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< Part 15 | Introduction | Part 17 >

The Videomaker's Journey: part sixteen
Finding Actors - Directing Actors and the Camera Operator.

Use the links in the text to move between sections.

Now remember this movie making is a hobby. You will see some references to longer movies made in shopping arcades and public areas. These were made under the umbrella of a movie making club and their protective club insurance. We also signed permits with shopping arcade managers.

In Australia the clubs that belong to FAMM (The Federation of Australian Movie Makers) are parties to an insurance policy that provides some protection when making movies. The club needs to authorise the screenplay and the site of the shoot. The site then temporarily becomes a club venue for insurance protection. The actors are volunteers to the club and they then have the same insurance protection as the club members. This was the situation when I read the insurance policy some years ago - you need to check with your club what their situation is.

[Clubs in Britain that are members of IAC - The Film & Video Institute can buy similar Public Liability Insurance for their club work from IAC. Otherwise Public Liability Insurance can be obtained from most insurance brokers, but at a price. An increasing number of site owners now insist on any film makers on their premises having such insurance cover. The concern is more for accidents involving the general public than for what happens to the film making team!]

People learning from my web-site how to make a start on movie making should keep to very short movies and do the shooting on their own or friends' private property. When you decide to be more adventurous, then join a movie making club, if you are not already a member, and seek their guidance and protection.


Finding the Actors

When you are making your first movie with actors - you should start with using friends as actors - unless you have an experienced movie maker supervising the shoot.

We find that a lot of actors from the repertory theatre are very willing to act in our movies. One movie maker I know, pinned a screenplay to the notice board at a repertory theatre and easily recruited several actors for a movie. Another method I have seen recommended in a technical book is to is to regularly attend plays at local theatres, join one of them as a member, get some idea of how various actors perform and get to know and talk to someone. Tell them you are a home moviemaker and that you are looking for actors. Hopefully you might find someone who will help you recruit the actors. Otherwise you can approach the actors yourself.

I did better than that.

I realised that I needed to get actors from the theatre. I specially wrote the screenplay Cheesed Off and was then about to head down to the Sandgate Theatre in Brisbane on a Saturday night to see a play - and tell someone I was looking for actors. This would have worked. I found out later that there was a member there who was known to be a movie maker and I would have soon met up with him.

Just prior to all that, I attended a meeting of eleven people who were trying to get a movie making team together. I met Col, who said he was a writer and he also said getting actors was not a problem. I teamed up with him. Col was from the Sandgate Theatre - I was airborne and on my way.

From then on we took turns at being the writer and director of our movies. We are both capable of doing all the jobs required in our movie making - writing, producing, directing, video camera operating and editing. We now have over 30 actors in our actors' pool - some of them have acted several times in our movies. I usually enter about 3 movies in the various club festivals. One club eventually suggested to me that I should try to make sure I don't use the same actor a second time at the same festival ... a fair comment.

You need to have your screenplay written up in a neat format so the actors can easily decide if they want to join the cast.

Directing the Actors

Because we have a large number of actors to choose from, we are able to select actors that are suitable for the various roles. We take care that they can handle the movie making process - and that they enjoy working with us. The actors are treated with a great deal of respect. We listen to the actors.

The script reading with the actors.

This is held at someone's house once the the casting is complete . Allow at least 2 weeks before holding it so the actors have time to think about the movie. We have had some actors come along to the reading with excellent ideas. It is a major highlight in the movie making process and it is a very enjoyable experience.

The actors do not need to have learnt their lines at this stage - but some of them do so. The actors have already tentatively agreed to act in the movie. The actors now read through their parts in the screenplay, usually twice, with the director reading the stage instructions. The actors usually give us some valuable advice on the dialogue at this stage.

The type of acting and the mood of the movie is discussed. The actors' accents are sorted, if necessary. The clothes the actors will wear is sorted. If the actor does not have the right clothing for a part, we work out where we will get it it - sometimes from a thrift shop or borrowed. Props for the actors are sorted.

Hair, make-up for the actresses and costumes are of extreme importance to the actors. Don't rush this. Sort it out properly now.

Up until now the planning of the movie is a piece of cake. If you have a large number of actors - now starts the most difficult part. The most frustrating part is organising the first day of the shoot - and any subsequent days - to suit the crew and the actors. Start on sorting when the shoots will take place and where. This will have to be completed on the phone over the next week. Some of these actors will have rehearsals for plays on the weekends. One 15 minute movie I made with 7 actors, took 4 shooting days spread over 3 months. Another 15 minute movie with 3 actors, took 3 shooting days spread over one week.

I tell the actors I will keep in touch with them at least every 3 weeks and give them a reminder about 4 days before each shoot unless they ask me not to. It is important to keep in contact with the actors. The actors are now asked to sign the Release Form - thus confirming they will work with us on the movie. Explain to them - the release means they don't get paid. The actors leave to learn their lines.

Sample Release Form

This is the form we used where the movie was longer than say 7 minutes or would take more than one day to shoot. The actors were told that the movie would not be used for commercial gain. They were also told they would get a DVD copy of the movie. In the early days we were concerned that once a movie was completed an actor might later refuse to allow us to use the movie and show it in the clubs. It never happened to us. We now don't usually bother with the Release anymore.

Sample Actors Release Form.

If you need to use a Release, the attached one is recommended. You might need to add "The movie will not be used for commercial gain." The Release Form shown is taken from the book Persistence of Vision: Impractical Guide to Producing a Feature Film for Under 30, 000 Dollars by John Gaspard and Dale Newton.[In early November 2007 amazon.co.uk had it at £10.55.]

