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Here are the First Five Things Filmmakers Who Have Never Cast a Film Before Must Do

Here are the First Five Things Filmmakers Who Have Never Cast a Film Before Must Do

Mark
Tapio Kines is the author of Screenwriting Fundamentals, an online
course on Lynda.com. He has written and directed two features, and is
the first filmmaker to ever use crowdfunding to finance his work.  Check out his online courses here.

As
the saying goes, 95% of directing is casting. Speaking from personal
experience, I can confirm that a well-chosen actor not only brings a
character to life, but can also make your shoot more enjoyable and
relaxed. A hastily-chosen actor, on the other hand, can turn it into a
nightmare.

Still,
casting is an under-discussed aspect of the filmmaking process, and I
think new directors could benefit from some advice on what to expect,
what to look for, and how to behave. These tips are drawn from my own
adventures in casting two features.

If you’ve never cast a film before, here’s the skinny on what you need to do:

1. Hire a Casting Director.

If you’re hoping to cast name talent, you’ll need a professional casting director who
has established relationships within the top agencies. Can’t afford
that, or not interested in names? You should still designate someone as
your casting director. There’s lots of scheduling and phone calls involved in this
process, and you can’t do it all. Also, a Casting Director makes your
production look legit to talent and their representatives. The good news
is that the only real prerequisites for the job are good organizational
and people skills, and a feel for what you the director are looking for
in your cast. If you know someone who’s keen to take on this position,
prior casting experience isn’t crucial, though it obviously helps.

2. Set up production-only contact info.

Let’s face it: a lot of dodgy people want to get into the movies. It
goes without saying that you don’t want them contacting you personally.
As you prepare for the onslaught of headshots and resumes, make sure
you’ve set up a phone number, mailing address (or P.O. box), and email
address that are associated only with the production.

3. Break down your characters and send out a casting notice.

Here’s where you and your casting director take every single character in your
screenplay and write a little bio about them. Be as specific as you want
to about age, race, and gender, along with any technical requirements
for special skills, dialects, travel, nudity, etc. This breakdown is
what you send out to the world, along with brief scenes from the
screenplay for each character. These scenes are called “sides” and are
what the actors will read from during auditions.

Breakdown
Services (breakdownservices.com) has long been the dominant player in
this field. They will send your stuff to agents (though rarely at the
top agencies) and managers, and you may receive some headshots of actors
you’ve actually heard of, though probably not A-listers.

Posting
the notice to actors directly is now fairly common, though the
professionalism of the talent you will reach will be, uh, variable. The
better-known sites for casting calls include backstage.com,
nowcasting.com, casting360.com, mandy.com, productionhub.com,
exploretalent.com, and actorsaccess.com (which is owned by Breakdown
Services). I’d advise against using Craigslist, but that’s just me.

4. Find a professional venue for your auditions.

This should also go without saying: Do not do any casting in a private home.
It’s creepy. Rent an office space, or if you’re broke, see if you can
score some free space at a local live theatre (some will allow this,
provided you audition members of their company).

5. Book a decent amount of time for this.

You want to see a lot of actors for each role, so that you’ll have a
large and varied pool to choose from. Don’t skimp. Give yourself a full
week after the casting call to cull through the headshots and select the
actors you want to bring in. Then give your Casting Director a week
after that to call the actors’ reps (or in some cases the actors
themselves) and schedule the auditions.

For
a feature film, give the audition process itself no less than two weeks
– and three weeks or more, if you can afford it. I suggest you see at
least 20 actors for each of the major roles, and at least 10 actors for
each of the minor (“day player”) roles. With each audition ideally
taking 15 minutes, that means if you’re casting 5 major roles and 10
minor ones, you’ll be seeing 200 actors, so you’ll need 50 hours minimum
(and add at least 10 hours to that, because nothing goes like clockwork
during casting). Mix it up so you don’t, say, see all 20 actors for the
same role in a row. Otherwise you will hear the same lines all day and
you will go insane.

Finally,
don’t forget to include at least 3 days for callbacks, which is when
you, well, call back the talent you liked the most, and give them other
scenes to perform and/or a chance to read with each other to see if
there’s chemistry.

