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Why do actors join low budget productions?

You're an actress / an actor. Why would you join a low budget production where you most likely don't earn much? Is this only something that acting students do? To gain experience and/or have work for your showreel? Or are they other incentives, too?

It would be interesting to see this from the perspective of an actor. Thanks! :)

  • 22 hours and no responses. I've tried to think of a simple one that might make a short contribution to an overwhelmingly obvious answer. Best I can come up with so far is, 'Do bears shit in the woods?'

    It's not only actors who might appreciate working pro bono or for a mere honorarium at some point in their careers. Others sometimes have delusions of grandeur.

    6 months ago
    • Thank you, John. Interesting point. But you're right, it's pretty obvious, just as I expected. :)

      6 months ago
  • I can't answer as an actor, but frankly the chance to practice your skills with other professionals/emerging professionals and maybe get some minor exposure makes sense if you've nothing else on. Actors at least get *some* exposure, whereas a runner, producer, boom swinger, etc get none at all!

    6 months ago
    • Thanks, Paddy. That's true. Sometimes the crew has a pretty thankless job. But mostly it's worth the effort! :)

      6 months ago
  • Simply: CV. When making a choice between an actor with an empty CV compared to one which includes several short or minor feature parts, the later would always be preferable to casting agents, directors, producers etc,. when making the desicion as to whether to call you in for a casting.

    6 months ago
  • Hi Philipp
    I'm surprised that you haven't had many responses to this question from actors. I'm an actor and I work for low pay or even free all the time. The main reason is that acting is its own reward, and getting paid to act is *extremely* difficult if you are not a recognised "name", which applies to only a tiny tiny fraction of all actors. I want to grow and develop my craft and while I can (and do) take classes, the opportunity to develop while working on an actual production is much more rewarding and IMO better training. I've also sat on the other side of the table casting for low-budget productions and my experience is that there is a wealth of highly trained actors at the top of their game who are willing to work on low-budget productions.
    HTH
    Zoe

    6 months ago
    • I'm happy to hear that developing the own craft of acting is an important reason for actors to work on low-budget films. This is very motivating as a director. :) Thank you, Zoe!

      6 months ago
  • The simplest answer is a great script featuring great characters which will give an actor the opportunity to play a more substantial role than they usually get, or a different type of character. We also want to work with filmmakers who seem fully prepared, and act professionally, even if they can't actually pay you.

    Personally (but I think this applies to most) when I started out I was less choosy as I just needed to gain experience in front of the camera, and get a reel together. However this also meant that I got burned (and learned) on a few occasions. There were instances where travel expenses weren't covered, there was no food or refreshments on set, the production's running behind and suddenly they want you to work 12 hours or more, oh and can you bring your own clothes, we don't have costumes or make-up etc... If you want a complete stranger to come and work for you for free, you should at least be able to cover their basic expenses and do everything you can to make it feel like a professional shoot. Otherwise, I'd say work with friends until you can.

    I have also produced a micro-budget feature, and a short with my partner Kerry Skinner at Park Bench Pictures (whose SP account I have hijacked because I think this is an important post). We managed to attract some very experienced actors to work for "profit-share" on the feature, because they loved the script, but we made sure no-one (including all HOD's and crew) went out of pocket. We covered all expenses, arranged for amazing catering on set, shot both on an ALEXA and surrounded the actors with professionals in every department. And returning to my opening remark, the only reason we were able to attract a great crew - and I'm taking about everyone from HOD's to Runners and DIT - was because everyone loved the script.

    Film-making is a passion that I have yet to make any money from. I actually earn my living as an actor. If I commit to work on a low-budget film, I could be taking myself out of the running for a highly paid film, tv, theatre or voice job. Which means I won't be earning the money I need so that I can afford to make my own next film. (That's my situation, but for most experienced actors I think you could replace "make my next film" with "pay my mortgage" or "eat lunch today." But I love film, I watch a lot of shorts hoping to discover new talent. I'd love to meet the next (insert your hero's name here, but I'll use) Damien Chazelle and contribute as an actor to his growth as a filmmaker. And hope he'll keep me in mind when he hits the big time. In film and tv work, I also tend to play Major Exposition, or the guy who comes in to move the story on, so a great script with a meaty role would be almost irresistible. If the filmmakers sound organised and professional.

    Finally, as an actor, even the low budget offers come through my agent, because a) they know what my schedule is like and what is in the pipeline and b) I don't want to be the one to say I didn't like the script enough. My agent will pass most things on to me unless he knows I'm already committed to something, but if the script doesn't quite grab me enough, he will be the one to write a polite reply saying that I am "unavailable." Because, I might love the filmmaker's NEXT script!

    Just so you have an idea of my own experience, you can see my showreel on IMDB here: www.imdb.com/name/nm0991334/videoplayer/...

