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by Mark Tapio Kines
November 21, 2013 2:34 PM
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Here are the First Five Things Filmmakers Who Have Never Cast a Film Before Must Do

Mark Tapio Kines

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

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33 Comments

  • Stephen Salamunovich CSA | November 26, 2013 12:14 PMReply

    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.

  • Stephen Salamunovich CSA | November 29, 2013 1:35 PM

    (Part II To Amin "H" continued)
    Additionally, just telling your film makers to essentially just keep "winging it" with regards to casting and other aspects of the art without actually apprenticing isn't making the work out there in the market better now is it? The "Brave New World" you mention isn't making for better films-just more of them! If it was, I could maybe get behind your sentiments to blow off mine and my peers' advice as the proof would be in the pudding. But the sources of the relatively bad artistic state of films (more are indeed now made but far more of them are bad than ever) can be blamed not just on the disappeared apprenticeship model. They're also profoundly influenced by the eroded support of arts education in our schools, market focus research as a driving force of what we see and hear and corporate ownership of film studios where manufacturers of soft drinks, booze and electronics have bought studios. Then, they try unsuccessfully to use the same corporate strategies they used on those industries on an artistic endeavor like film making. It's like trying to write a sonnet with a hammer and saw.
    Bad film making is also the biggest scourge of independent film makers actually bringing GOOD films to market as well because investors who are increasingly being stung investing in bad films for inexperienced film makers are far more resistant to investing in films at all-even when the good ones get submitted to them. So bad film making is making it harder and harder to make good ones!
    So hopefully, you'll stop resenting the fact that truly well-meaning professionals took the time to help young and naive film makers about how to best make better films. Stop killing the messenger because the news is bad and listen to the message from people who've earned their stripes in the trenches. You and the art of film making will be the better for it.

  • Stephen Salamunovich CSA | November 29, 2013 1:34 PM

    Wow, Amin "H"! You sure sound angry! For whatever series of circumstances may have befallen you to make you so bitter, you have my compassion. I can't really tell anything about your "career" as you don't list your full name so your anonymous snipers nest firing from the cheap seats remains safely obscured. But truly, I am sorry that you took my comments as criticism instead of yet another attempt at helping young film makers. But rather than deal with your considerable anger and the source of it, let's follow up on your allegations that I don't know what I'm talking about.
    You see, the career you chose to try and trash, probably makes me the MOST credible witness to the mistakes and misperceptions of young film makers you might be able to find! And ironically, it's for all the qualifications you chose to try to dismiss as being un-credible. Since I moved away from my native Los Angeles for a better quality of life, I took myself out of the chance for as much A-List casting work as I could have had if I had stayed. And I did so knowing this would have to be the trade-off. The vast majority of the work I now do consists of the much better-paying commercial and industrial castings I do (over 3500 at this point over 29 years) because it's the predominant, paying work in the secondary market in which I now work. It also allows me the opportunity to contribute my talents to those who's fledgling efforts are artistically worthy of the help and who's attitude is one of genuine and honest desire to learn and not to throw their opinion around with minimal experience.
    Now, what should have been obvious to you is that A-Listers don't need mentorship help anymore now that they're A-Listers. So working with them wouldn't imbue me with more credibility on the types of misperceptions of beginners and the most common mistakes they make, now would it? It's all the beginning film makers who are making their shorts who need all the help and not the A-Listers your wanted me to have worked with before you'd take my advice as sound. Beginners need the help of professionals who are willing to roll up their sleeves like I've done countless times on way more shorts than are even listed in my IMDB page. And way more independent and studio features that never made it to market or got distribution deals. (not everything everyone's ever done always ends up on IMDB especially if it was produced before it's inception) I've worked for free or significantly reduced rates for more independent film makers than you've probably even met! But I can't say for sure as you don't choose to reveal your name and make your level of credibility available for the same scrutiny I have here. I've done shorts for the early efforts of later, Academy Award winners. I was the first winner of the Casting Society of America's, Artios Award for excellence in short-film casting, which is the equivalent of the Academy Award for casting directors after receiving two of the five nominations that year. (My fellow nominee and friend, Matthew Lessall has also generously given advice on this post as well) And I became the only casting director in the award's history before or since to win one as a lead-position, principal casting director outside of New York or Los Angeles. And I was never paid for either the winning or nominated film. This is because I worked on one of them in my capacity as both a board member of the IFP and a sponsor of their Spotlight Award grant for up and coming film makers and the other was as a sponsor of the Seattle Film Festival's Fly Film Making Challenge also for up-and coming film makers. And I've donated these two sponsorships year after year (The Fly's alone account for three a year for the past 11 years) and that isn't even counting all the other young, up and coming film makers who approach me literally every day thinking I can put stars into their short films and get them on their way because I've sometimes managed to do that for others I've helped. Then there are the countless requests for meetings on shorts or "can you please read my screenplay and weigh in on it?" asks I get. And like all good casting directors, we give valuable notes on screenplays as we're frequently among the first to read them which is another value to working with a trained and good casting director.
    These things are all common knowledge in the Pacific Northwest market where I'm now based and I regularly receive thanks officially and unofficially for my contributions to the careers of young film makers and as a steward of good film making in the market. I'm also a member of the Seattle Theater Group's Centerstage Council advocating for the education of youth in the arts and the preservation of a culturally diverse arts schedule in the city's historic theaters. I'm also regularly asked to be on industry panels and committees including the SAG-AFTRA Foundation and asked to speak on such issues as industry sustainability which is what made me first post here.
    So when you take shots at all the shorts I've cast, you actually proved my credibility on these issues far more than if my resume' contained project after project for the Spielberg's and Coppola's of the world (both of whom I've worked for as a musician, BTW and so has my father). And if you do the math on the relatively few members of the Casting Society of America which has about 150 total members and is an organization for which you have to be sponsored by three current members and have a significant body of work on your resume' to qualify for membership, you'll see that it's probably not outrageous to make the claim that possibly more than any other casting director working, I've probably participated in more short film casting than any other professional in history for new and fledgling film makers! At least, I'm probably in the top 3 or 4, anyway. So you may want to reconsider my experience level and credibility to speak on how new film makers can best assist themselves with sound preparation. Or at least reconsider your opinion that all I wanted to do here is trash someone which from the words you leveled at me, it appears is a subject you actually DO know something about!
    (Continued in next)