Read more from Mark in our archives:

Attention Screenwriters: Why Your Script Needs Suspense, No Matter What the Genre

How Screenwriters Can Hand Actors a Script They Can Sink Their Teeth Into

This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit


Comments

Mark Tapio Kines

After Indiewire revamped its comments section, my responses to the above comments vanished and some invigorating conversations have been lost. To those latecomers, here’s the gist of what I added: I have great respect for Casting Directors. That’s why the very first thing I suggested in my article is that a filmmaker hire one. But the article is also written with the micro-budget filmmaker in mind. And by micro-budget I don’t mean $350K or $100K. I mean under $20K. For someone trying to make a non-union feature for that amount, who may not live near LA or NYC and has no access to a Marci Liroff, I was simply suggesting that, rather than try to handle all the casting themselves – which low-budget producers and directors do all too often – they should bring on another collaborator to fill that position. Yes, even if the collaborator is not an experienced CD. We all know that industry professionals usually cannot be lured in when your film has a 4- or 5-figure budget. I understand where the above CDs are coming from, but their comments appear to suggest that every filmmaker, no matter how little money they have, should either hire a professional CD or… well, they offered no alternatives. And I disagree with that sentiment.

Stephen Salamunovich CSA

I couldn't agree more with my friends and peers in the casting industry who have responded here as they have eloquently spoken about our contributions to the art of filmmaking. Sure, a trained professional casting director (not everyone who suddenly springs from the forehead of Zeus and declares themselves to be a casting director, actually IS one) contributes significant logistical and organizational skills to our work. But that's the LEAST of what a good casting director brings to their work. I believe the overall context of this discussion is that people who are ignorant of many aspects of filmmaking are abounding in our business because of the readily accessibility of prosumer equipment and software which has all but eradicated the apprenticeship model of film making. Before this time, it required more objective meritocracy being practiced in all areas of the art for fellow professionals at all levels to get into a project with each other. Namely, a great script and real, professional experience so that it was far less of a risk to work with whomever was spearheading the project. Now, it's the old Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland scenario of "Hey, my mom's got a sewing machine, and my dad's got a barn, lets put on a show!!!" It's a huge risk for a legitimate trained casting director to take on a project with a first-time director with stars in their eyes and no money but a "GREAT SCRIPT" because agents who rep the talent the film maker wants, also view this as a risk to the talent they represent and also to their relationship to that talent because they're supposed to be vetting good projects for them and avoiding the Waterloos that abound. And if they don't properly separate the wheat from the chaff, they find themselves no longer representing that actor. When people apprenticed at all levels of the industry, all these things were learned along their way up so that a huge part of what constituted professionalism, was the already-ingrained awareness of these things. Now, well-meaning people write blogs to help each other thinking they know they know the ropes and they don't. Those of you who are indignant that you have your $1000 to pay a casting director and a great script and can't find enough support are also well-meaning. The trouble is, you're assuming that these things are enough and trying to teach you that it isn't can't be done on a blog no matter how many of us professionals chime in because that process is one that should take several years of apprenticeship at the producer's and director's and script writer's level under real pros. This format can't even supply the Cliff notes version! No one's to blame for this. It's a complicated scenario that besides the death of apprenticeship models and easily obtained technical resources that used to make productions much harder to assemble, we live in an immediate society where hard work and commitment are valued far less than luck, easy fame and serendipity as necessary tools for success. When Robert Rodriguez made El Mariachi in 1992 for $7K and it made over 2 million, it spawned a whole new way of looking at film making and not necessarily a very realistic one. And now, people are indignant that their $1000. and a great script only gets them the sound of crickets when they try to get a good casting director yet most of them don't even really have a clue what a good casting director actually brings to the project because they've never worked under a producer who DID know and could explain it to them. My Uncle Mike finished up his very long career as an producer and an AD working on the ER television show and I remember once asking him about all the credits on the show listing various people (about 20 of them!) as "co-producer", Executive producer, co-Executive producer, supervising producer, co-supervising producer, etc, etc, etc….. and said to him, "let me guess, many of these are largely people who don't have much production background at all and have a few scheckles to throw into the till so they get some sort of producer credit. He answered that this was indeed the case and with no small amount of exasperation as their unawareness of what they didn't know, caused significant problems for him on a regular basis. But nowadays, these problems are just considered "standard production events" instead of sloppily done, "amateur hour." Yet if you ask them, they think they're producers! But it truly requires a background paying dues and apprenticing with people under whom you can make your mistakes with enough oversight to solve the problems you've created with that mistake before it costs someone a lot of time and money. There's an old saying in filmmaking, you either have time OR money but seldom both. Nowadays, everyone has the time but they don't want to spend it learning under someone else. They want to spend it making movies because it's never been easier to make them. However the bad news is also that it's never been easier to make them!
Besides my 29 years as a professional casting director, I have a significant background as a professional musician and there's a largely unspoken prejudice that accompanies the public's feelings about being a musician that I believe also influences their prejudices about making films. Namely, that it looks like so much fun to do that you should be begging for the opportunity to do it so why should we pay you so much to do it. You see it all the time and this is especially true when there is an accompanying ignorance about the significant prices paid to be able to work at the highest levels (meaning skill-level and not necessarily fame) of both industries which the vast majority of the public don't know about. But when you DO know about it because you've lived it, you have an enduring respect for those prices paid and you don't want to work with or for others who don't understand these realities or value them.
There are three levels of people who are inexperienced: 1. Those that know they're inexperienced, 2. those that don't know their inexperienced and 3. those who don't care. There are problems that go along with working with these people in direct proportion to which of the three they are that escalate as you move from 1 to 3. and professional know that. Unfortunately, there are more of them in the business than ever and it makes it harder for everyone. Minimize the number by paying your dues with someone who really knows and who hasn't just gotten away with making it up as they go along and you'll find the process easier and smarter and you'll attract smarter and more talented people to your projects.

