by James Jaeger

The Director is responsible for casting the picture, from the packaged elements down. He or she may also be involved in packaging the principal talent, which does not necessarily have to be lined up first. If you are a Producer/Director, you might wish to follow these guidelines in casting, or have your director follow them.

Casting sessions are generally not used for Stars as Stars are relatively known quantities. This discussion will concern itself with casting talent below the level of stars or relatively unknown talent.

The Director's immediate casting goal is to get as many talent combinations onto tape as possible and from these ultimately select the best applicants for the parts.

Advertising For Talent

The Director can find the required acting talent, or have your casting director find it, by advertising in the trade journals, in free and paid ads. If you pay for the ad, you get to say exactly what you want, however you can find very good talent by advertising in the free section of DRAMA-LOGUE or by checking the various Casting Links on the Internet.

When you run an ad in a magazine, make sure you intend on shooting the film or are packaging it with serious intent to go into production. The ad should list the principal and supporting characters and a brief description of each.

One accurately worded ad presented by a trade magazine such as DRAMA-LOGUE will usually bring in 15 to 30 photo/resumes per day for about twelve days or so. This gives you about 250 people to choose from.

It is best not to accept phone calls, but to invite talent to send an 8 x 10 photograph with a phone where they can be reached. When I am NOT casting for name talent, I never look at the resumes. I am more interested in what they can do here and now than what they did. This you must ascertain, in an unbiased fashion, when you are casting.

My feeling is if you can not find perfectly fine talent within 250 people - you might have a problem making decisions.

Casting is all about making decisions - turning two dimensional words into three dimensional life.

Scheduling the Sessions

With a pile of photos in the office, the Director should sort through them and decide on the people that definitely could and could not play the various characters. Start weeding out from the principal actors down through the supporting and bits.

It is very helpful to post candidates on the wall below a tag of the character's names. This way you can see, all at once, how things are shaping up.

Many times photographs look the opposite of what the actual person is like. That gorgeous-looking guy or girl may have paid a thousand dollars for that perfect 8 x 10 glossy head shot with the composite on the back, yet they look like a scuz when they arrive at the casting session. Or that scuzie looking actor looks great and perfect for the part when he or she shows up. Maybe this actor gets so much work he or she doesn't have time or need to update the resume. Maybe they had the picture taken six months ago before they joined a Nautilus Plus.

When in doubt, call them in. Give everybody you can a chance if they look like they qualify.

Your Casting Director should be concerned with helping you, as director, procure talent, from every source, including agents, who can be most helpful in presenting you with their clients.

Your Casting Secretary, on the other hand, should be helping you with the casting admin. Therefore, have your Casting Secretary call each actor and actress who you want to come in. Start scheduling casting sessions as early as possible when you know the picture will go into production.

Tell the actors the start date before having them come in to make certain they are free between the basic dates of principal photography.

Schedule talent in fifteen (15) minute intervals - one every fifteen minutes - at the casting session. Schedule any two or more actors you want to try out together within the same 15- minute period and perhaps leave a small space of time (say 20 - 30 minutes) behind them.

Weekends are the best time to have casting sessions because you will make it more possible for more talent to show up. Eighty percent of actors and actresses are unemployed as actors and thus work other jobs. Most serious talent will take off from work to come to the session. Some will fly across the country to meet with you without thinking anything of it. Obviously, don't ask them to do that unless you feel they have a better-than- average chance of making the part. Let them know up front that you can make no special promises if they come that far. It would not be fair to the others.

You should be able to handle at least one every 15 minutes as you are not going to read the average actor for more than fifteen minutes total time, and many times you will be reading several together to see their chemistry. If you find you cannot handle that pace, find a pace you can handle and schedule interviews accordingly.

Do not schedule so many actors that you make any of them wait longer than 15 minutes.

Preparing for the Session

Long before the talent is scheduled to arrive at the casting session, have portions of the script you want to have them read ready, xeroxed and waiting in a stack. These portions are called "sides."