  • Amin H. | November 26, 2013 8:11 PM

    Another casting director who exaggerates his resume, whose claim to fame is short film after short film. According to the IMDB, Steve, you've worked on a half dozen features in 20 yearsm and two dozen short films? Yet you're expert on how young filmmakers should approach the big-shot casting director...why? How do you make a living like that. Oh yeah. Teaching casting classes.

    You have the nerve to judge new filmmakers for what you see as our youthful ignorance. Shame on you. Maybe if you'd cast more and teach less you'd be more in tune with what we need, what we encounter and how we go about surviving in a Mega-Movie world.

    Please, Steve, don't try to tell new filmmakers how to approach a profession whose heads are so far up their collective asses they can barely see the light of reality. We don't need you. We don't need anyone who is more concerned about their relationship with a big agent at UTA or WME than they are creating art worth watching. The bloated egos that would dismiss the realities this article represents and lambaste common sense in filmmaking 101 for the new, upcoming director/producer...the next Robert Rodriguez...is the reason that casting directors are becoming less a part of the creative process and more like listmakers. The casting assistants of today can't cast their way out of a wet paper bag with big holes in it. You are guilty of the same "largely unspoken prejudice" that you complain about. There will come a day soon when casting directors recognize that insulting young filmmakers, rather than embracing and supporting them, will send them packing suffering a fate much like that of the VHS. Extinction is assured for those who can't compete in the brave new world of movie making.

  • Jenny S. | November 23, 2013 4:42 PMReply

    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 | November 23, 2013 8:05 AMReply

    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.

  • KATHLEEN DEMBY | November 23, 2013 8:26 AM

    IF YOU THINK MY STORY WOULD BE NOT WORTH YOUR TIME GIVE ME A CHANCE TO TELL IT. I PROMISE YOU YOU WON'T BE DISAPPOINTED. I HAVE BEEN TOLD BY MANY TO YO DO IT BUT REALLY DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO DO. I'VE BEEN TOLD BY MANY THAT I COULD LET PEOPLE READ OR SEE IT THAT COULD HELP PEOPLE IN MY SITUATION HOW TO GET THROUGH OR OR HOW TO COPE WITH IT. IT'S A GOOD ONE.

