Non-Union Payments

If you choose to go the route of having non-union actors then you can set their rate to be anything you want. There is no set scale wage for non-union actors which allows you more flexibility to pay what your budget will allow. Also there are very good non-union actors out there that want to work on films and this may be a good way to go for your first film.


The first thing you have to do is think about how many actors you need to make your film. The key to a good independent film or any film for that matter is to get maximum bang for your buck. On way to do this is to make a film with the least amount of actors possible. This dramatically cuts down on the costs you have for talent. That being said there are a few ways to pay for talent.

SAG Payments

If you want to use an actor in the Screen Actors Guild you will have to sign a SAG contract and pay them accordingly. The good thing here is that there are plenty of contract options. The contracts range all the way from Short films to Low Budget and then going up to Large budget films. With each different contract there are different scale rates for the actors and different requirements for payment upon distribution.

Where to Look?

The first place to start looking for your actors is with local casting directors or the local talent agencies. Keep in mind they will be a little hesitant if you are offering little or no money but will usually help you for the same reasons as the actor. They may have some actors that need more film time.

If you are like most of us out there then your Dad’s last name is not Spielberg or Howard and you don’t go to fancy beach resorts with the likes of a swedish supermodel on your shoulder while watching Jeeves polish your Yacht. So that leaves us the question of how to afford actors first of all, and next, how to find actors.

How do I afford an actor for my film?

Deferred Pay

One form of payment that is popular for first time filmmakers is called deferred pay. In this situation actors take no money or very little  money up front in hopes of a big payout on the back end when you sell the film. Usually you have to offer more compensation than you normally would in the actor’s contract in order to get the actor to defer their payment until profits are seen. This is a tough sell for an actor but can be done.


If you go the deferred route, make sure you have a contract written for every crew member and actor. Before you start filming, give them a copy of the contract and you keep a copy so it is clear how their compensation is being distributed.


Keep in mind that most of your more well known SAG actors will probably not live in your area. That being said you will have to follow travel procedures and per diem rates that are spelled out in their contracts. Do your research and make sure you prepare for this in your budget ahead of time.

How do I find an actor for my film?

Depending on what you are looking for this could be as easy as putting out a casting notice. You would be surprised at how many good actors will come out for a film casting call, even if there is little or no money attached. This happens for two reasons - for you it is a chance to make a movie, but for them it is their chance to show off their skills as a lead in a motion picture and add this to their reel.


Non union actors, in most situations, do not have as much experience as SAG actors do on a movie set. That being said make sure to look over their resume and partner them up for a scene in the casting. This will ensure the right Actor for your film.


The actor/beginning film maker relationship is more symbiotic than you might think. I have had many occasions where I could not get an actor to negotiate a rate with me for a commercial I was shooting, but would then turn around and want to do a film with me for free. It is because of the medium and because the actor needs great material for their own reel. A film gives the actor that opportunity.

A second place is online and with theater groups. I have posted many a casting online and had people come out from all over. In my last film we had 350 kids and their parents come out to the casting from over 3 hours away and for a free part just to get on the film.


If you do post a casting online and you have a particular look in mind, it is helpful to have your actors submit a photo first so you can weed out some of the ones who have the wrong look for the part. It is also easy these days for actors to post an audition online for you to view and then call them in for a second read.

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