Surviving Zero Budget Filmmaking: 10 Tips for Actors

actor, tips, film, set, filmmaking, safety

Congrats! You’ve been cast (no, not casted – it’s never ever, ever “casted” /end rant) in a zero budget film (a “Passion Project”), which usually means you will not be paid a dime, but you should receive copy (a digital download of the project), credit (as in on-screen, and hopefully IMDb), and crafty (which should equal snacks, beverages, and at least one hot meal). Now, prepare yourself for the trenches, because sometimes things get a bit mucky!

1. Get plenty of rest the day before the shoot! If you are called for a full day, expect to be there for at least 12 hours.
2. Make sure you know exactly where basecamp is located, and who to report to when you arrive. And be on time.
3. Assuming call sheets were sent out, check to see if a hair and makeup (HMUA) artist on the list. If there is no HMUA, you will probably be responsible for your appearance. Plan accordingly.
4. Breakfast might be served. Perhaps not. This information could show up on your call sheet, and if so, look for something like “BREAKFAST RTS (ready to serve) at 7am” or “BREAKFAST Come Having Had.” If this kind of information is not available, and you haven’t discussed meals with the team, come with a full stomach. And, if you have any food allergies or restrictions, make sure you have communicated that to the team, as well. Also, bring snacks. Just because you never know.
5. Know your lines. Cold. At the bare minimum, you are responsible for hitting your marks and saying your lines. As Spencer Tracy famously said, “Know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.” There is obviously more to your magical acting show than that, but we are not going down that path in this post.
6. Be respectful to everyone on the set at all times. You never know, that P.A. might also be an aspiring director. Make a good impression, and you might end up in their next project.
7. If it’s fall – winter, and you live somewhere cold, bring stuff to keep you cozy during down times. Assuming you drove yourself to set (which is a good idea because then you can bring stuff along and have a place for a bit of privacy – “I’ll be in my trailer!” ) stock that vehicle with at least a warm jacket, a pillow (maybe you’ll need a nap!), a camping chair (yay, comfort!), and some insta-hot type hand/foot warmers. Oh, and while I am not your mom, a hat, scarf, and gloves might be wise, too. Finally, shoes: bring some options, and definitely something comfortable. And, again, when it’s cold and/or wet – plan according and bring footwear fit for the climate.
8. Let them know whenever you are stepping away from set (tell an AD, etc.). And, here’s some quick jargon: “10 – 1” is code for “I have to pee,” and if you need to take a longer trip to the john, that code is “10 – 2.”
9. Know what’s expected of you, and let them know what you are not comfortable with. If you’re working with respectable folks, you will have been alerted to any intimacy, nudity, or violence that is in the script.
10. Safety is everything. If you ever feel unsafe, or think that something you are asked to do might cause you harm, speak up immediately.

In my experience, PNW producers of zero-budget films are decent, hard working folks, who value and respect the actor’s time and talent. There are exceptions, of course, but when things do go wrong on set, it’s usually because the filmmaker is misguided or under-prepared, not malicious.

Thanks for reading! Please share if you think it’s worthy, and always do your best work!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]David S. Hogan is an actor, producer, director, and educator. He’s been working in the PNW on-camera industry since 2011.[/author_info] [/author]

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