, I was cast as Wendy Weasel in The Wind in the Willows. I was cast regularly in plays after that and went to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. to study theatre and music. (I had a scholarship for cello.)

After college, I went to Washington, D.C. to do an internship at the Kennedy Center, then to Cleveland, where I earned my AFTRA and SAG cards doing commercial work. Then to L.A. to be a smaller fish in the ocean!

I’ve been a member of the actors’ unions since 1997 and am excited to start my two-year term as president of the Arizona-Utah local of SAG-AFTRA in September.

I have acting agents in Phoenix; New Mexico; San Diego; L.A.; and Detroit, Mich., and continue to pursue work in all of those markets.

Amanda Melby. Courtesy Amanda Melby

What drew you to acting?

I am lucky that my parents knew the importance of the arts. They owned a music store and rented band and orchestra instruments to students in schools and helped thousands of musicians through their retail store and private lessons.

Me and my three siblings were all musicians and actors and were encouraged to play and to try a many instruments and artistic endeavors as possible. I didn’t really see any other career course besides being in the arts. Although, I did have many survival jobs when I lived in other cities until I was able to find work that really complemented my acting: teaching group fitness classes (kept me in shape!), working as a spokesperson and product specialist, and teaching music and acting.

What keeps me in it is the love for storytelling and the community it takes to make great art.

Favorite project you’ve been in?

I’m most proud of Raising Buchanan, a feature film that I developed with my friend and colleague Bruce Dellis. He wrote and directed it, and I produced and starred in it. We had an amazing film festival run with it, and it was released to iTunes and Amazon in May of 2020, right when the world shut down for Covid. You can find it by searching for the name on many platforms. It’s a dark comedy starring me, Réne Auberjonois (Benson, Star Trek), and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple).

I also had a ton of fun working on Candid Camera. I did four episodes for the TV Land reboot and got to do long-form pranks on people. You can see the episodes online.

There are a lot of changes coming for Arizona regarding filming projects—can you tell us a little about that?

Arizona had a tax incentive for film and TV projects for five years in the mid-late 2000s. During that time, we had a LOT of work here. Unfortunately, that sunsetted and the AZ Film and Media Coalition, of which I was a member of during that window, tried to get a new one going. In about 2021, HBO came and shot a pilot in Tucson and indicated an interest in shooting the whole season here. That jump-started the urgency again, and there was a new bill that passed in 2022 for a 20-year tax incentive. The rules were released this summer, and projects have begun filming. There have been announcements about studios in North Scottsdale and Buckeye being built. The current SAG-AFTRA theatrical strike has stalled studio projects from starting here, but we have 19 more years of the tax incentive, so I see a lot of theatrical work coming here once the strike is resolved and the studios are built.

We have always had a strong commercial and independent market, and that work is not struck and continues to flourish.

When and why did you settle in Scottsdale?

My husband and I came to Scottsdale in late 2004 for his work. We wanted to buy a home and start and family, and that seemed out of reach in Los Angeles at the time as the market was insane. We kept getting outbid on condos and townhouses by huge numbers. The market was hot here when we moved, but it was still more affordable than L.A., even with competitive buyers.

It’s a short flight and a reasonable drive back to L.A., and I have done that commute hundreds of times since moving here for auditions and jobs, but I love being based here.

What do you love about the area?

I love that it is a great place to raise a family; it’s affordable, but still offers a lot. There are lots of opportunities for seeing performing arts, professional sports, and concerts. We love to cook and eat good food, and there is no shortage of amazing restaurants here.

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