View Full Version : Getting Free Actors

06-22-2004, 10:48 PM
I was wondering what would be a good way, to tell the actor that I'm shooting a short film but there is no pay involved?

Did anyone ever experience that or you can afford to pay your actors.

06-22-2004, 11:18 PM
You can get free actors all day long, but they may not be the best actors. Go to acting training schools, university and high school theater departments, put up notices on indieclub.com or various other casting boards. Tell them exactly what you're doing: making a short, no pay but food & copy. If you present yourself professionally, you'll get lots of actors to choose from. New actors need material for their reel, so they'll sign up. You should always feed 'em and if you can thrown 'em $10 to $20 to cover gas, that'd be nice.

Talent agencies are another source -- I've had them send actors my way who they think are really promising, but they really need some footage for their reel. Just make sure you keep their name/address and actually send 'em a copy when it's done.

06-22-2004, 11:44 PM

Thanks Barry.

06-23-2004, 07:45 AM
You can get very good actors at no charge -- like you, we're working on our careers too. *One of the problems that we actors have when working for free (which we frequently do, much to our agents' chagrine) is having to deal with numbskulls on the other side of the camera.

Let me offer these tips:

1. Be honest up front if there is no pay.
2. Treat actors with the same respect you treat the rest of your crew.
3. Be organized -- know what the hell you're doing. *Just because you can afford that expensive video camera doesn't mean you know how to direct a movie. *You don't want your time wasted with bad acting; don't waste a good actor's time by not having your act together.
4. Hold a casting session; this is good for you and the actors.
5. Be a good communicator -- this is important when dealing with actors and the rest of your crew. *If you can't effectively articulate your desires, you're in the wrong business.
6. Follow Barry's advice and make sure you "pay" the actor with a copy of the project. *It doesn't hurt to send a Thank You note to the actor's agent as well; agents can be immensely helpful to no-budget filmmakers if treated well.

I know that my posts sound defensive, but frankly I'm a little tired of the prevailing attitude that actors don't know or do anything. *Our craft is hard too; and expensive to pursue (but almost all of our work is NOT seen by anybody but us and our coaches). *I spent as much on classes, photos and other things last year as I did on my DVX100A. *

We all have the same goal: to make great movies. *We're here to help you, because helping you is in our best interest.

06-23-2004, 10:48 AM
Don't worry about sounding defensive. It's important to have an actor's point of view in these discussions. I would hope that most directors realize that acting is a creaft and most of the actor's work is done before he/she arrives on set.

06-23-2004, 10:54 AM
JonnyMac, your posts are always superb. You don't come off as defensive, you come across as informative. I hope all aspiring indie directors will read and understand what you say.

06-23-2004, 11:56 AM
Ya, catering is all I can afford for the actors, and ofcourse, a copy, credit, experience and fun!

Thank you JonnyMac, Actors perspectives are very important to me, great advice.

This is going to be my first short. Working with the actors is very important to me. If could I would definetly pay them. The money that I have is going for making the film, equipment rentals. My crew is working for free. I hope one day I will be able to pay my actors, they deserve every penny.
The best I can do is to have a great experience with them on the shoot, giving them credit and maybe getting them recognized at film festivals.

I posted a ad, and getting emails arleady. WOW, thought this would be harder. We'll see how the auditions go.

06-23-2004, 12:34 PM
You can visit our site for a project I'm working on to see how we're going about it. A radio station and newspaper are also providing "free" advertising.


David Jimerson
06-23-2004, 06:21 PM
FYI -- I recently posted a casting call on indieclub.com and got a near-immediate response. Could be a lot of factors involved with that, but it sure got someone's attention right away.

06-23-2004, 07:29 PM
Thank you JonnyMac, Actors perspectives are very important to me, great advice.

... If could I would definetly pay them. The money that I have is going for making the film, equipment rentals.
You're welcome.

You know what? We understand that and are on your side; completely. We'd rather you spend the money you have to make a project look good and get seen (helping us) than get paid a pittance for a piece of work that goes nowhere. Again, we're all in the same game and filmmaking is a team sport.

Judith Weston's book may help you since this is your first time out as a director. As I stated in another post, if you also wrote the script, then you must be prepared to answer any question about the character (and his history and motivation) that an actor may ask; and trust me, if you get good actors, they will ask. Honestly, anybody can say lines, but to live truthfully -- and do it on demand take after take -- that takes an actor. ;D

I hope the project goes well for you and your cast and crew.

