Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Casting Process: A Rough Breakdown

Had to take a couple days off from writing. Hopped up to Jefferson, TX (beautiful place) to hang out with Samuel Haun, Ron Holloman, Rick Workman and Tom Walker to make what may turn out to be a festival winner. Turned out to have an amazing cast with Madison Barrett, Samantha Wohlford and the "where the hell did this guy come from" perfect performance by Chase O'Brien. Special shout out to Nick Plantico for the FX training and blank rounds. Sam put together a cool little project. Now I'm prepping for my shoot on "Devotion" this weekend with Andy Rose and Abel Berry. Some very cool scenes in there I'm looking forward to shooting. Different role for me.

Which kind of brings me to the topic at hand. How does casting work for a film. Sam is a friend and we've worked on some stuff together, as is Andy Rose (though this will be our first real gig together). I didn't have to read for either project. They thought of me for the role. The same has happened to me on a bunch of independent films and even with the amazing "Humans Vs. Zombies" where Brian Jaynes and company wrote the character with me in mind. Joe Hollow called me off of a recommendation for "Cut!" as well (thank you Mr. Slagle). These are definitely my favorite kind of castings. I love it when people just call or email (particularly when there is money involved) and offer me a role. However, you really have to work to build a reputation and network your butt off to get there. Also, unless your Brad Pitt, this isn't likely to happen to you on huge budget projects. For almost every working actor out there, the audition process is an invaluable part of what we do.

Let me walk you through a rough casting process, using a feature film as an example and then I'll talk more about the impact of the process on the actor's psyche and how we SHOULD look at it instead. First off, a PRODUCER, for whatever insane reason they decide to do so, decides to make a movie. The film basically belongs to the producer, who usually controls the purse strings for the project. They hire the DIRECTOR, who actually helms the making of the film. Producers usually deal with making a solid product that they can get money for after the fact. This can include creative control (to make sure they have a quality product) to an extent, but the director's job is usually to handle these elements.

Now there are millions of aspiring and working actors out there (to include those of us in the limbo between) who want in on any given project. There are white males out there who would read for the role of a black woman on a project in hopes they could sway your mind and EVERYONE thinks they deserve a lead. With film making, time is money and a director can't possibly look at everyone when looking for who he wants to put in his film. So, they need to narrow it down. So, the director hires a CASTING DIRECTOR or C.D. to find him people to look at for the roles.

CDs get breakdowns (brief descriptions of the characters needed) for the film from the director and they go out to find the director several solid choices for each role. With a CD, time is also money, and they don't want to wade through millions of actors and actresses either. So, most of the time, they will only go through agencies to solicit talent. An AGENT is the first gatekeeper in the system of the audition. Agencies make money when their talent is cast in a film (or other project). They also get blackballed and run into a lot of problems if they send people to a set who are unprepared, late, unprofessional, difficult to work with or just plain don't show up. They will ONLY work with people who will ensure that they continue to do business with CDs. Therefore they are selective about who they represent. Millions become thousands.

Agencies also don't want to waste a CDs time, so they carefully scrub the breakdowns and submit ONLY talent who are available and fit the description. And HERE is where the process switches into reverse. The AGENT sends a list of possibilities to a CD for an audition. The CD approves the list (maybe adding talent they know they like or taking off people they don't want to see) and the audition occurs.

When you go into an audition, you should feel privileged. Someone believed in you enough to even put you in that room and if it keeps happening, you should feel loved. Depending on the size of the project the audition process can be very different, but for our example, the audition is usually you with (lets use an example of) 40 people all reading for the same role. Some of the folks reading you will never see due to appointment times, tapings and submissions from other areas of the country (Los Angeles for example). You may be given sides (little portions of the script...usually about 1-5 pages) ahead of time and will be expected to know them when you hit the door. You may be doing a cold read (no advanced prep). You could even be doing some improv.

Here are a few key things that you NEED, when you walk in the door:

1.) You NEED to look like your headshot. Nothing is more annoying than a headshot that was 10 years or 200 pounds ago (in either direction). CDs and agents send you based off the info you have on file. That said, a good agent will have already beaten you over the head if you are in violation of this rule. This can seriously waste your time and the CDs and they may never call you back for another read.

