So far in the Industry Newbie series I have covered all the key pieces of development and pre-production except for one: casting. If you are an actor like I am, this is probably the piece you are most excited to tackle. But whether or not you are an actor, if you have never been on the casting director’s side of the table, there are a few tips and resources you should know about to make your casting process run smoothly.
When should you start casting?
You want to begin the casting process after, but as soon as, you know your shooting schedule. From start to finish, you will typically need four to five weeks to cast even a handful of roles.
Should you cast your friends?
Yes if: you have a friend who is genuinely an excellent candidate for a particular role and you know that they are reliable and professional on set.
No if: you want to be nice to them or you want to hang out with them on set.
You are putting an enormous amount of time and energy into producing work that you hope will help you achieve your professional goals. The best way for the final product to help you achieve your career goals is for that product to be as high quality as possible. Mis-casting a role, just because you like someone, will not produce the highest quality product and will undermine all your other efforts on the project. In addition, if your friend is an excellent actor but may take advantage of your friendship on set or is not the most reliable, you seriously risk running into time and money challenges on set as you need to accommodate their tardiness, lack of preparation, last-minute cancellation, or any other un-professional behavior.
How do you manage auditions?
I strongly recommend using a casting site. These types of sites allow you to post your project and character descriptions, invite specific actors to audition from the group of actors who submit their profiles to you, and manage actor selections. In the Los Angeles area, there are two primary casting sites: Breakdown Express and Casting Networks. There are also several other sites used in LA, New York, and other cities around the country, including Casting Frontier, Backstage (used primarily in NY), and Casting Calls America (used in several metropolitan areas other than LA and NY).
Each site has slightly different requirements for the project information they require in order to post your project. In particular, note that if you plan to be a SAG-AFTRA project, Breakdown Express will require some proof that you have begun the paperwork with SAG-AFTRA before they will allow you to tag the project as Union.
How do you hold auditions?
There are two primary ways you can hold auditions: via video submissions and in person.
Pros: Save money on space rental; view auditions on a rolling basis as they come in.
Cons: You do not get to meet the actors and see their energy or how professional they are; you do not get to re-direct actors during the audition.
If you choose to hold video auditions, note that Breakdown Express has a built-in system called Eco-Cast for managing video submissions. This system helps the process run smoothly because most actors are very familiar with the uploading process and the videos are automatically linked to actors’ profiles, allowing you to manage your review and selections of the auditions all in one place.
Pros: You get to meet the actors and see how they interact with you in a professional environment; you get to re-direct them during the audition.
Cons: Cost of space rental; limited to seeing all auditions on a pre-scheduled day (however, if you do not find the right actor on an audition day, you can always solicit more auditions afterwards via video).
There are a number of audition rental spaces in the Los Angeles area, including Space Station and CastINHollywood. These are wonderful resources because they have support staff as well as built-in casting-friendly services including waiting areas for actors, online check-in systems that link to your mobile device so you know who is in the waiting room while you are in the casting room, access to readers to read opposite the auditioning actors, and lights and cameras for you to use to record the auditions. If you are not in LA, do some research to find out if there is a casting rental space near you. If not, you can find another professional venue by reaching out to your industry colleagues or by using Peerspace. No matter where you are, you MUST use a professional and publicly available venue: do not conduct auditions in a home.
Should I hold callbacks?
You may want to hold callbacks for the lead and large supporting roles in your project. Often for these larger roles, you find that there are three to five actors from your first round of auditions who could all potentially fit the part and you cannot decide whom would be best. In addition, you may have roles that need to have a very particular, close relationship in your project (e.g. a romantic relationship, a sibling relationship, or a parent-child relationship) and you need to see how different pairs of actors work together. In both of these cases, holding callbacks is a great idea.
Whether your first round of auditions was by video or in person, you will definitely want to hold your callbacks in person. There are two reasons for this: (1) It will allow you to direct the actors to try different variations on a role, which gives you a sense of their acting abilities and shows you how well they take direction, and (2) It will allow you to pair different combinations of actors together so you see how well they work together.
There are many details that go into preparing for the casting process, but I hope this gives you a good foundation for getting started. In the next installment of this series, I will cover post-production.