Casting calls are one of my favorite part about the film-making process. I think Stanley Hudson from “The Office” said it best: “To get to go sit in an air conditioned room, downtown, judging people, while my lunch is paid for…that is the life.” In his case, he was referring to jury duty, though the principle is the same for me. But maybe you all aren’t as dastardly as I am. Maybe you find casting calls a bit scary, and they can be. I think after reading this post you guys will feel much more at ease doing it.
Casting Call Template
There are many things you need to have in order to hold a casting call. But the main one is to apply something that you should use in almost anything you do. Structure. Having a structured process makes even the least experienced casting director look like a pro in the eyes of an actor. The first thing you need to start organizing yourself is a casting call template. A quick google search helped me find this one that has served me since. I’ve made a few adjustments here and there but I think Lights Film School had it pretty much on the button their way. Here is my version of their template with the latest project I held a casting call for.
Production title: Whitetails
Union / Non-Union: Non-Union
Production Type: Independent
Project length: Short Film (3 minutes)
Project format: 16:9 HD
Posted on: Friday, April 8th, 2016
Production location: Columbia, SC
Production Company: Titan Throw Productions
Director: Hugo Guzman
Producer: Justin Brown
Casting Director: Hugo Guzman
Audition Location: Sesquicentennial state park
Shooting Location: Sesquicentennial state park
Compensation: Yes (DOE)
Auditions: April 10, 2016 1:00 – 3:00 PM April 17, 2016 1:00 – 3:00 PM (Please note all auditions will be given a specific time within this window)
Call Backs: April 19, 2016 6:00 – 10:00 PM
Shooting Starts: May 7th, 2016 Shooting Ends: May 7th, 2016
Synopsis: “Whitetails” is a short film about the strained relationship between the nature loving Woodsmen tribe and the more civilized citizens of a city named Raffiné. A misinformed Townie named Jacques discovers a group of Woodsmen hiding out in his barn and has his enforcer give chase to them. His enforcer manages to capture one of them and Jacques decides to make an example out of him. That is until a mysterious Peacemaker shows up to save the day.
[ENFORCER LEON] [GENDER: MALE] [AGE: 20-35] [ETHNICITY: ANY] Attributes: Confident, Expert swordsman, Stoic, hot tempered, proud, serious, competitive.
Enforcers are guards hired by Townsmen to protect their property. They typically carry out executions for even the smallest of crimes due to the fact that the law absolves farmers from accountability for their actions. This Enforcer however, has more of a conscience than most others in his line of work. He attempts to solve issues before they begin through posturing and intimidation, which is generally effective due to his imposing demeanor. However, he understands his position and will split a man in half if his master wills it. He has superior confidence in his fighting abilities. A man of few words, he allows his sword to do his talking for him.
[PEACEMAKER ELAINE/LAMBERT] [GENDER: FEMALE/MALE] [AGE: 20-35] [ETHNICITY: ANY] Attributes: Fair, analytical, easygoing, honest, polite, patient, light-hearted, in peak physical and mental condition.
Peacemakers are the government’s version of enforcers. They patrol the entire country ensuring that laws are being adhered to and intervene when they aren’t. Highly trained in the art of combat, they are feared and respected by Woodsmen and Townsmen alike. Very few have stood against a peacemaker and lived. This particular peacemaker has a soft spot for Woodsmen since he/she was also raised in the woods. In addition to that, he/she doesn’t fit the notion of totalitarian thug that citizens have of peacemakers. He/she maintains a level head and sound judgement through any situation and delivers a just sentence despite personal feelings.
As you can see, it’s a pretty straightforward process. Having structure in your message helps keep it short, informative, and most importantly, professional! The last thing you want to do when asking someone to try out for your production is for them to get the feeling you can’t be taken seriously. Posting on Facebook about your “upcoming short film” and asking people to “DM me for details” won’t get you any quality talent. Don’t be afraid to share details about your project regardless of the budget there may or may not be. Sure, your actors want to get paid, but they may be willing to make an exception if you show a bit of professionalism. I personally wouldn’t recommend that you start a project you’d need to hold casting calls for if you can’t afford to pay your talent. But who am I to tell you how to go about your career? In short, when you host a casting call, paid or not, make sure you have structure.
Where to Post a Casting Call
Now that you have your template, the next step is to find the right place to post it. Earlier, I mentioned something about being the guy who writes a fifteen word post on their Facebook film group. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that. But you can’t expect real results only posting in one place. Print out your well structured casting call and take it to a local community theater, college campus, or high school. Is there an indie theater in your city? A music shop? a talent agency? These are all perfect places to find local talent. It is generally a good idea to keep your talent local regardless of your budget. It will help you avoid scheduling, transportation, accommodation, and communication conflicts. But maybe your city isn’t exactly bustling with new or exceptionally gifted actors. Then you turn to the web. Listed here are a few useful sites to post your casting calls to.
