Six dos and don’ts on casting every actor wishes you knew from breakdown to booking.
If you are an indie filmmaker then you know that casting is that wildcard that can make or break your chances at festivals, awards, and making all of your hard work worth it, and that mis-casting can make your shoot a living hell. The breakdown is the fateful first step in the casting process. As an actor I have personally read somewhere near 15,000 breakdowns in my career, and, when I was self represented - I read and applied to the worst of the worst - and paid the price for booking them in the end. Over the years, I’ve combined a list of dos and don’ts I wish every filmmaker knew in hopes that we can all be the change we wish to see in the breakdowns.
Do: Sell the project and the people involved.
Those of us who are working steadily become very selective about what we will submit for, and, particularly if you are asking actors to work for a deferred, or below scale rate, you will need to let them know just how great the team you’ve assembled are.
Do: Provide links to director’s reels, project websites, IMDb, twitter handles etc.
You may also want to include the DP’s reel, IMDb and credits, and make mention of other actors who’ve already been cast, or awards anyone has won. I also feel more confident if I see that the director, producer or DP’s work has appeared in film festivals. This is also a great chance to start building a fanbase for your project as many of the actors check out the links you list. Please do let us know what your intentions are for the film - such as submitting to festivals, or using it for a funding campaign.
Do: Use the character descriptions and the plot synopsis to provide extra character information to the actors that may not be in the script.
Casting should not be about testing the actors to see if they can read between the lines - arm them with as much information as you can about the project and you will get better reads. Actors are trained to read between the lines, yes, but any extra bits you can add about backstory or character motivation are helpful to get us all on the same page and can save you time in the room.
Don’t: Use cliches in your breakdowns.
Even if the character is a walking cliche you can still give her or him a little something extra. For example: ‘Hot model girl’ can easily be ‘Attractive College Co-ed out for a girl’s night.’ It just feels like you care more about the character (even if it is a small role), and the actors will therefore care more about it too.
Don’t: Specify ethnicity or gender unless it is necessary for the role.
Be open. Because it is 2016. You never know what kind of fantastic take someone from a different ethnicity or gender will add to the role you just stuck in the script for the sake of story. Not all cops are men, not all couples are straight, not all IT guys are Indian (or guys!). You have the opportunity to make significant change happen in our industry by shifting this one little thing. The world thanks you in advance!
Don’t: Waste everyone’s time with copious amounts of sides.
I spend at least an hour preparing for nearly every audition I attend - those with longer sides can take even longer. I memorize all of my dialogue before I go in for an audition so if you give me 10 pages of sides i am spending a significant amount of time on that material. Use a couple of contrasting, shorter scenes during a first call and then ask for more scenes to be prepared at the call back.
For 8 more pages of helpful casting tips from an actor’s perspective visit: www.mandymaycheetham.com/shop where I go through the entire process of casting actors from Breakdown to Booking (and even some on-set tips).