Jenny S.

Mark, you sure are taking a lot of shit for telling the truth. Directing a micro-budget film ain't easy, and to try to get a real casting director is like trying to call CAA to get a movie star attached.

I sent my script to the CSA website (SAG New Media) listing a $1000 casting salary. Crickets. I put a listing on Craig's List, in Backstage, on Stage 32 and a half dozen other industry sites and got little response. I got three emails from casting assistants with literally months of experience, but even they wanted more money than I had and frankly, having interned at an agent's office for 3 months, I had more contacts and sense of the business than they did. So I hired a woman who used to work at a law firm and wanted to get into casting. She certainly had the "good organizational and people skills, and a feel for what I was looking for." She released a breakdown and within a week she'd done her research and gotten my script to some pretty great mid-level agents and managers, many of whom loved the project.

The bottom line is that, regardless of what you may hear them say here, most of the REAL casting directors I tried to send the script to were unapproachable. A few I spoke with were arrogant and insulting. They told me I should wait til I had "real" money or that I should use their assistant or that I should just wait until I could afford to pay a a real casting director. That pissed me off.

So I made my movie without a CSA casting director, hiring an assertive, eager, determined woman with excellent organizational skills and people skills. She has never cast before, but she was the most important part of my film because she got me 2 Academy Award nominees and became a producer on the film.

The role of casting should not be underestimated, but when most casting assistants nowadays have the skills of a temp agency secretary and most casting directors have a bloated sense of self importance, I'll go with the less experienced, more motivated person every time. I'm only 26, but this movie, which has just gotten into its 3rd festival, has taught me lessons about Hollywood I could never learn from a book. The arrogant and vitriolic responses from the casting "pros" here has shown me an ugly side of casting directors I thought I'd never see. They shouldn't be surprised when their profession gets phased out of existence.