06-23-2004, 09:56 PM
JonnyMac... thank you for the encouragement. Don't get that alot from people in my city, some people just discourage me, I wanted to start filmmaking between the ages 17-19, taking workshops at the film group and doing some shorts, but I was to weak and defeated by other people but now I'm stronger at age 23. Directing is my passion, and I'm going to do it no matter what anyone says.

Another question concerning auditions,

How do you guys do your auditions? What steps do you take?

Do the actors improv stuff for you, do they read your script?

And also for the actors, tell us about your experiences with auditions?

06-24-2004, 04:51 AM
There's also the deferred payment option. I'll be making my first feature later this year and also can't afford to pay my actors (though I will feed them and try to give them some money for gas). But I intend to include deferred payment in their agreements so that if by some miracle we get distribution and get money back, I'll be happy to pay everyone who helped out.

And JonnyMac, your posts are excellent. However, just thought I'd mention that every time I see your name on a post, I have flashbacks of John "Johnny Mac" McEnroe berating umpires and throwing tantrums on the tennis court!

06-24-2004, 12:36 PM
Woodsen: I've only been acting professionally for five years, but in that short time I've seen every manner of audition. *Since I also write and have directed a few projects, I'll offer these thoughts:

The process (it is a process, not a competition) is designed for everyone to succeed, so set-up your auditions for success. *How? *When you're looking to attract actors start with a proper break-down (of the characters in your script) that you can post or give to local talent agencies. *My agent routinely forwards [proper] break-downs to her talent. *Yes, you will sometimes get somebody who sees themselves in a part where you don't, but I really think this won't be the norm. *When it does happen, the least stressful thing you can do is let them read and leave (I have done this).

Provide sides in advance, and if possible, background information that may affect the sides (for big leads, providing the whole script is very helpful for the actor, and therefore to you). *Yes, this is work, but what you're trying to do is give the actor every bit of ammunition you can so that he/she can give you his/her best. *Don't be seduced into thinking that you find the best actors by reading them "cold" (hire a newsreader if that's the skill you want). *You certainly wouldn't expect a DP to shoot brilliant footage with a camera he's never seen, why should you expect brilliance from an actor who's never seen your script? *

Be organized. *Actors are used to waiting, but that doesn't make it right. *When you're asking actors to work for no fee, you've really got to respect their time. *That said, don't rush actors that are doing well and you want to see more from. *If you get a golden actor, give them new sides and send them back to the waiting room to work on them. *Trust me, you'll make that actor's day, and you won't be forcing them to read cold while others are waiting way past their scheduled audition time.

Improv? *This can be tricky for new directors. *Why? *Well, if you ask actors to start improving, strong actors are simply going to improv everything if they don't like your script and you could lose control. *You're hiring actors to act, not to rewrite your script. *I've only gone "off book" once in an audition, and it was for a call-back where the script was written with a lot of planned inter-cutting between different locations, so a lot of my character's dialog was missing (it was never planned to be onscreen, so the cut-up material was tricky to audition). *Since it was call-back and I'm a pretty good writer (I think), I wrote fill-in material to make my audition dialog flow more smoothly. *When I got there they told me to feel free to add. *Luckily, I had worked all that out in advance and it went very well. *I just heard at lunch today that I'm one of the finalists for the part (Wish me luck, gang *;D). *Save the improv stuff for when you have your cast together and are working -- that's when it will be valuable, because it can be a good tool for getting to the core of the scene. *You may even adjust a scene based on the improvs.

After the audition is done, no matter how it went (good or bad), thank the actor for their time. *For actors, no news is bad news, so you don't have to call to tell us we didn't get the part. *When you do call the actors you've cast, be upbeat and confident and let them know you're looking forward to working with them. *Be genuine, of course, I'm not talking about blowing smoke up anybody's skirt. *Your enthusiasm (or lack thereof) will have an effect on your cast and crew, so why not start on a good note?

Make sure you keep the rest of us posted on your how your project proceeds. *I'm sure that you sharing your experiences will help us all.

06-24-2004, 12:47 PM
And JonnyMac, your posts are excellent. However, just thought I'd mention that every time I see your name on a post, I have flashbacks of John "Johnny Mac" McEnroe berating umpires and throwing tantrums on the tennis court!
As an actor, I'm certainly "emotionally open" though I tend to save my outbursts for effect or for the camera.

