Two of the most important elements of a great production are a good script and good casting. If you have energy, enthusiasm and even a fair technical understanding of your craft, most of the rest will fall into place.
But if you have little money and haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of casting in the past, where do you start, where do you go? (Actually, if you have little money, this would be a good read one of my previous blogs: Good, Fast, Cheap…
First of all, where do you start?
- YOUR FRIENDS: However, a word of caution: Just because they are good looking or look like the person you envision for the part, doesn’t make them a great actor. This is simply the best place to start. SIDE NOTE: If you know that your budget will be modest, even before you write your script, consider what elements you have access to, school bus, great location, a great camera package for a limited time or for little or no money, a great actor you may have limited time with or a friend who is a good actor. Write to that or those elements in the scripting phase. The more of these great elements that you can put into your production, at little or no cost, the greater the production value your finished product will have. So, start with your friends who you suspect will be good actors. (I say, “suspect” here and I’ll explain in a later point)
- ASSOCIATIONS AND/OR CLUBS: This could be professional organizations, drama groups at your school or community, even Craigslist can serve for a broadcast cattle call. Other options would be a drama group at a church, community group, etc. Don’t overlook these groups. Not only might you find what you’re looking for but you will also broaden your base of people who know what you do. Who knows, you may also end up with additional production elements right under your nose that you didn’t know where there, props, elaborate costuming, etc.
- TALENT AGENCIES: Don’t be afraid to make contact with your local talent agencies. If your budget is modest, be up-front with them about your budget limitations and, if they will allow you to do so, impart your vision and see what rises to the top. The worst thing that can happen is that they send you new talent who do not have experience and need to build a resume but have a desire to act. You accomplish two things: 1) you may end up with better talent than what you expected, and 2) you begin to establish a working relationship with a talent agent so that when you have more money, there will be a working relationship to build on. They may turn you down altogether but I can tell you, agents are always looking for that next great client and if they’re smart, they will give you at least some time to hear your vision.
Now that you’ve found several prospects, a couple of suggestions on how to proceed:
- SEND EVERYONE THROUGH THE CASTING PROCESS: They may be your closest friend but still insist that they “read” for you before you promise them the role. This accomplishes two things: 1) Let’s face it, when you’re sitting around with your friends, your acting-wannabe friends can take on one persona. When you put them in front of a camera they may not be able to pull it off. You don’t want to find that out once you are on set or location. 2) Reading them puts a clear line between you, as the director, and them as the actor…very important. They will get to see you as a director who has a clear vision of what he wants and expects on set.
- LOOK FOR SPONTANEITY: If a budget is modest, and you can’t afford great talent, when you read them look for two things: Spontaneity and how well they can memorize lines. A great way to do this is to give them the script before hand so they have time to read it, understand it, and rehearse how they would interpret the part. Then once you’ve read them a time or two with script in hand, have them put the script down and do as much of the part as they can from memory. Assure them that they do not have to have the script verbatim but you want to see what they can bring to the table by improvising through what they do remember. This will separate the haves and have-nots very quickly. You may find out that the person whom you thought was a great actor, under pressure, cannot remember their own name from here to the end of the block. You may also find that without a script in hand they are not able to comfortably act. These are all very important points to learn before you have a crew standing around waiting for them, and you.
- RECORD (VIDEO TAPE) ALL OF YOUR READS: This is very important. I guarantee, if you read many actors, they will start running together after a short while. You’ll want to go back and watch all of the reads at a later time before you make decisions. I always ask prospective actors what the availability will be for my production dates. There’s no point in even considering them if you and they know that they will be not be available for your production dates. This could save you a lot of time. However, even if they tell you that they are not available for your production dates, go ahead and read them. You may find a great actor for your next production.
Having a good vision for your project and being able to articulate it will come in handy. A talent agent who feels as if you really do not have a clear vision is not going to subject their talent to your project. Also, good talent will submit themselves to your vision as long as they trust you. You want to be able to exude that confidence to them so that they will trust you. That will make for clear sailing!