KATHLEEN DEMBY

I HAVE A STORY THAT I WOULD THINK WOULD MAKE A VERY GOOD BOOK OR MOVIE. I DON'T KNOW HOW ELSE TO GIVE IT TO THE PUBLIC BUT THIS WAY. IT'S THE STORY OF MY LIFE AND IT'S A GOOD ONE. I WOULD CALL IT ( THE STRENGHT I HAVE A DIDN'T KNOW IT) THE STORY HAVE A GREAT POLITE. I JUST NEED THE TIME TO TELL IT TO SOMEONE. I KNOW EVERYONE THINKS THAT THEY HAVE A STORY BUT THIS ONE IS A WINNER. I HAVE NOT LIVED THE PREFECT LIFE BUT IT'S A GOOD ONE. AS I BEEN TOLD I SHOULD DO IT. I JUST DON'T KNOW WHERE OR WHO TO TALK TO ABOUT IT. IT WILL BE A NUMBER ONE. THIS I KNOW BECAUSE I'M A MOVIE BUFF AND I LOVE ALL MOVIES. BUT THIS ONE WILL TOUCH ALL HEARTS. I JUST WANT A CHANCE TO TELL SOMEONE ELSE OTHER THEN MY DAIRY. IF YOU GIVE ME A CHANCE TO TO LET YOU HEAR WHAT I HAVE TO SAY YOU WON'T REGRET IT. I KNOW AND OTHERS HAS SAYS IT WILL BE A NUMBER ONE SELLER OR IT WILL WIN AWARDS. PLEASE LET ME LET ME DO THIS BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE. I HAVE ALOT OF IT ON PAPER, BUT I FEEL IT WILL WIN YOU OVER IF YOU HEAR FIRST HAND. I MIGHT NOT BE IN THE SPOT LIGHT THAT THE KIND OF PICTURES THAT MAKES THE MOST MONEY. I KNOW I RATHER READ OF SEE A GOOD MOVIE OR BOOK THAT IS TRUE THEN A FICTION. CAN YOU PLEASE HELP ME TO BRING MY STORY TO LIGHT. IT'S A GOOD ONE. THE REASON I REALLY WANT TO SEE IT HAPPEN IS THAT I HAVE 2 SONS THAT I LOVE MORE THEN LIFE ITSELF AND I WANT THEM TO HAVE SOMETHING OTHER THEN THE MEMORIES OF ME TO GO BY. THEY HAVE LIVED IT AS WELL I KNOW BUT WHEN I'M GONE I CAN SAY I WAY A GOO D MOTHER AND NOW THAT I'M GONE I GAVE YOU WHAT I REALLY COULDN'T GIVE YOU NOW THAT I'M GONE. I LOVE MY 2 SONS. MY OLDEST IS 36 AND MY YOUNGEST IS 10. BUT THE LIFE THAT THEY LIVED WASN'T JUST FROM A PERSON THAT DIDN'T CARE BUT OF A PERSON THAT TRIED THE BEST SHE KNEW. THEY MEAN THE WORLD TO ME. AND TOSEE THAT THEY DON'T HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE THINGS I HAD TO GO THROUGH I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR THEIR FUTURE SO IF IT'S POSSIBLE FOR SOMEONE TO GIVE ME A CHANCE TO TELL MY STORY I WOULDS REALLY APPRECIATE IT. I DON'T REALLY KNOW IF THIS IS THE WAY TO GO ABOUT IT AND IF NOT COULD YOU HELP ME TO DO SO. I WAS BORN IN 1960 SO HAVE HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR A LITTLE TIME, BUT LONG ENOUGH TO SEE ALOT OF THE CHANGES WE HAVE HAVE IN LIFE. THIS A PERSON THAT DON'T REALLY WANT MUCH, I'M JUST LOOKING OUT FOR MY SONS. I LOVE THEM THIS MUCH. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CALL ME TO TO TALK ABOUT WHAT I CAN DO WITH MY STORY MY NUMBER IS443-635-0898. THIS IS A GREAT STORY AND IT WAS TOLE TO ME TO PUT IT OUT EARLIER YEARS AGO I JUST DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO. PLEASE HELP ME TO PUT MY STORY OUT THERE FOR ALL. IT WILL ASLO HELP YOUNGER AND OLDER PEOPLE WITH LIFE. BECAUSE WE ALL KNOW (SOMEONE'S TRASH CAN BE SOMEONE'S TREASURE. PLEASE CONTACT ME. IF YOU WERE YOUR STORY I WOULD WANT TO READ OR SEE IT.