2.) Be professional. It's never their fault. Be EARLY! Have everything you were told to have. Know that if your appointment is at 5PM, they may read you at 730PM! Whoops...but if you need the work it's "NO PROBLEM". You may show up at 4:00PM thinking you'll have more prep time and they call you in at 4:15PM because there is a lull. It's okay to ask for more time, but if they need you then, YOU GO! If they are rude, you respond positively. YOU are a professional. Take everything you need (headshot and resume in the right quantity/quality) and be ON TIME!

3.) Be in character. Dress for the part. Act the part. Don't be desperate in your NEED to work. Don't bring presents and do anything weird. Don't bring crazy props (especially WEAPONS) to an audition. Be who they want to see. Be who they want to cast.

4.) Be respective of your fellow actors and the casting folks. Let them have the time they need to prep and when you are done reading, get out of there.

I digress. So, you prep for your audition and show up. Usually, you will be put on tape with the CD. Sometimes there will be more folks in the room (typically a camera person and a reader at least), but sometimes it's just the two of you. You slap your performance down and head for the door. The CD finishes their round of auditions and then they look through the tapes and send the good ones to the DIRECTOR. Notice that not everyone who comes in is necessarily even seen by the director. A CD's job is to make the director's job easier and not waste their time. If you aren't right for the character or you blow the audition or you show up late or are rude, you may not even make it to the director's desk. Let's say, for our example that of the 40 auditions, 25 make it to the DIRECTOR.

The director looks at the tapes and then he picks his favorites. Usually, most of the people he is watching tapes from are talented cats, so this is a another stage where not making the cut doesn't mean you are a horrible actor. It means the director has a vision and can't see everyone! The director will decide to personally meet with the selected talent in a CALLBACK. For our example, let's say 15 of the 25 that made it to the director are called back to meet with him in person.

Callbacks are crazy. EVERY person there is someone the director LIKES. They are ALL possibilities. You are competing with very talented people. You go in, basically just like an audition, except the director (sometimes the producer) is there as well. They will have you read and maybe try it a couple of different ways. They may ask you questions to find out more about your personality. In the end, it's usually a quick meeting and runs just like an audition. A key piece to remember here, is that the director usually has a mental image of the character in his head. Sometimes the actor that is cast is the one that closely resembles that vision.

There may be multiple callbacks. They may whittle it down over 2-3 and you'll meet with bigger and bigger audiences trying to see if you are right for the role. the bigger the role, the more this is a guarantee. However, somewhere along the line, the director sends a "this is the guy I want" to the PRODUCER. A producer's primary job is to create a product, so they have to look at a number of angles including what value to you bring to the project in terms of name value (can you sell tickets?), cost effectiveness and dependability. It's a big risk to take, to cast an unknown in a big project. The producer, in the end, approves the casting decision and then you come to work.

If you don't look at the big picture of agents, CDs, producers and directors and the jobs they have to do, the process can beat you down. The simple vision of it is "I went in, I did my best, and I didn't get it." You can quickly run into depression and thinking about what you did wrong and you can get mad at the CD or the director for not casting you. You can come to hate yourself and many people quit because they can't deal with the audition monster.

You HAVE to look at the business end of it. You go in, you do the job and you get out. Glenn Morshower doesn't like to call them auditions. He calls them meetings. His solution is to go into a "meeting" like he has already been hired and he's on set. It's a hard vision to create for yourself, but he books a huge majority of everything he reads for and has for sometime. My theory is to never let myself believe it's possible, until they call me.

Here are some stories and examples of processes I have been through and some cool things I got to read for and didn't score so you can see the process in action. I'll start with what I've booked and how it happened:

1.) "Transformers" I already talked about prior. Basically a lot of hard work and luck, culminated in reading for a locations CD (not taped) and having her advocate with a huge name director based on her perception of my talent and what I had done for the production. THIS IS VERY, VERY RARE!!!

