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Casting Your Film or Video Project

Written by Graham Robertson - 2006, Thomson Course Technology PTR. Reprinted with Permission.
This article is an excerpt from the following book: Desktop Cinema: Feature Filmmaking on a Home Computer

Once you have a producer or two on board, it's time to start casting your film. You should have already started this process when you were storyboarding. It takes a little time for all the headshots to come in and then to sort them out. This is why it's good to have a support team onboard working with you.

Take Out an Ad
The best way to find a cast is to take an ad out in the Backstage West. You can find it online at:

Backstage is a newspaper for actors with casting listings. It can be found, not only in Los Angeles and New York City, but also in a few other regions around the United States. You go online, write an ad, and give them somewhere between 10 to 20 dollars to run the ad over a week. You'd be surprised how many headshots you'll receive from a week's run. I recommend two weeks.

To place your ad, you have to be as concise and clear as possible. Give a brief description of the film and who is involved and follow that with a few key roles. Describe the characters by their name, age range, and a little insight into who that character is.

A Film Description
Your Name (prod/dir) is seeking submissions for the feature film, Your Title, a film about an arrogant businessman who's taught there is more to life than money.

A Character Description
* Stuart: male, 25-35, brown hair/eyes, dark individual; con fident and insincere.
* Lynn: female, 25-40, light eyes/complexion; shy, and under-appreciated.

Other things you might let people know to entice them into submit-ting your ad:

Let the people know if there is pay or not (most likely there won't be) and if food will be provided (you should). A meal is the very least you can do to compensate the cast for their time. When you are finished with the project, providing the actors with a copy of their scenes is also a common courtesy.

Put your contact information at the bottom and submit the casting call. It'll take no time after the ad is printed before the headshots start to come rolling in. I recommend getting yourself a few bank boxes and some hanging folders in advance to keep the headshots organized. We were surprised at the number we received in the first week alone.

In fact, this is the exact ad we placed in the Backstage West in Los Angeles. Notice how vague I was in the description of the film. I wanted to pull in as many people as possible. In retrospect, I shouldn't have put "Non-union" because that limits the number of headshots sent in. In the end, we ended up getting a low-budget union SAG agreement.

Hold a Casting Session
Now that you've put out your ad, give it two weeks to simmer. This is why I recommend you start the casting process around the same time you begin storyboarding. After a couple of weeks, you'll have received hundreds of headshots that need to be sorted.

Sit down with the photos and organize them into groups based on the characters you are looking for. Have, not only a "Stuart" and "Lynn" group, but also groups for additional roles in the film.

We decided to avoid a seedy casting session by holding it in one of our homes. (Backstage actually prohibits holding auditions in your home.) Scott, the producer, locked down a location that cost $200 for three days of auditions. It was a clean environment with a waiting area, a front desk, restroom facilities, and a private audition room. It was the perfect setting to cast Able Edwards. Here is a breakdown of what we had to do to prepare for the audition process.

Post Actor's Sides Online
When scheduling the actors for their auditions, we prepared a few different scenes (or sides) for them to read. Rather than faxing the sides as is (or was) the norm, I posted the sides online. Then over the phone we gave the actors a link to check out their scene. It worked beautifully and saved on fax time. Remember, we were kicking off a no-budget production.

Schedule an Audition Every Five Minutes
Our first day of casting we scheduled an audition every 15 minutes. Unfortunately, we forgot a good rule to remember: actors are flakey. They don't always show up, and if they don't, you're left with an empty waiting room as the clock ticks away on your rented space. Always overbook your auditions.

Have the Actors Sign In
Scott was in the casting session with me while Noe sat at the front desk and signed in the actors as they arrived. Often actors bring an additional headshot with them. Noe would sign them in and then lead each actor into the audition room, introduce us, and hand me their headshot. Then we'd begin the audition. It was a nice formality that relaxed the actors and resulted in a better cold performance.

Videotape and Log Your Auditions
Don't just sit there with a yellow note pad and pencil in hand. Take (or borrow) a laptop, use Microsoft Excel to create a spreadsheet of the actor's name, time of audition, and the tape you are recording their audition on and whether you liked them or not or if you think they might be better for a different role. I know this is a lot of work so I'll help you out and include a copy of the audition log I made on the CD.

Save the Last Day of Auditions for Callbacks
Callbacks are for when you think you have your cast (with a few options) and you call them back to re-read for you. We held our auditions on a Saturday and a Sunday; then the following Saturday we held the callbacks. Over the week between the audition days and the callback day, the producers and I reviewed the tapes and discussed who we thought was right for each part. On the third day, we confirmed our cast. If we didn't tell them on the spot that they had the part, we called them during the week to notify them.

Something to keep in mind beyond mere performance and looks is an actor's tone of voice. Sure, in real life you can't pick the way people sound, but in auditions, you can. In the editing process, you're going to be watching and listening to these people for hours on end. Be sure that you enjoy the sound of their voices as well as everything else about them. For more information, see Desktop Cinema: Feature Filmmaking on a Home Computer.

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