how much to pay actors

Posted by spunkmeyer 
how much to pay actors
January 20, 2007 12:35PM
hey there - my first post - thought you all might have some insight into this. Sorry, there doesn't seem to be a better forum to put it under.

I'm making a short 5min video to enter into festivals. I want to pay my actors, as it is the right thing to do, and I think that will attract better talent and also produce better performances. I don't have a budget, and am not looking for top talent, but do need people who can act, as it is a character driven short. Do you all have any recommendations on what a good pay per day would be? I was thinking around $100 for an ~8 hour day. Is this just so ridiculously low that any decent actors will laugh at me, or is it at least better than free so people will take it seriously?

Also - where is a good place to find actors - I was just going to post on Craigslist.

Thanks for any tips!

Re: how much to pay actors
January 20, 2007 12:53PM
I'd say you're jumping ahead. You don't even have a budget yet. Until you break down your script and figure out how much money you have to spend, total, you can't decide how much is high or low for your actors. SAG actors would have their rates already predetermined, but without a budget, you can't even decide whether you can use SAG actors.

Come up with a script breakdown and a budget first, then find somebody to help you produce this thing. If you don't collaborate with an experienced producer, at least consult with one.

> Also - where is a good place to find actors - I was just going to post on Craigslist.

Post an ad in Backstage. You'll probably get 200 headshots in a week. Or go to lots of small plays -- there's amazing acting talent in theatre, and you won't have as much trouble approaching them if the plays are small. Whether they're good for your film or not has to come from the interviews and auditions. When I did casting for my thesis film years ago, one of the leads was for a race-non-specific actress in her early to mid 20s, and we got about a three-foot stack of headshots just from one weekly ad. The actress I ended up casting had a pretty bad headshot shot by her grandfather; I called her in anyway, fairly randomly. But her audition stood out from the dozens of actresses we called in, and I knew she was the right one even at the first meeting. On the other hand, my two favourite choices for the male lead both froze right up when I paired them up with actresses for the callbacks, and the male actor who was my last choice out of the callbacks (originally, I thought he was too good-looking) ended up as the top choice at the very end.

You can never tell with actors.
Re: how much to pay actors
January 20, 2007 01:21PM
Actually you CAN tell with actors. But that is a different story. If you are going to use SAG actors you can go the SAG Indie contract route where payment is deferred or minimal depending on budget. They now have a modified "Ultra low budget agreement in place where $100.00 a day will work.


If its a good script you can attract good talent. Obviously a good casting director would help find you the best talent for your money. Many casting directors work Inide films for producer credit. Know a casting director? Get him/her a script and sell them on it.

It's all about the script when getting started.

If you are going to use non union actors then posting an ad is your best bet or ask to sit in at various acting classes throughout your city or go to various small theaters and watch a lot of bad plays. But you will have to wade through a lot of very bad talent and waste a lot of time finding for your "gems."

A good casting director is very important if you got the money somewhere. Can pay for itself many times over.

Michael Horton
Re: how much to pay actors
January 20, 2007 02:11PM
Thanks for the advice!

Wow - I didn't think about using a casting director. Does anyone know a casting director who might work for credit on an interesting project? Or can you give some suggestions on a good way to find one?

Re: how much to pay actors
January 20, 2007 02:15PM
I've directed or produced a bunch of short films and Derek is right on the money. Without a concept of total budget, you don't know how much you can pay individuals. Being a SAG sanction production can be really helpful as you're generally viewed as a legitimate project if you've gone through the hassles being a SAG signatory. The good news is that there are several SAG contracts that allow for 100% Deferred salary. Check out the sag indie web site for more info on that:

As for casting, you can do okay with craigslist, but you'll do much, much better with sites like:
or as previously mentioned:

Check out the rates and services that each offers to see which site will serve you best. Like Michael said, if you can afford (or are friends with) a casting director, they can be worth their weight in gold.

