Casting Your Film

There are many ways to find and audition actors. First, you should recognize that it’s the actor on the screen – not you – that matters. The performance is king (or queen). Asking friends and family who aren’t actors only works for people like Robert Bresson and other genius directors. Because of this, writing roles for adults is not recommended. Adults who are professionals generally need to get paid. Are you willing to do that?

 

Here’s my recommendation: As for kids your age, the best place to look is schools (not just yours). Make a flyer with details about your film and pass it out to students in drama classes. Better yet, ask the teacher if you can have five minutes in front of the class to make a short pitch first. Interested parties can contact you for an audition appointment.

 

Also, go and see student plays in schools all around the DMV area. Watch the actors. If you like anyone, go backstage afterwards and talk to them. Tell them you’re making a movie and you think they would be great in a role. Make the pitch. Give them the flyer and get their information.

 

I like scheduled auditions (rather than cattle calls). I usually schedule one actor every fifteen minutes. That’s plenty of time for me.

 

When they arrive, give them:

  • A letter that gives them some idea of the project, the dates, and (very important) how excited you are that they are auditioning. Let them know that you respect their talents and want to give them every opportunity to work unimpeded. Ask them to make creative and bold choices with the reading (to come).

  • Information sheet. This has all their contact information, but also their acting experience and other skills that you think could be important.

  • Sides. This is the scene(s) that they will be reading. Give them some time before you call them in order to prepare.

 

At the audition itself, I do three things:

 

  • Interview. Talk to the actor. Get to know them. Now that you have their information sheet, go over it with them. Not only will you be able to find out important information, but you’ll also get an idea of their personality and if you mesh with them. Plus it will take some of the pressure off of the audition itself.

  • Monologue. In your earlier contact with the actor, ask them to prepare a 1-minute contemporary monologue. Any actor should have two or three monologues at all times ready to go. This is (or should be) what they consider to be their best work. They’ve prepared it and know it. So when they do it, you should see their best work. Ask yourself; does this performance feel honest and truthful? Was it creative and interesting? This, to me, is the most important thing. I want an actor who is creative and makes interesting (bold and risky) choices. Not someone who’s trying to portray some realistic image of some other person. Look at Jack Nicholson. Everything he does is unique. His performance demands attention and is, above all else, interesting.

  • Reading. Yes, have them read some a scene from your script. Your AD can read the other parts (make sure your AD doesn’t “perform”, but just read). In the reading, don’t expect the actor to be the character or to give you the performance you might see in your head. That’s not the point. You want them to (like the monologue) be creative and have made interesting choices with the character. They will most likely not be the choices you ultimately want, but bold choices nonetheless. Find an actor willing to dive off the deep end (creatively) with you.

  • Direction. After the first reading, give them some direction and have them read it again. See if they can make an adjustment and do something new. You don’t want a “one-note” actor. When giving an actor a direction, make it simple, specific and clear. Don’t give them a dissertation or try to mold them to what you want the character to be with a bunch of back-story and psychoanalysis. This is not the time. You just want to see if they can take direction and do something with it.

 

At the end, thank them and let them know how much you appreciate their time and effort.

 

Once they leave, make plenty of notes and talk to your team to see what they thought as well. Take a photo of each actor so you can remember who’s who. Video taping the audition is what some people do, and can be helpful, but make sure you have the actors permission.

 

Callbacks can be helpful if you’re really stuck on deciding between two or more actors you really like. In callbacks, you can have them read more, give them more direction, and see what they can bring to the specific character. Sometimes doing some improv work can show a new side to the actor or reveal information about their willingness to take risks and be creative.

 

Once you cast the film, make sure everyone signs a release form.

 

Rehearsals are incredibly important. Don’t skip this. If you haven’t taken the Conservatory Film Program, you should. We go over the director’s process, including the performance and rehearsals.

David Stern

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