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-   -   First Short Film - Casting/Directing Advice? (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/techniques-independent-production/33932-first-short-film-casting-directing-advice.html)

Ryan Spicer October 24th, 2004 06:15 PM

First Short Film - Casting/Directing Advice?
I'm a Cornell University film student working on my first short -- it'll be a ~10-minute piece shot in three locations with only two actors. Only problem: I need to start filming in ~14-21 days, and have yet to come up with actors. I've never worked as a director before, and although my screenplay is decent, I'm starting to get a little freaked out about the casting situation. The current plan is to put up fliers in the Performing Arts Center and in the Arts Dorm with my email and a website detailing the script, asking people to email me for more info and to schedule an audition.

I've never run an audition before. I have access to a large rehersal space in which to hold it, but.. I suppose I probably won't get high enough turnout to really need to run auditions, but if I do, I'd need to bring talent in, one or two at a time, and ask them to perform a bit from the screenplay? I think it's more or less simple, I just need to get over the anxiety and implement what I need to implement..

Any words of wisdom for a first-timer? I've got a decent handle on the technical/planning/story aspects, I believe, it's just the actual "getting people to do what I want" part that worries me..

And, if you're in Ithaca, NY, and are dramatic actor between the ages of 18 an 22, I could definitely use some help. ;) I need both a guy and a girl for shooting in and around Cornell between 11-5 and 11-21. Willingness to play angst-ridden, depressing parts is a must.

Jesse Bekas October 24th, 2004 09:40 PM

You could just go to some of your school's acting classes (while class is in session), and ask the professor if you could make an announcement. Tell the students directly, and leave a few fliers on the front desk for them to take after class. It always works at my school. You could also post at craigslist.org

Michael Bernstein October 25th, 2004 12:08 AM

Having been to one or two auditions, I can recommend:

1. Give the actors as much time with the script as possible. A week with the full script is great; five minutes with sides is better than nothing. ("Sides" are excerpts containing only the audition scene.)

2. If you know a lot of actors that you like and trust, call around and find good days to hold auditions and have meetings with individual actors. And count yourself lucky.

OTHERWISE: Pick a day for auditions. Schedule the space for as much time as possible, but assume no one will show up. Publicize the auditions heavily. Assume no one will call/email. Prepare for everyone to do so. Schedule auditions in five or ten minute slots.

3. Make scheduling a part of the audition/casting process. E.g. figure out your shoot days in advance if possible, and collect conflict/schedule information from all of your prospects. Use this in casting. DON'T CAST SOMEONE WHO IS ALREADY OVERSCHEDULED, no matter how frickin talented they are.

4. Day of auditions: HAVE A MONITOR. HAVE CHAIRS FOR PEOPLE WAITING. HAVE SIDES. START ON TIME. A monitor will check people in, explain what's happening, collect missing contact & schedule information, hand out sides, and generally serve as your liason with the waiting room. Have plenty of copies of the sides available (at least four for each part--one for the current auditioner, and the rest for the waiting area). Empower the monitor to send in the early guy when someone misses his or her slot. It's nice if the monitor asks actors if they're ready.

5. The actual audition can take place in a small room (assuming there's no running or football-throwing). Provide at least a chair for the auditioner. But no props, please, unless a good golf swing is CRUCIAL to your script. Some casting directors prefer that actors stand when they audition, because this gives you more energy. As an actor, it's nice to have a chair, because sitting down feels safer than standing, and auditioning is (for many actors) the most frightening thing on earth.

6. For a first pass, call each auditioner in by himself or herself. Have a couple of people present (e.g. director, DP). Also have a reader if you can, someone who can feed lines to the actor. Film or tape the audition. Tastes vary, but (as an actor) I prefer directing my lines to someone next to the camera, so my eyes--the windows to the soul--can be seen clearly when the audition tape is reviewed. But (unless you're casting a news anchor) don't have them look directly into the lens. It's creepy.

7. DO NOT MAKE AUDITIONERS READ IN FRONT OF EACH OTHER. You can have a couple of people read together, but don't forget that they're auditioning for a movie, not a play, and it's hard to have two people relate to each other and both face the camera.

8. Callbacks: you might want to ensure good chemistry between actors. Call back the ones who were neither flaky nor wretched. (If your pool is large enough, only call back the really exciting prospects.) That's when you have actors read with each other. If you have the time, you may pair one prospective lead with several prospects for another lead.

9. In general, do what you can to keep the actors comfortable. For example, feel free to ask for an adjustment to a performance--it's no big deal--but don't succumb to the temptation to tell the actor that something was either horrible or fantastic. A simple, sincere, "That was good" or "Thank you" is much appreciated. Pay attention to the auditioner, because nothing throws actors more than the thought that they're boring. Oh yeah, and have fun.

10. Don't forget, when you make your final decision, that you ought to like the actors, too. Just a little. You're going to spend a week with these people, and you don't want psycho freaks who'll trash the set, steal your cat, and (worst of all) disappear in the middle of the shoot.


Hal Wolin October 25th, 2004 12:58 AM


Try posting something on www.mandy.com

They have a casting section and you can post with a description of the parts/film/script and include a link to your website. Remember to mention that this is a nonpaying part or something along those lines.

Just a thought.

I did this and had about 400 or so replies for eight parts.

Thats the best suggestion I have for finding a cast.

As far as directing, I'm still learning the swing of that myself.

Did you write the script your shooting with? Or did someone else?