I was given the nickname Jonny Mac by a guy at a local TV station, and it sounded so cheeky that I adopted it, completely forgetting that the moniker really belongs to John McEnroe. I hope he doesn't get angry and wrap a racket around my head....

David Jimerson
06-24-2004, 12:58 PM
McEnroe goes by "Jonny Smyth" these days . . .

06-24-2004, 01:59 PM
For auditions, I can think of several tips:

A) Be organized.

B) Keep everything moving and try to keep on time.

C) Detail people to watch actors as they come in and have them fill out info forms, and not just accept resumes. You can ask for current contact info and, more importantly, for any conflicts with rehearsals and filming. These people can lead actors into and out of the audition.

D) In my auditions, I have them do a monologue (to see what they can do when they've prepared) and have them do a cold reading. I ALSO watch carefully and ask them to do that cold reading in a differentl way, in order to gauge how well they take to direction.

In general, you can find aspiring actors in many places. Many regions have online audition boards; certainly, the local papers will have auditions printed in them. And placing notices in the local college, community college and acting schools will also do the trick.

Pay is good, but when it's not possible, I would always try to feed them and give them a sample tape/film for their portfolio.

06-25-2004, 05:37 AM
When you give the actors a video or DVD do you give them the complete film, or just their clips? Obviously you could compile their clips on a DVD long before editing and post production is finished on a feature.

06-25-2004, 06:17 AM
You should give you everybody that works for you a copy of the completed piece, and you will be a hit with actors if you can pull their clips and provide them separately. Most actors do not have their own edit systems (I only know two or three other actors in Dallas that also shoot and edit), so this would be doing them a very big favor. This may be a simple thing for you to do and an easy way for you to attract actors to your future projects.

06-25-2004, 06:44 AM
Well, yeah, I'd give them a completed DVD when it's finished, but that might be several months after principal photography is finished. I was thinking I would quickly compile their own performances before editing the flick so that they could have the clips before the feature is finished.

06-25-2004, 10:09 AM
If you did that, it would put you far ahead of most of the producers who use free actors. Give 'em both, that'd be very responsible of you...

06-27-2004, 10:28 AM
the standard no pay line in nyc is 'no pay but food/transportation/copy provided'. also, be sure to state 'non-union' if that's the case.

recently, i posted an ad in backstage, listing a tag line for my film, 3 very short character descriptions, as well as stating that it would be a no-budget / no-pay 10-15 minute dv short: i received about 400 paper headshots AND about 350 email headshots. from that, we called about 80 for auditions but only 60 showed up. i was amazed at the talent that walked through the door - of course there were a couple of duds as well as crazies (this is nyc), but overall, i was amazed. just like us, the great acting talents of tomorrow have to start somewhere. we're all in this together.

here's my two cents on auditioning as well as shooting a no-budget film.

- make the actors comfortable by, like johnnymac said, being organized - it makes you look professional and you don't necessarily need money to be organized. and don't have a room full of people standing around during auditions; it's a nerve racking experience for actors, especially if they're just starting, so make it as easy as possible. i auditioned actors with myself (director), my producer/co-writer and a friend who fed lines. and rent a third party space for auditions; going to someone's home can seem very sketchy.

- sending out sides is key. when extracting a scene from your script, i find it best to simplify it as much as possible, which can mean changing/dropping dialogue and action cues while still retaining some important information about the character. essentially, you want to make it to read as a stand alone scene. for this last film of mine, our lead character happened to have almost no lines, so we made up sides for his character - how would this character react in a situation where he had to talk? and i'd agree that the improv approach should only be used in special situations (maybe a specific type of comedy?); it usually provides for undesirable/uninformative results.

- this is a personal choice and probably one more suited for shorts than for features, but i don't give out any more back story than what i work into a side (which is minimal at best). i like this approach because it's such a great learning experience for me as the director/writer to SEE/HEAR a fresh perspective on the characters, situations, dialogue, etc. before an actor reading this freaks out, on this last film, i picked an actress who initially took the part in almost the exact opposite direction as how we imagined her. she was just great, and we could see that despite how she took the character. the key with this approach is to keep an open mind and not just look for the actor that was able to read your mind and go with the character exactly as how you imagined. that would be unfair.

- FILM the auditions. this is very important because some actors have a lot of charisma that comes off in person but not on film. likewise, some people who seem aloof in person, glow on camera (they are actors after all). you'll be amazed at how different your reactions may be to different actors once you get home and review tape. (during auditions, don't fuss with the camera too much, but do try to get some long shots for body language and some close-ups for facial expressions).

