25 May 2023

Working with real people rather than actors

Often when filming we work with real people, rather than actors. They might be service users of a charity or cause, a case study to bring to life a campaign, or employees of a business. And we think they always add something great to a film, really elevating the story to something great. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

For a start, they may not have had training, and so might be nervous. We reassure them through structured briefings and guidance that to help them tell their stories. This can include helping them to feel comfortable on set, giving them direction and feedback, and providing any necessary training or coaching. When we recently shot a film with Mencap the stars of the film were those with lived experience. We explained clearly the purpose of the film and reassured them that we were confident in their ability to achieve the goals, through telling their story.

Good communication is key to getting the best out of real people in film production. We will explain our and our client’s vision for the film and what we hope to achieve by featuring real people. We’ll make sure they know who to speak to if they have any concerns on or off set, and reassure them. We’re always friendly, approachable, and show appreciation for their contribution.

Communication goes both ways. Real people may have unique insights or perspectives that can enhance the authenticity and richness of the film. As a film production agency we are open to their ideas and suggestions and be willing to incorporate them into the production where appropriate.

Real people may need more time to get comfortable on set or to learn new skills, and so we’re patient and flexible, allowing for extra time or adjustments as needed to get the best performance from those involved. This is particularly key if people have different needs, such as a disability, or a cultural sensitivity.

There are also number of legal and ethical considerations that production agencies must take into account. We always obtain signed releases from any real people who appear in the film, giving us and our clients the right to use their image and likeness in the film. This consent must be informed so that people understand what they are agreeing to when they sign the release. They should be informed about the nature of the film, how their image will be used, and any risks or consequences that may arise from their participation. And people should be fairly compensated for their time and effort, and at the very least compensated. We factor this in to our planning with clients, so they are aware.

Check out some of our films such as Nestle’s Community Shop, Yvette’s story for Sense on the cost of living crisis and the Irene Taylor Trust’s 10th anniversary celebration