07/03/06 Base version, black text
07/03/06 Additions on pricing and external links in dark blue
08/03/06 Added some indications on colours in indigo
08/06/10 Updated following the Rules for posting in the Re-enactors Wanted section
Why Do You (or Should You) Want Re-enactors?
In most cases, re-enactors have been identified as ideal for your project because they already have the costume to provide a shortcut for your production, in that they already have clothes that fit and look right, and which come with a wealth of background research which you could not afford to do yourself.
In addition, they can bring props and skills which either cannot be found in the film industry (such as large cannon, boats/ships, etc) or which usually require industry specialists (stuntmen, SFX, fight co-ordinators, etc) who might not necessarily have the experience in period productions or who could not handle your requirements without major expense or extensive sub-contracting.
In these cases, re-enactors can provide a wealth of experience and ability while significantly cutting down the costs and timescales of your production - for example, a fight scene requiring 40 costumed extras with two prominent roles in the background can be completed by experienced re-enactors with their own costumes, command structure and trainers in an hour or so, where the normal film approach would require costume hire of about 100 costumes to get the range of sizes needed, a 2-3 person wardrobe department, 38 extras, one or two fight co-ordinators, two stuntmen, and probably an assistant director to sort out the details of who should be where and when, plus a full day of training and rehearsal to ensure that the scene can be completed safely and effectively. How much are the re-enactors saving you?
Where Do I Find Re-enactors For My Project?
This is as good a place to start as any - most of the historical periods are well represented here, and a post in this forum will quickly gain the attention of those who are interested in this sort of work. Alternatively, most societies have a web site which will allow you to contact their management directly, or you can make use of specialist re-enactment co-ordinators for film and TV work - EventPlan and AWS are two such organisations. However, the owner of this forum, and the author of this article can neither recommend nor endorse these organisations.
What Should I Expect from Re-enactment Societies?
Most societies will expect you to agree a contract for the work, and in return will meet your requirements as specified within that contract. All of the people supplied for your shoot will come complete with costume of a standard which is acceptable within that society, which is normally a guarantee of a good level of historical accuracy - although you should check that this is the case by asking for a copy of their authenticity guide and if necessary taking references from other employers or specialists in the chosen period.
Societies will have public liability insurance available which covers their members against claims from members of the public during any event they stage. However, it is expected that your production insurance will cover the re-enactors during the period of the shoot, and will also cover any damage to their equipment outside of normal wear and tear.
Societies will also have their own Health and Safety policies, and will normally also provide first aid cover for their members, as re-enactment first aiders are more experienced in dealing with specialised injuries such as sword blows or powder burns than general first aiders.
How Much Will It Cost Me?
That depends on what you want, and on what budget you had in mind. For student films, charitable concerns and other very low budget projects, you may be able to persuade some re-enactors to take part for nothing more than the satisfaction of a job well done. For larger productions, you must bear in mind that re-enactors are not fools to be duped into providing free labour and skills - most are aware that they are a valuable resource, and will expect to be paid accordingly. They are also aware that on non-charity productions, the director, cameraman, sound man, effects guy (normally=smoke in re-enactment terms), editor, studio, accountant, agency, and everyone else involved is being paid, is staying in a hotel for the night, and arrived on set in the middle of a moor in a hired Range Rover. Please credit them with some intelligence.
However, there will always be re-enactors who are available for free or at very low rates. Apart from the fleeting desire to be famous, there is usually a reason for this - in this as in all industries, you get what you pay for, unless they have a very good reason to offer their services at advantageous rates, such as a discount for multiple work packages booked in advance, or a vested interest in the result. Some societies will take on work at lower rates to boost their profile, and you may be able to work with them on this in return for a reasonable credit on the production and any publicity material for it.
As a starting indication, most societies will now expect standard rates of between £80 and £150 per person per day, plus expenses, plus three meals per day to standard, plus overnight accommodation if the shoot spans multiple days or you require an early start or late finish. Societies will normally offer the services of their own personnel to co-ordinate their people, either as a de facto assistant director/fight co-ordinator, or just as a communicator who can get your wishes over to the re-enactors quickly and accurately using language they understand - having instructions coming from someone they already know and trust will make your shoot go more smoothly and quickly, so you should be willing to pay an extra 50-100% for this person or persons.
You should also note that most re-enactors have full time jobs, and so mid-week shooting may require them to take holiday from their jobs to attend filming. As a result, offering someone £50 when their daily rate for their normal job is £250 is unlikely to be enticing. Alternatively, if you can film on a weekend, they are more likely to be interested, although of course your crew may not be so keen, or will cost you more.
Costume hire is not normally charged extra - you are paying for a costumed extra with special skills, so in effect you are saving significantly on the standard rate for extras off the street plus costume hire. However, be aware that re-enactors have invested considerable personal effort and/or cash in getting their costume right, and will not be very happy if you want to cover it in fake blood which will stain it. Expect that all costume will be undamaged at the end of the shoot, and where you require it to be damaged or potentially damaged (dirt, dye, water, etc) make this clear in the contract and arrange for repair/cleaning/replacement in advance - exactly as you would if you were hiring from a costume company.