- obviously you want good actors, but it's also important that you can work with them (this goes for crew as well). i've been on a couple of shoots where an as-yet-to-be-successful actor turns out to be a prima donna and it just makes it impossible for the director to get what they want, as well as making the set an un-fun place to be.
i worked with one actor who as a child was in a film with meryl streep; he said she was the nicest person in the world - she knew everyone's name from director down to the p.a.s and would even help carry some stuff around!
despite how big a place nyc can seem, even here it's an amazingly small world, and what goes around comes around. johnny mac is right, thank you notes are much appreciated; after all, imagine all the time actors put into headshots, auditions, call backs... all for parts they will most likely not get. also some of the actors that weren't right for this project may be perfect for you next one.

- feed them well. an extra couple of bucks per day on getting something better than pizza will go a long way with making cast / crew very happy - don't forget, on a no budget / no pay shoot, they're all essentially working for food (and experience of course). and be sure to make a schedule (start/lunch/dinner/stop) and stick to it. making people work through extreme hunger / tiredness is counter productive.

good luck and keep us posted.

06-27-2004, 09:06 PM
xopoe said something I think is very important. You defiantly should tape the auditions and whenever possible, have someone else to read the sides with the actor.

I never really understood the difference between a real life persona and a screen persona until I was able to see it for myself. Sure there are occasionally some people who are dull in life and sparkle on film (read Deniro), but what's more unsettling is when you have someone who absolutely charms you in your meeting, then disappears on the playbacks. You may think that you're a good judge of a persons acting, but when you're in the room with them you have so much more personally invested in their performance and that ends up tainting your ability to appraise their skill.

I didn't think there could be much difference until I saw the proof with my own eyes.

06-27-2004, 09:19 PM
As others have said, one of the most important things to do for an actor is to make sure they get their finished copy of your project. Keep in touch with them, inform them of any festivals it's being submitted to and any changes in titling that have come along.

I know too many actors who have done student films starting out, and very few of them ever received copies of the finished products. While some student directors seem to be less reliable then others (cough*NYFA*cough), it's a general problem inherent to all film school projects. Even if you never get around to finishing your film, you should provide your actor with raw footage of their performances for their reel.

Remember, they're helping you with your resume at the beginning of your career, karma demands that you do everything you can to help them with theirs.

06-28-2004, 07:10 AM
I had an audition recently which I thought went pretty well. I didn't have a completed script so I just came up with some quick monologues for my three main characters plus a paragraph or two describing their personality and relationship to each other.

After each actor would read the monologue I proceeded to interview them as if they were that character asking questions like "Why do you hate so-and-so so much" or "What made you decide to become a dominatrix?". That kind of thing. I was really impressed with how some actors just fell into instantly. You could practically see the switch go off in their eyes.

As far as getting free actors, you definitely have to remember the three F's (Food, Fun and a Fantastic DVD!). And don't forget the importance of a great wrap party! I find a cookout is always a hit especially if it's in conjuction with a screening of the finished film!

07-02-2004, 06:50 PM
Yowza...I leave for a couple weeks and I've got a trillion posts to catch up on!

Good points said by all!

07-04-2004, 10:18 AM
If your not going to pay them, at least provide FOOD for them. The last thing you want on a set is grumpy actors complaining all the time. With that said, you should look for actors that have a burning desire to act. That should weed out some of the bad apples.

07-06-2004, 08:50 PM
Who needs film school... No one!

Thanks to all of you guys, the advice you gave me helped me alot.

I've started meeting actors this week and will continue to do so till the end of the week. I gave them the script and character info. Starting next week... Audition time! Can't wait.

07-07-2004, 07:20 PM
Another good resource for posting ads is Mandy.com. We posted all of our ads there for my first film. We've got piles of headshots from it.

From experience with both "cold" and, uh... i guess "warm" auditions, I have to say honestly that warm is better. Just be sure to give the director some direction on their second run-through to make sure they're acting and not just giving you a set performance of specific line readings that won't ever change regardless of how much direction you give them.

One last thing I'd suggest to look for during your auditions, especially since it's a no-pay experience (like all of mine); try the best you can to gauge the actor's temperament and personality. Actors that are respectful and professional can make the experience 1000000 times better. In fact, the same goes for any crew members. All it takes is one jack-ass on your set (I've met a few) to really bring the whole thing down.

