So I’m in the preproduction stages for an Internet series I hope to launch in May. I started the casting process, and like many filmmakers, I primarily used Backstage (both print and online) to solicit actors. I also used a few fee-free online sites, including Talent Calls, Actors Pages, Explore Talent, and Actor Point. But in the end, Backstage brought in the vast majority of headshots. So let me ask you? How many headshots would you expect me to receive when searching for one main character, two supporting roles, and a few various one-off roles? Well, the answer (as of today) is approximately 800. That means an actor’s odds are .375% to win a role as one of the three major characters.
People wonder why actors are willing to work for free. I think there are several reasons. First, actors love acting. If someone gave me the opportunity to play baseball in the major leagues but I wouldn’t get paid, I’d totally take it. Now most indie films (including mine) aren’t the major leagues, but hell, I’d play recreational softball for free too.
Second, there’s an overabundance of actors in New York when compared to the number of productions. Simple supply and demand.
Third, creative positions (e.g. director, DP, etc.) and actors have the greatest career upside from a film doing well. An actor reaps the benefit of being the star of a show. Any film could be his/her big break. Also, keep in mind the huge costs and coordination it takes to run a production, which actors can seldom manage on their own.
Finally, even if a film doesn’t do well, an actor still gains some exposure, networks with others in the business, and gets to practice his/her craft. And if nothing else, an actor ends up with a nifty DVD to bulk up the old portfolio reel to show their friends and interested filmmakers.
I’m not saying you should go out and exploit actors for their willingness to work for free. However, most indie filmmakers have a shoestring budget, and that budget is typically used to cover costs such as equipment rentals, meals, transportation, production set/design, and pay non-creative positions such as sound mixers and grips. Sometimes having a more fun and creative position is payment upon itself.