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Casting Directors in Indie Film Part 1: Elizabeth Barnes, CSA

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I’m an Indie film producer working on a series of articles detailing the benefits and logistics of hiring a casting director on your next film project. In a series of interviews with casting directors and filmmakers, I will be sharing my favorite things that I feel are most important for you to know about the film industry today and how it is changing. Here, I sat down with Elizabeth Barnes, the casting director on my last feature (“Parker’s Anchor” in theaters in 2017, available on Walmart shelves and iTunes now).

Elizabeth Barnes, CSA

Elizabeth Barnes, CSA

Here is an excerpt from our talk this week:

Jennica: Thank you for sitting down with me for a quick chat. I want you to tell me what you do for indie film? For the filmmakers, your clients. What do you offer?

Elizabeth: Oh no, this is like a job interview, Jennica.

Jennica: Yeah. Because a bunch of people with no money that are interested in making a movie, that they’ve made one or two movies and they aren’t going anywhere, are gonna say wait, “why would I get a casting director?” Because, “my friend helped me, or I already know actors…”

Elizabeth: I’m providing a service. So, I bring the not only the creative side, my office also handles logistics. The potential nightmare of hiring, and dealing with schedules, and actor contracts…all of that is taken off their plate. So, it’s twofold: creative ideas & great auditions, plus all of that logistical stuff that has to happen (and if you saw our Google Docs it would blow your mind). Fortunately, people on my staff are incredibly organized. The way I used to be a million years ago when I started this. I was very organized for about 12 years and then people came into support me and be organized on my behalf. When the logistics are handled properly, there’s space to be creative and bring in people, and help producers make good decisions.

My day job is casting episodic television. For indie films, or plays, or short films, or things that are not my day job, those I do because I want to be involved with them. And sometimes on indie features it’s more of jumping in, advocating for the project, legitimizing it in a way.

In my dealings with people (talent reps), they can trust me. And so, they know I’m not trying to make a quick buck. I’ll call them and say hey this is a passion project, this is not a money project, would you please pass it along? And nine times out of 10 they will.

Jennica: You don’t think ‘passion project’ is a killer? A phrase that just means ‘no money,’ ‘not commercially viable,’ or ‘too self-serving?’

Elizabeth: No. No, because it’s someone that I’ve done business with for however many years and my next phone call to them will most likely be a money job. I have to respect that they’re not talent agents because it’s a public service. It’s their job. So they can spend a certain amount of their billable hours on my passion project, but it’s really them doing me a favor and I have to recognize that. And that’s also why I can’t take on too many passion projects because then I use up all my credit with those people. I have to temper my passion projects with financially viable projects, for me and for them. For my relationships.

Jennica: What other things draw you to something to be interested in using your unique position to get a project on its feet?

Elizabeth: Right, that’s a really good question. If it’s filming in Arkansas I’ll jump in. I’m always looking for an excuse to be back there, because it’s my favorite place. So, that was a big draw on “Parker’s Anchor,” that it was a female led story, that it was an adoption story. It fit squarely in the intention I’d set for myself a couple of years ago, to seek stories with complex female characters, and stories of faith and social justice.

So, beyond that, I can’t be overextended at that exact moment that I’m being asked because I’m also trying to get home in time to have dinner with my kids, and to not make my office staff crazy. Be respectful of their time. There’s also only so much I can do on my own without support staff, so I have to be mindful of what I’m asking them to do. And sometimes I can take on a job for free, but then I do need to compensate staff for their time on it, for their picking up the phone, for their typing up a list or helping me manage my time. And so, then that means I’m now losing money on that project, which is fine in certain cases but not all the time.

I have to decide whether I’ll be successful in presenting the project to talent reps. It’s best if there’s something to show, whether it be a short film that I can show them and say, “this is this up and coming director, I saw this short film and loved it, here’s the link” and they can watch a minute of it and go, “wow, it is visually stunning” and “wow, they did this in a short film on a low budget? I see why you’re attracted to that.” Something I can show them.

Jennica: Oh, okay.

Elizabeth: I wish there was a template… My casting mentor for many years, forever, Meg Liberman, there would come one point during every project where she would say, “I’ve never dealt with this ever on any project ever.” And that was the only consistent on every project, is she said that at some point. So there’s always a wild card, when you’re dealing with human-beings and creatives, not pegs in a hole. So many factors. I try to ask, when I’m interviewing for a job (which is my second least favorite thing to do. I’m much better at the job than I am at interviewing for the job). But I try to find out how the team works, how much they want to be led versus they want me to follow. And then it’s a back and forth.

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Elizabeth Barnes is a generous and supportive CD. Contact her with thoughts, questions, & encouragements on twitter: @imisspluto

Jennica Schwartzman

About Jennica Schwartzman

Jennica Schwartzman, a member of The Producer’s Guild of America, loves tackling a project from idea to distribution. Jennica has been published in the Producer’s Guild Magazine Produced By, Legacy Arts Magazine, Bustle and she is a guest writer on the acclaimed entertainment industry websites MsInTheBiz.com, FilmmakingStuff.com, Artemis Motion pictures’ #WomenKickAss Forum, & WomenandHollywood.com. She has been invited to speak on film festival panels and is a teacher & workshop speaker for The International Family Film Festival’s Road Scholars intergenerational filmmaking camp. Jennica has 6 feature film releases scheduled for 2018. Her films have collected TOP awards from Bentonville Film Fest, Big Bear Lake Int’l Film Fest, Eureka Springs Indie Fest, Film Fest Twain Harte, Worldfest Houston, Fayetteville Film Festival, The Int’l Family Film Fest, & the highest honor from The Dove Foundation. Jennica and her husband/producing partner/writing partner Ryan have 2 kiddos and reside in Hollywood.