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 BENEFITS OF CASTING DIRECTORs

Get a great casting director 

There are many reasons a filmmaker should hire a casting director, especially if they have the budget to do so.

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

Furthermore, they open many doors that filmmakers can't.   

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.  

Casting Directors | John Swanbeck

All of the tips you need to learn, they already know.

In other words, if you can afford one, there are few reasons 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.

Now, if you think you can do the job yourself and have a deep sense of belief in your ability to work with actors, do it.

If you're a more technical filmmaker who understands film techniques more than performances, consider enlisting some sage like wisdom.

1.2 ATTACH STARS EARLY

Attach talent to attract other talent

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.

Auditions | John Swanbeck

You can use well-known names to attract talent, and this may mean a writer, director, cinematographer, or even another actor.

Unknown or undiscovered talent is certainly the most affordable, they bring their own mystique, and you may get credit for discovering the next big thing.  

Only you and your budget can decide what you need from the casting process, and often your budget will get bigger with a big name actor.  

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 CASTING RECORD

Organize the casting 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

Cast against type to boost your buzz

You may have an idea of what you want from your casting, but you will be better off with an open mind because it is beneficial to any project to at the very least consider alternative casting choices for your roles.

You may find that someone who doesn't make sense in the traditional sense of a role actually makes your film unique and more modern than the competition. 

Cameras, the director, cinematographer, and script all play a big part in your films success, but if your cast is old hat, your project may 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 Submit Casting Notices

Find the right casting service

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:

2.3 HEAD-SHOTS AND RESUMES AND REELS

Prioritize digital head shots

Let us be clear, you will be inundated with head-shots, 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 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.  

Character Breakdowns | John Swanbeck

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

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 ACTOR SELF TAPES

Ask for self-tapes from actors

Do not forget to ask for those who would like to submit self-taped auditions.

You have a busy schedule. Many actors have busy schedules.

Let actors know that they can submit self-tapes.  

For a film I produced two weeks ago we ended up finding our lead actress through a self-tape audition, and boy we're glad we didn't skip this step. 

Powerful Characters | John Swanbeck

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 AUDITION 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.  

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 HOLD 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 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 helpful 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.
  • You need script sides at the audition.

Script sides are important enough to mention twice.

A script side is very simply a portion of your script.

You normally need these for two reasons:

  1. To print out the pages you will record on a specific shoot day.
  2. To print for actors to have a sample scene to perform in an audition.

Script sides used to be a hassle, and would require you to search through your script to find out which scenes have which roles, and then you need to specify which pages you wan to print out - all of this eating up valuable time.

They used to look like this...

Casting Tips - Script Sides Example - StudioBinder

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

StudioBinder makes it much easier...

Simply filter your script by scene or cast or even a specific element like a prop or a particular costume if need be - whatever you need.

Then save as PDFs and send in emails or print out on set in minutes.

For instance, if we were casting Mia (Emma Stone) in La La Land, we might want to just have actors audition using the coffee shop scenes.

Check out our script sides for the Mia/Coffee Shop auditions below:

StudioBinder Script Sides

There will cease to be hanging pages or portions of scenes that you don't want.

In the past, you would have hanging portions of a previous or the next scene because you had to print based on the page number. 

Make sure to bring those script sides with you to your audition. 

Take a look:

Make Script Sides | StudioBinder

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, focus on your job and be respectful.

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

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.  

Casting Actors | John Swanbeck

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.

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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