Best of luck. Sorry to hear that people beat you down about it a few years ago. Some people are put-off by ambition because they don't have as much as you. I was 18 on my first film. Most of the people I worked with were a decade older than me (I was ALWAYS the youngest person there). It was intimidating. But if you do your homework, it won't matter. People will see that you know what you're doing and they'll respect you for that, not your age.

07-09-2004, 12:38 AM
Giving good feedback and letting the actor live the part from their POV is key for an actor. The words on the script isn't important as having them live thru their actions. And watching them the first few minutes you will get a good sense of where they are at. Just make sure that the person reading the other part is not somewhere else in their heads. I've read for a lot casting directors here in LA and the one thing I find very irritating is the other person your working off of is not connected to what they are doing. Getting a good feeder will really help out your casting. I had one reader who jumped lines once to a point that I had to work off of what he just said and it was troublesome. Needless to say I got the part but I'm sure the director and producers at that table felt like amateurs. Especially when this was for a pilot on NBC and the studio heads were sitting right behind them.

07-09-2004, 03:00 PM
Smithy is absolutely right -- a good reader is an actor's dream, and most of the time we don't get them. I had a horrible experience with a reader recently that, luckily, didn't hold me back and I made it all the way to the director (I had a great audition with him too, but wasn't cast because I looked too much like the opposing character [Bruce Davison]).

The point is that acting is living -- I think it was Meisner that said, "Acting is living truthfully under the imaginary circumstances of the script." (Somebody correct me if I'm wrong on that quote) That's very hard to do when the reader is crap because the actor's ingrained response is to behave to the stimulous given -- and if the reader is way off the script (or just dull as sh*t) you can't do this, you've got to be true to the intent of the script to have a chance at landing the part.

Take Smithy's advice: get a good reader. You'll be happy you did.

07-30-2004, 06:40 PM
So now when I have choosen the actors what do I tell them...
I mean I know what to tell them, but in a professional way..

For the actors that got the part... congratulations you got the part of *insert character name*

For the actors that didn't get any parts... what to say?

There's been a lot of great actors that didn't get parts, and I wish some of them did, it was hard decision, but had to be made.

How do I let them know?

07-30-2004, 07:32 PM
Tell them exactly what you're thinking. Be honest with them - if they didn't get the part because they weren't right in the part, say so. They'll most likely understand that the problem isn't their acting abilities, more so how they fit into the specific role. Explain that, and they'll most likely be fine (and willing to audition for you in the future!)

09-14-2004, 11:23 AM

Another question concerning auditions,

How do you guys do your auditions? What steps do you take?

Do the actors improv stuff for you, do they read your script?

And also for the actors, tell us about your experiences with auditions?

I usually create "sides": short scripts that the actors can read from in the audition. My personal taste is to do really whacky stuff for the sides, not even stuff in the script, because I like to throw those auditioning unexpected stuff and see how they handle it (100% of my stuff is comedy, so this is another reason I do it). It also allows me to see how much personality these actors have.

I have never once asked actors for monologues. I like creating sides so I can better control what I need to see from an actor for a role.

I require headshots and resumes because it allows me to keep track of actors...its something I can take notes on that can easily be matched up with a visual. If an actor does not bring a headshot and resume I am thoroughly unimpressed.

I think its extremely important to make my auditions as professional as possible, but fun. I always have a casting assistant, my casting director, writer and director at the audition. I need all these people to have a useful audition that is professional.

Hope this helps! Good luck!

11-06-2004, 02:38 PM
Since most of us are not using casting agencies or agents, here is the way I prefer to do it. I get the word out by email lists, Mandy.com , postings to actors groups, local theatre, etc and I first filter the headshots to who we want to talk to, then a phone call to be sure they understand the conditions, such as pay, no pay, etc. Next, have them come in for an interview rather than audition to get to see them, talk a bit, decide if they are people you can work with. From this, select your best candidates for a taped audition, sending backstory and side to them. Sometimes you may think a person is better suited to a part different from the one they are seeking. Above all, be respectful and thank them for coming in.

11-08-2004, 01:35 PM
Put up a sign that says FREE FOOD and I'll bet you'll get lots of actors. Prime Ribbs and steak perferbaly

12-12-2004, 10:14 AM
Yes, if there is no pay, feed them well and at least have descent craft services.