You’ve got your script. You’ve conned someone into being your producer. You’re starting to get the locations together, you’re thinking about what camera you’re going to shoot on but you need one of the most important departments of filmmaking sorted before you move too much further forward.
Without actors, you don’t have much of a film. Arguably, you don’t have a film at all. How often do you watch a film at the cinema and come out critiquing the performances? “She was AMAZING. He was great. But that OTHER girl? What were they thinking casting HER?! I could do better!” Maybe not quite that extreme, but I’m sure you’ve all seen a film with terrible acting. Sometimes it’s so bad it’s good, sometimes it’s just bad.
But with the bad comes the good. And the great. And the phenomenal! Admittedly, the phenomenal is much harder to find when you can only cover expenses for your actors, but it can definitely be done. You just need to know where to look.
In every city there are out of work actors. There are actors who have just graduated from acting school, actors looking to update their showreel, actors with some extra time on their hands – actors who are willing to do something for free. GOOD actors too. Not all actors who work for free are terrible actors with no experience. On the contrary, I have to say that for nearly every set of auditions I’ve ever held, the good actors have definitely outweighed the bad.
Where there are out of work actors, there are places you can advertise your film. Google it. Ask actors where they go to hunt out work. It is quite an easy process now. But always have a look around the site before you place your casting call – sometimes you’ll be able to gauge the quality of actors by the way the site is set up. Most of the good sites will work to protect their actors privacy, so don’t be surprised if you have to register all your details before you post.
This research is also good to see what kind of projects people are pitching. More often than not, short films are drama (I’ve spoken about drama vs comedy before here) so if yours is as well, read a few others to see how you can make your casting call stand out. Remember that actors will read the same kinds of pitches every day. What is it about your film that makes it different? Why should the actors give up their time and work for free on yours instead of any other one on the page?
Make your pitch and character descriptions as interesting as possible. ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ is a comedy. So I kept the pitch light and threw in a few jokes. People responded to that. They clicked open the character descriptions to have a read because it got them interested. The content was light and the tone of the casting call was comical. I do think I would’ve gotten less applications if I’d been making a drama. Look out for a post in the next few days – I’ll show you how I wrote my character breakdowns and which characters got the most applications.
Keep it brief. If you only take one piece of advice away from this post, make it this. And I think this applies to ALL pitching. You never know how much time the person you’re pitching to (whether it be behind a computer or in front of your face) has, so keep it clear, concise and to the point. Don’t show all your cards, but do give enough information to spark a bit of interest. Cover the main points and then let the pitch speak for itself.
My last piece of advice for setting up your casting call is this:
Keep an open mind. You’ve got nothing to lose but a bit of time when you’re auditioning people. And auditions are often held when you do have some time to spare, so you may as well ask as many people as you can to come in – regardless of whether they match the character in your head or not. Don’t be afraid to look where you wouldn’t expect because you never know what you might find.