Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Early Stages of Casting

I'm holding auditions for Predatory Moon next month and have a Casting Director handling the applications and setting appointments for qualified actors. I've done some (uncredited) casting director work myself, so I don't envy her task. But since I've been talking quite a lot with her over the past several days as applications come in, I thought I'd jot down an essay about my attitude and thoughts toward the casting process.

I am not a big fan of open calls for auditions. If you've got a project with characters that need to have a certain look to them, an open call will guarantee that you spend most of the day talking to people who aren't right for any of your roles.

I kid you not, the first audition we held for Psycho Chicks Anonymous was an open call with the description that the roles were for "men in very bad relationships". The first actor to show up was an 8-year-old boy.

So for Predatory Moon we set for auditions to be scheduled by appointment only in order to weed out any applicants that are obviously unsuitable for a role and save time and expense for everyone involved.

Now, for a film like Predatory that is being done on a shoestring budget, you have very little time to make a good judgment call about actors to cast. I'm not just talking about whether or not an actor can play the role, but also how much the actor wants to play the role. An actor who appears to be absolutely perfect for a role will not do me any good if he can't be bothered to show up on time, learn his lines, or argues with me about the decisions I make.

Yes, I know... everyone is on his or her best behavior while auditioning so how can I possibly suspect who is going to be a real problem for me later, right?

Quite frankly, I start by casting months in advance of my production date so I have time to keep looking for suitable actors if needed. It also gives the actors plenty of advanced notice so that they can clear their schedules and prepare for their roles.

I also do this because I try to make my auditions as inconvenient as possible. Don't get me wrong here... when it comes to actually scheduling principle photography I try to make things as easy and comfortable as I can within location and time limitations, but the auditions are a different story.

One of my crew joked with me and asked "So are you going to set up a ring of fire by the entrance to the audition room too?"

In my experience, actors who feel that a project will really help their career in some way will jump over any hurdle I throw at them during the auditioning process. I don't ask people who audition for me to do anything that I myself haven't done when I was first starting out and making a very serious push to break into "the biz".

First off, If I'm going to be shooting in multiple cities, I hold auditions in the location city that is the furthest distance from where the bulk of filming is going to be done. It sounds completely unreasonable, but I assure you that there is a very good reason for it. My cast is going to be required to be on a set in that area at specific times throughout the production. If they feel it is "too far" to drive for an audition, what can I expect when I absolutely need them to be there for shooting?

And yes, I also try to schedule my traveling scenes to be shot first, so if I do end up with an actor who wants to argue about the traveling after they've been cast then I have plenty of time to replace him/her.

Secondly, when it comes to casting large speaking roles or roles that I think may be difficult to find the right person for, I insist on an in-person audition. Yes, I know that the internet is a wonderful thing that allows an actress in Detroit to audition for a director in Los Angeles without ever having to leave her living room, but it just doesn't work well for me.

I can't give directions to a videotape. I can't keep my eye on body language when all I see is an actor's face on a video monitor. If I'm auditioning actors for roles that will require us being on a set together for many weeks, I want to talk to that person face-to-face in a comfortable and conversational environment. (This is also the reason why I'm having a casting director handle the initial scheduling, so my first impression of an actor isn't marred by not being able to read "tone" in how they write... I have a hard enough time figuring out when my UPM is being serious or not via his text messages!)

Thirdly, I'm having sides sent out to the auditioning actors as soon as they are scheduled so that they have time to prepare. I know that a lot of directors I've worked with don't do this, but I just figured it would save a lot of time and also tell me if an actor is even capable of memorizing a couple pages worth of lines. (Believe me, I've been on a couple sets where I've heard actors call out "Line!" so much that I thought the script was written in Morse Code.)

And finally, and probably most importantly of all, I'm putting everything out on the table about what I expect from the actors right from the start. The audition notices clearly state about the time requirements and the traveling involved. All questions about compensation, lodging, and regular feedings are addressed in no uncertain terms. (The Casting Director even reiterates this information before scheduling an audition slot just in case the actor just skipped over it before.) Anyone who expresses uncertainty about their ability to adhere to the production schedule is sent to the bottom of the pile.

By now I sound like a complete bitch, right? Trust me, I don't sound nearly as bitchy as some of the actors I've seen applying for roles over the years. I have very little tolerance for prima-donnas or actors who believe that a SAG card gives them the right to act like pompous asses. I have zero tolerance for actors who believe that a production won't be successful without them and try to strong-arm directors. I will take a less-experienced actor who is willing to spend a lot of time rehearsing with me over a seasoned thespian who thinks that he/she is a gift from the Film Gods in a heartbeat.

The way I see it, I have dozens of people who are willing and able to work on this production and commit to the game plan. A lot of money is going in to renting locations and equipment, purchasing props and costumes, and planning the meals and lodgings for the production to shoot on that pre-determined schedule. It is unfair to derail the entire operation on account of one person who cannot give the same level of commitment as everyone else. Part of my job is to try to sniff out those potential trouble-makers before they infect the entire production.

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