You should determine which are the crucial portions of the story and then make sides of the pages in that area of the story. When selecting sides to be read for your principals, pick about three (3) sections of the script that require different acting dynamics. For instance, an anger scene, a tender scene, a humorous scene (if these are the main emotions your actor or actress will be required to portray).

Once you have your sides, which should contain no more than three (3) script pages in standard format, clearly label them as to the parts they are for.

Make at least eight (8) copies of each of the three emotional tones for each principal. For example, if you have three principal characters you would select three different emotional scenes for each principal character and then make eight copies of the whole pack.

Make at least four (4) copies for the supporting characters and bits in the same manner. If you can select scenes in which supporting talent and bits are peppered throughout the principal sides, you may be able to economize. Don't skimp on the copies however - you are taking the valuable time of many people and you cannot run short. It is far better to have too many sides than to few.

The reason you need plenty of sides is so the actors and actress can study their parts while they are waiting to be read. Also, some sides may walk out the door with the talent, even though your Production Assistant is supposed to collect them when the actor or actress is dismissed.

Once you have all the sides selected, copied the appropriate number of times AND most importantly labeled as to what parts they feature, give custody of the whole pile to your Casting Secretary and have her delegate them to the proper Production Assistant(s) as needed. Have the Assistant or Secretary hand you copies as you ask rapidly for them. That way you don't get too crazy and delay because you are searching through paper.

You should have a complete copy of the script labeled with the page numbers on which the sides can be quickly found.

Setting Up the Casting Office

You must have at least the following support personnel at the casting if you are booking people at 15-minute intervals and will be seeing more than 30 people - which you will have to do in order to get through the 250 people in six casting sessions.

1) Casting Secretary

2) One Casting Cameraman

3) At least Three Production Assistants

The Casting Secretary will supervise the Production Assistants and the Casting Cameraman on your behalf, or when you, the director, ask.

The Casting Cameraman Hat

The whole session must be video taped. The Casting Cameraman should be responsible for getting, operating and returning the equipment.

The following equipment is needed: the best-grade industrial video camera you can rent, a 3/4" or 1/2" video recorder, a directional mic and sufficient audio cable, a tripod and two (2) movie lights (on rolling stands with barn doors). Use 750 to 1000 watt Mole-Richardson "Babies," if possible.

It is mandatory to have an extra camera and VCR on the premises or somewhere within easy pickup distance, previously arranged. This backup camera and VCR don't have to be as good, because anything is better than nothing if a camera goes out. Always, always, always back your systems and equipment up.

The camera and lights should be set up in a space that gives sufficient room for up to four actors reading their lines at the same time (or the total number you require). Therefore, the camera has to be able to go wide-angle enough to place all on screen at the same time, as required.

The Casting Cameraman should make absolutely certain that each actor and actress that comes before the camera voice-slates it with name, part and phone. A running log of what is in each cassette must be made and placed on the cassette along with the date and production. The Director will generally ask talent to voice-slate, but the cameraman should make sure no one is forgotten.

The Casting Cameraman should be extremely receptive to your camera directions and be willing for you to use the camera yourself. The Cameraman should make sure that a full length shot of the actor or actress is on screen for at least 10 seconds. Then the cameraman should come in to about a medium shot so you can clearly see the talent's facial expressions. There should be at least ten seconds of extreme close up of each actor and actress so you can really see their face.

The Casting Couch

Set up enough chairs and a casting couch, of course, in an area where the talent can be greeted and sit while awaiting your call for them.

Actors should not walk in through the casting set, but enter through a back door. If they can hear what's going on from a distance on the casting set, that's okay.

You should have your Production Assistant greet them and have a pitcher of water and paper cups on the table in the waiting area. Since they have taken their time to come over, it is not out of line to offer refreshments and goodies, depending on the budget of the production.

The Initial Interview

Two other Production Assistants must be set up in another office or room to log in the newly arrived actors as soon as they can be summoned from the waiting area. All that is needed in this room is a desk and three chairs.