These are mostly U.S. based sites. If you live somewhere else, I’m sure people in your local film scene are better informed on other places to post. Also, depending on where you are, you will find mixed results with these sites. Some are more active in some areas of the country than others.
Answering a Casting Call Email
So you’ve cast the net, you sat in front of your computer like a kid on Black Friday, and you finally got your first response. Now what? If your potential actor has done this before, you will most likely have received an email with their headshots and resume attached as well as any initial questions they may have about the production. Typically, the question is regarding pay if it wasn’t specified in your notice. Although honesty is very important, make sure you don’t give your actors all the information they ask for until you’re sure they’re a good fit. Use your best discretion when deciding what to share with a potential actor. If an actor/actress is unable to make it to your local audition, you may also present them the option to send a video audition. Here’s an example of how a conversation might go.
Actor: Hi am interested in the role of Leon. Please have a look at my headshot and resume below. Also there’s a link to some of my previous work below. Thanks!
Casting Director: Thank you for your interest in our film Mr. Actor! I see that you have previous experience in roles similar to ours. If you are able to make it, we are having an onsite audition at (place and time). However, we understand that it may not be possible for everyone to be there physically and would like to give all actors a chance to audition. I have attached a page of our script for you to send an audition tape if that method works better for you. Be sure to ask any questions you may have regarding the character you are auditioning for before sending your submission. Thank you and may the odds be ever in your favor!
Actor: Thank you for your prompt reply! I found all the information that I needed regarding the character in your post. Here is my audition tape.
Casting Director: Thank you for your submission Mr. Actor. We will soon be in touch with all applicants that have qualified for callbacks. Should you be selected, you will be provided with a date, time, and place to attend. It is very important that you are present for the time allotted to you!!! Should you receive a callback audition, your information will be kept for future productions that may be a better fit for you. Thank you so much for your interest in our production, and good luck!
And that’s it! Pretty much how about half of my interactions have gone so far. Not a whole lot to it really. Just be respectful and mindful of what you say or not say. And make sure at this stage you give as much information to the actor as you get. After all, the last thing you want is to give them the role only to find out they can’t take it because you forgot to make sure the rehearsal dates won’t work for them. Scheduling issues are real you guys!
How to Hold Callback Auditions
This is the real challenge for a first time casting director. You have talked the talk but now you have to walk the walk. I’m making it sound like it’s this terrible experience but it’s actually quite fun. If, like me, you’re both in charge of casting your actors and directing them on set, you will get a taste of what it’s like to work with your talent. First, you should have already found a place to host your auditions. A coffee shop with a large basement, a church, or your workplace may be good places to use that are also free. If you have money to spend, you may experiment with a better suited space. Places you should never host auditions at are: Your home, your creepy uncle’s basement, a garage, or a any place where people currently reside. This screams unprofessional, amateur and/or creepy and will send most quality talent running in the opposite direction. Now that you have your location locked down, you need to come up with a schedule.
Depending on how many people you have coming, you may be there for anywhere from one hour to half a day. Possibly more! A good time general time allotment is thirty minutes per actor. You may have to adjust for this depending on what you need to see from them. So the actors show up, you ask them to read a few lines, preferably different ones from what you’ve asked from them previously, and you give them a little direction. “Can you give me more sadness? How about anger now? How would you portray this character if she had been starving for days and suddenly found a wagon full of hot dogs?” The point is to get them to show you their range of emotion to see if they’re a good overall fit and to also gauge how well they can take direction. Remember to record each performance to review at a later time as well as taking notes on things you liked/disliked about each performer. Unless absolutely necessary, try to avoid having them do anything too physical during their audition. For example, asking your ex gymnast actress to do back-flips for the camera. Not only is this a huge liability, but if your role requires a specific skill set you should have already reviewed their physical prowess before inviting them for callbacks.
Even if you found the perfect fir for your role, don’t let them know right away that they got the part. It is generally a good idea to review their performance with a cool head at home. You may have missed very important details that could become potential issues in the future. Once you’ve reviewed your performers thoroughly and have reached a decision, be sure to call or email them to let them know sooner rather than later. Give them as many details about the production as needed at this point and have a contract and talent release ready for them to sign as soon as possible. Trust me, you’ll need them.
So that about covers it. You will indubitably have to deviate from this general process but for the most part, it will help you be a little more prepared for holding a casting call and audition. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments regarding my process. Until next time guys!