Getting a high profile actor to be involved in a low-budget student film project may seem like an impossible task. If the tabloids and other branches of lowbrow media are to be believed, you could be forgiven for thinking that Hollywood A-listers are simply materialistic, self-obsessed creatures that have lost all passion for their art. However, that may not actually be the case. There are plenty of cases of Hollywood actors starring in so-called low budget films. Examples just from 2011 include Kiera Knightley (A Dangerous Method), George Clooney (The Descendants), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Antonio Banderas (The Skin I Live In), Don Cheadle (The Guard), Martin Sheen (The Way), Kiefer Sutherland and Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia) and Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs).
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Seeing all these illustrious stars of the big screen involved in low budget/limited release films certainly does instil a sense of hope that actors of this calibre will still sacrifice a pay cheque to be part of a project they believe in, whether it’s because they like the script or are offered the chance to play a type character they don’t usually play, or simply just believe the film to be something worth being a part of. However, the leap between identifying that an actor might have the passion inside them to be a part of a film and them actually being a part of a film is a big leap indeed.
The first incentive one might consider throwing their way is money. However, more often than not, these so called low budget films, listed above, will in actuality have quite a considerable budget, especially compared to the probable proposed budget for a student film project. For example, the aforementioned Melancholia, starring the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, had a total budget of £52.5m Danish Krone (just over USD$9m), which doesn’t sound much like a low budget production but compared with another Hollywood film from 2011, Transformers: Dark of the Moon by Michael Bay, which cost a reported USD$195m to produce, it begins to look rather thrifty. Even so, a USD $9m budget is simply out of reach for the vast majority of student film projects. This would suggest that attempting to ensnare a top actor for your project, using just money as bait, would ultimately be unsuccessful.
For a high profile actor to star in a student film project there needs to be a reason for them to do so aside from money. The reality of it is that the actors in these so-called ‘low budget’ productions will have to accept a drop in pay, compared to if they were starring in Transformers for example, but it certainly is refreshing to see so many fine actors willing to do so for a project they are passionate about. This fact represents hope in that maybe some actors would even be willing to work for free in a student film project if the premise and script were exceptional and/or it was a project they were passionate about.
There is no right or wrong way to go about getting a high-profile actor to star in a low-budget student production. It seems the best chance a person stands is just to write letters, make phone calls, make friends and, most importantly, don’t give up.
This guide was put together by UK cinema based chain Vue Entertainment.