If you're directing, I can't recommend enough getting someone to help on the producing side. (Especially if you don't have much experience in this area.)

Good luck on your project.
Re: how much to pay actors
January 20, 2007 02:41PM
Unless you are friends with or are a hell of a salesman, you wont be able to cut a deal with a good casting director. Casting Society of America is a good place to start.


As for the hassles of a SAG Indie contract, it is not a hassle at all. SagIndie has done a great job and continues to do a great job. It even offers twice monthly workshops to help you fill out the paperwork.

Michael Horton
Re: how much to pay actors
January 20, 2007 02:50PM
It all depends on your script. If it's a good movie, you'll get good actors.

All the suggestions above are valid.

If you have a good script, I can help you with advice on how to get top talent. Also if you have a good script, shoot it in film. It's only a five minute short. Video is great if you need to shoot 500,000 ft of film (like they do for top commercials :-) Then by all means, shoot video.
Re: how much to pay actors
January 20, 2007 02:54PM
Lets try and stay on topic here. Before yo know it everyone will be giving production advice and where to get the best deal on a Grip Truck. It's a thread about paying actors not about production.

Michael Horton
Re: how much to pay actors
January 20, 2007 05:39PM
> Actually you CAN tell with actors.

Oh, I meant that it's a lot less predictable. Hire a good DP, a good editor, and chances are your end results will look professional (though different creative talent would also have different takes on things). With actors, you can have an absolutely amazing actor, but he may not be right for the film (comedies, especially -- good actors that aren't naturally funny often won't do), while a complete novice can sometimes carry a visual or human/emotional quality that makes the character sing. For example, Keisha Castle-Hughes was absolutely phenomenal in Whale Rider when she had zero film experience, but a grown-up Castle-Hughes sucked badly in The Nativity Story.

Even with a great casting director, you won't know until you meet and audition them.

If you have film contacts that aren't casting directors, there are also sometimes people who are willing to work for free for a small project if they think the project is worthy. Or you are worthy as a networking opportunity. One place to try is to go to a reputable film school and look for producing partners/other collaborators. That may also get you access to their casting files, filmmakers who know actors/casting people/producers, and in the case of my old school, it also allowed access to our theatre department, which was filled with good actors who would love a tangible acting reel and would act for free.
Re: how much to pay actors
January 20, 2007 06:41PM
Call Mark Friedlander at SAG. His direct line is 323 549 6704. It's almost impossible to get him to return calls, so you have to catch him in the office.

He is tough but informative and will send you all the information on the SAG Low and No budget agreements. Be nice to him. If you go the SAG route you will want him to like you.

I advise you to go the SAG route as an experimental film with deferred actor salaries and to pay them their gas/transport costs and feed them properly. This is quite an accepted practice in short films and there are plenty of experienced actors out there who want to practice their "instruments" (!).

I don't know a free casting director. However, it is worth your checking out Mark Sikes, a casting director who does a lot of indie work. His website is []. He might be able to advise you - or perhaps he has a protegé who could help you.

Good luck with your film.



Harry Bromley-Davenport.
Re: how much to pay actors
January 21, 2007 08:45PM
Thanks for all the advice! I looked into SAG and there doesn't seem to be that much paperwork - what a great deal!

Have you all considered having a separate off-topic forum that is for general production/post questions?

Re: how much to pay actors
January 22, 2007 11:01AM
After having considered the options, I have just two more suggestions that you may not have thought.

After you sign with SAG -- let's say you sign the ultra low budget agreement or one of the experimental agreements -- think of all the actors that you think will be right for the two parts your script calls for. Then contact their angents or managers via SAG. You may get lucky and they take an interest in your project.

The other suggestion isn't part of your question, but think about this project seriously. Should you end up making a good movie, you may end up pursuing this concept (because it's a good one), so keep the project open-ended, just in case it turns out to be a much longer film, maybe even feature-length.
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