In order to make a profitable film the traditional way, you need three things. The first is the money to make it, the second is someone to distribute it, and the third is a recognizable star to sell it. Without all three things, it’s very difficult to make a profitable independent film if you spend anything more than about 25,000 dollars. Unfortunately, in order to get one of these things, you often need to have the other two in place, so the only thing you can do is bark up all three trees at once.
You’ve got to remember that these people get dozens of offers every week, and they have to sift through them quickly. If all you have is a script by a first time director with no distribution or financing, it’s going to be a difficult sell to even get the script into the talent’s hands. It’s not impossible, but If you have distribution or financing, the road is much easier
I’ve personally attached talent to in development projects from films like Twilight Eclipse, Babylon 5, and Disney’s Atlantis, and there’s a formula to it. There’s a certain process on how you go about doing it that isn’t always taught in film schools, so I thought I would write a post on how to go about doing it the right way. What follows are the three things you need to do to get ready to call agents about your script.
Step 1. Write or Find a Good Script.
The first, and arguably most important piece in getting Talent attached to you film is a good script. If you’re an indie filmmaker, it’s unlikely you have the money to get the actor to do the role just for the paycheck. Luckily, every actor (and by extension every agent) is looking for good, juicy roles that can propel them and their clients to the next level. You need to have a memorable and deep character and compelling story to capture the interest of a name actor.
The actor will need to emotionally invest in the character you’re looking for them to play if you’re going to have a shot at attaching them. Every actor is constantly seeking his or her next big, juicy role. Actors have a brand they need to protect and expand, and in order to do that they need good roles. This doesn’t necessarily need to be an Oscar worthy role, but a deep and compelling character that fits with the actor’s brand, which brings us to our next point.
Step 2. Research.
Not every actor is right for every role. You’ve got to do your research and find your top 5 candidates you’d like to play every major role in your movie. Think about movies they’ve worked on in recently, and look on their IMDb Pro page as to what they have in development. In the indie film world, having an actor that’s the right fit for a role is almost as important as having a big name actor, just so long as they have a resume of recognizable work behind them.
If this is your first feature, you’ll also want to see if they’ve worked with first time directors recently. Also look to see if they have a particular interest in the themes of your movie. Looking up interviews they’ve done on late night talk shows can be a good insight into the sort of person they are when they’re not performing. You can find a lot of those interviews on youtube.
Even if they’re a huge name, if they’re not really working you may be able to get them. Most actors act because they love the craft, and if they’ve got huge projects that have paid them really well recently and some time on their hands, they might well be willing to vastly lower their rate just to play a compelling character.
Step 3: Figure out what you can afford, and what you can offer.
If you’re an indie filmmaker, more than likely you won’t be able to come close to the actors regular salary if they’re a big name. Try not to insult them, but make sure you don’t give away the craft services money. Even if they’re interested, you need to know when you have to walk away from the table. Walking away might mean not having your dream cast, but it’s better than screwing your movie because you just spent all the crew’s pay on the lead actor.
One thing you can think about is what sort of perks you can offer that would be extremely low cost or even free for the production. Does your uncle own a limousine company? Maybe he’d transport the actors for free in exchange for a signed headshot from them. Maybe your cousin works in a winery, a case of wine could be donated to the production and given to your actor. Are you shooting in a ski town? Maybe the mountain would give you some passes for the actor’s day off. There’s lots of things you can do like this, just be creative!
Once you’ve done these three things, you’ll need to go on IMDb Pro and find the phone numbers for the agents that you’ll need to talk to. For tips on doing that, and a sample call script, stay tuned for next week’s blog!
About Ben Yennie
Ben Yennie is one of the Founders of Producer Foundry, an Author, Producer’s Rep, Film, and Startup Consultant. In a past life, he was the Chapter Leader for the Institute for International Film Finance. you can follow him on twitter at @TheGuerrillaRep
and find his book by clicking below.
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