Many low-budget indie filmmakers are under the impression that a recognizable name is beyond their reach and that they don’t have the money to hire one, so they never bother checking. Well, while I didn’t have a name actor in my first feature film, I’ve had the pleasure of negotiating with their agents because for a long time Pickings was going to be a union SAG shoot with a name actor attached. However, because of the cost and logistics involved in SAG production, and the fact that I was working on a non-existing budget, I made the decision to hire actors who were experienced, but not necessarily well-known, and to also hire non-union. And while a few of our actors were working on TV shows like Orange Is the New Black and Gotham, none of them were “recognizable,” and that proved to be a big challenge as we were marketing the film, a challenge that I should have seen coming.
So how much will it cost to get a recognizable actor attached to your film? That depends on three major factors:
(a) and I can’t stress this enough – the script. If an actor loves your script, they will agree to be in your film and might also be willing to take a pay decrease if they believe it'll serve them artistically.
(b) schedule – if the actor has to make room for your film in their schedule and it’s an inconvenience, you bet the rate is going to be higher. If you book an actor in between jobs, and they don’t have a scheduling conflict (and that happens more than you’d think), then they might be more willing to negotiate their rate (after all, even actors have bills to pay). If an actor is super-busy, their rate goes up. If they just finished a TV show or a film and have nothing on the horizon, you have some wiggle room.
(c) the filmmaker. If the film director has made a critically successful film (well-reviewed), that could be a ticket to landing a name actor in the early funding stages. This most likely won't apply to you in the beginning as you will be the director.
Joseph Gordon-Levitte loaned his talent to the indie movie Brick. The movie was an indie hit and JGL and the director, Rian Johnson, worked together again in Looper.