Should I Use Staff As Actors?

“Can’t we use our staff as actors?  It will save money and be an excellent team building exercise.”

“Yes, but it depends.”

The obvious risk of using staff is that we turn up with our equipment and crew and they can’t perform.  It has happened and it wasn’t good.  So when is it appropriate to use staff instead of actors?

Firstly, remember staff who are coerced into appearing won’t do a good job.  Check you have suitable volunteers before deciding upon this course.

Secondly don’t rely on staff to perform emotional content.  Leave that to the professionals – there’s a reason for acting school.

If your staff have a public-facing role, such as serving in a shop or as a medical professional, they can usually be relied upon to perform this role well opposite an actor.  And if the scene isn’t too demanding in terms of wording or emotion you might get away with casting another staff member as the customer or patient.

It’s unlikely though that non-actors can remember a script, so such a video will work better as a role-play in which the essence of the scene is scripted, but the words improvised.  A role-play will always be longer than a scripted scene.  As a result you risk losing audience attention.

An alternative would be to film a role-play very simply and use it as the basis for a script.  And the actors could also use the recording to research their performances.

People often argue that using actual staff as actors will be more realistic.  Remember though that realism isn’t the same as reality.  A video is always false and the audience is aware of it.  They want a show.  A video is an engaging means to deliver ideas.  Typically a role-play will have less density of ideas and it’ll deliver them more chaotically than the scripted alternative.  The result is a less engaging video, but as a rule it will be cheaper to make.

Filming scripted drama is always easier, quicker and more precise with actors.  Actors understand what is required of them on set, they are disciplined, can repeat the same lines in the same way as we film them from different angles, know how to control and display their emotions, know about diction, how to project their voices… Need I go on?

Non-actors can perform scripted content very well, but it shouldn’t be regarded as a cost saving.  The way to get good results is to put time and effort into selecting the candidates and then to write the content to suit these individuals.  In this context the personal qualities of such “real” performers can make a very exciting product.

To be fair actors cost money and drama is expensive.  A role-play is a quick, easy and cost-effective way to get a training video made – even though it’s very rarely going to have the punch of a well-produced drama.

In summary, of course you can use your staff as actors, just remember the pros and cons.

Here are links to a couple of videos that use staff as actors:  In the first case we made an induction film for An Introduction to Our NHS using a real occupational therapist, Theresa Panton, performing with an actor with scripted dialogue.

The second video was made for Croydon NHS and features a pharmacist acting with an actor in a role-play – in which the scenario was scripted, but not the dialogue.

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