THE CASTING COUCH! – Where not to sit
Casting is just about finding good talent, right? – WRONG!
The movie is really made in pre-production!
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “it’s all in the casting”. I know I have, and it is certainly the thing that rings true through the entire process. No matter how good of camera you have, location, or even how amazing your editor is, an actor can make or break a film’s backbone.
BUT, not for the obvious reasons…
The most vital importance to a film’s casting process isn’t necessarily always finding the most talented actor. It is in actuality, trying to find someone you can work with, grow with, and learn from. Sometimes the most talented actor is not the best candidate for a production.
Here are a few following steps that you should consider when casting your film. Disclaimer here, talent is key, but personality is “TRUMP”… oh wait a minute.
Another note: Although, this blog post is geared toward filmmakers making movies within the $50,000-$150,000 price range, most of these tips can apply to larger productions. I like calling it common sense.
What level are you at with your film career?
This is a very important question to ask yourself. If you’re going for A-list, or even B-list actors, you should be asking yourself this question first. If you are a first time filmmaker, or only have $10-$20,000 to make a movie, then aiming so high, is a bit unrealistic. Actors with more experience can devour a young filmmaker, so proceed with caution.
Moreover, the money that it will take to facility and keep this caliber of talent in your corner, (i.e.: happy and cooperative) is much more than your entire production itself. It is important for you to understand what level of production you are making, and the expectations it will be for your film once it hits the marketplace. I am a firm believer that you should only associate yourself with people that you can work harmoniously. If you have a pre-Madonna, or someone who thinks they’re bigger than life, then as a new filmmaker, you will find the process of movie-making a daunting task from start to finish.
Search, search and more search. Never settle.
There are plenty of new actors out there. And you probably haven’t seen more than .001% of them. Even if you’re in a small town, or market that isn’t necessarily a film capital, there are plenty of ways to locate new talent and bring them into the fold. With the emergence of VOD- television, there are tons of working actors looking for an opportunity to exercise their cinematic skills in motion pictures, especially if the material is compelling and offers them something different.
Finding this level of talent may require you to contact agents and management companies. But be warned, your material needs to offer the actor something more than a paycheck. It needs to be something they will find value in. You have to offer them a role that speaks to their growth, and visibility as a performer.
At a localized level, (and I’m talking about no-namers here) I have always suggest starting your search in acting workshops, classes or schools. You will discover a wide range of talent, and typically a group of people that are self-starters and in some cases have more to gain.
Another place to look is on stage. We often think of finding actors with screen experience a huge priority, but in-fact, there are many talented, and much-more versatile performers on stage. These folks come with a wider set of skills, from singing, dancing, martial arts, and physical performance abilities. If you have a local theater, or production company that puts on festivals or plays throughout the year, that might be a good place to start looking.
Union? or Non Union? That is the question.
There are obvious benefits to working with NON-Union talent. It helps keep your overall all cast cost down, and allows you a little more flexibility in negotiating with your peeps. Although, do not rule out the possibilities of work with union actors. To be forthright, my last feature film Domicile, (due out early next year) was a non-union picture. The only reason I went non-union was because of budget and deal I made with the distributor. But I also understood the type of film I was trying to make. I was making a film for under $100,000 and needed more flexibility. I have directed Union films, and I find that working with SAG has gotten easier over the years. I would suggest taking a look at SAG’s Ultra-Low Budget Agreement.
You’re not in the movie until the movie is on screen, right? Just ask Eric Stoltz.
BTW, Eric Stoltz is a brilliant actor, but unfortunately, he just wasn’t working as Marty McFly. So after months of work and filming darn-near half of the first Back to the Future movie, Eric was replaced with Michael J. Fox. The decision seemed to be the right one, or that’s at least how history will think of it.
This is one of the most important aspects of casting for me. This is rare, but there is a level of comfort and complacency that sets in with certain young actors once they get cast in a movie. This is especially true if your actors hasn’t been in a lot of movies, or is use to working as an extra. I recently had a day-player actor that I cast demand that I give him dialog, even though he would have had a great action scene and about 5 solid minutes of screen time. I was less than two days out of shooting the scene, and decided to just to cut him. I wasn’t about to play into this trap to accommodate that situation. My attitude is, I work harder than anyone on my films. I never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I have the need for cooperation and good spirit on my sets, and if you bring baggage or attitude, then its not worth it.
