View Full Version : Auditioning your actors

09-12-2005, 07:40 AM
I haven't held a single audition for any of the five shorts that I've produced or co-produced. I was a stage actor for two and half years and met plenty of talented actors that way, and I attend as many local screenings and plays as possible so I can be aware of who is available in the local talent pool. I try to stay in contact with actors who are especially talented just in case the right role becomes available for one of them.

When casting, I go through my notes and can usually figure out who will be right for what part. If I can't find anyone, usually I get referrals from actors whose talent I respect. Truly talented actors can usually refer other talented actors as they've probably worked together in the past.

Anyway, I'm curious how everyone on this board handles the casting of their movies? Do you hold open cattle calls? Or review submissions, then contact specific actors to audition? Or do you just use friends?

And if you do hold auditions, do you require them to just read from the script? Do you have them perform a monologue? Do you require improvisation?


09-12-2005, 08:21 AM
Asking a theatrical (film/TV not stage) actor to deliver a monologue is a sure sign that the person doing the casting lacks any real experience. They have simple read somewhere that they "should" ask for a monologue.

A monologue is not acting and isn't representative of their on camera performance. Monologues tend to be to "stagey" in nature and too over the top in terms of scope.

As for casting from your "files", this is how most real roles are cast. It is only after they have exhausted their own resources that they go outside, first to agents and then finally to things like BackStage and Actors Access.

The worst idea is an open call. All the better actors that I know won't even consider attending them. If you can't give them a time specific audition, its a sure sign that you don't know what you are doing and you will be wasting their time.

I can't tell you how many times I have attended an audition with my daughter where it was clear that the CD was inexperienced. This dooms a project before it has even gotten off the ground. These types of CDs will often hire the wrong type of people for the roles that they cast and then the entire project will suffer. A good and highly experienced actor can smell incompetency a mile away and will turn down roles if they feel that it is just going to be a waste of their time. The concept that they can use the material for their "reel" is equally inaccurate. No good actor wants low/no budget things on their reel, it just brings down their perceived value.

A good recommendation to anyone that is contemplating taking on the task of casting a project. Go and intern or volunteer with a real CD and see how it is really done. Not only will you gain a lot of knowledge but you will learn what it takes to get good actors to want to work on your projects.

Jeremy Ordan
09-12-2005, 08:44 AM
I don't want to completely disagree with the above posts, because in most instances I actually agree with you, but at the same time I have had different experiences with open casting calls.

Locally I have used different websites to promote our open casting calls and actually had great turn outs. The problem with any open casting call is that you have no idea what you are going to see. I have seen everything from people coming out just for the experience of auditioning, to agents bringing their lesser talent out just to say they got them an audition, but most importantly I have found some incredibly talented people who just don't have the experience and are looking to do one of my projects to gain the experience.

I do believe that your most talented actors will normally boycott on principle the idea of an open casting call. There is something very meat market about the whole experience, but then again, it just happens this way sometimes that you find great people.

Personally I normally like to cast from theatre productions, especially local fringe theatre, that I see here. I do this for two reasons: 1. People who do fringe theatre are not getting paid to do it and do it out of either a love of the art or love of the piece 2. Since they are used to working without pay, I find that I have less problems explaining to them that I cannot afford any upfront payment for these projects.

Casting calls are great sometimes, but I would never have someone come in with a monologue. I always have sides prepared and try to cast for multiple projects at each call. Personally I like to use a side from a project I recently completed, and then have a side that I give to people to come back and read from an upcoming project. The reason I use a side from a previous project is to compare people with the performance that I have already seen. If they add to the role then I am very interested, if they read it like the actors I already had then I'm curious, but if they read it without anything I pass.
In a recent open casting call we did here in Charlotte we saw over 100 people over the course of 6 hours. There were maybe 15 people I was interested in, and eight I was seriously excited about. This makes for a very long day of sitting and hearing people butcher your words.

Let me also add this real quick though. The best, most enthusiastic, talented, and fun people I have ever worked with have always been referrals. I like to keep the mood very light during my rehearsals and shooting, I treat people well, and the actors who have worked with me have always told friends of theirs that they should contact me about future projects.

I will be the first to admit, I am not a good director, in fact I would say I am a downright bad director. I try to give my actors the best direction possible to bring out the performance that I am looking for, but I sometimes dont express things clearly. One thing I do though is encourage discussion about the material and also promote a fun working environment. Personality can sometimes make up for talent.

Jeremy Ordan
09-12-2005, 08:45 AM
That became a bit of a rant. Sorry about that, just kinda zoned while I was typing.

Everything boils down to this: Open casting calls are not good, but sometimes effective, referrals are better, and I know nothing about agents because I can't afford to pay my cast upfront fees.

