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Q: We want to use actors in our video. We haven’t used them before. What are the ground rules? Also how long do they need to learn the script? – my MD has a habit of making lots of minor changes at the last minute.

Health & Safety Adviser

A: You don’t say why you want to use actors, but we’d agree that they can be very useful. Even if you are showing a process which your staff do regularly – a recruitment interview or a sales presentation, for example – thrusting non-actors in front of the cold eye of the camera reduces most of them to nervous, incoherent mumblers.

There are technical reasons why actors do a good job – they are trained to repeat the same lines and the same gestures and movements in each take and from each angle, so that when the video editor puts the pictures together, they actually match up. Also, you can get actors to say and do things that real-life employees would not be happy with. Real employees also change jobs, so you may not want to show a DVD featuring someone who is now working for your competitors. You can also use actors to role play (ie improvise, unscripted) alongside actual employees; they can often lift the performance of the “real people” and hold the scene together.

Step one is finding the right actors. We’ve been in the video business for years, so there are a lot of people we’ve worked with before who we know will do a good job for you. Failing that, we ask agents for recommendations; a certain amount of television work on an actor’s CV is a good sign. If the roles are particularly important we will hold a casting session.

It’s also worth remembering that actors come in different grades:
– established tv stars, who can be very expensive. We rarely use those in corporate work, because everyone will know that they don’t work for you.
– competent, jobbing actors with several years’ tv and corporate experience
– new actors, straight out of college; we’d only use these for very small parts as they are unlikely to have the technical expertise learned in front of camera
– supporting actors or “extras”, to appear in the background or to play simple, non-speaking parts. They get paid roughly half an actor’s daily rate.

So what are actors like to work with? They are generally a hard-working, easy-going lot. They will need somewhere at your premises to change; also somewhere quiet to sit and get a coffee when they’re not required for a scene. They will generally use this time to rehearse.

You don’t need to provide costumes unless something specific is needed – they can usually manage basic business or casual dress. Obviously you must provide any PPE or uniform, name badges, etc if required. We would give you the actors’ sizes in advance. A make-up artist is not usually necessary unless you need the actors to look particularly glamorous or characterful.

You should give them at least a week to learn their lines. Never let anyone make last minute changes – even your MD. This will undo the learning the actors have done. It will cause continuity problems and lead to numerous retakes and a shoot that runs into overtime and extra costs. Your MD should also realise that the script will have been written in spoken English; adding bits of “corporate speak” will make the dialogue sound wooden and unconvincing.

Answered by Adrian Tayler.
You can find his site at

© Studio Rossiter 2006

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