Production: How To Work with Union and Non-Union Actors

Actors are a unique group of people whose job is completely different than the rest of the world. An actor's job is to be someone else. They take a character who exists only in a screenplay and bring him to life. Some actors are in a union and others are not. The union actors tend to be more experienced than the non-union ones, but being union or non-union really has no affect on the actor's abilities or how you hire them. Here's how to work with them.

Placing a Casting Call

If you're a first time director that has never worked with professional actors before, then you might be a little intimidated. Don't be. You are the boss, and your job is to get the best actors possible and have them give their best performance. That begins with hiring the actors, known in the business as casting.

The process begins by putting out a casting call. List what physical traits you're looking for in the role and have the actors e-mail you a head shot. Once you have a decent amount of actors interested in the project, you are going to rent a space for auditions and ask the actors that look best for the role to come in and audition.


The audition process is probably the most crucial time for your interaction with the actors. Here, you can get a feel for how well they can act as well as if you're both on the same page for the character. If you're liking the actor, then have them read the role in a different way to get an idea of their range and how well they take direction. Also, make sure you tape the auditions. You'll think differently about the actors once you watch the tape the day after the auditions.


Go through your tape and pick out the actor that you feel is best for the role. It should be someone you have a very good feeling about. Once you're sure this person is right, see if they're available for the shoot day and negotiate a rate for their services or a deferred payment.

Develop the Character Together

As a director, you should work with your actors to develop the character together. This way you both are on the same page. Plus, this helps put the performance in the direction you want before the first rehearsal.

Read Through/Rehearsal

Before the shoot, you should get all of you actors together and rehearse, or at least read through the script. This will give you and everyone else an idea of how everything will come together. Everyone should be on the same page when it's time to shoot.

Giving Direction During the Shoot

Some actors are very particular on how they like being directed, and there is a reason why. They feel patronized when the director goes 'say it like this...' and they have every right to feel as if they're being put down. You're a director so direct them to the performance. Bring up emotions and experiences that will help them perform the way you want while it all naturally comes from them. The best performance will come from their own discoveries about the character. Your job is to lead them to it.

Give Direction in Private

No one wants to be told how they can do a better job in front of a group of people, and actors are no exception. Give your directions and notes on how they can improve through one on one conversations. If they're in a good mood, then they will give a better performance than they will while angry.