09-12-2005, 10:27 AM
I agree with most that Yankee has added, but NC is a really different place for actors than Los Angeles is. Out here, there are so many projects, both low/no budged independent as well as student ones, that any good working actor can book more work in a day than they could possible do in a month. Its just a numbers game here. The new, unrepresented and not so talented actors need to build their body of work so they will take just about anything that is offered to them. Working actors (those that make their living acting) are usually much more pickey.

If you are in a market where there is a lot of work and a lot of actors, then as a CD or producer you might want to be able to intice the better actors to even consider your project. To do this you need to present them (the actor) with a situation that is at least typical of what they experience on a daily basis. I don't know the location or scope of the project that christopherthomas is trying to cast, so much of what I have related may not apply.

A deferred payment project isn't something that a working actor will automatically turn down, rather they may really like the project, but since this is how they make their living, they will be judging you as a producer just as much as you are judging them as an actor. After all, they are investing their time (which is really money in their eyes) and if you don't come off as well enough funded and professional enough to give you even a ghost of a chance for the project making money, then it is just a waste of their time. The more professional you are, the better chance you have of getting a good actor to work for you, so don't make mistakes like open calls and asking for monologues, it just makes you look unprofessional.

Good luck on your project!

Jeremy Ordan
09-12-2005, 11:24 AM

I think your dead on right with that comment. NC is certainly not LA. We have more bankers here in Charlotte than actors, and I doubt the same can be said for LA.

There is a fundamental difference between your 'I Act For A Living' actors and your 'I'm Building My Reel' actors.

I'm not saying that there has to be a talent difference between the two, but there is a difference in how they approach the work.

I would personally not do an open casting call in LA. It would be a mob. The other note I want to say about open casting calls is that for people who contact me prior to the call and ask for a reservation, I always try to accomodate that request. These are your more professional and experienced folks. The other good thing to note about an open casting call is that the first people to arrive are normally also your more experienced.

09-12-2005, 12:14 PM

I'm both a banker and an actor. And a producer.


I've only cast shorts, and that's all I will be doing in the immediate future.

I've called or emailed actors and told them I'm casting a role in a short, and "based on their work in ________ movie or the ___________ play, I think they would be perfect for the role". Even though it's a non-paying gig, most actors (myself included) love the idea of getting cast without having to audition.

I agree the monologues may not be the best indicator of an actor's ability, and I would never use them in a film audition. However, they do demonstrate an actor's ability to PREPARE for a role.

Here's another question for those who actually hold auditions:

Do you give them the sides ahead of time, or do you prefer they read them cold? Or do you only provide sides when an actor asks for them?

09-12-2005, 12:40 PM

Regarding sides, if it is for a theatrical role (film/TV) then give them sides ahead of time. A lot of professional actors will also request the entire script to read before they accept the audition. For non paying/deferred roles, it is still something they might want to see in advance just to be certain that the project as a whole is interesting to them. If your work is unregistered or otherwise unprotected, then you could allow they to come in a read the script in your office and not take it off site, if that is a concern to you. My daughter has had dozens of big budget Hollywood feature scripts to read in advance and has never been denied access to one if she asks (of course she does understand that the contents are protected and she treats them with the respect that they deserve).

The only reason you might want to "cold read" an actor is to see how well they can shift gears and react to a new situation, this is more often than not only used for commercials. You can just as easily accomplish this by giving the actor some "direction", perhaps suggesting that they now try the character this or that way, at the audition to see how well they "take direction".

Contacting actors that you have worked with or have seen their work in the past is the best first line of casting. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is after the CD goes through their own files that they then go outside. It is much easier (and safer) to cast a know individual than someone who's work and working ethic is unknown. Letting them know the scope and compensation in advance is good practice and should prevent any sever disappointments later. Most professionals have all their audition appointments go through their agent(s) or manager and they ( the agent) always find out the compensation and commitment upfront to avoid conflicts or misunderstandings.

The amount of preparation that a professional actor will invest in advance of an audition can be considerable. My daughter can spend multiple days prepping and often spends her own funds to get professional coaching first.

Jeremy Ordan
09-12-2005, 12:52 PM
From projects I have done in the past I actually prefer to work in a cold read environment for the first audition and then provide the full script for the call back. All of the actors I know hate cold reads, but there is something that comes off as pure about them, just seeing someone's talent without the prep associated with it. I am sure that I could have casted tons of better people if I had made sides available ahead of time, but I prefer the cold read.

BTW: I was not trying to insult you with my banker comment, I was simply saying here in Charlotte (we're home to two of the three largest banks in the US) we got a lot of bankers and a much smaller pool of actors. In LA, well there are a lot of actors.

09-12-2005, 01:14 PM
BTW: I was not trying to insult you with my banker comment, I was simply saying here in Charlotte (we're home to two of the three largest banks in the US) we got a lot of bankers and a much smaller pool of actors. In LA, well there are a lot of actors.