  • Clayton S. | November 22, 2013 12:26 PMReply

    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 | November 22, 2013 5:01 AMReply

    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?

  • Mark Tapio Kines | November 22, 2013 11:14 AM

    Hi Jon. Thank you. Well, for starters, if you read the impassioned comments below, most are from top-drawer Casting Directors, and many of them have stated clearly that they are happy to work on low-budget projects if they like the script. I encourage you to Google the below names, find their websites, and contact them about your project!

    Otherwise, since Indiewire doesn't allow links within comments, your best bet is to go to Casting Society dot com and click on "Producers". You can post your project there or seek out a CD directly.

  • Matthew Lessall | November 22, 2013 2:11 AMReply

    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.

  • Mark Tapio Kines | November 22, 2013 12:11 PM

    A very useful budgeting tip, Matthew, and helpful advice all around. Thank you.

  • THE REAL Mark Tapio Kines | November 22, 2013 12:15 AMReply

    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 | November 21, 2013 10:50 PMReply

    "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 | November 21, 2013 10:34 PMReply

    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 | November 21, 2013 9:39 PMReply

    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 | November 21, 2013 8:11 PMReply

    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.

  • Mark Tapio Kines | November 21, 2013 8:31 PM

    Hi Kim. I must mention that this was meant as part of a longer article about how filmmakers can find the actors they want to work with, and how new directors should behave during auditions. Because of this, the article you're commenting on was initially meant as just a forward, so I did not expound upon everything to do with the basics of casting because it would have made my original article ultra-long.

    That said, you do have to understand that for the hundreds of indie filmmakers out there ready to make their movie, they don't usually wait for that "IF and WHEN" you speak of to through for them.

    If nothing else, the comments here show how passionate Casting Directors are about their work, and hopefully it will encourage more indie filmmakers to indeed do their homework and try to land the services of a great professional CD at low cost. I recommend they begin their quest by contacting the CDs who have commented on this page! And no, I'm not being snarky - this page has now become a great resource about who filmmakers can turn to!

  • Karen P. Morris | November 21, 2013 7:59 PMReply

    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 | November 21, 2013 6:55 PMReply

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

  • Mark Tapio Kines | November 21, 2013 7:56 PM

    Hi Matthew. Clearly my article has been shared amongst some of the industry's top Casting Directors, such as yourself, Rich Mento, Marci Liroff, Susan Shopmaker, etc. I'm flattered, in a whipped-dog kind of way.

    But as I responded to Marci below, this article is for the filmmaker with the micro-budgeted production. I am assuming that none of the CDs who have voiced their outrage on this page, including yourself, are affordable for filmmakers working with 5-figure budgets. If I'm wrong, please say so, as many would be thrilled to know that they could afford your professional services even if they have no more than $5K to pay for the entire casting process, including staff, office, etc.

    I want to state clearly that I have profound respect for the creativity, wisdom, and patience of the Casting Director - this respect is, ironically, at the heart of my article. But you all posting on this page represent the industry's cream of the crop. And frankly, most low-budget indie filmmakers can't remotely afford the cream of the crop.

  • Rich Mento | November 21, 2013 7:30 PM

    Matthew, you read my mind. And beat me to (what I thought) was an original and pithy comment!

  • Marci Liroff | November 21, 2013 6:19 PMReply

    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.

  • Mark Tapio Kines | November 21, 2013 9:05 PM

    Hi Marcy (again). Thanks for your thoughtful reply below. Just to address two things:

    1. You said: "I didn't read anything in this article about casting microbudget indies as you've now mentioned in your comments." My response: This is Indiewire. I figured it was self-explanatory that my article would be read by indie filmmakers without much money.

    2. You wrote: "Your responses now - how you have "profound respect" for Casting Directors - don't quite track with what you've said in your article." My response: I honestly do respect the work of CDs, which is why I began the article with the note that all filmmakers should hire one (and, you'll note, I first suggested getting a professional CD). My experience has been that many no-budget filmmakers ignore this position entirely and post casting calls on Craigslist, which I'm sure you'll agree is not the best route.

