Working As An Actor On Low Budget Shoots

One of the really fun things about producing fiction is working with actors. Although it may seem like more of a directorial advantage, as a producer you are just as much involved from script to screen, and it is massively exciting watching a character go from a word to a human being to an everlasting image.

From this, I thought I would just give my thoughts on how as an actor to deal with working on low budget short films. This is by no means an absolute guide, and certainly not a criticism of anyone in particular; just a few hints and tips from a production eye on how to impress and how to cope with the ups and downs.

Auditions is of course the chance to make a first impression, and I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to turn up on time. There is every chance the casting group will only have the room for a limited period of time, and may well have to call it off if you are much longer than twenty minutes late. Read any script they give you (although in many cases you may have to go in cold), and make sure you have a list of questions. A lot of productions will be the virgin project of the director/producer, and although they might be nervous about organising it, they should be full of ideas on how they want it to turn out. Any passion you can deliver will boost their confidence in you. Although it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs if refreshments aren’t provided, bring a bottle of water just in case.

A little tip at this stage is do some research on different formats of shooting- knowing the difference between  HD, S16mm and 35mm is important as it may show the professionalism of the crew. For example, 35mm is very expensive (at least £200 for ten minutes), and  anyone spending this kind of money should hopefully know what they are doing. When trawling adverts, anything shot on film is worth you attention, and with a good DP will always look quality.

When it comes to pre-production, accept that dates may swap even a few days before the start of shooting, so try not to have anything serious booked in around the film. Certainly don’t arrange anything else for the same day, as filming will almost certainly run over.  Make sure you know whether expenses and catering are going to be provided (they really should be), and how it will work on the day.  This is the point to question your involvement in the film; if you have to shell out fifty quid train fare for a ninety second cameo, is it worth it? Only you can decide.

Offer suggestions of costume from your own wardrobe if it is not a period piece, and raise any issues in rehearsals, not on shoot day. I once worked on a film where an actor suggested a massive deviation from his character’s initial personality, and although interesting, thirty minutes over schedule was not the time to raise it.  If you have any non-creative issues, speak to the producer of the 1st assistant director before consulting the director himself,  and get a call sheet before production starts.

And so onto the film itself, and it’s here that my heart really pours open for low budget actors. I’ve seen accommodation range from a separate room for the cast with a constant supply of catering, to a chair outside in the cold with some water and dry sandwiches. There aren’t really any clues bar budget to spot what kind of production it will be, but you can make the experience more pleasant with a bit of prep.

Bring refreshments of some kind so you will definitely have something , and most importantly of all, bring something to do. A shoot time of eleven will probably end up being somewhere around one or two o’clock, and a book, newspaper, or even some work will go a long way.  Patience is a must. Although it might seem like the crew are rowing or seem inconsiderate, they want the project to succeed as much as you do. This is the time to remember why you got into acting in the first place, and leave the technicalities to those in charge. Being enthusiastic and considerate is the biggest help you can be (bar the actual acting itself). Once it’s shot it is shot forever, and as long as you deliver your best possible performance, bar a huge cock-up there should be something great for your showreel.

When the film is in post-production, make sure whatever happens you get a copy of the final film- there is simply no excuse for you getting a copy. Editing can take a while on low budget films, as editing software might only be available on a part-time basis. Do nudge to see what is going on, but never rely on a project being ready by a certain date- it will almost certainly run over. Move straight on to another production, and let its completion be a treat rather than an inconvenience.

Although this article may seem discouraging in places, the most important thing to remember on low budget shoots is that you are  always making someone’s dream come true.  Best of luck!

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