    Every actor will have different preferences and standards (I know a big name actor who will commit to anything, and I mean anything, where he gets to wear 18th century costumes and ride a horse) but I do think these are pretty good guidelines for getting actors to commit to low-budget films.

    I thought it was a great question. I hope my reply is helpful.

    All the best,

    Stewart

    6 months ago
    • Hey Stewart
      Thank you so much for this incredibly helpful reply!
      These are some really good tips on how to create a good experience on set for the actirs. It‘s very important to achieve that!
      Also, thanks for the insights into your own experiences, it was interesting to read. And your showreel is awesome, by the way.
      All the best, Philipp

      6 months ago
  • Been acting on and off (mostly off) since the late 80s, mainly theatre until about '97 and movies since mostly student ergo mostly unpaid. I worked most of my life as a youth worker so possibly the student flick bit comes in there. I had a dry spell for a while and then one or two (maybe three can't remember) student flicks. My wife remarked 'thank god for that'. Some of these actually end up costing me since the mention of 'expenses' often produces the shuffling of feet and embarrassed whisperings. until I say something like 'oh buy me a pint then'. I do it for the same (or similar reason) I'm in two choirs (one a rock one) and go to the gym two or three times a week - it's therapeutic. Better not tell anyone that though come to think of it.

    6 months ago
  • I agree with most of the points here, again not an actor myself, but I managed to cast a fairly well recognised British actor in my last Short with BBC/Channel 4 credits who was paid significantly less than he would on most other productions due to the low budget.
    But he said the script was very original and had a lot of depth that he could develop and play into that he just wasn’t being offered elsewhere. He mentioned getting endless ‘cop drama’ scripts to his agent where he’d play a young offender or a rising detective, but nothing with any substance. He actually hadn’t accepted any projects last year except ours and one feature, so I that was a great accolade on it’s own.

    But I fully believe if you have a smart, engaging script that allows actors to be someone different or really embellish their acting ability and you get it in front of the right actors at a good time in their career - you can easily have a great cast on board!

    6 months ago
  • I can't answer from the perspective of an actor, but the most obvious answer is to gain good, well shot, up-to-date showreel material. If you haven't got any credits why should anyone risk taking you on for paid work? For my last short I wouldn't consider auditioning any actor from Spotlight unless they had a decent showreel. Headshots are all but useless.

    6 months ago
  • Great question Philipp. Like Stewart, in the early days of acting, working on low budget productions was a way for me personally to build my CV (sometimes also getting burned), and gain valuable onset experience, as well as making some amazing lifetime contacts (e.g. Ray Brady above who's cast me more than once and is an all round awesome human).

    I now prefer to work on paid productions but I still occasionally work on low budget/no budget jobs when it's a killer script/amazing cast/great team/or just because it's someone I am super keen to work with (if Ben Wheatley asked me tomorrow to do a low budget film, I'd hardly say no, ha ha). I guess each project has to be judged on its individual merit.

    The one thing I don't subscribe to is the philosophy that we have to all be paid for every job we do. I do believe that low budget has its place for anyone starting out. We don't all have our first break on huge Hollywood blockbusters where the budget is millions. And in just the same way, some of the best productions I've ever been a part of (a few of which are due for release this year) were incredible directors and crew who I am just delighted to have stood beside, but that didn't pay much.

    Wishing you luck if you're about to embark on your own low budget production! And always happy to chat and offer ideas for how to keep the actors sweet on set when they aren't getting much more than expenses (hint, make the food decent and don't ask them to get a 4.30am bus to set in the middle of nowhere :) )

    Hope this helps!
    Angela

    5 months ago
    • Thank you for your helpful answer, Angela! :) I totally agree with your opinion on paid jobs (altough it‘s always nice to earn something).
      I actually am planning my low-budget production, where I try to make sure that everything’s fine for the actors. So I appreciate every tip on how to achieve that. :)
      – Philipp

      5 months ago
    • @Philipp Persano Amazing and good luck with it. Anyone who gets out there and makes their own work happen, I take my hat off to. Honestly feel free to hit me up via a DM to talk further about the actor side and suggestions. Equally happy to meet for a coffee.
      And if the script is amazing...and I fit the brief...well ;).... ha ha.

      5 months ago
  • Hi Philipp. I used to do a lot of free or low paid stuff when I was just starting out as I had no training, and wanted to concentrate on screen acting so figured the quicker I got a reel and some credits together the better. Now I almost never work for free unless it's for a friend, or it doesn't take up much time and I think it's worth my while. I've had some very fortunate opportunities over the last few years but it is pretty much exclusively in comedy and I rarely get seen for anything non-comedy. I'm not complaining don't get me wrong, but I'll jump at the chance in many cases to do some low pay work for something a bit different if it's good! Angie and I worked on a great project a while back which is looking very nice from what I've seen - low pay but a great script and team, and the writer and director are friends of mine. However, it was a 3 week shoot and I probably couldn't have done it for free for that length of time. But I might do a free day for a friend shooting a comedy sketch when no-one's getting paid. I also do game VO and occasionally have done the odd bit of charity from home for a tiny developer team until they get some funding or something. I guess it's case by case isn't it!