I DON'T REALLY KNOW IF THIS IS THE RIGHT WEBSITE TO BE ON BUT I WOULD REALLY WANT SOMEONE TO GET ME THERE. YOU NEVER KNOW HOW FAR IT WILL TAKE US. I HAVE A MEMORIES FORM THE AGE OF 5 WITH NO LIES. I HAVE A STORY THAT PEOPLE EITHER PUT THE BOOK DOWN OR WOULD NOT WANT TO GO TO THE MOVIES TO SEE. PLEASE HELP ME WITH THIS QUEST.

Clayton S.

Oh please, no indie filmmaker needs a casting director! It's flushing money down the toilette that could go to a good jib rental. Do your own casting! Only YOU know what you want as the creative power.

Jon Raymond

Nice article Mark. I've had nightmares with casting, and mostly after I start shooting. And yes, I did the faux pas you mention. One of the problems is the inability to know what you're getting based on reels and auditions. I'd love to bring on a CD for my current project, that I'm now in production on a short version of (creditriskmovie.com). I have no budget at this point. But I am about to put up a crowd funding campaign for the development phase which includes the short film. So now all I need is to find an interested CD, How you would suggest to go about that? Mandy perhaps?

Matthew Lessall

Hey Mark, just as an example, I was hired to cast Marcel Sarmiento's feature, "Deadgirl" when it was a 50k budget. I would like to think that because of the casting it was able to garner a larger budget and eventually opened at a midnight screening at TIFF. I recommend to low budget producers to look at budgeting between 1-3 % of the budget to the casting department. It all depends on how many roles, how much time is needed, etc… if the script is good, it will attract a great cast, you just need someone to navigate this for the filmmaker and the indie cd with contacts, a reputation and experience can do that in a timely manner.

THE REAL Mark Tapio Kines

I hope that anybody reading the above (8:57pm) comment, as well as the 9:03pm comment below, will understand that both were written by some anonymous troublemaker pretending to be me. I would never say or even think such things – and obviously the 9:03pm comment is designed to insult me personally. This is the downside of Indiewire allowing anyone to post comments under any name.

If you doubt the veracity of any comments made under my name, simply send me a message on the Contact page at my production company website, Cassava Films dot com, and I will confirm it personally.

Marci Liroff

"You little pricks"? "Indie budget twits"?
Clearly this conversation has devolved.
Truly disappointed to see your comments here as my colleagues and myself have read your article, and are responding to your comments and trying to educate you on what we're experiencing from our end.

I think we're done here.
Best of luck to you.

Nicole Arbusto

Mark – as you can see we are all very passionate about what we do, and at the end of the day we want to make sure filmmakers get to make their films their way and know what resources are available to them. For the record A LOT of us are very open to working on micro budget films if we are moved by the material or want to work with the people involved. In the last year I've cast a film that was under 100K, as well as films at about 325K. I've cast shorts with essentially no budget because I was interested in the director's work. And I'm sure that's the case with a lot of my peers.

Troy Daniel Smith

Speaking as someone who works in casting AND is an independent, low-budget film producer, I would implore anyone wanting to shoot their first low-budget film (of any scope, scale, or genre) to utilize the casting community for what it does best.

For a low-budget filmmaker, the question often comes to "what can I afford against what is best for my film?" So many new, young, or inexperienced filmmakers are quick to use the best technology (camera, lighting package, etc…) because they think "my film has to 'look' like a Hollywood picture." Which when speaking of craft, a talented DP, Director, or what have you can make due with the equipment provided them, or that becomes another collaborative conversation.

Good advice to burgeoning filmmakers would be to take some of the money they had allocated for the equipment, and put toward a thorough casting search, utilizing an experienced Casting Director.

If what is most important is what ends up on screen, there are numerous ways to slash a budget in order to hire a professional Casting Director (who often times, if the material is good, could be willing to lower their fees when working with different Union agreements) to get the absolute best actors for the various roles.

For my money, a solid Casting Director is one of the above-the-line costs that becomes absolutely crucial to a low-budget production.

