Get Your Project Done for Nothing and Your Actors for Free!

I’m going to start this article out by stating, up front, for all to see, with no reservations, and only the best intentions, that actors are interesting cats.  Many of you readers (all three) are out there in the Coliseum of your Schadenfreude (yep- had to look it up to make sure it meant what I thought it meant: deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others), screaming down into the pit for me throw every high maintenance actor you’ve ever encountered to the lions in hopes of a quick and bloody end . Sorry Caesar- no go.  It’s not that kind of party.


Drawing by: nullcherri

Actors are interesting cats. I will say it like that in a fair and balanced manner.  You see, as a DIY filmmaker, I am always in the position of asking actors for the generous contribution of their time and energy.  You may say that “actor time” differs from “real time,” but we’ll stay off that path.  This little blurb is about how to handle actors when they have only the obligation of their word to make them show up and give you that funny little thing called, “acting.” It’s that little thing that will keep you away from stop motion animation and/ or endless shots of cars driving to nowhere you will have to use to finish your piece.

Repeat after me, “no one should ever have to attempt another ‘Battleship Potemkin.’”


So you’ve talked to some actor friends and they’ve said, “hey wow! I love your idea- I would so love to be in your short/ music video/ feature, etc. Lemmie know your shoot dates and I’ll be there.”  First thing’s first: GET THEM SHOOT DATES ASAFP.  I don’t think I have to spell out the F.  The only way to really gauge whether or not your drinking buddy is serious is to come back to them with a range of shoot dates ASAFP.  If every single shoot date you throw at them elicits an “I’ve got a thing with a thing” response, then your buddy is just trying to be supportive and you should look for someone more brutally honest about their availability and interest level.

I’ve had a casual actor friend for over ten years now that, when I hear from her on Facebook, always asks why she’s never been in any of my productions.  The nice answer that I reply with is, “well, we’ve both been so busy.”  The real answer is “every time I try to cast you, you’re always busy shooting for ‘Thing With a Thing Productions.’  That’s one hell of a contract, lady!”

Assuming they’re really interested, try to be flexible about your dates if they’re trying to be about theirs.  Without the participation of these folks, you’re not shooting.  Remember, they are helping you out and may have paying gigs you’ll have to work around.  If you’re trying to coordinate a number of actor buddies’ schedules, be patient.  This is your baby, not theirs.  You’re the one who has to make it work.  One thing they will respond to/ smell weakness within is your organization.  If you are organized they will be relieved that they don’t have to be.  If you’re not… well… let’s just say a pet tiger is cool to hang out with until someone dumps a bucket of blood into the enclosure.  A tiger is what a tiger does.

During a pre-production meeting after a long hiatus on a project, I totally lost my cool on an actor about his availability.  This particular person has been chronically late and hung over many shoot dates before the break and resentment was thick and unresolved.  I won’t bore you to death with the details, but let’s just say that the whole schedule had been worked around a day of the week he couldn’t shoot because he needed that day to “unwind” every week. Fair enough.

What set myself, and the whole room off was that, after we had just spent two hours hammering out a schedule together, he suddenly piped up and completely switched his “unwind” (smoke a bowl) no-go time to a different day of the week.   That was when I blew it and unloaded a big angry verbal torrent of frustration on him. I stood up on my hind legs and let him know exactly what the rest of the cast and I thought about his day off and that he really should get off of his high horse and fall in line.

Long story short- he quit the project.  That was the project we had already just spent two years on.  His character was in nearly every shot and we were only halfway done.  Needless to say I called, I apologized, and we worked it out.  I will never put myself or the project in that sort of position ever again.  I forgot he was working for free and I forgot to make it work.  All’s well, but lesson learned. Anyway, back to your prep:

Okey doke.  Your schedule’s looking good and everyone’s tentatively cool with your dates.  Now then, let’s broach the sticky subject of table reads/ rehearsals.  Bluntly:  you’re going to get a mixed bag of attitudes about rehearsals:


Actors who do more theatre work are often totally about tables reads and will be Face-twitting you non-stop with ideas about their character’s back-story, as well as be two hours early to the run-through.  Film/video actors, on the other hand, will often be B.O.A. (Bored On Arrival), if they are interested in coming at all. They’ll want to read it once and go have a drink.  Neither actor is doing any of this to be crass or passive aggressive (well, the vast majority).  Some actors really have to work out their dialog in a group first and some actors really have to be on location and feel out the scene as it happens.  It’s just their process.  And yes, there is such thing as a “process.”  Everyone has a “process” of how they do something, acting or not.  Before that “hhhumph” escapes your whitened teeth, ask yourself this: how do you eat an Oreo cookie and why do you do it that way? Well?  Haah?  I thought as much.

Get through your table read and do your level best to accommodate that mixed bag of interest levels.  If the majority is not interested, don’t push it too far.  Attempt at least one get together to meet and greet, but don’t expect everyone to be available to spend four hours every other day on table reads and rehearsals.  Even you best friends and family won’t do hours and hours of rehearsals for a freebie. Where there is a pre-production budget for rehearsal pay, you will find consistently willing participants.  If you find a group that will rehearse day after day for free, hold those people close- for they are the salt of the Earth and will inherit the World.

Check Back Next Week For PART 2 Of This Article : PRODUCTION

Vlad Peters : DIY Filmmaker

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