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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.

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

      3 weeks 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!

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

      3 weeks 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.

    3 weeks 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

    3 weeks 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!

      2 weeks 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

    3 weeks 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

      2 weeks 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.

    2 weeks 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!

    2 weeks 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.

    2 weeks 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

    2 weeks 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

      2 weeks 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.

      2 weeks 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!

    2 weeks 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. :)

      2 weeks 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.

      2 weeks ago