I’m an indie filmmaker. I sat down with several indie filmmakers (producers/directors) and casting directors to ask about the relationship between the filmmaker and the casting director. Below are a series of questions for the filmmakers regarding their casting director experiences in indie film. This partnership in the early stages of pre-production solidifies where the film is going to go.
We all know what a casting director generally does, if you’re wondering about why a casting director is necessary or IF it is time to bring one on, I think Marc Hampson, DGA gave me a different and nuanced perspective here, “A casting director works in a way to bridge the gap between what an actor offers and what a director is looking for. And often actors are just looking … think they are looking for just anything when they’re really not and a director is looking for just anyone and they’re really not. That’s a recipe for a lot of disappointment on both sides, and casting directors really help narrow that down.”
Here is a virtual roundtable discussion regarding the fascinating relationship between filmmaker and CD:
Filmmakers, How do you decide whether (and when) to bring on a casting director? And/or what are some factors that would lead you to NOT call one?
Jennica Schwartzman, PGA (member of the Producer’s Guild of America): “It all depends on the goal of the film. Films vary so much and I know a LOT of really good actors. But in general, I’ve reached the stage in filmmaking where the casting director contribution to the team is absolutely vital to making a financially responsible, socially and professionally ethical, and current or ‘hip’ project. Whether it be the nuances between agents/managers/talent or just the career spanning contacts, a good casting director is the first person to help put your film on the map and generate legitimacy. Also, WHO is gonna fill out and go over all of those deal memos, WHO is gonna translate between me and the agent? A person who is gonna make me look good and do it with ease. A professional casting director.”
Ryan Schwartzman, writer/producer/actor: “I would always like to bring a casting director on board if possible. I have my own files of talented actors that I know and I have enjoyed doing my own casting sessions with our very low budget projects. However, I believe that bringing a casting director on board is very helpful to introduce you to new talents that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise and they are able to bring a different perspective to the characters that is helpful when you may be too close to the script. I believe bringing them in as early as possible is best so that they are able to get a feel for the project and for the roles as they develop. Some casting directors may not want to come on board too early because they don’t want to reach out to actors or managers/agents until they know that the project is settled and moving forward or that the characters are not going to adjust so much that it will change the people they want to call in and I think all of that is very valid, however, it has been helpful to have a casting director on board early for our script development in some instances. For example, we had a casting director suggest to us that an actress we were going after would be more inclined to accept the role if there was also a role for her husband (who was a talented actor as well) so we wrote in a role that would work for him.”
Michelle Lang, producer: “For most of my independent productions, I have preferred to do the casting myself — along with the other producers and directors — for three primary reasons: 1) it helps us save costs on staffing a casting director and 2) our relationships enable us to go to talent directly and 3) we’ve experienced more success when we do go to talent directly. If we feel that those factors will give us a better chance at getting incredible talent, then we will forego a casting director.
As a producer on LOST ON PURPOSE, I worked with the Nelms Brothers (writers/directors) to help build a cast that started with our core “film family.” One of our first friends in Los Angeles was Steven Rogers (HOPE FLOATS, STEPMOM, I, TONYA), who was an executive producer on LOST ON PURPOSE. Steven shared an agent with Jane Kaczmarek and, as a result, he had a direct line to Jane and was able to make a quick introduction to her team. Having him vouch for the film was key and helped pave the way for me to take over with her offer and securing her participation as our lead.… While I have had success on handling casting directly on various films, this certainly doesn’t permanently replace the role of the casting director
…should the budget allow for a formal casting director, the ideal situation would be to hire one and collaborate with them to find the best possible cast.”
How did/do you hire a casting director? It costs more money, so WHY did you?
Marc Hampson, DGA (member of the Director’s Guild of America): “I was told by my producers [that I had to]. … Casting is one of the biggest part of your films, and your casting director is going to influence the end product of your film, so they’re your partner. So, sit down and get to know your partners and make sure they get to know you.”
Jennica Schwartzman, PGA: “I’ve looked at IMDbPro to see who has cast similar films at my genre and budget level (boosted those film lists from film festivals) and emailed them a request to meet. Fun fact: I’ve been turned down because it was a bad time of year (pilot season) and I’ve been turned down because of our budget level. So sometimes it isn’t the script that makes the choice. —I will say that the money you put up front for casting always results in the possibility of more money in distribution.”
Ryan Schwartzman, writer/producer/actor: “It’s important to have a Casting Director that feels something for the film you are making and/or cares about the genre you are working in and fully understands your budget. …And make sure they really really understand what your budget is. I’m coming from the low budget independent film world where when we say what our budget is we mean it, there isn’t a well of money that we can pull more from. It’s important for the casting director to understand that. It can be very frustrating to have someone suggest name actors to you that you ultimately can’t afford. You want the biggest and best names possible, but there are always financial restrictions and it’s important for the casting director to be able to work within your financial and creative limitations.”
What did you like/dislike about the relationship? (on one or more projects)
Marc Hampson, DGA: “I really liked the separation of between the … I’m not comfortable with … the disappointment involved in casting. The reaching out to people and the hopefulness of the possibilities that you’re offering to people and then reaching out and taking that away. Because I understand that acting is a difficult career and I like the barrier the casting director offers also because a casting director is in touch with what a lot of the actors are looking for, the performers, and I am not until they get there.
One of the things I dislike about that is … that’s sort of negative about that is in my very first indie, HIDING IN THE OPEN, was when we were so small a cast that I had complete direct contact with every actor. And so when it was just Jennica, Ryan, and Turna, their entire relationship with the project was through me.
There was no separation. Everything went through me and I don’t mean that in a control sense. I just mean that in the … I’m not the 15th person they’ve met on the project. So that barrier serves as a great thing before, so I don’t get involved with people who aren’t attached to the project, but that barrier is unwanted with the people who do become attached to the project, that barrier already exists if that makes sense.”
What did your casting director bring to your project?
Michelle Lang, producer: “What I have learned from having built my own small “film family” is that it takes time, energy, and trust to develop relationships with talent. Longtime casting directors have a much wider network and, often times, deeper relationships with the highest profile talent in the industry. They also spend their entire careers discovering new talent and seeing which actors flourish and which don’t. Their intuition and their years of experience focused directly on talent is invaluable.”
Ryan Schwartzman, writer/producer actor: “The casting director brought many things to the project. They brought a fresh set of eyes to us. They brought years of experience that I didn’t have, but their experience was in the casting part of the industry and they were aware of that we had things to add too. I was able to learn from them and they were open to learning from us and our experiences. They brought so many industry connections that I don’t have. They introduced us to some amazing talents, some of whom were not right for this project, some were exactly what we were looking for, but all of them were welcomed ideas.”
Jennica Schwartzman, PGA: “Consultation. Perspective. Contacts. Immeasurable influence. Legitimacy.”
What have you found to be evident in your work with casting directors in indie film?
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