    5 months ago
    • Hi Rich, thanks for sharing your experiences. Cool to hear that it‘s not always about the salary, but also about new opportunities and working on creative projects together. :)

      5 months ago
    • Couldn't agree more with Rich. That was such a rewarding experience, and they had a brilliant cast and crew. Who could say no. Low Budget but high production value. Really excited to see what comes of it (And proof that you can always ask actors and they just might say yes).

      And actually as another example - I know two of my mates who are quite high profile, just worked on a low paid short film shoot because they loved the script when it was pitched to them.

      Rich, I'm surprised you don't get seen for more serious stuff! You were great.

      5 months ago
  • As an actor who once upon a time did student/no budget productions the answer to WHY is simple. To get the promised footage! Typically billed as "Copy, Credit, Meals Provided"...
    Copy is the PAYMENT. If you hire actors to work for free (consider at minimum in your budget reimbursing them for dry cleaning and travel fees). But that footage is how WE and our REPS see our acting classes paying off. Sometimes it makes it to our demo reels which is critical in having. So many, many times (myself included) we've been screwed by never getting that promised footage! That's why we (my company) and I devised the Copy Provided Form. It's free here www.CopyProvided.com. Download it, print it, use it. Share the link with other actors. We also send out an email when the form has been updated. There is ZERO excuse from the producer not to comply with this form and actors, I am telling you do not work with a producer who will not sign this form. It's a legal binding agreement and a true red flag should be raised with someone who will not provide you with the copy. If you are reading this and you have students, you should make sure this form is signed b/c your students are learning off the actors and they are not even getting paid.
    We all know the credit, might not ever make it to IMDb and the "Meals Provided" is typically Red Vines and What's for chicken?

    5 months ago
    • If you acted in something and never got a copy it's probably because the project never got finished or got abandoned. Maybe it's still on going; I know a director who's been making his film for 13 years!

      Or of course the producer forgot or is too lazy to send you the footage but more than likely it just got abandoned; especially with student/no budget stuff who don't have any money.

      5 months ago
  • I talked with quite well known Scottish actress 2 years ago. She said - if I love the role in a short, if I have time in my big projects schedule, if it is just a couple of days - I will do that even for free, for the sake of art (she definitely doesn't need credits).

    5 months ago
  • When I used to do acting, it was because I loved it, I really enjoyed myself. Now for some, big companies will be looking for named stars or people with a lot of credits, experience behind them. So for some actors, it's a chance to do something they like or love, it's an experience, whether that turns out to be good or bad and that's not always going to be bad on low budget productions. My best experience on tv was with The Bill, they were very friendly, kind and it made the experience great. My worst experience was on Eastenders, as I felt everyone was treated like cattle, Adam Woodyatt was very pleasant though. Anyway, I would have done TV, film work for free when I was acting, it's fun, I'd rather be involved in something than sitting at home waiting for a phone call from a production to come along which may never happen!

    5 months ago
  • I was composing a lengthy contribution to this discussion in my head but then I read Stewart Alexander's input. That's pretty much exactly what I'd wanted to express.

    5 months ago
  • I think a better question is "why don't actors, directors, DoPs etc take on SOME free or expenses only work when they can't find paid work?"
    Such work keeps the CV full, provides experience and can lead to contacts leading to further opportunities.
    The entertainment world is crammed with people wanting to work in the industry, there are many more people than paying jobs. You need to make your own opportunities - if you are a 'resting actor' why not find a good director who has no funds and work with that director to create a body of work that gets attention on a limited budget - e.g.Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows. Don't just work for nothing, create opportunities through partnerships.

    4 months ago
  • An additional point =- when I started putting my C.V.together my agent advised against listing too many student flicks since it tended to make the C.V. look 'amateur'. So I restricted the number. The problem with that is that keeping a C.V. up to date is a tiresome, tedious business and human nature (or at least my nature) took the easy way out and over time came to neglect the CV altogether. Especially since people like Spotlight have their own method of presentation which they are extremely reluctant to interfere with. So keeping it up to date requires about five or so separate entries no two of them being even similar. So you put it off. And off. Being lazy and old with it, I now have only a partial CV to present and no way of updating it since I have not even kept a record of the dozen or so flicks (some paid and not even student ones) that are not now appearing in the CV. I'm guessing I ought to care a bit more than I do.

    4 months ago