Filmmaking isn’t cheap. If you were planning to pursue this as a mere hobby with no ROI, you must be rich. We’re talking about cameras, lenses, audio equipment, lights, editing software, transportation, food, and people working for you. A popular route for first-time filmmakers is to use friends and family as actors. But it won’t be long before they think it’s a waste of time and your audience finds the acting sloppy. Post casting calls that says unpaid, and people get angry at you. Keep it secret, and your unpaid actors will tell everybody.
So how did small-time filmmakers do it? Here are straightforward tips to cast actors for low-budget or no-budget films.
Here’s How Low-Budget Film Productions Cast Actors
Do you really need to cast A-list celebrities for your no-budget film? That’s not even a question. Sure, it would be cool to cast a well-known and well-loved actor. It will bring investors, credibility, and flocks of fans to your project. The actor will probably bring experience that you will learn from. But first of all, you can’t afford them. Second, you can’t be confident enough to direct them the way you want to. Third, they are well protected in many ways by their agents and lawyers. There are actually ways to cast them for low-budget films, but we highly suggest you don’t do that. Instead, check with local actors. There are super talented actors hungry to find a great role. In fact, most cities have a pool of underrated actors chomping at every bit of opportunity to book a job.
Don’t say that this could lead to paid work in the future. Don’t try to sweeten the pitch by saying you’ll give the actor social media and IMDb credits to create the illusion you’re offering more than just travel expenses. Pay for them if you can. They won’t cost as much, so try to negotiate their fee.
Offer them your service in return for working in your film. Basically, you get yourself an actor for free and the actor receives reel footage or a digital download / DVD of their clips in return. Sometimes you can sweeten the deal by throwing in your services. If you have the lighting and camera equipment, tell them you can capture high quality headshots for free! This will make any struggling actor happy as headshots are expensive. Alternatively, you could lend them your editing skills and help them when they have enough clips to put a showreel together. They acted for free, so you edit their reel for free. Sounds fair.
If you’re making money from your content, you’re certainly going to have to pay your talent. Independent filmmakers usually plan on releasing their films online or submitting them to a local festival or placing content behind a paywall like Vimeo On Demand. When the money starts rolling in, give everyone involved the cut they deserve. It may be best to seek legal advice for agreements like this as you may face legal ramifications in the unfortunate event that you can’t uphold your end of the bargain.
If you’re sure your film makes money, reach out to local community members, friends, and family that can donate $1,000 or more and pay them back when the time comes. Pitching your low-budget film to these investors will entail a lot of planning. You should already have planned out how to sell the movie. Are you planning to self-distribute this to independent cinemas? Or put it up on Vimeo On Demand?
Another way is through crowdfunding. Start a Kickstarter campaign or attract patrons on Patreon. You can also reach out to your local film society and ask about fiscal sponsorships and grants. A lot of mid-sized cities have an organization like this that will sponsor your project with them if you are a member or are willing to become one. Those memberships sometimes come with added bonuses like office space to use and equipment rentals.
Small-time filmmakers have done it. You can too. Good luck!