Although they have over a dozen years of experience in film and television production, when Scott K. Foley and Josh Rosenberg set out to make a micro-budget feature, they hadn’t anticipated how challenging it would be to cast the lead. Of course, there are countless undiscovered actresses out there looking for work, but what is the best way to find them and interest them in your project? Foley and Rosenberg wrote about their efforts to cast “Jessica,” their micro-budget feature, on Ted Hope’s blog Hope for Film. Here they share their lessons about what to do and what not to do when casting a micro-budget feature:
When we set out to cast our micro-budget feature, “Jessica,” we were
certain we’d be able to quickly find an up-and-coming actress to star. I
mean we’d written a script about a complicated and conflicted
character, the kind of breakout-caliber role that actors dream about,
and one that with a bit of luck would propel their careers, all of our
careers, to the next level. What we didn’t know was how, as first time
and micro-budget filmmakers, we’d be expending an enormous amount of time
and energy trying to get past the gatekeepers and how some much
appreciated tough-love advice from an unexpected source would finally
allow us to move forward and start making our movie.
Our journey started by making a list of actors we were interested in.
We worked hard to remain realistic, and so we set our targets on people
who had impressed us in smaller supporting roles. People who might be
looking to advance to leading-lady status and who could help provide our
little indie with some much needed name recognition. We quickly signed
up for IMDBPro, where for less than $20 a month we knew we could get
contact information for the agents and managers of all the actors on our
list. How amazing is that!
Okay, we’ll be honest; those first few calls were terrifying. These
were REAL agents of REAL actors, and we were, well, struggling
filmmakers. “But,” we rationalized, “surely they would recognize this as
an amazing opportunity for their clients, right?” Wrong. Instead of a
series of hard-won yesses, we were quickly met with questions like,
“What are your dates?” “Does filming have to be in Chicago?” and “What’s
One thing we rarely heard was no. Instead we were asked to submit the
script with a written offer, an offer that, if the actor liked the
material, meant we’d be attaching her without an audition or even having
had spoken. So we submitted, one by one, down our list. And one by one,
the offers expired. We always followed up, but what we quickly learned
was that NOT hearing no, still most often meant NO.
Frustrated, we began thinking we’d made a mistake in not hiring a
casting agent, so we asked ourselves what was the best cast independent
film in the last few years. Our answer, Martha Marcy May Marlene. Bound
and determined to get whoever cast that film to cast ours, we reached
out to casting director Susan Shopmaker. Susan warned us up front that
our budget was too low for her company, but somehow we managed to
convince her to read the script, and shortly thereafter received an
email that read simply, “You were right. A very well written script.
Let’s talk soon.”
You can’t imagine our excitement. We anticipated her saying, “I want
to cast your movie, and I have the next Elizabeth Olsen for you. Let’s
do this!” In case you’re wondering, that’s not how the conversation
went. Instead Susan was honest – painfully honest. She told us that as
untested filmmakers it was going to be very difficult for us to get the
script past an agent’s desk, especially at our microbudget rates. She
also told us we were still aiming too high, that we were targeting
working actors who had carved out nice careers for themselves. Lastly
she told us that our lead actress would not be the reason someone would
come see our movie. People would come see it because we’d made a great
movie. This was a real light bulb moment that allowed us to stop looking
at casting as a way to ensure the success of our film, and to refocus
our attention on making the best film possible.
Susan suggested we reach out to local casting agents, so the next day
we contacted Chicago based, Paskal Rudnicke Casting (Public Enemies,
The Break-Up, etc.). We found that the staff there was not only happy to
work with us but also happy to show us the wealth of talent that
existed right under our noses. We saw 50 talented, passionate, hungry,
actresses for the lead role. They each came in with a unique take on the
character, showing us things we hadn’t thought of, challenging us to
answer some tough questions, and bringing the character to life for us
for the very first time!
From that session we cast an amazing local actress who was even
willing to let us shoot a teaser trailer with her for our Kickstarter
campaign. The video can be checked out here: http://kck.st/1aqn68b. The
campaign has done really well so far, but we’ve still got a ways to go,
and it ends at 7pm (CST) on July 18th! We’d be very grateful if you’d be
willing to take a look and consider supporting our campaign.
5 LESSONS WE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY:
- Jennifer Lawrence Doesn’t Want to Be in Your Microbudget Movie:
To be honest we never thought she did. But who was Jennifer Lawrence
before “Winter’s Bone”? A super-talented actor hungry to find a great
role. So although Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t want to be in your movie,
the next Jennifer Lawrence just might.
- The Importance of Casting Directors: These are
people who have been doing this for years. They have connections to
agents, to talent, and they know their way around all the rules and
regulations that you might not. They’ll save you time and frustration.
- Whenever Possible Call Managers, Not Agents: Within
30 seconds an agent will ask about money. This is not the direction you
want the call to go. But managers often ask you what the project’s
about. Who knows, you might be offering exactly the type of thing that
actor is looking for.
- You Don’t Have to be in New York or L.A. to Find Talented Actors:
Most cities have a pool of talented actors, chomping at the bit to find
a juicy role. Check with your local casting directors; they can help
- Build Relationships: Everyone who agrees to read
your script represents an opportunity to become part of a larger network
of people who are actively making movies. As a young filmmaker, it’s
incredibly important to foster these relationships. The best way to do
that is by always being respectful and genuine and trying to give back
in any way that you can. Remember these people gave you the time of day
when very few people would.