In LA, you can stand on any corner and yell out "I'm a producer and was wondering does anyone around know any actors..." and within a matter of seconds you will be knee deep in headshots. Last summer, I was the producer on a feature development project. We cast nearly everything from our own files but there was one role where we didn't already have someone in mind. For this single role, with just working 2 days, we received about 1800 submissions. Now imagine if we were casting for all 20 roles!

PS banker types are good too; they can have access to another resource that filmmakers often need besides just actors.

09-12-2005, 07:15 PM
I thought I would throw in my two cents here..

I cast and shot my film back in late June early July. This was my first time going through a casting call.

Though I agree with some of the stuff said, what strikes me is how you can choose a person for a role without seeing their style or their personal attitude. Perhaps this is coming from a directors point of view, but just because I choose someone to be in a film without auditioning doesn't mean very much.

They could be awful for the part, but still look the part. Or how about auditioning to read with other actors?

Both of the leads I hired to be in my film are both working actors, and do it for a living. And while I will say that I agree that actors who do it for a living are for sure more picky, I got a really great set of people that came out to the audition.

I also posted the sides and entire script ahead of time and encouraged those coming to audition to give the script a read, I got a lot of great comments back regarding the script. Mostly bullshit ass kissing comments it seemed, but I think that posting the whole script for them helped out immensely in the type of people I got.

As for an actor not wanting to put the work on their reel, I dunno, perhaps the guys I worked with are just different but both of em want to put the work on their reel, perhaps that says a lot more about the production value than anything else... but hey... a non paying short going on a reel isn't that far fetched.

09-12-2005, 09:17 PM
As for an actor not wanting to put the work on their reel, I dunno, perhaps the guys I worked with are just different but both of em want to put the work on their reel, perhaps that says a lot more about the production value than anything else... but hey... a non paying short going on a reel isn't that far fetched.

It absolutely says a lot about the production value of the project if these were working actors with substantial credits. If your film was good enough to add, then you are to be congratulated, most low budget films simply are not.

Lets face it, for an actor a reel has two basic purposes. One is to give someone a sense of your abilities as an actor, the other is to show what you look like beyond just your headshot. If the production values are too low or if the shots don't look very good, why would you want to add them. A good reel is typically 3 - 5 minutes in length (thats it, no longer as it won't get watched). If you have a decent amount of high budget work (supporting / guest star / national commercial / features) why would you want to dilute your body of work with an inferior clip? No one earns any points for having a long reel.

Most CDs know virtually nothing about the production process and could care less what format the project was shot on or by whom. What they do care about is how you look, how well you acted and who you worked for. A reel usually follows a strong resume which follows a good headshot. That is what gets you the audition, but it is your personality and audition that gets you the job.

09-13-2005, 12:11 PM
Great responses to this thread so far!

And I took no offense on the banker comment. It pays the mortgage and finances my shorts, and my weekends and evenings are always free. :)

09-13-2005, 05:33 PM

Holding a "cattle call" is probably how'd I start. I've written a script but haven't gotten around to shooting it yet.


PS: Holding opening try outs are handy when you don't know exactly the kind of actor you're looking for.

09-14-2005, 06:53 AM
It is a good idea to have a few open casting calls. You will get a diverse group of people. I had two, with a couple of months in between. In between the two calls, I had time to network with other actors I have worked with.

09-14-2005, 03:53 PM

So what you are saying I s hould not ask a ctors to perform monologues? Just sides from the script? Anything else?


09-14-2005, 03:55 PM

I was thinking of holding open casting calls because my film is mostly teens so I want to get a variety of looks, etc. What do people think?


09-15-2005, 08:49 AM
I just held auditions for my short last weekend. Here is what I did:

Posted on the LA Craig's List that I was casting for a no-pay non-union indie short. 3 roles. I described the roles.

I got about 20 responses. 90 percent included head shots and resumes. I responded to each thanking them for their interest and that I would send a follow up e-mail in about a week as to where the audition would be held.

I then started scouting for a place to hold auditions. The public Library wanted $125 to use their conference room. IFP in Beverly Hills wanted $30 for 4 hours to use their audition facitlity. I finally settled on a local small theater / actor's workshop facility in North Hollywood for $60 for 4 hours since it was a lot closer to me then the IFP offices.

I sent out an e-mail describing the location / time / date and requested an RSVP.

I got about 10 RSVPs - Several could not make because of schedule conflicts.

2 days before the auditions I sent a follow up reminder e-mail.

At the audition, I had my DP set up an HD camera and she filmed the auditions. We had about 15 show up. Out of that 15 I was able to cast 2 of the roles but not the 3rd minor role in the film. I had the actors read for all 3 parts and I sat with them and played the other part so they had someone to play off of.

Yesterday I cast the 3rd and final role with a non-actor that happens to just be a natural.

On the 16th of October, we shoot the film.

Wish me luck :)