A single performance can make or break a film—and filmmakers on a budget rarely have access to a talent pool that could put their project on the map. Still, a production doesn’t necessarily have to suffer because of limited financial resources. Here are tips to help ensure you get the best actors possible for your film, regardless of your bottom line.
1. Expand Your Horizons
Ask yourself: does my lead necessarily need to be a 6’4” blonde man who looks like Armie Hammer? If a character’s specific look isn’t 100 percent essential story to the story, you shouldn’t be limiting your star search. Especially since you may struggle to find actors available to work for nothing (or next to it) and meet your physical criteria. Considering SAG-AFTRA talent? Student filmmakers have a relatively easy time working with SAG-AFTRA, as the guild permits union talent to work with students. However, indie filmmakers and producers should reference SAGindie to follow proper protocol while casting and on set.
2. Spend Time on Your Casting Call
Don’t just post a small blurb about your project. Be thorough: tell actors what to expect at the audition and include sides. Will you be having actors initially tape themselves performing a monologue? Will it be with the sides provided or should actors choose their own? If the latter, what kind of monologue would you prefer? Provide a decent film synopsis. If you have professional links to your previous videos, IMDb, etc., provide them in your casting call. Note: You can post casting calls for free on Backstage.com with code FILMBLOG19.
3. Check the Reels and Resumes
Regrettably, headshots aren’t always a great indicator of how an actor looks since these images are typically edited. A reel or self-tape can show you how the actor will appear on camera from various angles. Strong resumes typically include previous theater work, an on-camera training course, and perhaps work on a student film. Reels should always be submitted to you via weblink unless you want to spend hours uploading files to Dropbox.
4. Be Professional
How you communicate with actors says a lot about who you are—unprofessional behavior may or may not come back to haunt you down the road. The film industry is a small one and people talk. Always schedule auditions in a safe location. New York filmmakers have access to Ripley Grier Studios and L.A. creators can use Space Station—both offices offer audition rooms for a nominal fee. Otherwise, a coffee shop or Skype conversation will serve you well. And absolutely never ask an actor to meet you in a private location such as a home or hotel.
Maybe you can’t afford to pay, but for actors, reel material is extremely valuable since it helps them land auditions. Offer to edit their reel if you have the skills and can absolutely guarantee (and ensure you keep your promise) to provide footage. If you are using a high definition camera such as a RED at your audition, this can be helpful to note so actors know they could receive some nice visuals. Have a great audio kit? Indicate in your casting call that this is the case—many actor reels have great visual quality but the audio is subpar. This alone may motivate a desirable actor to choose your film.
6. Be Nice
Performers are giving up their time to work with you—be mindful of that! If you have the shoot schedule, let them know ahead of time. Inform talent regarding how long you anticipate needing them on set. Actors also perform best when their fears are alleviated by the crew around them, giving them time to focus on their craft. Always treat them with respect—and never forget how vital your cast is to your project! This should go without saying but unfortunately, filmmakers, producers, and crew often simply forget to mind their manners.
7. Get Help
If you find casting your film to be entirely daunting, enlist a friend’s aid. Friends with a background in theater (even if it was high school) can help you get a feel for actors and may already have people in mind for you. The key here is to solicit a friend with acting experience so you can get their professional notes and feedback. As an incentive for your friend, urge them to include an indie film casting credit on their resume.
At the end of the day, it’s a good idea to have backup actors—let’s say your star gets a callback for a $700/day commercial. It wouldn’t necessarily be fair to deny him or her that opportunity, especially in light of your limited budget.
Oscar Wilde said, “Anyone who lives within their means suffers from lack of imagination.” Aim high, get creative, and don’t let a lack of funds prevent you from finding the best talent for your project!