While a great script is critical, even the best material can fall flat without the right vessel to deliver it. That’s why casting is so important. It’s always preferable to have a casting professional assist you, and it’s almost always worth it. But depending on your budget range, you might have to cast some (or all) of your film yourself.
If you want to be successful, casting is more than just renting a room and inviting some actors. Here are 5 quick tips for on prepping for a successful casting search.
1. Get that paper
Often the conventional thinking goes that if you can get a “name” actor attached to your project, the funding will take care of itself. Depending on the name, the genre, and the pedigree of others involved, that might be true. But often attaching talent won’t actually guarantee you’ll find the money to pay them. And if their schedule changes and they are forced to drop out it could sink the whole show.
If possible, get all your financing secured before you cast. You’ll be that much more attractive to name talent when they know the money is real. And it’s better to have enthusiastic financial backers who trusts you than someone who’s only on board because of a famous actor.
2. Find the next big star
You might be able to cast a known actor as your lead, or find an aging star to “day play” in a cameo role, but the bulk of your performers will be relative unknowns that you must discover. The good news is, everyone has to start somewhere. Before Robert De Niro was a legend, he was a struggling actor just looking for juicy roles and talented collaborators.
Acting classes are an excellent resource for discovering future stars and forming career-long connections. Particularly in New York or LA, where it often seems like everyone is an “actor,” the serious professionals distinguish themselves from the dilettantes by honing their craft in class… and staying busy with challenging roles in low-budget passion projects!
3. Teamwork makes the dream work
Before you start casting you need to know what your collaborators (writers, directors, producers) are looking for. How do they envision the part you are casting? Are you all in agreement? Are you open to surprises?
What do you know about the actors you are seeing? Are you just sorting through a bunch of headshots and resumes? Can you learn a bit about their prior work and their reputation? This is especially helpful if you have to advocate on their behalf in internal debates. Sometimes you will have to fight for the actor you know is the right fit. Other times you’ll need to compromise to keep your creative partners happy. Keep the big picture in mind and pick your battles.
4. Handling “the talent”
When it comes to the actual audition, think about how you can set the actors up for success. Make sure the role breakdowns are clear and do your best to run the auditions on time. Print out plenty of sides, always have lots of water on hand, and find a talented “reader” to perform opposite your auditioners. Never read with an actor yourself. You can’t focus on their performance and be a part of it.
Auditioning can be an intimidating and exhausting experience for performers. When they’re confident and comfortable, the whole process will be more successful. Do what you can to make them feel like they’re in a safe and friendly environment. Treating them as you’d treat any other collaborator will give you a better idea of what they can bring to the table.
5. Never stop looking
Ideally the casting process should start about 10 weeks before filming begins. Hopefully you’ll find the perfect fit quickly, but it’s not unheard of to see hundreds of people for one role. You may feel pressured to pick someone and move on with your life, especially as your production date nears, but remember what’s at stake. Being saddled with a difficult or limited actor can torpedo your shoot, while a perfectly cast performer can elevate the whole project and make everyone’s jobs easier.
Keep auditioning until you get it right. Ask friends and colleagues for recommendations. Attend drama school showcases and live theatre. Open casting in multiple cities if need be. Does that Uber driver have just the look and disposition you’re looking for? It can’t hurt to give him a read. Just don’t give up until you find what you’re looking for!