Cinema 2.0: Top Casting Hacks and Tips from Raindance

Star casting defines most mainstream movies. You know the name – you go and see the movie. Distributors won’t even look at your microcinema picture unless you have a recognisable star in it. What’s an enterprising micro-filmmaker to do?

Make your film anyway — just don’t fall prey to the idea that you are going to make a movie that will sell for millions to a large distributor and then be whisked away to fame and fortune. It’s complete and utter bullshit. #burstingbubbles

If you’re committed to making your own films, then make your film with the best actors available to you. Cast based on TALENT and not marquee.

I did a picture for HBO years ago where they made me cast a famous actor (who had no business being in the movie) as he was willing to pimp on late-night TV and his name would guarantee a measure of success. Now, they put up HUGE billboards in Times Square and along Sunset Boulevard, they bought TV airtime, and he dutifully went on all the programs telling everyone how he had changed his look and focus to show his range. He claimed he did all his own stunts (he didn’t), was a selfish SOB and a pain in the ass to work with. Did his shining star help sell the film? No! He was woefully miscast. Press and audiences savaged him for daring to step outside his chosen world — and it wasn’t long before he was back doing what he did best — romantic comedies and kid flicks. No, I won’t tell you the name of the movie — it’s easy enough to find — just check my credits and I did it because I was directing a movie for HBO!!! I sold out, whored my talents and my skills for a picture that was doomed from the casting. But that is the nature of Hollywood. You take the work, throw your hat in the ring and get pissed on if it fails. #lessonlearned

Funny story — a year later I pitched a new group of movie executives at HBO on another project and they reminded me of how poorly the last movie had fared. Even though they were casting the lead! I had surrounded him with really solid genre performers, well-known Shakespearean actors, added special effects, big budget tanks, planes and other top-end Mission Impossible shit I pulled out of the ether — but learned a valuable lesson that has stuck with me to this day. #yougetblamedforeverything

Cast the right person for the role and don’t star cast to make a sale. The wrong actor with the right name is a waste of time for everyone involved. Real acting trumps celebrity casting.

That means for your casting you have to audition, read, callback and review a lot of folks to find the princes and princesses that will populate your picture.

Ignore the pressure of a TV star on hiatus (unless you’re making a ‘movie’ and then you’re on your own), a ‘celebrity’ looking to change their public persona or a musician wanting to be an actor.

NEVER cast your good friends, family or girlfriend in your film UNLESS they are really and truly actors, training to act or have the skills, temperament and ability to perform ON CAMERA. It is a MUCH different skill set than acting for stage and your film can be DESTROYED by the amateur theatrics of the grossly untrained. Only in gratuitous sick violence or XXX can you use your well-endowed or willing boyfriend or girlfriend as nobody expects any kind of a real performance – but you must NEVER EVER use anything other than real actors that are committed to the role and have the skills and ability to work the hours required to film with you.

Union actors are better than non-union (only because they’ve done it enough to get a card and understand the rigors of the day) but AVOID the know-it-all actor who starts telling you how to do things because you are new or they have a better idea.

Actors Hyphenates (an actor/producer or actor/writer) are usually the biggest pains to work with — especially if your film now becomes their ‘movie’ destined to make them a star). Be wary of the Hyphenate who sees you as a stepping-stone to their success. They will burn you in a heartbeat. Rare is the talented performer that will defer their salary and take on a producer credit in lieu of payment.

Never approach known talent expecting them to drop their fee and do this. They’ve all been around the block long enough to know what you are asking them to do. Their agents and managers will run interference anyway on this kind of deal as it cuts directly into their payments.

NEVER let your actors know you have any fear and always be honest, respectful and protective of them all. Including your day players, extras and walk-ons. They are all the audience sees. Treat your actors like they are cattle and you will have a stampede.

Be resourceful, intelligent and polite – but never be afraid to control your own set.

Stop any belligerent or bullying behavior dead in its tracks by calling bullshit on it when you see it. Go for a walk off set and discuss any untoward behavior by the performer and come to a swift and clear resolution – or the film will suffer. Remember – some people are just assholes and its in your best interest to stay clear of them. NEVER let anyone make you feel ‘less than’ or as if they are bestowing a grand favor on you by participating.

Look for a Casting Director in your hometown who can aide you in finding talent. Comb university and college theater classes and film programs for talent. Attend small local theater productions, independent film screenings and film festivals to see new and emerging talent. #makeyourownstars

Design your film around casting actors you may already know or have a relationship with. Audition a cross-section of SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild) talent by shooting a SAG-AFTRA Ultra-Low Budget Contract and paying the minimal funds required to showcase these players. The local SAG-AFTRA office will help get the word out as well so you will have no shortage of players to see.

Audition everyone with selections of scenes from your film (avoid monologues that the actor has prepared — you want to see how they do with your work) and ask them three very important questions in the casting:

  1. Will you work for free (or under the SAG-AFTRA Ultra-Low Budget Contract)?
  2. Can you provide your own on-screen wardrobe?
  3. Do you know anyone that you would recommend for another role in this project?

Actors all know other actors and they will help a buddy (especially for a non-competitive role) and they all have tons of clothes. Just reimburse them for any clothing that you might destroy/damage or pay them a stipend for usage. I often cut my actors a small shopping allowance so they can get their own gear – even if it’s only $25, it shows that you want their input and it goes a long way in building trust and a working relationship. All you have to do is ask.

Tape their casting performances when they audition ONCE you have a player you like. Grab a copy of their headshot and review the resume carefully. Never believe the special skills they have listed (they always exaggerate) — but note anything that tips the scales in their favor.

Try directing the actors when you have them in the casting room to see if you can communicate with them. If they don’t understand what you’re asking for — pass on them and look for someone you can actually talk to. #castingiscritical