The only reason I ask is that well at least in my case I can picture every scene, every moment in my head so I find that helps a great deal.

Hope this helps.


Rob Lohman October 25th, 2004 04:43 AM

Please take a look at the excellent thread below with some great
posts (among one being from Ken Tanaka regarding his experiences):


Richard Alvarez October 25th, 2004 08:18 AM

One thing you might think about, as you have your actors read their sides on camera, alternate their camera direction. In other words, when "John" comes in and reads his lines, he is looking camera left, when "Mary" comes in and reads her lines, she is looking camera right. You get two or three reads out of each actor, with someone doing the opposite lines off camera.

Then, after auditions, you can cut the sides together to have them "read" opposite one another. This way, you can cut in John2 with Mary3 and Mary6 to see who he looks good against. It's a rough approximation of a dual callback, without having to call the actors back.

And do plan on having callbacks, to have the actors read with each other. If you have found the perfect "John" for instance, and you can't decide between three different Marys, then have John read with each Mary in the call backs. (But the Marys should be waiting seperately outside).

I've been an actor and director for film and theatre. Be pleasent, professional and courteous. It will help the next time around.

Michael Bernstein October 25th, 2004 09:00 AM

The above-mentioned-thread has many excellent recommendations.

My one cavil: Ken Tanaka chose to have actors read the script fairly cold, while I think that in almost every case, actors will give you a far clearer picture of what they can do for you if you allow them ample preparation time (at least 24 hours).


Ken Tanaka October 31st, 2004 12:36 PM

Giving actors a full day with a script segment would indeed help them to show what they could do with adequate preparation. But in the case of my small project I was most interested in a person's quick instincts and reactions when given 3 pages of dialog cold. What choices would they quickly make with regard to playing their part? How much coaching and hand-holding might they likely require during production? I was as interested in assessing how an actor might be to actually work with on the project as I was in assessing how good they were at actually acting. Auditioning is very stressful for actors, especially when given cold sides to read. But how well did the actor mask their stress?

Basically, I applied some of the same methods I used when interviewing prospective employees. In the case of my small project it proved to be extremely effective in selecting a cast. Certainly, it might not be a complete method for other types of projects.

Michael Bernstein November 1st, 2004 12:05 AM

Ken, it seems that you had thought a lot about what you wanted to see from your actors. I do think that hand-holding and time for preparation are two different things. But why do you want to see what choices an actor will make quickly? I ask out of genuine curiosity, as all but one of my directing experience has been for the stage, and the most satisfying performers I have worked with have taken time to arrive at a performance, even though they worked very intelligently from the start. Obviously film and theatre favor some different techniques, but it seems like you were looking for something specific for this project. Spontaneity? An ability to deal with a rapidly changing (or as-yet unwritten) script?


Ken Tanaka November 1st, 2004 12:52 AM

<<<-- Originally posted by Michael Bernstein : ... But why do you want to see what choices an actor will make quickly? ... Spontaneity? An ability to deal with a rapidly changing (or as-yet unwritten) script?
Michael -->>>

Excellent questions, Michael.

First, it's worth noting that the work in reference was Lady X Films' Episode 20 which, like all of the episodes, was a 7 minute piece.

It's also worth noting that prior to this I had never written, directed or acted in anything dramatic in my life. I was a mere babe lurching into the murky, thick, ephemeral world of acting and directing.

But what I -did- know something about was organizing efforts and working with people, skills that I relied upon for this project.

The script was completed and largely in-the-can. Yes, during production we did make some small changes in response to the actors' input and to scenes that had to be changed due to changes in logistics. But the script was set and I was not relying on actors to write it during production.

As the actors would be working pro bono, and I expected (correctly) that some would also be doing stage and commercial work during my project, I suspected that I would not be able to insist upon lengthy rehearsals. Their time for this project would, I assumed, be limited. To that end I felt that those who would seem to be "quick-takes" would be the most successful on this work. At the auditions I provided each part with a 1-page "back-story" on their character to help facilitate the best portrayal. (The character back-stories took nearly as long to prepare as the script itself!)

If this had been a larger production that afforded more rehearsal I might have considered handling the auditions differently. But, in fact, I strongly suspect I would have ultimately conducted it the same way. It may not seem fair, and perhaps it leads to some misjudgments, but I am a strong believer in reading people very quickly. Again, being new to this game, I did not know what unexpected challenges lay ahead...but I knew that there would certainly be some (as, indeed, there were). As in my previous business life I wanted to surround myself with good people I could count on to remain calm and reliable when/if plans and circumstances took tough turns. I knew that I did not need any talented but fragile prima donnas on such a small project.

Here's a perfect example. Our shooting schedule ran longer than planned due partly to weather and partly to schedule conflicts. Consequently, I lost my sound assistant for two significant days of shooting. I could not find anyone else to fill-in and really was at wits end when one of the cast members, not involved in the scenes to be shot, volunteered to handle the boom for those scenes (even though it meant he'd get little sleep due to his regular job). With perhaps only an hour of training and practice he did a terrific job handling a long boom and a Sennheiser MKH416 mic! He also really enjoyed doing it as he said it helped him learn a bit more about the production process from a different point of view.

So, this model may certainly not fit for all stage and screen projects but it ultimately worked wonderfully for mine. Everyone involved truly had an enjoyable and memorable time and got some acting exposure to boot! Several have moved on to do much more work in the past year.

Good luck on your projects.

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