Point Of View

Point of View: How Are You Casting Your Film?

How are you casting your film?

We are very performance and story oriented, we make no secret of this. As an actress and writer, how could I not be? OK, maybe you don’t make straight Comedy or Drama. Maybe you focus on genre like Sci Fi or Horror, which means you put the majority of your focus on photography or special effects make-up or digital effects. Of course, if you’re making a genre picture and you have an ultra low budget, these elements are going to take a lot of time and attention.

But the actors are what the audience see first and on whom they focus; the actors are the storytellers on camera. We’ve discussed before that you should make it a matter of habit to watch movies, go to the theatre, attend readings and audit or take acting classes. This is how you develop a sense of quality, and locally, wherever in the world you are making films, it’s how you become familiar with the work of local actors in your community. And of international actors in our larger collective community.

Alright, for the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume you do all of this already and you have an upcoming project and you’re going to cast your film. You’re going to hold auditions, right? Not necessarily.

Casting? You’re going to hold auditions, right? Not necessarily.

One of the advantages of making film and theatre is that you have already worked with actors. Are any of them right for your next film? Some will be. As someone who does all of the above, you’ve already seen the work of actors you know in class or in the short films of your fellow filmmakers or onstage. You know what, or at least some of what, they can do. If you’ve met them personally and socialized you have at least some sense of them as people. Book a casual meeting with them over a cup of coffee. Talk shop. See what you have in common in terms of your frame of reference, and what you don’t.

Having worked with talented actors in the past, we like to work with them again. There’s a very big advantage to that; you already have a common shared language and you know what they’re like to work with and how they tend to take and interpret direction. You know who’s comfortable improvising and who isn’t, and you know who’s comfortable with huge amounts of dialogue or speeches and who isn’t. Who’s a great screamer for your horror film? Who brings a good sense of humor to the proceedings?

We also love working with actors who are new to us. They bring fresh energy, a new way of working, and the unexpected. If we can put together a cast that is a combination of actors we already know and can rely on, with a couple actors new to us, that feels like a nice balance.

Here’s something particular that we also do: shoot scenes or shorts as experiments. If I’ve got something I want to try but don’t know how it’s going to work in our feature, I put actors together and we shoot. The actors know it’s a kind of workshop for a bigger project and they also know that if it works in a bigger or better way than expected, it could end up in the finished project. Do you know what this also does? It takes the pressure off everybody.

Auditions can fool you. Lots of actors just don’t like the audition process. Very good actors can be nervous at auditions and not come off well. Other actors bring prepared material and are comfortable only because they had a lot of time to prepare; what if your film involves some improv or shooting on the fly, or – just because this can happen on movies – your circumstances suddenly change and you have to shoot a scene that had to be completely rewritten to accommodate an unexpected location change that was beyond your control? You want actors that can work quickly and roll with those punches – which they won’t be able to do if what they’re good at is a lot of time to prepare and that is all you saw at the audition.

We’ve got a small shoot coming up; it’s in studio for a ‘trailer’ for a film that doesn’t exist. We’ve cast one actress that we know very well that we’ve worked with in theatre, shorts and a feature. We know what to expect from her and it’s all good. But we’ve also cast another we’ve never worked with before. We had a casual introductory meeting over coffee to talk shop and we’ve seen her reel, and have worked closely with an actor who has worked with her before. We think this is a nice, low pressure way to work with her for the first time, to get a sense of what she’s capable of.

We’ve done the same thing with other actors on scenes-as-workshop for what may be our next feature. Much easier to try something locally with actors we’re new to, before we drop them on location in another country and have to live with them for a month, right?

So we get to do some work we like in a low pressure environment with some talented people. Isn’t that much nicer than the limited world of the audition?


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