One of the most important parts of any project is your cast. Casting.

A great cast can make or break your film or project on many levels.  But, many filmmakers look at the casting process as a path of least resistance. They disregard the fact that when they undertake a film project, with so many uncertainties, casting is where you want to exert a bit more effort!  

There are several ways to make the right casting decisions that will drastically improve your chances for success.  A few simple considerations up front can save you time and make sure your film sees the light of day when you wrap production.  Here are our best tips for casting that every filmmaker should use.

1

Can You Afford A Casting Director?

THE FIRST QUESTION IN THE CASTING PROCESS

1.1 UNDERSTAND THE BENEFITS OF CASTING DIRECTOR

Get the best casting director

There are many reasons a filmmaker should hire a casting director if they have the budget.

Casting Directors specialize in locating the best possible fit for all the characters in your production.  

Furthermore, they open many doors that filmmakers wouldn’t know how to.   

They can increase the value of your film by attracting name talent with whom they already have a relationship.

Further still, good casting directors know how to interpret the creative language into living breathing talent.  

All of the tips you need to learn, they already know. They cast on a daily basis and many are good at their job  

In other words, if you can afford one, there is no reason you shouldn’t hire a Casting Director.  

It’s wise to do so early in your development phase for all of the reasons above.  There are financial benefits to attaching a well-known actor early in the game.

1.2 DON’T WORRY ABOUT GOING IT ALONE

Just know what you’re looking for

There are very different reasons for casting A-List Celebrities,  TV Stars on the rise, trained and seasoned theater professionals or unknown talents.  

All of them have worthwhile benefits.

When you attempt to cast an A-List, bonafide movie star, it is usually to raise the profile and budget of your project.  

While it is difficult to break into the rarified air of movie stardom, if you do, your project immediately becomes something of note and financial worth.

But, good luck getting the script to them without a very big casting director.

TV Stars on the rise are much more approachable and will give some of the cachet of the movie-star without the baggage that comes along.

By all means, reach out to talent agents and managers for your favorite television stars.

The trained theater actor will lend a certain gravitas to your project but at union scale wages.  

When you add their names to your cast you know that you will get the talent.  A certain critical appeal is certain.

Unknown or undiscovered talent is certainly the most affordable and you may get the credit for discovering the next big thing.  

Using unknown talent is recommended if you have a masterpiece of a script that will stand on its own without the pomp of a celebrity name.

Only you and your budget can decide what you need from the casting process.  

But the most basic principle of casting is knowing why you’re going after the kind of talent you’re looking for.

1.3 KEEP A RECORD

Use every part of the process

You want to keep a record of everything you do at this point.  This includes the beginning of the process of finding the talent for your film or video.  This will be of particular import if you will be submitting your project for distribution.

This may seem a bit extra, but trust us, it will be helpful for building your electronic press kit at the end of the production.

2

Beginning the Casting Process

DON’T FEAR GOING IT ALONE

2.1 THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX WHEN CASTING

Get rid of your tunnel vision

The first step in the process after you have decided what kind of talent you want is

Despite using the most advanced cameras, having a fantastic director and cinematographer and synching amazing music, if your cast is sub-optimal, your film, short or commercial is likely to fall flat.  While there are many types of projects that need varying degrees of hands-on casting, there is no doubt that a cast can make or break the outcome of what eventually gets filmed.

2.2 KNOW WHERE TO SUBMIT YOUR CASTING NOTICES

Expect the best and get ‘em

Knowing where to post your casting notice is an essential part of getting the best talent for your production.  It is also one that is determined by the budget.

If you have reached out to your favorites through their reps then there are several services you want to use for a general casting call.

Casting Services:

  • Breakdown Services - Which goes out to actor’s reps for their consideration.
  • Actor’s Access - A service that allows self-submission from actors themselves.
  • Backstage - Allows those with and without reps to submit headshots and resumes.  
  • Other casting sites may be useful:
  • Casting Networks- Vets it’s talent by those with representation.
  • Casting Frontier - One of the first to offer digital casting solutions.
  • Playbill - This one is primarily known for theater talent.

2.3 CONSIDER YOUR HEADSHOTS AND RESUMES AND REELS

Make sense of your submissions

Let us be clear, you will be inundated with headshots, resumes, and reels. Los Angeles and New York, particularly, are filled with actors.  Newly minted actors and veterans alike will be submitting to your casting call. Half of the submissions will be completely unsuitable for the roles you’re offering.

Again, you want to think outside of the box so take a moment to consider if your protagonist is something other than the norm, or what you had in mind.

After you have looked at and passed over half of the resumes, place the remainder into piles by character.  

Now, remember the headshot is an idealized version of the actor.  Take them at face value.

The resume is very important.  Here are a few considerations for every resume:

  • Look for experience in genre and range.  
  • Get a sense of their ages from the years listed in their education.
  • Lastly, consider their extra skills such as instruments, languages, and sports.  These may be a good indication of the types of personality suitable for the role and for the production.  

