Tips for student and novice employers

Okay, you're making a film, and unless you're cheating by doing animation or stop-motion or something you're almost certainly going to need actors.

Actors like working. Like any professional they aim towards getting paid for doing what they do best. They might have only recently graduated and want to put a showreel together. Sometimes they might fancy the challenge of working with people with new ideas. Whatever the reason, you shouldn't have a problem finding someone to help you out, provided, of course, you go about it the right way.

That's what this fact-sheet is all about. It's designed to help you get the best results when you're casting for your project. Hopefully you'll find it useful...

Title

This isn't 100% necessary, but it really helps. 'TBC' or 'None yet' may be honest, but they give the impression of 'Help, I don't know what I'm doing! I can't even think of a title!'. This isn't good. It looks disorganised and will put people off working with you. 'Untitled' may artistically satisfy you, but it's probably also one of the most popular title for short films, and don't you want yours to stand out? If necessary, 'Short film' or 'Student film' are better, but if you really insist on 'Untitled' or don't want to pin yourself down with a title you need to consider how to describe it....

Description

This may seem unnecessary, but it's actually one of the most important features for actors when they're considering what to apply for. It doesn't have to be extremely long (avoid this if possible, actors have attention spans too), but you should think about the following:

  • Plot - About a paragraph or so, imagine this as a pitch to potential investors.
  • Aims - Why are you making this? What ideas in particular are you trying to explore? Again, this only need to be about a paragraph, but will do wonders for your credibility.
  • Influences/Genre - don't be afraid to reference these, it helps actors get an idea of the project, especially if they're fans of particular directors or styles themselves.
  • Technical stuff - If, for example, you're using an amazingly cool camera that will make the film look amazing then mention that too, as many actors will be really keen to work with it. Details about video format will help as well.
Above all, try to sound enthusiastic. This is what you want to do for a living, isn't it? Actors will always prefer a project where the maker sounds passionate and excited about the subject.
    Things to avoid!!"... is a challenging innovative piece of cinema the like of which has not been seen before. It is utterly original and necessary."- Maybe tone it down a little? That's a very big claim...."...involves a lot of improvisation between the actors. I like to collaborate with actors and to give them lots of freedom with their ideas."- Are you a Dogme fanatic, or are you simply too lazy or disorganised to write the script yourself and want the actors to make it up for you? This is a question that actors WILL ask, so be careful....

Company name

You might already have a company name which you use for your productions. If you're still a student sue the space to let actors know where you're studying. If not, then it might be helpful to think of one (try to sound professional - who wants to work with 'Hairy Bum Films'?) or, if appropriate, just use the name of your college.

Pay

As you might expect, if you can pay people then that's great - after all, actors also need to pay the bills and will be less likely to drop out later if they're offered paid work in the meantime. For further information on rates, we recommend contacting the actors' union Equity.

Whether you're on a big or limited budget, the important thing is to be upfront, and only offer what you can absolutely guarantee to cover. This might be travel expenses, meals, accommodation and a daily wage, or it might be none of these - just be honest, don't make promises you can't keep. At the end of the day you want an actor who will get involved because they like the project on its merits. At the very least, however, you should offer a copy of the finished film and provide this within a reasonable time, which you should agree with the actor beforehand - failure to do this could damage the reputation of your company or college.

Location

Once again, the more specific the better. 'London' is fine, but you ought really to have an idea of where you're going to shoot and have booked it if necessary.

Duration

How long the shoot will take - not how long the film is. It's only polite to let actors know upfront if it's a ten-hour shoot starting at 11pm. Alternatively if it's only an hour or two sitting in a pub then this can be a selling point.

Characters

You'll almost certainly need them and they'll be one of the key elements of the film, so of course you want the best possible actors to play them. Just like with 'Plot' (see above), avoid generic names like 'Unnamed' or 'Girl' and the more you can get down on paper the better - actors like challenging characters and many go out of their way for one that looks interesting. Obviously if there aren't characters as such then there will realistically be a limit to what you can put in, but we'd recommend you put as much as you can.

It's a good idea to be fairly open with your physical specifications: don't be surprised if your quest for a one-legged, diabetic Native Venezuelan who can juggle results in a lot of disappointment. Professional casting directors keep a fairly open mind with casting briefs and it'll make your life a lot easier too. See Example 1 for very good character breakdowns.

If, however, you need actors to meet specific requirements necessary for the role (popular ones include driving licences, smoking and stage combat) then you should always mention these. The same goes for nudity - it can be a sensitive subject and should be treated with respect. Be prepared to explain why it is necessary and the steps you will take to ensure it goes smoothly (e.g. a closed set).

    Things to avoid!!"Previous acting experience ideal" or "Must be emotional/expressive/able to act"- Professional actors will all have acting experience and be able to act because they are trained. This is therefore an unnecessary thing to say when dealing with professionals."16-50 year old male and female all races"- It sounds like you don't really care about your project and will accept anyone who turns up.

In addition to everything we've talked about, always check your spelling and grammar before you make a posting. First impressions count for a lot, and a poorly-written breakdown can be worse than no breakdown at all. Also remember that you're trying to attract professional workers and therefore your posting should reflect this - in other words, save the smilies and text abbreviations for Facebook.