When I arrived back in VA after my six-week jaunt in TX, I plunged directly into work on a new feature film: WRITERS' BLOCK (working title).
It is the inaugural film of Advent's new Associates Film Program, and my brother is the producer. (Yay, go David! :D) It's a unique project, combining a $20,000 budget, 10-day shooting schedule, 1940s story setting, and professional talent. That last part is where I come in. I am the Casting Director.
This is not my first time serving in this area, having worked as a full time casting assistant for six months last year on the production of ALONE YET NOT ALONE. The entire experience was intensely educational for me. Not only was I learning the creative aspects of identifying who could fit in what role, and how to evaluate auditions, but also the business skills for the negotiations, paperwork, and the proper way to interact with the different sides of the situation...be it the actors, the director and producers, the wardrobe department, etc.
I learned that casting a film is an exercise in patience and persistence. Which is a good thing, because these qualities are like muscle tone: if you don't use 'em, you lose 'em. They work as a team. Patience is like the extension, and persistence the contraction of the muscle. And when you "stretch" often with prayer and thankfulness, it helps keep peace of mind and not get "sore" (stressed out).
I was asked to share on this subject at Advent's 3-Day Film Workshop this year. No, not exercise! Casting. After much deliberation and distilling of material, I presented an overview of the casting endeavor, parsing it into six phases of action: Prepare, Promote, Parade, Process, Pick, and Paperwork.
Here's the basic breakdown:
Preparation entails first identifying your casting goals, then inventorying your means to accomplish them, and thirdly creating the infrastructure to support the workflow effectively. How many roles do you have to fill, and how flexible or not are the character profiles? What level of talent will the budget allow? How much time to you have to complete casting? Will you be able to pull in actors from across the country, or do you need to stick to local talent pools? Are live open calls a practical method, or would it be more streamlined to ask for online audition submissions? What is the plan for callbacks? The answers to these questions will have a direct impact on how you proceed.
Promotion means getting the word out that you want actors to submit for the movie. Casting notices can go on actors database websites, forums, social networks, get sent to acting teachers or talent agencies, local theatre groups, church drama teams, etc (all depending on the reach of the production). Personal contact may be made with certain actors whom you have in mind already as a good option for a role. From there, word of mouth is a powerful force. The key is to be clear on your desires and expectations for each role, accurate in your description of the project, and provide a ready course of action for talent submissions.
Now comes the Parade! Just like it sounds: a train of talent streaming through, be it live or via online video, or maybe even both. If you are conducting live auditions, be sure to do "screen-tests" by recording the audition on camera. Stream the feed directly into a monitor, and watch the screen, not the actor. I repeat: watch the screen, not the actor. Label the video clips and file them for review. There will likely be requests to submit after casting has "closed." It's up to you, but if they want to spend the time putting together an audition, with the understanding that chances are slim, it can't hurt to have it on file for future projects.
Processing is closely linked to the previous phase, because the notes you take (on paper and/or mentally) of each performance inform the "score" that actor receives and determines whether they make it to the next round of auditions. I use color codes, as it makes it easy to see at a glance how the game is going. Red, orange, yellow, green, and blue, with greens and blues getting a callback. During callbacks is when we can spend more time working with the actor on the scene/s and evaluate their understanding of the character, how easy they are to collaborate with, and whether they can take direction well.
Picking is the part that most people think of when they hear the word "casting." It isn't as simple as pointing to a headshot and proclaiming: "I want them!" Once a casting decision is "made," the casting director must contact the desired talent through their agent or manager (if applicable) and present the offer. If schedule conflicts can be taken care of, travel and lodging accommodations agreed to, compensation negotiated satisfactorily, and other various concerns addressed, then the deal can go on to the next step. If an agreement cannot be reached, the decision-makers must return to the list of runners-up and select an alternate choice. All the above times the number of roles in play, and usually simultaneously in sequence, as the casting deadline steadily approaches!
Though the last phase is not as glamorous, it is necessary.
Paperwork, rarely someone's favorite word, is in the casting context like an arrow pointing to the parking lot after an arduous road trip. But you still have to "park": deal memos must be negotiated, drafted, sent, and signed to seal the transaction (sigh of relief!). Sizes are then requested (if not before) to give the wardrobe department the time needed to procure or construct the costumes, and travel and housing arrangements are made in accordance with the agreed-upon terms. Volunteer actors are not exempt from this phase. They must still complete a legal release form for the production to use their likeness in the film.
That's a summary of what has been keeping me busy for the last month. Yes, many are called.... but that is only the beginning. Stay tuned! Next week I hope to be able to announce some of our finalized WRITERS' BLOCK cast. :-)