Pre-Production: Auditions Part 02

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.

The actors.

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.

Good luck!

Pre-Production: Auditions – Part 01

I am delighted to report that regardless of any qualms or nerves expressed in previous posts, the auditions for With A Little Help From Our Friends went mind-blowingly well.

I’ll break down the process during the week, but in summary (at the beginning, I know, it’s a bit weird) we had:

– Roughly 100 applications for roles
– I asked 20 people to audition
– 18 booked spots on the day
– 14 of those 18 showed up.

Of the four who didn’t show up, every single one of them sent apologetic text messages or emails.

The auditions themselves went great. I always get a little nervous that someone will come in and be a terrible actor and I’ll have to bluff my way through five minutes of awkwardly playing around with the material so that they don’t feel too shafted, but every single actor who came to meet Jack and I was really really great.

Which, of course, has made my job a lot harder to try and choose who my Max, Des, Abby and Lucy are.

It’s frustrating when auditions go well. I now wish I could write extra parts for other actors I saw so that they’re still included in the film, but with a short, that’s nearly impossible. It’s tough because each actor brings something different to the character and it’s all about figuring out if that dynamic will work with another actor’s dynamic and really bring out the best in the script and look arresting on screen.

The one thing I am pretty terrible at during auditions is my poker face. I remember having discussions about this at university when we would hold auditions for our student films. If you’re auditioning someone, should you give them the satisfaction of reacting favourably to their performance? I’m not sure, to be honest. I’ve never been ‘taught’ the ‘right’ way to hold auditions, so I just hold them how I think they should be done. A director I worked with once wouldn’t let me be the reader (read the cue lines of dialogue in a script for an audition) because I was ‘acting’ them too much. He was of the opinion that you should read them as flat as possible to test the actor’s ability. I tend to disagree with that – surely you want to get the best out of your actor so you give them the safest and most comfortable space to perform in?

With that mindset, I’m fairly positive that I had very little poker face-ing skills on Sunday. For one, actors were genuinely enjoying performing my dialogue which is more than enough to bring a smile to my face. But when the acting is spot on in a comedy, when the timing is right, keeping a straight face and resisting the urge to laugh is slightly tougher than you’d think.

Right, enough procrastination. I’m off to giggle at my dialogue and deliberate over my cast once again. Her and him? Do they make a believeable couple? Do those two look like best friends? Or maybe them. But he was a stronger actor.

Gah. Wish me luck!

Pre-Production: Organising Auditions; A Cautionary Tale

Operation: Playstation

This week has been entirely flat out for me. Not only did we lose a day to a three day weekend (trust me, I am not complaining about that in the slightest!), but my ‘normal’ nine-to-five job has kicked up a notch in the past two weeks and it’s all go go go at work as well as go go go with the film.

Mind you, that’s just how I like it.

As you know if you read my post earlier this week, we’ve started organising auditions for actors to find our perfect Abby, Max, Des and Lucy. Finding actors to work for free is a hard task but I completely love casting. I think it’s something about knowing that when someone walks into a room, they could be the person who is going to BE the Max I created in my head nearly a year ago. Or they could totally transform Lucy into someone who I hadn’t even thought that she was. Not to mention the kinds of people you meet in auditions – I don’t know if you know this, but people are fascinating. Especially actors. Actors have a kind of zing about them. They always seem to get along quite well with my imagination and I end up writing a film for them to be in.

Which is kind of exactly what happened on the last short film I wrote and directed. ‘Operation: Playstation’. I had met an actor through auditioning him for a role the year before. Dylan was amazing and I fought really hard to get him cast in the film, but in the end he looked too young for the part (casting is all about the right LOOK as well as good acting!). But the two of us stayed friends and one particular time, a year later, we met up for a hot chocolate and I asked him if he’d read a script I’d been working on. He read it right there in front of me (always a risky move for both parties) and I couldn’t stop smiling when he started laughing at different points – it was a comedy so that was the right reaction. He said he thought it was great and I told him that I wanted him to play the lead because I’d written the script with him in mind as the main role.

His eyes lit up and he immediately agreed. Thankfully.

With Dylan on board, I was confident that we’d be able to get the other roles fairly easily. After all, the main role of Jack was the character that the whole film hung on. As we moved forward in pre-production, I put the call out for actors. Admittedly, it was technically a ‘student’ film, but it was my graduate film and barely anyone else working in the crew was a student – I pulled favours with crew I’d professionally worked with to help me out. Deliberately downplaying the ‘student’ side of it (I was treating it as a professional short film, after all), the ad was up for ten minutes before I had my first application. Over the next 24 hours, I probably had around 50 actors apply for the various roles.

