On Casting Part 1


As with everything on this blog this post isn’t meant to be a tale of absolutes or a blue print for either actors or filmmakers but rather a reflection of my personal experiences, so everything you read below is really my opinion for what its worth. As always this isn’t meant to be a work but rather designed to capture my thoughts in the moment so please forgive any grammar or spelling errors because trust me I did not give them a second thought.

Casting is one of if not the most important part of the process for an independent filmmaker. Even a great story shot with epic beauty can be derailed by poor casting decisions. Casting is more than just selecting the person who looks like the character you also need to put a lot of consideration into their commitment to the role, how important this role is to them and their ability to convey your story’s messages and themes successfully. Casting for this first feature has consumed hundreds of hours and there is still the final decisions to make which will undoubtedly consume even more precious hours but I think all the time will be worth it in the end.

The best advice I got regarding casting was to be honest. Give the actors a good idea of what you were expecting from them and what you were looking for so that neither you nor the talent waste time when there clearly is not a match to be made. When I discussed casting this film with people with a lot of casting experience I was warned that if you are casting in LA and are paying people and the role does not require nudity expect to be showered in submissions and that proved true here. For each role I received 500 – 800 submission through LA Casting. Sorting through all those submissions was almost mind numbing. From all those submission I picked the top 10% based on their look, submission notes, resume etc. and picked my top ten percent and asked them to submit a video audition for the specific role. When crafting the sides I got the great advice to make the sides somewhat vague and challenging, so that they had to interpret and add to the materials they were given. This worked well for me in two ways first some people eliminated themselves by not being able to come up with anything to video tape and second since I am looking for actors who want to co-collaborate on the project and have significant input on the role they are playing I was able to see how they would personalize and bring to life what they were given. Many of these submissions were extremely impressive making the next step more difficult than I anticipated.

Once the video submissions were in I selected the top 10% for each role and set up a time to meet with them in person and discuss things in more detail. I picked a neutral location up in LA and drove up from South Orange County to spend a couple days to get to meet everyone I was interested in. Believing you can never be to organized I scheduled each meeting for 45 minutes and had a clear agenda of what I wanted to cover. My real goal here was to give them a greater idea of the film and their role while really trying to get to know them to see if they were right for what I was looking for. In two days I met with 20 highly qualified skilled actors and then had the difficult job of cutting down that list down to 12 for a second meeting. After our meetings I sent a written detailed recap to everyone again you can’t be to organized and I do tend to talk like a machine gun so I wanted to make sure everyone got the same information and could be on the same page going forward.

The post meeting cut was extremely difficult because after sorting through the video auditions everyone I met with was someone I wanted to work with and someone who brought a lot to a production. Most of the cuts were nothing more than a reflection of how I saw the final cast coming together and in that process a lot of very talented actors had to be passed on.

Now with the top two people per role there is really no wrong decision to make and I scheduled a second meeting with those selected to go over everything in more detail before I make my final decision. As I type I am a couple days away from this second round of meetings and have reviewed everyone’s resume, submission, video audition, and my first meeting notes over and over as I prepare to make sure I pick the right one for each role. With the amount of talent, training, experience and skills everyone brings to the table I really feel like I can’t make a wrong selection. In the upcoming second meeting I will be focusing on attempting to measure the importance this role is to them, how much of a fan they are of the genre (since when you think about it for someone whose life dream is to act in horror movies 10 to 12 hours spent on the set day after day isn’t work but rather the absolute best way to spend a day and something they will look forward to) and their desire to be part of the process, a completely unscientific process for sure. Given the level of talent of everyone left really this will be a mostly a rather unscientific and subjective selection process which I will detail in casting part 2.

Some general observations so far:

Be Honest – can’t repeat that enough. Let people know what to expect, who you are, what you are trying to do and what the process is.

Be Organized – again you can never be to organized. A film production has a lot of moving parts and everyone involved is counting on you to keep those parts moving in harmony.

Pay People – I started with the SAG ULB scale and even though I decided to shoot this non union I used that scale to structure the compensation then altered the residuals to be more of an equity kicker with an accelerator (so the better the movie does the more money the actors make and compensation starts from dollar one not after costs are recouped or after an exploitation period). With how far technology has driven down the cost of production it only makes sense to pay people something for showing up and allow them to benefit if the film is a success. The SAG ULB scale is only $100 a day so you shouldn’t go broke giving the actors something for showing up.

Take care of the Talent – actors really have it rough, they deal with a lot of unprofessionalism, are under appreciated, under paid and deal with tons of rejection in the hopes of proving what they can do while often dealing with stubborn egomaniacs. While the production budget doesn’t allow for compensation beyond SAG ULB scale I have tried to create a professional actor friendly environment. From driving up to LA where they are all based rather than having them make the 75 mile drive to my Dana Point office to switching the planned filming location from Phoenix to Southern California so they don’t have to deal with transportation related stress to encouraging their co-collaboration on their role and the film my goal has been to create the environment they want to work in so that I can get the absolute best performance from them possible given our resource constraints.

Hopefully my ramblings here provide some useful insights or at the very least somewhat entertained you since you did manage to get to the last paragraph. Stay tuned for casting part 2 where I will go over the hell that is bound to be the final selection process.