Half of casting is who you will be able to work with for long periods of time.  If there are common interests, then you may have met someone you can collaborate with ease.

2.4 ASK FOR SELF TAPES

See those who aren’t there

In your casting calls, do not forget to ask for those who would like to submit self-taped auditions.  Many actors have busy schedules. You have a busy schedule. Let actor’s know that self-tapes are wanted.  

Self-tapes are a great way to stay on schedule by weeding out those who are ill-suited for the roles without having them come to meet in person.

Self-tapes are also a way to see actors who don’t live near the audition location.  

You may also get many submissions that will change the way you see the characters and the choices they face.

Just be sure to be explicit with your instructions for the taping and what you want in the reading.

3

The Casting Session

THE PROOF IS IN THE AUDITION

3.1 LOCATE THE SPACE

Don’t cast from your living room

In order to find the perfect talent for your project, you must have the perfect space.  Consider the place you hold your audition as a perfect reflection of your production.

The space where your talent will come to audition speaks volumes about your production. Holding auditions in your garage means your production may be perceived as unprofessional and low rent.  

Rent an empty theater, a group workspace or even an office and it will tell your talent and their reps that you mean business.

3.2 CONDUCT THE AUDITION

Be on time and organized

There are several must-haves when holding auditions for your productions.  

  • Having a sign in sheet for the talent is essential.  If you are a SAG signatory production this should be an Exhibit E.
  • You must have sides at the audition.
  • You will also need help in holding the auditions.  An assistant for sign-ins is standard, but also a reader and camera operator will also be essential so that you can focus on the performances you will see.
  • You should have a camera to record the auditions.  After the first five, the performances will become a dizzying array of words and faces that you will have to go back and give second considerations.  
  • Bottled water for the talent is another essential.  Your talent will be nervous or parched from hiking across town on their lunch breaks and the water will be appreciated.  

Important enough to mention twice is the subject of script sides.

They are a necessary part of the process.

Pulling sides for auditions was a real headache.  Creating script sides was a task for more than one person if you wanted them quickly.  

And, the industry-standard process required slicing up PDFs of the script to only the scenes covered for the audition.

After that, PDFs had to be labeled with additional details like the character’s name. There would be leftover lines and pages from other scenes. So you’d need to X them out by drawing lines over the content, like this:

Casting Tips - Script Sides Example - StudioBinder

The responsibility of making lots of sides falls to a Production Assistant or coordinator

Then… Printing. Copying. Collating. Distributing.

This happens again for the callbacks.

Now those days are gone. With production management solutions like StudioBinder, the process is much more modern. Now, you just create custom script sides with just a few swipes of the mouse.   Take a look:

Modern solutions to menial labor save hours (or days) during pre-production and production.

Now that you know the essentials, remember the talent’s time is just as important as yours, turn off your phone, bring lunch in, and focus on those performing.  The talent will be able to tell if you are interested. If you are not, they won’t be either. Their audition is the whole reason you are both there.

Now, encourage them to show you what they’ve got.  Also, give them any notes or encourage them to do something else with the performance and see how they take the notes.  By all means, have them do the audition at least twice.

3.3 HOLD THE CALLBACKS

Call them back for chemistry lessons

There are several reasons to hold callbacks after you have narrowed down the prospective talent for your project.  The most important reason to hold callbacks is chemistry.

Chemistry is that unmistakable quality that everyone has when working together.  This is something that cannot be forced or faked. It’s something indescribable, you know when you see it.

Even the most beautiful and friendly of talent can’t fool the camera when it comes to this.  

Chemistry is either there or it isn’t.  Your talent doesn’t have to be best friends, they don’t even have to like each other.  

What your talent needs is that certain magnetism that is inescapable. It may be in a smile or nod or knowing glance at the end of the read.  It may be body language, but the camera will see it instantly. So will you.

Hold callbacks and match the actors with their prospective counterparts or screen partners.  When reviewing the tapes later you will know which fit is perfect.

3.4 FIND YOUR STARS

Cast your movie perfectly

Review your takes of auditions and callbacks carefully.  

The stars of your project are there waiting to be discovered by you.  

If you have followed the casting tips in this article then there is no way that you haven’t set yourself and your talent for success.

Place the headshots of your “Finalists” on a table and place them in order of character screen time.  Mix and match according to the scenes they have with each other. Get a second opinion and even a third.  

Come to a conclusion who you will see filling the roles for your characters.  

The perfect casting choices are there waiting for you.  You will find out soon enough whether you have chosen wisely.  That’s what table reads are for.

But, by all means, make a choice and start calling your talent.  You have a cast waiting.

UP NEXT:

How to conduct an effective table read

Now that you have your stars, let's put their chemistry to the test.  Your first order of business will be the table read for your project. Make sure you make the most of this amazing experience for your talent, your crew and you with our next article, How To Hold the Most Effective Table Read.

UP NEXT: How To Hold An Effective Table Read →
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