Kim Swanson

I wanted to respond to the comment that Mark has made in a couple of different responses, stating that this was targeted at the producer with an extremely small budget. Please know that, yes, good, experienced Casting Directors are not free. However, I would have to say that even film students know they can post their project and ask if a CD of caliber is available and interested in helping them out. Good and successful CD's help out young film makers all the time, IF and WHEN they are able to do so. This is part of the homework that could have and should have been done and the information could have easily been included in the article. I believe we are all intelligent enough to understand that this article was not targeted at someone with large budgets and great film experience (they would know better), but it was a lack of correct information and the way our craft is portrayed and explained that is offensive to the CD's who have read it.

Karen P. Morris

I, too, find this article both annoying & infuriating. To reduce what a casting director does down to something as simplistic as having "good organizational & people skills" is both insulting & incorrect. It takes a lot more than that. And, by using a legitimate casting director, you will most likely find someone with a strong aesthetic & a love of film, television, & theatre history to draw from in their attempt to make your project come to life.

Matthew Lessall

"You should still designate someone as your casting director."… Let me know how that goes for ya.

Marci Liroff

The simplicity of this article distresses me on so many levels. I know it says that the author is a writer and filmmaker, but I can't seem to find any of his credits on IMDb or on the web. The link says he's an "award winning filmmaker" – I'm curious which awards?

I've been a casting director and producer for the last 35 years. You can check out my work on my site.

To say that hiring a casting director makes your film legit, then to reduce the contribution that the casting director makes to this: "The good news is that the only real prerequisites for the job are good organizational and people skills, and a feel for what you the director are looking for in your cast. If you know someone who’s keen to take on this position, prior casting experience isn’t crucial, though it obviously helps." I'm utterly gobsmacked. Clearly you haven't had a genuine and fruitful experience with a professional casting director.

When I work with the director it's a collaborative experience where I lovingly and tenaciously put together the cast along with my team (studio, network, executives, producers). It's not just because I'm über organized and have connections and relationships that these casts come together. It's no accident when a brilliant cast comes together – you can point to the casting director who came up with these ideas, worked with the actors, and strategized and negotiated how to land them. We don't just release a breakdown and go through submissions – although that's part of it. Because we've seen hundreds of thousands of auditions and live performances – we are film, television and theatre aficionados not only of current projects but years past, we have a keen eye and an uncanny understanding of actors and what makes them tick.

A great film to help you understand what casting is all about is the documentary currently on HBO-GO called Casting By. They won't let me leave links here but I'm sure if you Google it, you can find the trailer.
You should definitely check it out and see what the directors/producers and stars are saying not only about casting legend Marion Dougherty, but of the profession itself.

susan shopmaker

Finally. The truth comes out!

If you have a finger and a phone you too can be a casting director…..oh wait, you'll need a 'professional venue'….and that's not so easy.

Michael Testa

Wow! This guy really is clueless about the casting process.

Amy Jo Berman

Saying that all it takes to cast a film is "good organizational and people skills" is like saying all it takes to be a film director is a camera and an the ability to say "action". You have taken a profession in which people hone their craft and their skills over years and years of experience and projects (like any other above-the-line filmmaking profession) and insulted it and all the Casting Directors in it who work tirelessly flexing their hard-earned casting muscles to create the amazing casts you see on TV and in film every day. Not only that, but you've shown your ignorance. I'm truly surprised that Indiewire did not catch that gross error. It certainly will make me think twice about anything I read here.

Kim Swanson

Seriously?? SOMEONE actually felt this was an accurate and appropriate enough description of how to cast and what it takes to cast??? This article is SO disappointing, as it takes a WHOLE lot more than this to cast a project. Let's be honest, if you don't know what you are doing, then you just wasted the money for the entire production to be shot, because it's going to stink, you can expect fines from the union, actors and agents walking away, and a very poor perception of the producers ability to actually produce. If you don't mind throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars, knock yourself out and use this article as your how-to guide, otherwise, hire a professional, and respect the fact that they know a WHOLE lot more than what this article incorrectly implies this is all you need to know.

hack h8r

who are these hacks you guys keep allowing to write articles?

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