Another aspect of this behavior is when you have a person who is desperate. I tend to stay away from those who are desperate. There is a difference between those who are “driven” than those who are desperate to get something. Its your main goal when casting to know the difference between the two.
If you have an actor that tends to dictate to you their schedule, or demands unrealistic things that are outside the scope of the level of production you are trying to make, then cut your losses before you get in too deep. You may want to offer them a gentle reminder – It’s never too late to recast!
Disclaimer here: The Eric Stoltz situation (from all reports) seems to suggest that the actor was not cut from the film because of the items I listed above. It seemed to be an executive and creative decision. I used it as an example to show how even the most certain casting decisions can be reversed.
Workshops, meetings and table reads.
Table reads, meet ups, and workshops with your actors are vitally important to the creative process. However, they also serve a bigger purpose. They exist to help you see who is reliable. If you have an actor that is not showing up on time for a meeting, or missing them all together, then chances are they will be huge liability once you start shooting.
Meetings and get-togethers also helps you filter out who is going to be a team player, and compliment their fellow cast members. Since these exercises are typically early on in pre-production, it allows you to see how the cast works together as a whole. It would be a good idea to make a second evaluation of your cast after you’ve had a few of these workshops and meet ups. You may need to recast, but again, be sure that the people that you’re hiring add to the easy and creative mastery to your project.
Look for real people. Not actors.
There is nothing worse in low-budget film (and yes, I’ve been guilty of this too) than when we see people who are overreacting. This tends to happen when working with actors with little experience and technique. But unfortunately, when working with first-timers this is a hurtle to climb. In some cases, you will need to re-train, and reprogram the actor to relax and evaluate the subtext within a scene. An actor’s job is to locate a scene’s emotional meaning. Many first time actors tend to characterize their performance based on what they’ve seen other actors do. This makes performances “actorish”. Overacting, or telegraphing a performance is death to any character that requires a level of authenticity and realism. Trust me… I know first hand what its like to read bad reviews on your work. Its not fun, so try harder.
Pay your actors something.
Even if you are not working with SAG, or a big budget, you should still pay your talent something for their time, even if its little more than gas money. Work on your budget, and see how much you can afford to spend on them upfront. This will also help you discover what type of movie you are making. Plus, whatever is discounted and deferred on an actor’s rate, be sure that they get “first position” on your film’s RIO. I have even included a bonus for waiting for the differed payment. Its a simpler way to say back-end deal.
Be time conscious and professional.
Remember, that a person’s time, is the most valuable thing they can give to anybody. Be sure to be professional, and appreciate and actor’s time throughout the entire process. Know what you want way before you get the set. Be sure to have someone schedule your actors accordingly. Don’t have an actor show up to set at 7 AM in the morning, when they are not shooting until 3PM in the afternoon. Being conscious of people’s time will allow you to build trust with your cast and crew. It shows people that you are considerate about their feelings and lives. Giving an actor cooperation respect can go a long way.
Never use your house to cast a movie!
The most important rule in casting a movie is – never hold auditions at your house! This is not only dangerous for you and the actor, but creates an environment of amateurism. There are plenty of options to hold castings sessions in public spaces. Of course, (wink wink) you can always rent the Indie Film Factory for a very low price. However, if not at our studio, there are libraries, community centers and even private office buildings you can rent for a day or short period of time to hold casting. Don’t be creepy.
Always be upfront.
When making your casting announcements, be sure to be upfront with your recruitment. i.e.: let people know if its paid, or non-paid, kissing, nudity, action, or whatever. The more information you can provide to a potential candidate, the more confident and professional you look. Vagueness is for amateurs and you can waste allot of time on reading people who won’t agree on the disclosed details later on.
NOW, I know what you’re thinking. I know its the instinct of most filmmakers to be “secretive” so they don’t give away their brilliant ideas. But you can rest easy knowing that nobody really cares in the first place, and if they did, good luck in trying to steal something. There’s really nothing left to steal in this industry, just our egos.
So regardless of what level of production you are setting off to conquer, be sure to consider these basic thoughts. It has helped me improve my operations, and has reduced production stress in my life.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Best of luck. Happy Hunting!
Kelly Schwarze is an Emmy © Nominated filmmaker who has written directed and produced 6 feature films, dozens of music vides and commercials, and has owned successful media companies in Las Vegas.
Kelly also does one-on-one consulting for filmmakers. Click here for more details.
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