How to Hold a Casting Call

One thing I’ve been learning a lot about lately is casting.  We (the film group I’m now a part of) have been putting out casting calls in order to find trained actors for our films who are willing to work for free.  And it turns out that it’s easy to find such people, because actors need demo reels that show how well they can act.

I went to a seminar a few months ago about how to direct actors, and the instructor said that 85% of direction is casting the right people. If you just cast your non-actor friends, you’ll need like five rehearsals before you can get them play the part well enough.  And casting the right people isn’t just about finding people who can act—it’s about finding people with a good attitude, who will help and not hinder your production, and who are reliable and professional.

You can tell a lot about an actor by the way they reply to your casting call.  Do they follow directions (“include your headshot and resume”)?  If not, perhaps they can’t follow directions in a film, either.  Are they professional?  I’ve had people ignore my directions in a casting call and just DEMAND that I tell them where the audition is.  Even though it’s by invitation only.  Some people just send a picture of themselves, with no cover letter or resume.  A lot of people don’t say what film they are trying out for—even though I asked them to because we are casting more than one film at a time.  I had one girl apply for a film in which I asked for a 35-40 year old MAN!  She didn’t even READ the casting call, I guess..

There is really only one way to answer a casting call:  by following ALL directions, and including a nice cover letter introducing one’s self and saying what part they would like to try out for.  This says the actor takes the process seriously.

During the audition, the behavior of the actor is just as important as their performance.  Are they on time?  Are they polite?  Were they prepared?  Did they do any research on the character they are trying out for?  When you directed them to do it a slightly different way, did they do it differently, or the same as before?  (if not, then they can’t take direction)

An actor who is flaky, has a bad attitude, or is unprofessional in any way will derail your production, no matter how good of an actor they may be.  Imagine if your lead actor just doesn’t show up.  What are you supposed to do then?  What if they don’t respect you as a director, and don’t do what you ask of them?  You can figure out if an actor will behave this way if you pay attention during the casting process.

So… where do you find actors to begin with?  You post casting calls.  In the Houston area, we have the Houston Film Commission and Short Film Texas.  You can also post on Breakdown Express and Craigslist.  Another way you can find good actors is by contacting acting coaches in the area, and by posting notices around university theater departments.  One thing I just learned from a local professional casting director is that you can ask other actors for referrals.  If you like an actor, find out who they know and respect.  And don’t forget about social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

More tips I’ve learned about casting:

  • Have all pertinent info in your casting call
    • Know what types, ages you need
    • Have a logline (brief description of the movie)
    • Know your shooting dates
    • Tell actors what commitment is needed and locations
    • Tell actors what the compensation will be
    • Be up front about any uncomfortable situations in the movie, like nudity
    • Ask for headshots and resumes, and have a casting email account for this
  • Post casting call at least 2 weeks before audition
  • When people respond, schedule time slots for those you want to see
  • Pick a “side”—a scene for actors to audition with and send it ahead of time; find scenes where you can see a fluctuation in performance, where you see them go from one emotion to another.
  • When they come in, have a sign-up sheet
  • Be professional as a director, because you are also selling yourself to the actors
    • Get up and greet the actor
    • Make them feel as comfortable as possible
    • Look at their resume and make positive comments to put them at ease
  • Record the auditions; acting looks different on video than it does in person!   A performance that seems too subtle may be just right on camera.  Something that looks just right in person could be over-the-top when played back.
  • Have a “reader” for the actor to respond to/play against.  This person should not PERFORM.  They should just read the lines and let the actor perform.
  • Have the actor “slate” in front of the camera so you can identify them later in the video
    • Look into the camera, say their name, and show both profiles
  • If the performance is horrible, they may not have understood what is needed; try having them do it a different way—they may surprise you once they better understand what you want from them.
  • When they are done, politely thank them and let them know you’ll get back to them.
  • Go home and watch the tapes.

You will also want to have callbacks, so you can see which actors have the best chemistry with one another.  Pick your favorite actors, and then have them come back a second time

  • Mix and match and see which ones work best together
  • See if the actors are reacting to each other naturally
    • Are they listening to one another, or just waiting for their turn to talk?

In conclusion, we are still refining our casting process, but those are the basics that I’ve learned so far.  A reliable, professional actor will be a joy to work with.  And a good actor will make YOU as a director look good.


5 Responses to “How to Hold a Casting Call”

  1. November 7, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    85% is definitely casting the right people. Agreed.

  2. February 25, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    Excellent post! Very helpful…thank you. 🙂

  3. September 9, 2012 at 3:34 am

    This is a very helpful post!!! Even though I’m a theater director and not a film director I really learned alot!!!

  4. May 16, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Awesome…..i’m holding my first auditions in 2 weeks. Really helped.

    Heres a tip for anyone in the UK. Post your casting call on ‘casting call pro’ its an amazing site. I posted, and in less than a day it got over 300 views and over 35 applications!!

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