How Should I Advertise on Here?
Re-enactors react best to a professional approach from someone who is clearly well organised, who respects what they can offer, and who is offering an opportunity for them to be seen in a good light.
In general, you should be open, up-front, and as specific as possible about what you want, when, and for how much. For example:
Hi, I'm Amanda Thompson, and I work for ABC Productions in London. We've been commissioned to do a documentary on the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71, for a UK terrestrial TV channel.
We're looking for about 4 people with horses to be French Cavalry (we're not bothered what type!), and people to play a Prussian officer and three soldiers, all with their own costume. Filming is on the 26th and 27th of April (Wed-Thu) in Staffordshire, and will start at 6am both days, running until 8pm on the 26th, and 5pm on the 27th. We have a limited budget for accommodation, comprising overnight stays in a Travelodge on the 25th and 26th. Reasonable travel expenses are available, though we'd obviously like you to minimise this by car sharing wherever possible. Meals to standard will be provided on set each day.
Please respond privately to firstname.lastname@example.org stating your required rates and availability if you are interested in this exciting project!
Although this doesn't state your rates, it says who you are and what you want, makes it clear that you have a budget to pay the participants, that expenses, meals and accommodation are included, and that you have thought out the logistics and the requirements of the re-enactors and are making a serious offer of paid work. You will get some competitive quotes, and can decide between them on the basis of price, quality, previous experience, and professionalism.
On the other hand, we regularly see requests along the lines of:
Hi, I'm looking for some re-enactors for a TV production. We need some Vikings - call me on 0208 999 9966 if you are interested
Apart from the fact that we have no idea who you are and how serious an enquiry this is, it doesn't say when, where or how many people are required, doesn't fill anyone with confidence that they will be taken seriously, and since it doesn't mention anything about payment, leads to the assumption that there won't be any.
Every so often, someone comes along with a request for young married couples who met through re-enactment, or a family involved at all ages, with the idea being that they are featured in a wife swap programme, or a holiday swap, or something similar where the public are shown someone who does something different compared to a "normal" person, or more commonly someone diametrically opposed to them. Generally, the community here takes a very dim view of anything which points the finger of TV contempt at re-enactment as a bunch of insane people who dress up at the weekend and hit each other for fun - this is very far from the truth, and we don't generally get too enthusiastic about people making fun of us or our hobby. Please therefore don't be surprised if such an enquiry receives a stony silence in response.
Note that the Rules for posting in the Re-enactors Wanted section read:
"Posts made by production companies, but not relating to re-enactment, may be removed at the moderators discretion."
In general the Moderators will not consider a request to be appropriate just because the re-enactment community is one of many that has been targeted for an otherwise unrelated Reality TV show.
Many re-enactment societies have an excellent reputation for historical accuracy, and have invested huge numbers of man hours in reading academic papers and archaeological site reports, plus some experimental work to confirm or reject theories current in academia. This can be both an incredible resource, and a royal pain in the neck - if you really want your film of life in the trenches in WW1 to be accurate, by all means employ a historical consultant, but when the re-enactors approach you to suggest that the webbing wasn't worn that way, listen to them - the historical consultant may have read the army manual, but the re-enactors have spoken to the veterans and looked at the photos, and know that in practice it didn't get done that way.
On the other hand, if you want to have C13th Scots in woad wearing tartan, make it clear that this is an artistic requirement, and is not negotiable. Some societies will then decline to offer their services, but this is better than having them walk off set in disgust when they see the liberties you are taking with what they see as "their" history. You will inevitably find someone willing to do the job, but expect their standards to be lower as a result.
In many historical productions, the thorny issue of colours will be raised - the re-enactors may have spent weeks researching period dyes and mordants, and hand-dyed their cloth to show exactly what colours were both available or common. The result can sometimes be fairly startling to those expecting everyone in the Dark Ages or Medieval periods to be wearing drab greys and browns, so go in with your eyes open and with a pair of shades handy just in case, and be up-front about your colour requirements. Remember though that colour was a visible sign of wealth in many periods, and to be truly accurate your production should reflect this. However, many re-enactors are also unaware of technical issues such as camera flare, and you should expect to have to reject some items which are perfectly correct simply because they look terrible on camera. As an example, I once spent a whole day repainting four shields in the correct heraldic colours for a shoot, only to find that my nice golden cream colour appeared on camera as dayglo yellow.
Finally, if in doubt, ask around - re-enactors have featured on every UK terrestrial TV channel in everything from news through documentaries to films, and there is nothing better than a word-of-mouth recommendation.
©Copyright 2006, Paul Murphy
A Member of the Moderator Team, livinghistory.co.uk
Permission is granted for any re-enactor or re-enactment society to use, reproduce or distribute this information for any purpose, so long as it remains wholly unchanged and retains both the copyright notice above and this text.