One assistant ushers each talent into the office and sits there until the interview is finished. A Talent Application must be filled out on each Actor and Actress individually. Part of this interview is to explain exactly what the production is, what amounts are allocated in the budget for the part and show them the contract. Before they can be auditioned they must understand and agree with the scope of the production. This should take no longer that 5 minutes per actor. Then the Production Assistant ushers the actor back out to the waiting area and brings in the next newly arrived actor or actress. The initial interview can be done prior to the sessions if a pre-casting screening is desired.

While casting is going on, the Casting Secretary should be going around supervising and reporting to the director. If it gets heavy, the Casting Secretary should put on an additional Production Assistant where needed or aid herself without losing track of the overall picture from a supervisory point of view.

The Producer can be present of course, but he or she should keep a low profile as it is important that the Director be given a chance to kindle a rapport with the talent and for the talent to have an authority focus without being overwhelmed or having their attention dispersed.

Whatever you do, don't subject your actors to a board or a committee of sullen faces. It is hard enough for them to come in and cold read. They're there to present a performance to a camera -not a board or live audience.

Go to any extent necessary to make each talent comfortable and glad he or she is there and never call a talent in a second time without reading him or her at least once. Even if there is no way they fit into the current production, you'll have them in your tape casting library and they may be perfect for some part in the next picture. They spent 15 minutes of their life on you - you spend 15 minutes of your life on them.

The Casting Itself

By not giving talent too long to memorize the sides, you will get an idea of how well they can memorize lines. One of the last things you want on the set is an actor or actress that does not remember the lines and causes lots of flubs and takes.

You should keep the pace brisk and try out each actor with as many combinations of other talent as time will allow. Be willing to walk back to the waiting area, look over all the actors and actresses present and grab one or two or three - hand each of them their sides and say "I'm going to read you and you together - you for this part and you for this part. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Then you should try two out. The better of the two might be retained on the set, the other one thanked and asked to go sit down and read a new set of sides, or wait for further instructions. You might realize the actress is just not what is needed, thank her and dismiss her on the spot. Then dash back to the waiting area where hopefully the others you have given specific sides to, are ready. Take one of them out to the set. Try out the chemistry with these two. Then try out the other one waiting with the best of the two. If you're not sure, but there are better possibilities still present, thank the actor and dismiss him - rather than make him wait around. Tell them that you will call them as soon as possible if you feel they are right for the part.

Mix and match. Try this one with that one with this one. Keep a rapid pace. Do the ushering of the talent back and forth yourself. Open up to the actors, let them open up to you. Be encouraging, have fun, crack jokes, make everyone feel welcome. If you see a performance you like, say it out loud. Let the others hear - they will compete and try to give you more of what you felt was great. You will see the best performances under these circumstances and all will have fun casting.

Reviewing the Tapes

Your goal should be to get as many actors and different combinations on tape as possible in the casting session.

Again, make absolutely sure each time an actor or actress reads, he or she voice-slates the tape with his or her name, part being read and phone number, and that this is clearly on the tape.

Sit and study the tapes and combinations with whomever else is concerned.

Pick out the best combinations and call them back for a second casting to further form up the cast.

You may find that you want to, or have to, cast your principal talent(s) last. If you have the budget and are ready to go, this might be the best way to go because the most important choice can then be made after seeing the maximum number of people and combinations. By this time you will have generated a lot of excitement and reality that the picture is going to be made and you may be very surprised at who shows up at each next casting session.

Try and call each talent, or have an assistant do it to thank them for coming over, whether you can cast them or not. (See Rejection Notices)

Casting is a crazy and exciting activity, so it should be done with a crazy and exciting attitude.

Casting is an excerpt from The Independent Producer's Manual

NOTE: Permission is granted by the copyright owner to disseminate this article in whole or in part provided credit is given to the author (with a link to the article's source URL)
and this NOTE is not removed.

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