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One of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced (and continue to face) as an independent filmmaker is with casting my films. However, it’s an essential part of a film, and one that you obviously can’t ignore. Here’s a brief list of what I’ve discovered to far. Hope it helps!

  • Know your story and your characters: This makes all the difference. If you have a sketchy idea about a particular character, or if they’re aren’t very well developed, then the casting will reflect that. The more you know your characters and the world they inhabit, the greater the chances are that you (and your casting director/ producers) will cast well. Also, how can you guide your cast as they become their characters, if you don’t have a final idea of how those characters should be portrayed?  As an example, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman fits in with Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, and the world he oversaw in that portrayal. The same is true of Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises: Hathaway’s Kyle belongs in the ‘Nolanverse’ in a way that Pfeiffer does for Burton’s vision. Switch the two around though, and it wouldn’t work. Know your vision, and you’ll know who to cast.
  • The director should have the final say: Even if your budget stretches to hiring a casting director to advice you, (or if you take advice from your producer (s) ), I still subscribe to the view that, as with everything else in a film, the director’s word is final. By all means accept advice and suggestions, (in fact, all good directors need to be able to listen and recognise good creative advice when they hear it),  your decision should be the final one. You can’t truly direct actors that you don’t really want in your film.
  • Scour online casting sites/local drama groups:  Casting Call Pro and Star Now are two good suggestions, and it’s possible to use both with little to no expense. It’s also worth contacting local drama groups and societies, especially those at universities. Be aware that there is a significant difference (as many actors will tell you) between theatre acting and acting for camera. However, as long as you can find someone with the ability and/or experience to cross over from the stage to the screen, then these groups are a good resource.
  • Your actors need to work well together: This links in with my first point. Every actor should not only fit the world and the tone of the project, but they should be a good fit with the rest of the cast, especially if they’re a main character. How many romantic comedies/dramas have been ruined because the leading man and leading lady had zero chemistry? This is where doing read-throughs with your actors (even if it’s just a few scenes) can give you a really good idea of who is – and isn’t -working together.
  • Be bold: The thought of discovering acting talent that has gone under the radar is something that excites me as a director. Obviously, you shouldn’t cast someone just for the sake of being different, or for risk’s sake, but don’t discount someone just because they don’t have a long CV, or come from a theatre background. Be open to taking risks, and cast your net wide, and you’ll be rewarded.
  • Video auditions: This helps cut costs if your budget is tight. It also means that you are less restricted to a specific area. As far as the audition material goes, I’ve used both the actual script, as well as excerpts from other films that are consistent in tone with my own. Other options are auditioning two actors together, and getting the actor/s to prepare their own material. You can even do more than one of these options (such as get the actor/s to audition from your script, and also something that they’ve chosen to bring in.)

Please feel free to add your own comments below, especially if you have any advice of your own : )

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