I sorted through the headshots, viewed showreels and read cover letters to see who I thought would be good to see. There were people with a lot of experience, people with not so much, but I wasn’t too bothered by the lack of experience – if they can do a good job then it doesn’t matter.

I replied to about 30 of those 50, asking them to come in for an audition.

Of those 30, 15 booked in times.

Of those 15, 4 showed up on the day.

Sobering, right? I don’t even remember anyone ringing to cancel their time – people just didn’t show up. I’d asked Dylan to come along to the auditions, so the majority of the day the two of us ended up watching videos on YouTube.

But of those 4, 2 were great.

So I offered them the roles.

After specifying the shooting dates on the casting call, on the audition information and confirming they were still available, one of them declined the role because she was in the middle of a three week holiday.

The other actor didn’t show up to rehearsals and never returned my calls or texts.

CRISIS. We have no cast, besides Dylan. I talk to Dylan about it, who is very aware of how close this is to turning into a car crash, when he says he can talk his mate into taking a role. He’s an actor too. Plus, Dyl’s girlfriend is an actress. Then I realised that I knew a group of people from high school who I’d done drama with who might be interested as well.

Between the two of us talking to people we knew, we found the cast we needed.

And you know what? The acting is the strongest part of the entire film. In every single role.

Before you ask, the film still needs to be graded (sorry guys!) and it’s currently at home in Australia feeling lonely and abandoned, so no, you can’t watch it online anywhere. But what this did do was LOWER MY EXPECTATIONS. Not in a bad way, in a realistic way.

‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ has had about 90 applications for cast. Amazing. Because we’re restricted by time in the space, I whittled that down to 18 (which was incredibly difficult because there were so many who were dancing on the maybe line). Of that 18, 16 have booked in for auditions and an extra 1 has apologised because the time clashes with another project she’s rehearsing for.

I’m really happy with that hit rate so far. But I’m being realistic.

I’ll post a blog on Monday and let you know how it goes. And I’ll break down how I went about organising the auditions. I just wanted to post about how catastrophically wrong they can go – and you guys can say that it happened to a friend of a friend of yours and mean it.

Call to Arms

So it begins.

The hunt for actors.

I’m holding auditions this Sunday up in High Barnet and my fingers are crossed that there will be a few people who actually show up. I know that it can be really hard to get actors to get excited about a film that they’re not being paid for, but I’m sure there are a lot out there. In my experience, the actors who are doing it for love are generally some of the best ones, just simmering and waiting to shove open the door that will catapult them forward. It also means that they’re passionate and I think that that is key to working on a low/no budget film. If everyone you surround yourself with on set is passionate about what they do (it may not always necessarily be passion for the project – I’ve worked on sets like that before), it means that there will always be someone who is removed from the issue you’re stressing about and can help pull you out of it.

The casting call is here for the moment – depending on the kind of response, I may put it up around a few more places. If you could share the link around and get the word out, that would be fantastic.

I do have a few actors I already know who I am going to get in touch with later today and hopefully they’ll be available to come in and say G’Day. The really great thing about this script is that I’m not totally locked in to what the characters should look or like. There is a look to each in my head – don’t get me wrong – but if someone comes in and blows my mind, then they’ll get the part, regardless of ethnicity, accent or anything like that. None of the characters are particularly specific (although, I’m toying with the idea of a Liverpudlian accent for at least one character to continue with the Beatles’ undertones) so I’m completely open to anyone who can simply come in and own the part.

I’m excited.

This is where it all starts to get real.


Check out the audition notice! (I deliberately put a bit of humour in it cause…well, the script’s a bit funny.)

Thinking Outside The Box

Hi everyone! Sorry the blog post is a little later than usual this week – it’s been a crazy few days in Londonia, as well as trying to figure out what we’re going to do about our location problems.

If you caught last week’s blog post, you’ll know that we’re having some issues trying to find a location that isn’t going to charge us an arm and a leg to shoot there. I’ve been chatting to heaps of people about alternative ideas – renting an empty space and buying bookshelves to make it look like a library set, shooting in a library and then creating the classrooms, reconsidering the locations to make it slightly more accessible… all sorts of solutions but none of them seemed much easier than any other.

Then Jack suggested that we look into drama schools. He had access to one and he thought that he might be able to swing it with the owners. And as he listed the rooms we could potentially have access to, my eyes lit up. It seems like a great alternative to a college and quite a vibrant alternative at that. Plus, as it’s a drama school, we can offer to audition their students and use them as extras as extra incentive. I told him to go for it. We’ve got nothing to lose by asking them, at any rate. He’s trying to organise a time when we can look at it that works for everyone (all our different working hours aren’t exactly syncing up perfectly) and we’ll do a recce for the location and see what we can work with.

