play button

(Shorts) 6 Myths - Working with Professional Actors


You have an important video project coming up, and there’s a lot riding on its success. You are carefully examining all the moving parts and deciding where best to allocate project resources and money. Inevitably, you get to the discussion of talent (paid actors) and you ask your producer whether you will need paid actors, and if so, whether or to use the union (ACTRA). This is a critical decision, and the success of the entire project can often depend on a performer’s ability to deliver for the camera.

As a decision maker, you look for insights to guide your decisions. Let’s examine commonly held assumptions about working with actors, and the truths behind them.

1. It’s cheaper to work with non-union actors

This statement is more or less true, however not to the extent that would make it worth hiring a non-union performer in a role best suited for union talent (dialogue and/or performance heavy).

While it’s true that non-union actors are willing to negotiate broader usage fees, this usually comes with a more substantial payout whereas unions negotiate in fixed blocks of time (13 weeks for broadcast, and 1 year for digital). Considering that most projects these days are going exclusively to web, it's really never been more affordable to work with the Union. If you're thinking that you could probably save a bit of money by going non-union, consider that the fees you're offering need to be high enough to draw an adequate amount of interest from both agents and performers, preferably just above the industry saturation point.

2. Union performers are “better” than non-union performers.

No alt text provided for this image

In order to join the union, a performer needs a minimum amount of on screen credits, and so it would follow that they have more experience but, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re “better”. When considering to union (or not), one of the key factors you should consider is the age of the role.

There are many talented actors in the 18-30 bracket who have yet to amass enough credits to join the union or simply haven’t decided wether it’s the right career path for them. Many talented performers in the 60-75 yr bracket are performing in their twilight years as a hobby or means to stay busy. If your role falls between 30-60 years old, anyone who takes their craft seriously will likely have earned enough work to join the union, and if they haven’t, can you trust them to take your project seriously?

3. If I work with non-union actors, I can have rights to their likeness in perpetuity

If you attempt to pursue more aggressive usage, then your available talent pool will dwindle. In many cases, casting directors will not even publish an opportunity with in perpetuity usage rights, and you may be left needing to do your own research and due diligence.

Agents will not submit talent on their roster who’s ability to participate in other jobs may be limited due to a conflict with yours. Perhaps they might consider it if the talent fees and usage are very generous, but it's unlikely you're willing to pay that much.

Actors may not want their image tied to your product for an extended period of time. They may be simply taking your job for a pay day, and the idea of being the face of herpes medication in 5 years from now doesn’t quite align with their career goals.

No alt text provided for this image

4. I don’t have to pay them a lot, they should feel lucky that they simply get to act for a living.

Lols. No, just no. Ultimately, you want several great options for each role you’re casting for, and in order to do that, you need to pay a wage that will resonate with the industry. You want performers who take their role as seriously as you do your job, so don’t treat them as though they’re disposable.

5. If I just post the job on social media, I’ll get tons of interest.

The amount of talent supply far outweighs the demand and you don’t want to find yourself like Andy Dufresne, swimming upstream through human waste to find the right actor for your project.

Hiring a casting director who specializes in the type of project you’re making will significantly increase your chances of finding the perfect actor. They have systems and access to resources that will attract and curate top talent so that all you need to do (as a client) is pick who you like best.

No alt text provided for this image

6. Having to work with the union is a pain in the ***

Who said this? Not me!!! 🤣 🥸 🤣

If by pain in the ass, you mean there’s a lot of paperwork, then yes, there is. Hiring a producer who is also a signatory to the union will reduce all the friction.

Perhaps you mean it’s going to cost more? You’re probably right, but you’re not just paying for their time, you’re paying for a system of accountability. A system that you can plan around and report on, with certainty, to ensure your project is a success.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Stay tuned to our LinkedIN page for upcoming articles on talent which include articles like “how much should I pay my actors” and “if I ask for only blue smarties on set, am I high maintenance?”