Asking Actors to Work for Free

If you think that it might be possible to make money with a movie and promise to pay the actors if the movie makes money - forget about it.

It doesn't happen. There are enormous distribution costs. Any profits quickly disappear. I have heard a well known actor who gave a talk and an interview to a theatre audience following the screening of a movie say all this.

A List of Props used for the movie Violets are Blue

Violets are Blue

Props etc.


EH HOLDEN SEDAN Owner ____________________________ Ph _____________


MORRIS MINOR SEDAN Owner ____________________________ Ph _____________


Sunglasses for KYM and VIOLET to be the same.


Fay as stand in driver Top similar to KYM’s
Hat similar to KYM’s


Bench seat There is one on site.


VIOLET flowers in car Fay has.


Basket for garden Fay has.


Vase and violets at door Col has.


Cloth for ANDREW to wipe car Arthur to get.
10 Bib-and-brace overalls for ANDREW Size _________ Arthur to buy at Thrift Shop.


Cordless phone for VIOLET Arthur has.


Phone for KYM Use Col’s cordless phone.


Newspaper funeral notice Col to make.


Note for KYM -
Work phone number
Col to make.


Car magazines Arthur has 2. Col has 1. Arthur to cover dates with price stickers.


$200 cash deposit on car Arthur to provide imitation money.


Receipt for $200.
Final receipt
FAY will bring.


Car Roadworthy RACQ Report
Registration Papers for Morris Car
Arthur to provide.
[RACQ = The Royal Automobile Club of Queensland - a motoring organisation.]


Wheel chair for tracking shot Arthur.


Plywood to fan the flower
petals so they blow away


Bank cheque Arthur.


Cups of tea and cakes
for KYM and FAY’s scene


KYM’s wallet KYM has.


Morris car keys
Car Registration transfer papers


Two roses Col has.


Violet petals Col has.


“Castrol” racing cap Col has.


Blue shirt David has.


KYM's residence at Verandah at Col's house. Address ________________________
VIOLET's residence Next door at Olwyn's house, on town side. Address ___________________

We made a list of the clothes to be worn in the various scenes.

How to Direct the Actors

Generally show the actors what to do, don't tell them. Walk around the set with them as you tell them what you want. Don't point across the room and tell them what you want. Then you can tell them,they can do it their way. If they are doing a good job - stand back and let them do their work.

The very first time I was about to start directing a shot - Ross Wilesmith, the actor, said to me : "Show me what to do." I have been doing that ever since when directing. There are no rehearsals prior to the day of the shoot. Before each shot we give the actors as many dry-runs as they ask for. The actors can call for a re-take if they wish.

The actors are instructed to project their voices - "Be loud." This will eliminate the background noise or keep it down to an acceptable level. They must not overlap the dialogue - that is, there must be a gap of at least a fraction of a second between actors speaking. We can overlap the dialogue when editing if we want to.

If you have no previous experience directing actors, say to them :"The acting style is to be a bit larger than life." If the actor overacts or is a bit too boisterous, then say "A bit less," or if you want a more lively performance say "A bit more."

Directing the Camera Operator

Discuss the following with the camera operator - unless you know that they are well trained. It is not essential for a beginner to get all this correct when you start to make movies. A lot of home movie makers make some mistakes. After each movie we sometimes see how we can improve next time.

Matters to think about and discuss.

  1. Don't have the video camera on when you think it is off - and don't have it off when you think it is on. This is a common mistake even with long time members of movie making clubs.
  2. If the actors move a lot so that they are going out of the frame - don't tell the actors, "You're moving too much." Tell the director, who may tell you to open up the frame. It is important to record the body language in most situations.
  3. Discuss the rule of thirds and how the subject should be at least off-centre. Provide "looking space" and "walking space" in front of the actor. Normally there should be more space in front of the eyes than behind the head.
  4. Discuss how the pan and tilt shots are to be done.
  5. Exposure - if possible there should be some contrast on the actor's face - that is, a slight shadow on one side of the face, except with a long shot - where the face may be a bit dark, where it is more important to have the background with the same contrast as the other shots. If the video camera is doing a good job on automatic exposure while the actors are moving about - and you are in bright sunlight and the tops of the actors' heads are starting to over-expose - switch the automatic exposure (AE) to spotlight. This will slightly darken the automatic exposure.
  6. Automatic focus. It is best to use automatic focus unless there are problems. The auto focus works to find the sharpest picture - it will normally do it better than your eyes. A picket fence or steel framework or a vague floral pattern in the background may cause the auto focus to "hunt." You then must switch to manual focus.
  7. If a wide-angle lens adaptor is used, the video camera must be set to wide-angle. Remember that the adaptor must be removed after each shot. Forget this and you can end up with a lot of shots slightly out of focus when the camera is zoomed a bit.
  8. Discuss how moving the video camera closer to, or further away from the subject changes the size of the background.
  9. Do the frame edges of the eyepiece and the flip-out screen match the TV frame edge? It needs to be checked. Service Centres can adjust them.
  10. Usually the video camera should be about one and a half metres from the actors. Get used to how far the video camera should be from the actors for a mid-shot and a long-shot. You can save a lot of time if you become skilled in this. It will vary from one video camera to another. As a director I am used to the distance my video camera needs - and I take care to get used to other cameras I am directing, so I can instruct where the camera should be set up.

< Part 15 | Introduction | Part 17 >

© copyright Arthur Bullock, 2007

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