Non-actors, a good idea?
Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made. - George Burns
Okay, so you’ve got the perfect idea in your mind, you’ve blown the cobwebs off of the camera you bought for a holiday 5 years ago and your video brief is laid out perfectly… right? (If not, help is here!)
Now it’s time to cast your roles. Who are you calling first? Meryl Streep or Robert Downey Jr.? Or... maybe someone a little closer to home?
Whether a creative passion project or commercial work, hiring non-actors (or non-professional actors) can be the best way to approach a casting for a variety of reasons. You could have a low budget, a client could insist on being in the video or maybe you think your neighbour would be the perfect fit for the role.
Maybe you’re still unsure about it? That’s okay! A lot of people shy away from the prospect of working with a non-actor as they may not have the training of a professional (or indeed, any experience of acting at all). Before hiring a non-actor, it’s definitely worth being aware that you may have to do a lot of the heavy lifting for the talent; going above and beyond to receive a performance that works for you - but it isn’t all cons.
What non-actors do have is honesty, earnest and authenticity. They’re excited to act and be involved in the project and, if in the proper mindset, can give a very convincing, natural performance. As a team, we love to work with non-actors and help them get into that headspace and have some tips to share for anyone who’d like to do the same.
Be patient and develop your relationship
As a director, you must come to inexperienced non-actors with the understanding that they are unfamiliar with the process of filmmaking. They may mess up their lines and they may miss their mark and it’s up to you to be supportive and considerate and help them understand it’s okay to make mistakes. Letting them know early on that they’re working in a judgement free zone will allow them to let loose and try new things to help their performance.
Explain what you’re doing as you’re doing it
What does a fish out of water and an uncomfortable actor’s performance have in common? They’re both dry!
Letting your talent know what is happening on set will make them feel involved and a lot more comfortable with everyone around them. Introduce them to your crew, let them know when you want to do a take, when you want to run a rehearsal and what the lights and cameras are doing to make the actor look the best they can be!
Use clear language to communicate
While it’s important to explain what you’re doing, it’s worth considering how. Like any industry, we all become used to jargon and telling an non-actor to watch the stinger while the sparks strike the practicals won’t be much help to them at all. Be relatable and generous with your communication as well as accessible as a director. If you make your non-actor feel like you’re all in this together and keep them engaged within the process, the personal investment to giving a great performance will go both ways.
Be flexible with the way you shoot
It’s crucial as a director to have the ability to problem solve and be flexible with non-actors. The script may need to change if they’re struggling or feel like there’s a better way to say something, you may need to let the camera run for longer than needed to capture what you want and it’s always worth coming up with a back-up plan if things just aren’t clicking. Be open to new ideas and change, it can sometimes work out for the better
It’s a valuable lesson to remember the magic and excitement of being on a set for the first time and channelling that passion and feeling of adventure into boosting the rapport with your actor. Crack a joke and let them hold the clapperboard for a take, it’ll pay off dividends later.
We pride ourselves on specialising in working with non-actors as needed for our films, both creative and corporate, and love the challenge of creatively delivering messages in a friendly, personable way.
If you need support to tell a story with non-actors, we’d love to speak to you. Get in touch!