View Full Version : Casting call questions

10-11-2004, 06:08 PM
I am working on a short film doing research and set design/dressing. The writer/director has asked me be present during casting, as we have worked together much in the past. We will be taping the auditions and I was wondering (since I will be behind the camera):
1) is there is a preferred lighting used in a casting call taping?
2) better to do full body shots AND close-ups?
3) is it acceptable to use the on-board mic?
4) is there a background/drape that should be used?

I am coming from a theater background, as stage manager, prop master and sometimes lightboard operator and most of my camera work has involved taping live theater performances, so this process of movie-making feels foreign at times. I have worked on a documentary, but that was mostly run and gun, and I was not responsible for camera work. Any help with the questions above would be greatly appreciated. :D

Jim Brennan
10-11-2004, 09:37 PM
I can only share my personal experience, but I always just put the camera on, set up a shotgun mic and let the actors go. I let them know where the frame is with some tape, so they stay in it, but that's about all. If a role requires a lot of facial expression, I might make the shot tighter, or if more body language is required, keep it wider. I suppose you could use 2 cameras with similar results.

I've used the onboard mic, and had mixed results. The one advantage is that you can hear what you are asking them to do more clearly. But the sound quality of their performance wont be as good as with a better mic. Of course, you can use both on separate tracks with the AG-DVX.

As far as lighting, I don't do much, as long as I can see what's going on. I prefer keeping auditions as simple as possible. I use the tape to jog my memory more than anything else.

You might ask the director what he wants from the tapes. He could be looking for something specific, or just something the help him recall who was who.

10-12-2004, 05:38 AM
I've now been unfortunate enough to sit through hundreds of castings, both in person and viewing on tape, and from that experience I can tell you that there is no accepted standard for casting tapes.

The more experienced a casting director is, the less they do in terms of video quality. This means no backgrounds, no lighting, no mics, and usually a 10 year old video camera. You'd think that the higher profile stars would get more attention for their videos, but I've seen alec baldwin, matt dillon, julia roberts and other all in the same stark white room...reading before the same crappy Hi8 video camera.

A screentest is a different story of course.

Depending on what the scene is, usually the camera will be set for a 3/4 shot. Rarely closeups, as you neve know how physical an actor is going to be with their manerisms. Whip zoom in and out to catch anything and don't worry about making it look pretty. A slow zoom out to make the video look good might just miss an acting moment that you could have caught on tape.

Remember when you're shooting that you're not making a movie, you're simply trying to catch the acting.

10-12-2004, 05:44 AM
Remember when you're shooting that you're not making a movie, you're simply trying to catch the acting.

Which is why its probably best to get your buddy to operate the camera while you focus on the actor.

10-12-2004, 08:21 AM
I would make the camera your least priority if the decision makers are right there in the room.

Often the camera can become really distracting to those behind the table if you don't have someone dedicated to operating it. I use to videotape my casting sessions, I don't anymore. The only reason I do it now is if a decision maker cannot be there.

10-12-2004, 01:09 PM
Even if you make the camera a low priority, i still think you should have a camera and a television monitor in front of you with a feed from the camera. People can look totally different in person than they do on camera, the only way to tell how they'll look in your film is by seeing them through that monitor. Record a tape for the sake of review but the tape should be reserved for reference if a decision is hard to make. The real decision should come from the performance in person and what you see on that monitor...

10-12-2004, 01:09 PM
Thanks for the responses everyone. Its a big help.

And yes, I think there is one other person the director wants to have see the casting, but she cannot make it due to other committments.

Chris Messineo
10-14-2004, 08:54 AM

I went through the same experience as you.

My production company is called Off Stage Films, because my friends and I who started it, all began in the theater world.

When we held our auditions we lit and recorded them and it made a huge difference. After the auditions we were prepared to cast one way, but after watching the tape we changed our minds. Some actors are just better on film (it is strange but very true).

Another thing we found that worked well, was auditioning one actor at a time, filming them in closeup and having someone on the crew just read opposite them. It really let us focus on the actor.

Best of luck to you,


10-14-2004, 04:37 PM
Yeah, we've publicized a casting call for Oct 23. The guy directing has lots of on camera experience, so I will just shoot as he asks me to. When we cast for stage productions, we get tons of people in and its nearly an all day affair for a full Sat and Sunday...I have no idea how many people will be showing up at the studio for this, but I am excited to be part of the process!

10-14-2004, 09:53 PM
expect the same number of people.

There are really two ways to get actors. A good idea might have been to give an e-mail or contact about your casting call and have people contact you concerning the film. Then you can e-mail them back with a specific audition time. This ensures everyone who wants to be auditioned gets auditioned. If there are people who don't show up or show up late, it's also a good indication of how devoted and willing they are. If they don't show up or show up late to their audition, the chances they'll do the same for a day of filming are much higher. Sometimes getting people to mail you headshots or e-mail you can be a good way of judging how many people will come to the audition.

If you find not enough people responding, then just leave the casting call open for anyone to show up. It sometimes makes the ordeal easier on the actors as well because they don't have to wait around all day for everyone else to audition in front of them. It also makes you seem far more organized that you've got specific times for each audition, this will make your actors even more impressed by your film.

Either way works. If I were to do a casting call, I'd ask for people to contact me and respond with an audition time. I've heard of other people who have had open ones though where people just show up and they've worked out great as well. It's all personal preference.

Jim Brennan
10-14-2004, 10:00 PM
The last one I did, we just scheduled everyone a slot, in ten minute intervals. We had handouts of what would be expected if they were cast, and everybody had to fill out a sheet with their availablilty for the time we were planning to shoot and sign a waiver since we were taping. I was shocked at how many people raved at how "Professional and organized" we were. Of course that perception changed a little on the set...

10-14-2004, 10:09 PM
Of course that perception changed a little on the set...


Jim Brennan
10-15-2004, 06:12 AM
Yea, when you have to fire a DP you aren't even paying the second day of shooting...But it all turned out okay.