Now that I’m almost a year into film school, I’m about to film my first “real” film… Using professional actors… The other students in my classes just don’t fit the bill any more…
I’ve listed the film on a site for actors this afternoon, and in one night have received 10 head shots/resumes for two roles. I was concerned no-one would be interested in being in a student film, but obviously I was wrong.
Suddenly I’m realizing that I’m going to be holding auditions and hiring actors for the first time. I know the basics of holding auditions, but are there things I should know to make things easier or better for the actors?
I emailed each person back with some basic details as soon as I received their info, but what should I do the day of the auditions? Do people normally give people 15 minute slots? Twenty? (It’s a short, so the film’s only a few minutes long…) I’d like the actors to know that I truly appreciate their taking the time to audition…
(OK, and I don’t want to appear stupid, either!)
Any actors or ex-actors (or anyone else, for that matter…) feel like sharing? What makes the audition process work for you?
You need a person you trust to be running the ‘waiting room’ where the actors check in and such. This area is part of the audition as well. How well the actors work and play with others is important. If they are a jerk to your ‘receptionist’, they are going to a problem on your set.
I would say a fifteen minute slot is actually extremely long. If you’re asking them to come prepared, their monologues should not be longer than 3-5 minutes, max. Often, I see auditions advertised with a two minute time limit on monologues. Add in the hellos and any questions, and their whole slot should take maybe seven minutes. Then, if you want them to stick around and read from the script, give them a copy send them back outside so they can look at it before you make them cold read - and give them an idea of what you want from them. Otherwise, you’re going to get each person’s idea of what a “unique” read on the bit they have would be.
Then you can see a few more monologues and call them back in. Unless you are planning on matching actors up head to head, no one should be there longer than an hour if they have an appointment. (you should build in buffer time to hear readings as well as monologues.) You could also call people back on a different day and just use the first round to cherry pick the good people, ask them to come to call backs as soon as they’re done, and then have them read against each other the following day.
Tell people when you will make casting decisions, and that you will notify them either way. Then, do that. Be upfront about compensation, and/or stuff the actor will have to do for themselves (if they need to be able to do their own makeup because it’s a small shoot, say so).
When calling actors who are good but not quite right, mention that you’ll keep their resume and call them for future auditions. Start yourself a mailing list of actors to invite to your auditions.
Also, this may sound dumb, but I really appreciate it when the crew has a pitcher of water and some paper cups in the waiting area, it shows they know that nerves give you drymouth, and they want you to do well.
The most important decisions a director makes is choosing his or her collaborators. Pick actors who seem to get the project and seem easy to work with, not just people who look the part.
Here’s a bad casting decision that I recently saw. The movie was about a guy who becomes a compulsive streaker. The director found a guy who who he thought was perfect: He was a good actor, and matched the descriptions in the script. The problem was, he didn’t want to get naked. Well, one, why do you try out for the lead of a movie about a naked guy if you don’t want to get naked, and two, as a director, why do you cast somebody who doesn’t want to get naked in a movie about a naked guy?
Oh, and also: I would recommend taking a minute to look at each actor’s resume before you call them in.
Have they worked with anyone you know? (now you can ask around about them)
Do you spot any obvious lies? (run away, run away!)
Is there a role listed similar to one in your movie? (ask them about their experience playing him/her.)
Are they delivering a fantastic monologue but have a long resume of extra work and chorus parts? (may be unable to memorize lines, difficult to work with, or, most probably, what you’re seeing now has been polished in multiple audition workshops and is no longer an indication of what they can do without excessive handholding. Edit: This shouldn’t be taken an admonition not to hire them, just to definately make them cold read, and proceed carefully.)
The casting couch sounds fun, but considering I’m a Gay guy interviewing women, I think I’ll pass!
Thanks for the info on timing… 5 or 10 minutes should be fine I guess…
Since I put the ad up, I’ve had 27 actors send me resumes and head shots… I went through and discarded the ones who were totally wrong… OK, I asked for women between 30 and 40, and I get some 21 year olds??? All the others got a quick summary, info on when I’m setting up the auditions and when we’re filming, and I’ll get the exact details to them early next week. At the moment I have 22 people who I’ve invited to audition…
I’ve got a couple of people who are going to work the “waiting room” and let me know how people appear to them… I’d like to hear how the actors treat them to get an idea of their personalities a bit.
When I email each actor again, I will ask them for a two minute monologue… I can’t believe I never thought of that - my next door neighbor who is an actress practiced her monologue about 2,000 times with me when she was testing one out… A monologue seems like a great idea…
I’m totally overwhelmed by the whole idea of directing a bunch of professionals… The whole film is totally clear in my mind… I just hope I can put it across when I need to…
It’s weird, I’m terrified of the whole thing, but also really amazed and looking forward to it…
And I will definitely let people know one way or another… I know what it’s like applying for jobs and never hearing anything ever again… I find it totally rude, and don’t want to do that to anyone else…
You should email a copy of a short scene so the actors get an idea of what you’re looking for and can prepare. It’s impossible to build a character in a cold read- I might read as a grumpy old man only to find the character’s a coldhearted old Nazi or vice versa.
If you don’t mind my asking, what kind of film are you making (e.g. comedy/drama/suspense/*Spenny vs. Kenny * Meets Dr. Zhivago/docudrama)
The basic plot is the story centers on two mean, arrogant, selfish secretaries and how they treat a Deaf guy who comes in to drop some papers off with them a couple of times… They just assume he’s “the mail guy” and treat him like dirt… They mock him and make fun of him for being Deaf… the ending is that one of the secretaries goes for a job interview to be an Executive Assistant for the new VP of the company, and it turns out to be the Deaf guy they were mocking earlier!
Remember, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them. Kind of like spiders.
Don’t be surprised when a lot of the actors you’ve invited don’t show up. If an opportunity comes up for a paying role or a more prestigious project, they’ll take it.
I wouldn’t give them to much information about how to read the part unless they ask. It can be very useful to see (1) what an actor brings to a role on their own and (2) how well they respond to adjustments. You can say things like “that was great, but just to see what it’s like, try it again with about 50 percent more energy,” or “try it again, but this time show me that you’re thinking the exact opposite of what you’re saying.” A great actor may bring things out in your script that you may not have even known were there, but you also want someone who can follow direction. If they can take your adjustment and do something with it in the audition, there’s a better chance of them taking direction on the shoot day. But don’t do it more than once or twice for each actor. That gets old quick.
Once the auditions are over, don’t take too much time making your decisions and making calls, and don’t be surprised or hurt if your first choice is suddenly unavailable. An audition is not a promise to do the part, things come up fast in this business, and actors have to seize an opportunity when it arises. Just move down the list.
Also, although some people feel differently, I don’t want to be called to be told I didn’t get a part. I usually go on several auditions a week, and I’m always trying to stay focused on the next one. I don’t need to be reminded of something that I failed at three days ago. The exception is when you want to let someone know you’re genuinely impressed by their audition and didn’t hire them only because you chose a leading man who’s 5’5" and you’re afraid a 6’2" leading lady won’t work, or the daughter is going to be played by a 19-year-old so you need a mother older than 24, or something like that.
I also think having them read an excerpt from your script is more useful than a prepared monologue. They may have spent years working on the monologue, whereas they will probably only have a few days with your script. Also, do you really care about their interpretation of Prince Hamlet if Prince Hamlet is not actually a character in your screenplay?