It’s October. A month tied to pumpkin spice and not everything nice! Here at Dreaming Droids, I want to close out Horror Month with a true tale of the unnatural. This tale, which I write even now from a coffee shop in a 300-year-old neighborhood (pumpkin pie latte in hand), is none other than that of the casting process!!! Dun Dun DUN!!! Do not fear! Many esteemed filmmakers have survived this process as have many talented actors. If the process goes well, it is a dream for those on both sides of the casting table! If not, it is a nightmare for all involved! This particular article is written from the perspective of a filmmaker to actors. So read on!
Before we begin this journey into the strange and unnatural (where humans strive to channel the elusive spirits of characters, given only the breadcrumbs that are Sides, while spectators with reputations at stake judge their carnivalesque charade. Filmmakers, be more sympathetic), I will warn you that there is no one-size fits all for casting. Larger studio or indie films will have the casting director vet and limit how many actors audition. Other films will go for an open-audition process. Some will go purely on word of mouth and who knows who. Some are SAG-Aftra, some are not. Some contact agencies, some do not. Some are student films. Enough said. The form casting takes will depend on the film’s needs, budget, scope, market, and the experience of the filmmakers. It’s worth researching each process so that you know what to expect. That said, I recently had the opportunity as a producer to sit in on a two-day open audition process where we saw over 100 actors, plus video auditions. These are my “humble” observations.
Major Bullet Point 1 – Professionalism. Actors who walked in, shook our hands, had head shots and resumes at the ready, and asked us about our day, stood out. I noticed how engaging with us helped them relax. They saw that we weren’t scary people who would toss them out if they flubbed a side. Meanwhile, actors who didn’t greet us remained more nervous throughout their audition. And those who didn’t have head shots? After seeing over 100 people, without being able to tie the face to a name, no call back was given.
As a producer, my job was to safeguard the film from risks. There are a lot of moving pieces to every film, and they all enable each piece to function. If someone showed up complaining about how they had “woken up just 5 minutes ago,” were late, or not off-book by callbacks – they were not considered. When we did callbacks to see how actors worked off of each other for chemistry tests, we frowned on actors who directed their scene partners or blamed them for their own flubbed lines. Be professional to each other (and study Meisner)! We also auditioned child actors. We welcomed the parents and guardians into the audition room if they wanted to be there. Guardians who fed their child actors lines, however, raised flags. We didn’t want “stage moms.” If anything, we were looking for someone who was as equally professional and used to being on set as the actors themselves. In a way, you can say we auditioned the guardians as well as the child actors.
Major Bullet Point 2 – it’s never personal. Your talent and training will show through, I promise. To paraphrase Michael Cain, however, film is an operation with a laser. Despite giving a killer audition, if you don’t read as “world-weary” or “tough,” etc, it’s not a reflection on you. It means the role wasn’t right for you for that particular film at that particular moment. If you did a good job and were professional, the casting director, producer, or even director may recommend you to their colleagues for roles they feel you would be perfect for, or even off to put you in touch with people they know (after the auditions. Optioning other projects during auditions for a different project is never professional). I myself did as much during this process. Conversely, when I about heard actors bad-mouthing the project on other sets because they did not get a part, well, you can use your imagination. Stay professional. Don’t make things personal when they’re not. Actors talk. So do filmmakers. It’s a small world after all (cue out of tune music).
Film is collaborative. Hopefully the casting director, director, and producer were as professional as the actors were during the casting process. Remember that those on the other side of the table are all human, and have likely been at the casting session all day, possibly without food (true story), to give you your 15 minute audition slot. So grant them some grace, and they’ll grant you grace. And don’t give up if you didn’t get a role. Ask for feedback, learn. If you got a role, don’t let it go to your head! Use that opportunity to learn and grow. And hopefully it’s just the beginning of your collaboration with that filmmaking team! Never become so stressed by the process that you don’t enjoy the journey. If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in you life (said a wise person).
Just, don’t imagine a creepy voice asking if “you would like to play a game?” before delving into the casting process. I promise, that’s not how things are supposed to be run, or played. 😉 May your Halloween be horror-story free (especially if you’re a filmmaker or actor)!