    In any event, this has been an educational experience for me, and hopefully for the other filmmakers reading these comments. Who knew that many top-drawer CDs would offer their services for next to nothing, as long as they love the script? This shines a light on something that a lot of us filmmakers thought was out of reach for us. Very empowering. Thank you Marci.

  • Marci Liroff | November 21, 2013 8:48 PM

    Thanks for your response Mark. Now I see your credits on IMDb. Please excuse my confusion about your credits.

    Maybe I missed it, but I didn't read anything in this article about casting microbudget indies as you've now mentioned in your comments. Nonetheless, there are literally hundreds of talented casting directors and associates who cast micro-budget indies (myself included) and would be willing to jump on board IF, and I mean IF, the script is great. For me, and I think I speak for my colleagues, the screenplay is EVERYTHING. I get approached by filmmakers all the time with little to no budgets and it all comes down to whether I'm in love with the script. If I am, I'll make the deal work. The last film I cast I was paid with an iPhone. I also produced this film and we raised $21,000 on Kickstarter and shot it for only slightly more than that.

    I know several amazing CDs who cast microbudget indies and do it very well. Another approach is to find a great casting associate who is looking to get more experience and credits on a film project. There are all different ways to skin a cat if you'd only do the research.

    Your comments about casting directors "only real prerequisite is having good organizational and people skills" has definitely hit a nerve in our community. As I said to Dana Harris, the editor-in-chief at IndieWire, "When we are celebrating getting a branch in The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, getting three of our members on the Board of Governors, and gaining awareness from the insightful documentary Casting By, it is disheartening to read such an article from your wonderful site." Your responses now - how you have "profound respect" for Casting Directors - don't quite track with what you've said in your article.

    Like I said. Next time, do the research and you'll find a great casting director who knows what they're doing...and yes, is affordable!

  • Mark Tapio Kines | November 21, 2013 7:38 PM

    Hi Marci. I wrote the article and would like to respond to your comments.

    It's strange that you can't find my IMDb page. I assume you must have typed my name incorrectly. Try again. And the awards I've won include best screenplay at the Chicago alt.film fest - nothing major, but it's an award - and grand prize at a Getty Images-sponsored short film competition.

    Now that we've established my credentials somewhat, allow me to address your comments, which are echoed by others below rather less eloquently.

    I wrote this article - and note that it was meant as just the first part of a longer piece (the rest of which I believe will be posted later) - with the micro-budget filmmaker in mind. I do not mean to dismiss the value or talents of a professional Casting Director. But correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm thinking a filmmaker whose film's budget is less than $100K can't possibly afford you or someone of your caliber. So what are they to do?

    I've seen a lot of indie filmmakers decide to go through casting without a CD and/or rush through the casting process in a week, try to hold audition in their own homes, and so forth. This really does happen when you have no money. I am only trying to get those filmmakers out of this mindset.

    My own first feature had a somewhat experienced Casting Director (who had mostly been an assistant) but not one with any relationships with the top agencies. My second feature had two CDs: one of whom had no prior casting experience, and the other of whom had previously been an assistant. No, it's not the same as hiring someone like you. There just wasn't enough money for it! But in both cases, my CDs did their work well, and we found great casts.

    In short, I just want micro-budget filmmakers to know that there are other options between a) trying to afford someone like Marci Liroff and b) not having a Casting Director at all.

  • susan shopmaker | November 21, 2013 5:45 PMReply

    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 | November 21, 2013 5:32 PMReply

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

  • Amy Jo Berman | November 21, 2013 4:58 PMReply

    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 | November 21, 2013 4:25 PMReply

    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.

  • Mark Tapio Kines | November 21, 2013 8:04 PM

    Hi Kim. As I have stated above, this article is for the very low-budget filmmaker. That you mention "throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars" shows the difference in where you and the other professional CDs here are coming from, and where I'm coming from. My point is that the average micro-budgeted filmmaker, someone with less than $100K for their ENTIRE production, simply can't afford you guys. With $5K or less available for casting, what would you suggest they do?

  • hack h8r | November 21, 2013 3:19 PMReply

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

  • Nicole Arbusto | November 21, 2013 3:39 PM

    As a casting director it's really dispiriting to see that someone thinks it's as simple as "good organizational and people skills".