YOUR BEST CASTING SESSION
One of the first credits you see is that of the Casting Director. Although you may not have a Hollywood size budget, if you consider yourself a film and video professional, you should be asking yourself “Do I need a Casting Director? And if I use one, how do I make sure I’m getting my money’s worth?”
Perhaps you’ve hesitated about using a Casting Director because you have a file you’ve collected over the years and have always cast your shows. By doing that, you are undoubtedly limiting yourself and your clients. Pictures rarely look like the talent and do not indicate acting ability. An actor could be ruled out who otherwise would be perfect for the role. The John or Jane Doe you’ve cast repeatedly in the past is not going to be appropriate for every role. Also, there is a tendency to make subjective decisions based on hidden prejudices without a real sense of what the person projects. A Casting Director also provides “insulation” between you and the talent so you are allowed a more objective platform to make your decisions. It’s time to bring in a Casting Director!
First, let’s start with the terminology. A Casting Director is not the same thing as an Agent (although in some parts of the country they may overlap). Casting Directors are paid by the producer and usually work on a set fee basis. Most casting directors have a day rate for preparation and a day rate for a casting session. Fees average from $250.00-$750.00 for preparation day(s) and $500-$800 for a casting day. A higher prep day may mean a lower casting day. The cost of casting will vary from project to project based on needs of the specific project, so before submitting a proposal estimate for a program, consult a Casting Director for his/her casting costs. While many producers worry about what they see as an additional cost, a well-cast production that really showcases your script is priceless.
Using Casting Directors can actually save you time and money. When you try to do the casting yourself, you are using your time on phone calls and tracking down an actor’s availability, negotiating fees and so on. The Casting Director takes on those chores, as well as being able to offer you advice on how to save money in using talent.
Casting Directors have many more resources to tap into when looking for suitable talent for your project. Casting Directors have relationships with talent agents. These relationships give Casting Directors access to talent that a producer would not be able to audition by calling a talent agent directly. This also means they can often negotiate more favorable rates for talent than a producer could.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A GOOD CASTING DIRECTOR?
Nobody grows up planning to be a casting director. Unlike most professional fields….there is no educational standard or degree to teach you how to cast or help you evaluate who is best to cast. How do you know? One way to find out is to ask actors, talent agents, writers and other producer/directors you respect to make recommendations. A good professional knows another good professional.
Interview the Casting Director to get a sense of their work; the nature of the projects they tend to cast, the resources they have and the fees they charge. How enthusiastic they are about their work?. Casting Directors do not as a rule have reels; but they should have some examples of programs they have cast.
In meeting a casting director rapport is essential. You must feel the casting director is hearing your needs. A good casting director is looking at talent with your vision filtered through his/her experienced eye. YOUR PROJECT BECOMES THEIR PROJECT.
PREPARATION FOR THE CASTING SESSION
In preparing for the casting session, decide which portions of the script you wish to have the actors read. It isn’t necessary to hear the whole script nor is it necessary to work with the final script. What is necessary is that you have something specific that the talent can work from. If the script has technical parts, include that in your selection.
Give the Casting Director some background on the project: Who is the audience? What does the program hope to achieve? How do you see their characters? Where are they? What is prompting the action? You should attach this information to the script so that the Casting Director can help the talent prepare for the audition with the right mind set.
The Casting Director will help make the talent feel at home in the environment. They understand the importance of creating an atmosphere which allows for creativity and openness on the part of the actors.
Casting Directors usually recommend that the producer attend the session, even when the session is being recorded on videotape. Meeting the talent in person will give you a better sense of how an actor works than you would get by viewing the tape or looking at photos and resumes.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN YOUR TALENT
Talent must come prepared with picture and resume. Although the hazards of judging by the photo alone have already been mentioned, the resumes do give you some indication of an actor’s range. A strong theatrical background with work in film and television is most important. The Casting Director can often provide information about a talent that can be very helpful which won’t be listed on the resume’. When looking for a good spokesperson, TelePrompTer skills are a must and previous experience as an on-camera spokesperson should be considered.
The actor should also arrived dressed appropriately for the part if possible. Casting Directors will provide size cards to help with booking and wardrobe later. Don’t reject an actor if his or her hair isn’t just right. Hair can always be fixed. If an actor has a mustache, ask if they will shave it for the role. Many times and actor will shave for the job, but not for the audition.
You as producer can help by initially asking the actors if they have any questions. Then allow them to do the scene with a minimum of direction. This will give you a sense of their natural instincts. Give the talent an adjustment and ask for a second reading, even if you liked the first reading. This allows you to see how well the actor takes direction and how flexible he is. Take clear notes as you view the talent. A word or two is all you need when going back to review what you’ve seen, you will have the full audition to review and the notes will come in helpful.
IT’S NOT THE QUANTITY OF ACTORS YOU SEE; BUT QUALITY
When the role description is for an “account executive 25-30” and you’re seeing only 25 year old blond males you are not being given choices. Perhaps a female or a minority would be equally appropriate. The casting session is a perfect time to experiment with appropriate options. Seeing variations at the casting session will add to the creative vision of the final product. It can help with seeing areas in dialogue which need to be adjusted. Actors often bring new perspectives of the character. However if the role specifically calls for a 25 year old blond male, that’s a different situation.
SPECIAL CASTING SITUATIONS
The request for foreign faces and international voices is increasing. It is essential that in casting such roles, provisions are made to have a native foreign person check the accents of the actors even if the script is in English. The last thing in the world you want to do is offend your international audience. If you are not a native speaker a Casting Director will hire assistants so the accents and language are correct.
In the same way holding auditions for Actors with Disabilities must be done with awareness of providing proper accessibility and in the case of a hearing impaired actor the you must hire a ASL interpreter.
EXTRA VALUE FOR YOUR SESSION
You will have immediate feelings right after the session. Share them with the Casting Director. This is a good time for the Casting Director to answer any questions or concerns you may have regarding the talent. Since Casting Directors often know the talent, let them give you insights which will help in making your choice. The videotape then becomes your reference to confirm your initial reaction about a performer. If you need to show the ultimate client the casting tape, narrow the viewing to your two or three top choices. Remember, one of the advantages in using the Casting Director was to save time, so share that savings with your client as well.
People have become much more film and video savvy. Perfectly chiseled model type faces and obviously exaggerated acting styles are no longer acceptable. The exception of course is the deliberate choice such as for parodies and those are special cases where a Casting Director can be essential to get the kind of good actors you need to pull it off.
When a project calls for professional talent, it is essential to cast it properly. Seeking the advice and counsel of a person who knows the actors in your community and beyond saves you time and money.
Like any specialized skill in a production, from makeup to engineering, the smart producer leaves casting to the expert. And a Casting Director is the expert who can ultimately give you the edge in creating a better production.
THINGS A GOOD CASTING DIRECTOR KNOWS
- How to budget talent costs
- Who’s willing to work for your budget
- How to creatively use your talent to minimize talent costs
- Where to find the better talent
- Who’s new and hot vs. who’s a hotshot with a bad work reputation that could poison your project
- How to winnow out the talent so that all you see are the top choices available for the production
- Who has special skills that can help your production
- How to set up and run a Casting session efficiently and cost- effectively
- How to get the most out of the talent you are auditioning
- How to deal with booking talent, including unions