2.) "Price of the American Dream II". I was working as an extra for no pay on this independent project and the director found out I could shoot a gun. He pulled me into a name role for no money and no lines and I killed a main character. The director and I still keep in touch on facebook etc. This is the role that got me my agent.

3.) "Breaking Bad" and "In Plain Sight" were both TV series that I had read for several times. I had done workshops with the CDs on both. I went in for standard auditions on both. "Breaking Bad" ended up with Shari Rhodes (the CD) getting me a meeting with the producers/director ON THE SPOT and being hired before I left the audition. We filmed 2 days later. "In Plain Sight" was exactly as I described in the above example with one callback.

4.) "Expectations", "Double Negative" and "Hank and Jim" were all shorts that I helped produce. No auditions and varying degrees of success. "Expectations", despite a group of talented folks was a disaster and I hope it never sees the light of day...we tried to do too much with too little. "Double Negative" is still on and is a decent film (if a bit to close to the Bourne movies) and "Hank and Jim" has hit a couple festivals and has started the ball rolling on some cool future projects to include the one we just did in Jefferson.

5.) "Fool's Gold", a zombie western, was an audition I scored through the nmfilm website. The director was also the producer and CD so no callbacks. Fun project and I hear it will make a compilation disc of Soutwest shorts soon. It showed at the first Texas Bloodbath Festival.

6.) "Coyote County Loser" is a wonderful romantic comedy I was involved in. I went to an open call that I found out about on and they were reading everyone for everything. It was crazy. The director and the producer were there. It was a cold read. No callbacks.

7.) "GI JOE: Rise of Cobra" was a standard audition and the director booked me off of the audition tape!

8.) "Boggy Creek" and "Humans Vs. Zombies". I was introduced to the director by a mutual friend. He gave me a small role in "Boggy Creek" (no audition) based off of my previous experience and reel and our lunch meeting and then wrote me into a lead role on "HvZ".

9.) "Cut!". A friend showed my reel to the director. Next thing I know I'm on a plane to NY. :)

10.) "Devotion". A friend called me and asked me to do his flick.

11.) "Nebulus" and "The Avenged" are in progress and I've been written in by a friend.

12.) "Code of Evil" I was cast from a taped audition I did from my house.

Here are some of my crazier auditions:

1.) I did a callback with Frank Miller on "The Spirit" up in Albuquerque. I choked a little bit, but still got a laugh out of him at the read. Didn't book it, but found out the character I read for was cut from the film.

2.) Drove 7 hours down and 7 hours back in one day for a callback on "Battle: Los Angeles". Director was awesome, told me I had a great look and then...nothing.

3.) I've submitted about 10 tapes I've done from the house for the show "Army Wives". Nothing booked yet, but they keep asking for me. I've also taped for dozens of other projects at the house to include "The Gates", "Green Zone", "Vampire Diaries", "Texas Killing Fields", "Green Lantern", "True Grit" and "Dylan Dog".

4.) I drove down to Austin for a super secret reading to audition for the role of CAPTAIN AMERICA, with the role going to Chris Evans in the upcoming flick.

5.) Read for a small role in "Gamer" and when I saw it finally, they guy who got it, had it WAY better than what I gave them.

6.) Read for "The Burrowers" with Clancy Brown, but didn't get past the audition because my hair was too short. Had a callback for the role of a white supremacist, but was beat out by the amazing Chris Browning who has been in some amazing projects.\

Lots of other stuff ranging from no budget to huge budget. If I think of more, I'll make note on here. It's been such an adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Director Leigh Scott made this comment on my facebook page in regard to this entry and I wanted to make sure everyone here would get a chance to see the info. "I would add to either memorize the sides or get good at reading sides while maintaining good eye contact. And never, ever claim that "you just got the sides" and didn't have time. Just don't say anything. Oh, and it doesn't make you look... cool to say how busy you are and how rushed you've been with so many auditions or other jobs you're working on. It makes the CD and director feel like you don't take their job seriously or that you've got something better to do. Which my reply always is...go do that instead."