Casting for a film is no simple task, even if the production has a studio backing it up. How about casting for a film with a tight budget?
It’s not impossible. Like the many independent filmmakers who have gone here before you, finding the best talent even on a tight budget can be done. You just have to know how to do it and where to look. Here are tips for finding top talent when you’re on a tight budget.
Casting Talented Actors, Even When You’re on a Tight Budget
A popular route for first-time filmmakers is to use friends and family as actors. However, it won’t be long before your audience realizes that the actors on screen aren’t actors at all. Cringey acting is the quickest way to disengage and disappoint your audience. Likewise, family and friends (unless actors or artists themselves) sometimes fail to see the importance of fluidity on a shoot. For example, they could be thinking “Oh, it won’t matter if I’m an hour late; it’s only Lewis,” when in reality, that hour was all the time you had to film at that location.
Hence, as an up-and-coming filmmaker, it’s best to acquire a dedicated, up-and-coming actor to partner with as well. However, how are you supposed to hire an actor if you’re on a tight budget?
Actors—experienced or not—are eager to work on quality, inspiring projects. Adam Levine worked for Begin Again for free! Every actor may be different, but sometimes, assuming there’s room in their schedule and the project is doable, even a well-known actor will take on a small indie project, largely based on the merit of the screenplay. Aspiring actors also often work with aspiring filmmakers in a form of barter system. That is, they act for you, and you give them worthy footage for their portfolio.
This is where we pause and take a moment to emphasize the value of a good screenplay. Its importance cannot be overstated. The screenplay is everything, especially when you’re trying to get talent attached to your project. The screenplay is your rallying call, your mission statement, your way of saying “This is what we’re going to do.”
There are plenty of websites for listing acting jobs on and which also cater for people who are on a tight budget (you) by making this clear to the potential actors as soon as they read the listing. Trust us, there will be people out there who are interested in getting involved. Try Craigslist or Reddit, for example.
Because almost everyone is using social media to connect and advertise, aspiring actors actually find acting auditions, learn about castings, make industry connections, obtain agents, meet new friends, and book jobs through social networking. It is changing the entertainment industry and creating new opportunities for performers everywhere. Look up drama schools and local enthusiast communities where people post casting calls. Join these groups and post your own breakdowns. If you have your own personal account, put up an audition poster and ask your friends to share it.
You may not know it, but actually, school productions are a breeding ground of aspiring talents, continually enticing directors and producers who watch shows as audience. Or if you know some of the teachers, they could give you news or updates about upcoming plays or even recommend connections. Whether it is a volunteer or low-paying project, students see independent films as a step further.
Obviously, it’s the newbies who need to jump-start their career and initially thrive on exposure. If you underestimate inexperienced actors, you miss out on a lot of opportunities and potential connections. Besides, most legends in the entertainment industry started out the way they did. Work together with them and cultivate each other’s career while you’re at it. Where do you find them? You’ll be surprised to find them in film meetup groups, classmates, and friends with a casual interest in what you do and who would want that first chance. These people are self starters just like yourself.
When you are on that friend’s set as a boom operator, get the number of that actor you see killing in every take. Or ask your filmmaker friends about actors they know that might suit the type you’re looking for. It’s truly those ways that you meet the best actors. You just have to search around.
Sometimes, filmmakers and writers already have a particular actor in mind for a character. And sometimes, the actors they have in mind may already have considerable experience and an established reputation. If you think you’re being too ambitious, yes, you are, but no, it isn’t impossible to cast celebrities. Is your story relevant to a certain social issue that this known actor is actively advocating for or against? Asking the right questions can qualify you for some consideration.
Ultimately, hiring an actor to work for free is a trade between the filmmaker and the actor. The director gets the actor’s talent, and the actor receives the reel footage. Sometimes you can sweeten the deal by throwing in your services. Headshots are expensive, so if you’re shooting with a DSLR and have a proper lighting kit, you may very well be able to capture headshots for the actor. Explain to the talent that you might not be able to replicate the shots that a professional headshot photographer would get, but you can give them something close. Alternatively, you could also lend them your editing skills and help them when they have enough clips to put an acting reel together.
Hope you’ll find a star even when you’re on a tight budget! Good luck!