How To Run A Casting CallWednesday, October 10, 2018
Finding the right actors for your film can be a lot of work. But it's worth it to find that "perfect" person for each role. That's why Hollywood movie studios hire casting directors to help in this process.
However, most independent filmmakers don't always have the budget to hire a casting director, so they find themselves doing this work themselves. Knowing how to run a smooth casting call can make it easier for you to find the right actors for your production.
Obviously, there's no time for a casting call during a 48HFP filmmaking weekend, but it's definitely good practice to take the time for this on your other film projects. Here are some tips to help you run your casting call. Although the actual process may vary depending on your own needs and resources available, this information will give you a solid foundation to start from.
1. Get the word out in advance
First you'll need to make sure that actors know about your audition. Fortunately, there are many different resources you can use to get the word out about your casting call. Many of our 48HFP cities have Facebook groups set up for things like networking and casting calls, so this is a great place to start. Look for other acting Facebook groups in your area as well.
Castlisting is the official online casting tool that the 48HFP uses to help you find team members for your 48HFP competition. You can become a member for free and create your own online profile where you can upload your headshot, resume, or demo reel. The site also breaks down 48HFP casting calls by city at https://castlisting.com/48hourevents.php and offers additional tools to help 48HFP official team leaders run online "casting calls."
Backstage is another great resource to post auditions, and it's used by actors all around the country. They are offering free use of their casting services to 48HFP filmmakers--get the details and special code at https://hello.backstage.com/48hfp-partner-offer/
If you have a budget to pay actors for your project, you may also want to enlist the help of local talent agencies. They represent professional actors and models, and can often help recommend specific talent that would be good for your role.
However, since talent agencies make their money off of commission, they will often only deal with productions that can pay actors at least the equivalent of SAG scale. If that's not in your budget, be prepared for the agency to pass on your project. But it's still a good idea to contact them--sometimes agencies will still post your casting call or recommend newer talent that may be looking for projects to build their resumes.
For your audition notice, you'll need to have details like the dates, times, and location of the casting call, production dates, and any specific requirements for the auditions. You'll also want to prepare a character breakdown so potential actors can have an idea of which role they might be a fit for (see more on that below).
2. Find the right location
Auditions can be nerve-racking enough for actors, so you don't want to add to their nervousness by sending them to some out of the way location where they also have to worry about their safety. Remember, there are a lot of scammers and plain old creepy people looking to take advantage of people, so actors can be very wary when going to audition for someone they don't know. So it's important to be as professional as possible.
Don't hold auditions in your home. Even though it might be a perfectly safe (and free) location, it raises red flags for actors. And no hotel rooms, for the same reason.
There are plenty of good locations that you can get for free that won't make you look like a creeper. Most public libraries offer free rooms to the community. Some even have video and audio equipment you can use for free. It's worth a call to your local library to find out what resources they have available. Schools and universities are another good place to get a room--they often allow community groups to use classroom space for free after hours.
3. Prepare sides & a breakdown
How do prospective actors know which role they might be a fit for? That's through your character breakdown. This is simply a listing of each character in your film, any relevant descriptive details, and a very short biographical description.
How specific you get in the details depends on the needs of your script and how you envision each character. Most character descriptions in a breakdown include at least an age or age range, gender, and race (if relevant). But there may be additional details that are important and specific to the character that you will want to include as well. For example, if there's dialogue about one character's red hair, you should include that info in your description.
Your biographical description could be as short as a sentence or as long as a paragraph, depending on how much detail you want to give potential actors. You want them to have some insight into the character's personality, any traits or quirks, and anything important about their history.
Check out some actual character breakdowns at https://www.backstage.com/casting for a better idea of what information to include.
Next, you'll want to have a couple short scenes from the script for actors to read during the audition. These are called audition sides. Think through your characters and determine one or more scenes in the film that are representative of each of their personalities. It's better to use scenes that have some momentum to them, this way you can watch how the actors develop the arc of each character and see who would be the best fit for each role.
4. Plan logistics in advance
Make sure everything is prepared in advance so things run smoothly on the day of your casting call. Print out your audition sides and make multiple copies of them, so actors can practice while someone else is in the audition room. Make sure you clearly mark where you'd like the scene to start and stop. It's a good idea to write the names of the characters in each scene on top of the sides. Make sure you have sides for each character.
You should have one room where the actual audition takes place, and a "holding area" right outside. Find someone to volunteer as a monitor for your auditions. This person will help actors get signed in, make sure they have the correct audition sides for the role they'd like to read for, and will answer any questions that actors may have about the auditions or the production.
Have a sheet of paper for actors to sign in when they arrive, and so you know what order to call them back. Typically, your audition monitor will send back one actor at a time in the order that they arrived, unless you've given them directions otherwise.
Many actors will have a headshot and/or resume with their previous acting credits and contact info. Even if they have this, it's a good idea to have everyone coming in to audition fill out a form with some basic contact information. You can download a sample Audition Info sheet to use as a part of our free Producer's Kit.
5. Treat your audition like a real shoot
You should always film your auditions, that way you can review them after the casting call. This means that you'll need some sort of camera, along with adequate lighting and sound.
If you have your own gear then this should be no problem. Set up your camera on a tripod. It's best to shoot auditions against a neutral backdrop, so there's nothing to distract from the performances themselves. A very simple two point lighting setup is fine for an audition--you really just want to make sure that the actors are clearly lit so you can get a good idea of what they look like on camera. Use the same audio setup that you would on a regular film shoot.
If you don't have your own gear, you can use your phone to record auditions. Make sure you are in a well lit room, or you can use available light from a window to light your actors. If you don't have audio equipment you'll need to make sure that your audition room is free from extraneous noises, otherwise you won't be able to hear the dialogue.
6. Have actors give a slate and introduction
Always have your actors start their audition by giving a slate--their name, any union affiliations, and either their phone number of the number of the agency that represents them. This way you'll always have a way to contact them in the future, even if you lose their audition sheet or resume.
Sometimes it's good to have actors talk about themselves on camera as a sort of ice breaker. Remember, the audition process can be incredibly nerve-wracking for actors, sometimes even more so than the actual film shoot. If you have actors talk about themselves for even just 30 seconds or so, it can help warm them up and get them out of their heads.
7. Have a plan & timeline for casting decisions
Actors will want to know when they will know the outcome of their auditions, so have some sort of plan in place for letting people know. For some films you may need to cast by a certain date because of firm production dates, but for other projects you may have a more flexible timeframe. Even so, it's not good to leave actors hanging for too long wondering whether or not they won the role they auditioned for.
Will you be notifying actors if you're NOT going to use them? If so, how and when will you be doing so? Know this in advance in case anyone asks during the casting process. It's good practice to make sure all actors accept the roles you've offered them before you make consolation notifications. This way if one actor turns down a role that you've offered them, you can offer it to someone else who has auditioned.
Remember that these are just guidelines for running a casting call, so don't worry if you already do things a little differently. The most important thing is to have some sort of process in place to run an organized audition.
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