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Casting, Releases, and Respect: How to Work With Actors on Video Shoots

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So you just came up with a great idea for a video shoot — let’s say it’s a patient experiencing chest pains, visiting a doctor’s office. You have your location ready, your camera crew on call, and all the equipment necessary to make it happen. But you’re missing one very important element. Who’s going to play the patient and who’s going to play the doctor? Read on to find out what you need to know about casting, release forms, and making your actors feel at home on your video productions.
 

Casting

Before you even look for your talent, think about what you’re aiming for and what look would fit your characters. Let’s establish that the doctor in our hypothetical shoot is female and the patient is male. For the patient, should he be young or mature? For the doctor, should the actress have a glamorous appearance or a subdued, professional look?

Photos of Actors on a Casting Board

A casting board for a stock video shoot (actors blurred for anonymity)

Once you have a solid idea of what you’re looking for, Craigslist and Models Mayhem are great resources to post casting calls. Do some research about casting call sites in your area — in New York, NY Casting is recommended, as is Casting Call Pro in London — and be as simple as possible in your post, as some actors could be applying to 30 casting calls at once. Also be as descriptive as possible, including the age range, characteristics, voice, and experience you’re looking for. Also mention where this footage will be used, in order to properly set expectations.

It’s possible that you may see someone on the street who fits what you’re looking for. Try asking them if they’d be interested in a shoot! The benefit of street casting is a natural talent’s authenticity and energy, which a trained actor may not be able to replicate. (For example, a real couple in love could be much more believable than two actors who have never met.) If approaching a stranger on the street seems uncomfortable or invasive to you, just be sure to be as straightforward as possible (maybe provide the name of your production company or where the footage will be uploaded). Friends and relatives are also great people to cast.

While casting, mention your rates of compensation, what days you’ll be shooting, and the hours they’ll be needed. With regard to compensation, be conscious of your budget and try your best to be fair to them — actors are hard-working creatives too, and their time is valuable. Remember not to cast S.A.G. (Screen Actors Guild) actors; as much as we would love to work with S.A.G. talent, their union prohibits them from participating in stock shoots and agencies like Pond5 cannot accept footage with S.A.G. actors.

A Director on Set with Actors by Cameraman_Kiev
 

Model Releases

So you’ve cast your actors. Via a casting call on Craiglist, you’ve found the perfect actress to play your doctor. On line at the supermarket, you approached a man perfect to play the patient and he’s interested. You’ve made clear all the details of the shoot (the compensation, the hours, what the footage will be used for), and days later, they show up to the shoot.

We’re ready to start shooting, right? Nope. Before cameras roll, they must sign a model release. A model release is a legal document allowing a filmmaker to use somebody’s likeness in media that will be sold for profit. Simply put, a model release is a permission slip saying: “I legally allow you to use my face in this footage and sell it.” Work that is not for profit, like editorial and news footage, do not require a model release. But if you want to ensure that your footage can sell for commercial use without legal repercussions, make sure your talent always sign a model release. Minors require their own release form signed by a parent/guardian (and copyrighted intellectual property requires a property release). Pond5 requires you to attach the necessary release forms when uploading footage, which you can find in our Legal center.

You may also want to try Easy Release, an app that allows you to complete an acceptable model release on set straight from your smartphone. Remember to be thorough and read the release form yourself, as well. Model and property releases vary in length and content, but generally cover the same ground, and most model releases are interchangeable and accepted by other agencies.

Directing Actors During a Shoot by fStopImagesGmbH
 

Directing

Now you’re ready to shoot! Hey, remember that (possibly misattributed) claim by Alfred Hitchcock that “all actors are cattle?” Since you’re not directing The Birds while throwing live pigeons and glass shards at Tippi Hedren, remember that your actors are people and should be treated as such. Perhaps the actor you hired to play your patient gets nervous when cameras roll — what to do?

The most important element of working with talent is making sure they’re comfortable at all times. Do this before cameras are even rolling. Talk to them, joke around, and try to make them feel welcome on set. Acting without dialogue can be difficult for both directors and actors, so be patient. Remember that you’re working with other creative people and you want them to feel at ease.

There are two good ways of doing this. One is to take care of all improvising beforehand during rehearsals. Rehearsals can hammer out all the details of a scene so an actor is more informed once shooting begins. Another great way (if you have the time and budget) is to let the camera keep rolling without stopping the action. If actors can do a scene uninterrupted, then a lot of their nuances or movements can play out in a natural way. This is a good technique for street-casted roles or actors without a lot of experience.

Director on Set by Cameraman_Kiev

Above all, be respectful, genuine, and honest about what you want from your actors. If they don’t immediately meet your expectations, just remember the nature of collaboration can often be meeting in the middle. Keep working towards your visions and you will get the footage you are looking for.

Do you have other questions about working with actors for your video shoots? Stories to share from behind the scenes? Let us know in the comments!