As we gear up for the production of our newest film “Recalculating” the topic of casting has been on my mind a lot lately. In the grand scheme of things Blue Damen Pictures is still a guppy in the Very Big Pond which is the film industry. As a result our casting process has been fairly straightforward:
- Hold Auditions.
- Pick the Actors that seem right.
To some extent this is still how we work. As a matter of fact we will soon be having auditions for some of the roles in “Recalculating” (hint, hint to any aspiring actors out there: check back for times and dates. As soon as I schedule it I’ll post it on this blog). At the same time, as we have gotten bigger we are starting to discover that the process of casting is infinitely more complex than we once thought.
You ever wonder why it seems like the only people who get cast are friends with the director? Here’s why: Agents. From an actors point of view it seems like a great idea to have an agent. Don’t get me wrong, agents work hard and can dedicate their time to finding opportunities that you wouldn’t be able to find for yourself. But to a small production company producing a small-budget short film an Agent is like anti-aircraft artillery on the frontline waiting to shoot you down. Why? Because the job of an agent is to get an actor paid, not to get an actor acting.
Ergo (Latin) it is easier for a small-time independent director to make friends with the actors in person first. The actor gets excited about the project and jumps on board for the opportunity. Then the director makes it big. Or the actor makes it big. Or both. Then the Agent doesn’t have to become the line of defense against projects that might never get made or that might ruin their actor’s career because the actor already trusts the director and the director already knows the actor.
So how do you get cast even in these smaller projects? Whether you have an agent or not this will probably boil down to auditions. There are a million tips for actors doing auditions; heck, there are whole classes on the topic that people pay to take. A lot of these deal with how you package yourself as an actor: knowing what kind of roles you look right for, presenting yourself in a professional manner, how to put together a resume/headshot/reel, etc. I have nothing bad to say about any of this. These are all great qualities to have. But as a director here are some of the things that I look for:
- Attention to detail: If I ask you to mime chopping down a tree and you decide you’re going to use a mime-chainsaw for the task remembering to turn off the mime-chainsaw may seem like a little thing, but that’s what will stick in my mind. True story.
- Engaging with the other actor: If you’re auditioning by doing a scene with another actor it pays to get to know them a little and to make them look good in the audition too. As a director I may be looking for an actor who is a great artiste, but I’m also building a team to make a film happen. I am looking for someone who will bring out the best in other performers.
- Commitment: This one is tricky- some people have the knack for it and some people don’t. This is the ability to completely accept the character you’ve been asked to play even if that character is cowardly, odious, ugly, mean, obnoxious, stupid, etc. This is why they say the best actors play the villains: because they are willing to commit to the character whether or not the character is likeable.
- Participation: Not all directors want this in the same way. Some directors want actors who show up on time and read their lines without mumbling. Some directors want actors who will take the character off the page and add so much of themselves to it that it becomes hard to tell where that character ends and the actor begins. For my money, I look for actors who are going to make the character their own. Someone who is willing to contribute part of their own personality to a project is someone (I feel) who will give me a better performance than someone just looking to be on screen.
Lastly, the biggest secret to getting cast is so obvious it hardly bears mentioning: keep trying. It’s both the easiest and hardest thing to do. Auditioning is like dating: when the right role comes along magic will happen. Until then it’s just a matter of making yourself the best performer that you can and keep trying.
Break a leg