Which brings me to my next point – actors.

It’s getting closer to one of my favourite parts of the film-making process. I absolutely adore casting. For me, it’s the part where the film starts to become real. Plus, I love watching people put their own spin on characters that I’ve created to see how differently they can come across.

I’m still working out when auditions are going to be held, but I know I’m going to have to write new monologues for the actors who are coming in. The script as it stands isn’t exactly conducive to auditioning solo  (it is very much focused on dynamics between people), so in the next week or so I’ll be writing four new scenarios – one for each character – to use as audition pieces. I’ve already got my eye on a few actors I’d like to ask to audition through Twitter, but I’ll definitely be exploring a few avenues to get the word out about it.

And as well as actors, I have to seriously start thinking about assembling crew. I have someone in mind to ask about being the Director of Photography but many of the other crew roles are still sadly empty.

I’m going to have to start hunting people out!

Opportunity Knocks.

The tricky thing about filmmaking is getting things made.
Yep, I can already hear your derisive snort, quickly followed by ‘Well, duh.’ After all, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Arguably, it is easier now than it’s ever been before and thus the tricky thing becomes making things of quality to stand above the rest.
All that being said, there is something you can do to help your things get made.
Create opportunities for yourself.
This isn’t as hard as it seems. Sure, some people are lucky. Some people are in exactly the right place at the right time. But if you never get out of your house, how are you going to be in the right place?
One way to go about it is make your own stuff yourself. That’s great. Definitely. Filmmaking is a collaborative process though – don’t lose sight of that whilst you’re busy making your auteur masterpiece. Another way to go about it is to offer your services to anyone who’s listening. At the beginning, you’ll have to do it for free but I can tell you from experience that working for free can catapult you into paid work pretty quickly.
I was at uni three days a week and working on weekends. I had two days free each week. And I’m the kind of person to whom – although that sounds great in theory – the reality is that repetitive days off get quite boring. So I decided I’d see if I could find something film-related to do in my spare time. After trawling a few websites advertising jobs I was much too under-qualified for, I noticed a call for work experience people to help with the marketing of a feature film due for release. Flexible hours, just helping out where I could. The thing that snagged my interest was that I’d actually seen the film at the Melbourne International Film Festival the year beforehand – it was an Aussie flick that had been at the festival and then secured a theatrical release afterwards (that’s unintentional research for you – a symptom of my habit of seeing as many Australian films as I can). I got in touch with them, they rang me back and then I was working in the office there my spare two days a week. It wasn’t much, it was pretty straight forward, but I impressed the people working there and went on to do paid freelance work for them, which in turn gave me experience to throw me into more permanent full time work at various companies over the past few years.
I was on the right website at the right time and I was good at what I did and that’s the crux of it. The best thing is that one of the people I was working with then is still one of my really good friends and the other I was working under and I still get along really well and he often pulls me in to do pieces of editing work for him – well, when I was in Australia anyway.
That’s just one example. But the other night, I went to have a drink with a friend of mine who invited me to a tweet-up she goes to every month which is predominantly for actors. Now, I love hanging out with actors and miss the ones I knew back home dearly (if you’re reading this, you know who you are!), plus with casting for With A Little Help From Our Friends on the horizon – although, I’m still figuring out what’s happening there – I figured I had nothing to lose.
I had a great night. I got chatting to various people – mostly actors but I was chatting to a writer/director and a director of photography at one stage as well – and they were all interested in what I did. My friend had talked me up no end (to which I both adore and hate her for!) but I was chatting to one of the girls who runs workshops for actors and she suggested that I come along to one that was for actors and directors. Spiralling off that, I told her if she was looking for pieces of work to workshop in groups, I’d be up for writing something for them – give me amount of characters and genre and I’ll whip something up for them. She seemed genuinely delighted and, just like that, there was an opportunity to follow up in front of me.
That’s what I mean. Talk to people out of your circle and see what they’ve got. You never know what a person is looking for – always introduce yourself as a writer/cinematographer/director/editor/make-up artist, because you never know what kind of opportunity might be about to kick your door open.
If you’re still interested, this is your last call to get tickets for the Guerilla Filmmakers’ Masterclass! It runs on the evening of Friday the 3rd of June, all day Saturday the 4th of June and all day Sunday the 5th. Make sure you use my discount code (PARKER) and you’ll get the price knocked down from £119 to £65!
It’ll be epic and your brain will be stuffed full of goodies! If you can’t make it to London, fret not – I’ll post one of my (in)famous ‘Things I Learnt This Weekend’ posts afterward for your evening’s entertainment!