How To Hire An Actor When You Have No Budget

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Cover image via Bob Willoughby

Entering into the world of filmmaking is no cheap venture. Let’s assume that you’re a lone wolf and will initially be acquiring all of the gear yourself, that’s the camera, the lenses, audio, lighting, and perhaps a hardware upgrade on your desktop computer. By the time the final delivery arrives at your doorstep you are likely to be down at least £3000, and this is if the equipment you have purchased is low-grade. At the end of the day, you’re not going to have a lot of money left.

Unless you plan on filming the birds and the bees for the rest of your life, at some point, you are going to have to hire an actor. Without any money, a popular road to travel down is to use your friends and family as it will cost you nothing. However, this isn’t always the best route to go. It won’t be long until your viewing audience realises that the actors on screen aren’t actors at all, and a bad performance is the quickest way to disengage your audience.

Hence, it’s best to acquire a dedicated actor in learning for your short film. However, how are you supposed to hire an actor if your budget has been exhausted? Luckily aspiring actors will often work in the form of a barter system. That is, they act for you, and you give them showreel footage and maybe a few stills for their portfolio.

Unfortunately, actors usually take the brunt of DIY filmmaking. Taking unpaid work is a somewhat rite of passage with filmmaking in general. It doesn’t matter which area you wish to progress in; you’ll likely start with unpaid work. However, actors are left in this circle a lot longer than others. I’ve seen many adverts from paid productions looking to cast unpaid actors for exposure. That isn’t right.

With no budget short films, actors often receive no pay, no food, and quite often no travel expense. Then they have to spend the majority of the day waiting around while the crew members assemble the equipment in different places. In short, aspiring actors have to go through a lot of crap for very little, and without these actors, you wouldn’t have a film. Here are a few things you can do to ensure your actors have a pleasant time acting for you and that they also receive something in return for their time given.


State what the actors will receive outright in the casting call. Don’t make it ambiguous or leave the fact it’s unpaid. Be transparent and truthful. Don’t state that this could lead to paid work in the future; it’s a load of crap and nine times out of ten it doesn’t. You want to state that the actor will receive the clips they star in as a digital download, stills of their performance, a credit across the social media platforms, and an IMDb credit if your film has an IMDb listing (many short films do). Recently, I’ve seen a few comments from actors saying that the director of the project they worked on, has told them to take their footage directly from the DVD of the film. This is unfair. Many actors do not have access to editing software, which will leave the actors short of showreel footage.

Trade Your Services

Ultimately, hiring an actor to work non-paid is a trade between the filmmaker and the actor. The director gets the talent of the actor, and the actor receives the above stated in section 1. However, sometimes you can sweeten the deal by throwing in your services as an extra incentive. Headshots can be an expensive service to buy. If you’re shooting with a DSLR and have a good lighting kit, you may very well be in the position to put together an area to capture some makeshift headshots. Explain to the talent that you might not be able to replicate the headshots that a professional headshot photographer can capture, but you can give them something pretty close. Alternatively, you could lend them your editing skills, and help them when they have enough clips to put a showreel together.


You would be surprised at how much of a film budget is delegated to catering. If a movie has more than 200 on-set employees, from the runners to the A-list stars and each person is given three meals a day for a 60-day shoot. That’s 36,000 meals! Then you also have snacks and coffee. In short; eating big costs significant money. When it comes down to entry level filmmaking, eating seems like just as much as a luxury as acquiring the latest Canon DSLR. However, having a few snacks on location can change the dynamics of a shoot. A bowl of crisps, a variety of sandwiches, some fruit, a selection of drinks, and a few chocolate bars can be bought for under £20. While this isn’t a feast of kings, it is enough to put an end to empty stomachs, and it will keep a greater atmosphere on set.

Believe in your project

I think this is the most important aspect above everything else. Even if your funding is so drained, that by day three you cannot provide a single can of cola for your talent, if you believe in your project enough more than life itself, you will find an actor willing to go out on a limb for you.

Deferred payment

This option is more oriented for filmmakers who have been making films for a good few years and are looking to take the next step. Deferred payments allow low-budget and DIY filmmakers to produce films when they don’t have the resources to pay the cast and crew up front and pay them when money starts to come in from DVD or merch sales. This is only suitable for when you seek to create a revenue stream from the, film. When you make agreements like this, it is best to seek legal advice as you may face legal ramifications if you do not uphold your end of the agreement. It needs to be stated in writing what the terms and conditions of the deferred payment scheme are and when exactly the actor will start to receive their pay.

If you keep these ideas in mind when putting out your next casting call, you will start to receive a lot more replies. A good actor and can take your film to the next level, in the no-budget world they’re not taken seriously enough. Alfred Hitchcock famously said: “Actors are cattle! They should be treated as such!” If you take this approach, you won’t be moving anywhere fast.

About The Author

Lewis McGregor is an aspiring filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.