Attaching talent to your film is always one of the biggest development obstacles.
In the age of viral distribution, where just making a good film is not enough, attaching talent is of the utmost importance.
But how can you as a producer decipher the true value of an actor’s worth?
What do distributors consider “a name”?
There are many misconceptions about what validates an actor as a name. There are a few general rules of thumb that can be used as a guideline:
- An actor is a household name
- An actor has played an iconic role in a mainstream film or TV show
These two guidelines are definitely a good jumping off point, but what about considering things like an actor’s relevance in today’s market.
Just because an actor was big ten or twenty years ago, does not mean they still hold value for distributors today. Sometimes actors become less relevant because they have not appeared in anything significant for a long time, and on the contrary, often times well known actors over-saturate themselves by appearing in too many independent films.
Additionally, an actor may be a regular on a popular TV series today and still not carry significant value. This can be the result of several reasons.
If the show an actor is on has not been widely released outside the US then their value may be limited.
Another phenomena I have experienced both as a producer and as a sales agent is that often a TV actor is extremely well known throughout the world from a particular show but often times the actor’s fanbase does not embrace the actor in a role outside of what they play on their respective series. You often see this with popular soap opera actors for example.
The real question is, what do distributors use to validate an actor’s worth?
When it comes to distribution, an actor’s real value is determined based on Box Office track record.
As formulaic as it may seem, the only real metric a distributor can apply to an actor’s value is by assessing past films a particular actor has appeared in and looking at the respective box office numbers that correlate to those films.
If an actor has starred or co-starred in three films, and all three of those films have grossed significant money at the international box office, most distributors would attribute an inherent value to that actor.
Like me, you may be thinking that this is a flawed methodology.
We would be correct. It absolutely is a flawed methodology.
Were those three films successful as a direct result of that actor being in them? Or were those three films successful for other reasons?
For example, if an actor appears as part of an ensemble in a major franchise film like Pirates of the Carribean or X-Men, but are not necessarily the leading actor, how can you attribute the success of the film to the actor directly versus attributing box office success to the popularity of the overall franchise?
Still, this is the formula by which most distributors operate.
Television actors are often the ones who fall victim to this common rule of thumb.
I’ve seen many times where a series regular from a very popular television series may be considered to have “little or no value” in the eyes of a distributor because the actor has no box office track record – their whole career is on the small screen. Even if the actor has a staggering social media presence and following, formulaic distributors can still be dismissive.
The exception to the rule is when you have a series regular from a globally popular show – on the level of series like Friends, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Yet the regulars from the likes of those series can often be as expensive or unattainable as A list movie stars.
What’s the best casting decision?
From my experience, both as an indie producer and a global sales agent, the best approach, particularly when on a restrictive budget, is to always target actors more known from movies than from television.
Television actors can be attractive because they are often more attainable – after all most small screen actors aspire to be big screen actors!
Casting a known movie name, even if it’s a somewhat over-saturated name, is always going to give you an inherent level of value. Surrounding that actor with known names more often associated with television will then flesh out your cast in a respectable manner that drives value.
Distributors are also savvy to how much an actor is utilized in a film.
A cameo from a big star or actor with value does not attribute significant value. If a film is being acquired off the merit of cast, the cast members driving the value must appear in the film significantly enough to be considered a leading role.
I’ve been in market screenings where I’ve literally seen buyers use a stopwatch to see how much a particular actor appears in the film.
The common rule is that for an actor to be utilized as a star of a film, they must appear in a minimum of 15-20 minutes of that film.
With great script and production development it’s feasible to shoot out a pricey actor in a relatively short period of days or weeks and space them out strategically throughout the film, so as not to be categorized as a “stunt casting”.
Casting can often be the make or break component to a film, and once the film is produced, it can be the make or break component to the level of distribution a film attains.
Of course, making a great film is still extremely important.
Having the right cast will definitely give your film premium consideration, and that’s when having a great film in addition to respectable cast will drive it home for you. As backwards as it seems, that’s the reality of the value driven by cast.
But as a producer, knowing the rules is only half the battle – understanding how best to manipulate those rules is what can set you and your film apart.