Casting Notes #5: Getting the Word Out (For Filmmakers)
This 20-part series, written by Team J’s Bjorn Munson, covers the lessons learned during the casting of The Broken Continent web series pilot in 2012. You can find the full Table of Contents in Part 1.
This series is meant to help other independent filmmakers, primarily those who are casting a large ensemble (10+ speaking parts, multiple background actors, etc.). Individual articles may be useful to production companies looking to cast other work such as commercials. There are also a number of articles specifically for actors on how to better submit for auditions, do the auditions, and deal with the statistically inevitable rejections.
The lessons learned have been applied to Team J’s Stonehenge Casting service, an online tool for producers to find actors and actors to find work.
Getting the Word Out
So you’ve spent the time to craft a compelling casting notice. For those of you not casting in the DMV (i.e., the DC/Maryland/Virginia area), the specifics in this entry are going to be less useful to you directly. However, there are two points you should bear in mind wherever you’re casting:
- Give yourself enough time to receive submissions. I recommend posting the notice at least a month before audition dates  to give yourself a solid two weeks for submissions (and your solicitations for certain actors to submit) as well as at least a week, preferably two, to decide who to call in. 
- Your casting notice should be posted in places with a high percentage of pre-qualified applicants. What does that mean? That means sending your casting notice out via channels that are going to reach the highest percentage of (a) professional actors  that (b) are going to be interested in working on your project. 
So here, in order, is where I recommend placing your casting notice to in the DMV:
1) Your Website: I’m going to assume your production and/or production company has a website where the casting notice can be a new web page and/or blog entry. You have that website for said production or production company because you want a place for the actors to conclude that they will be well taken care of before, during, and after the shoot.  What combination of creative team bios, concept art, and info on past productions you include on this site will depend on what you materials you have, but don’t think you don’t need to spend time impressing actors. They are the first audience you’re marketing to. In fact, they’re more than an audience, they’re your potential employees and you want the best employees you can afford. So get to wooing. 
Making sure your casting notice is on your own website is also important for a number of practical reasons. Numerous channels listed below are going to simply offer an opportunity to direct people to a web page. You want to be in control of that web page: to be able to update it if need be and ensure it won’t become a dead link arbitrarily. If your casting notice’s main online presence is your own website, you’ve just solved a potential headache. 
2) The actors you specifically want to call in: Just because you’re looking beyond your circle of familiar actors doesn’t mean ignoring the actors you know.  If fact, odds are you have certain actors in mind for some of the parts. You’ve probably told some of them about the project already. Now is the time to email or call those actors. Make sure they know about your casting notice URL, and any other details you want to share, but make sure to get their details the same as you would any other blind submission.  I have never heard from a filmmaker who regretted having an actor they know read for a part in competition with everyone else. Even your favorite actors may not connect with your script this time around.  However, they’re at least a better known quantity than blind submissions, so it behooves you to call in all the actors whom you think may be part of the best cast you can afford. 
3) Your mailing list: This is another one of those “I’m just going to assume you have this” because having a mailing list is so helpful in building your brand and getting the word out to people efficiently — about both your company’s or your production’s events. You can set up an incredibly robust, free mailing list through services like MailChimp, which is what Team J uses. Our mailing list is now over 800 strong and has been used in promoting the Broken Continent casting as well as the following Kickstarter campaign. Because I’ve personally met and auditioned several hundred area actors, it’s now a statistical certainty that I’ll forget to contact someone. However, many of those selfsame people are on the mailing list. In any case, whatever your project may be, building “buzz” about it will be important and a mailing list should be part of that process. 
4) DragonukConnects.com: Currently the largest publicly searchable casting database in the region, this website is the evolution of the incredibly handy email listserv local actor Brian Dragonuk started over 10 years ago (hence their slogan of “connecting the entertainment industry since 1999”). It boasts over 7,000 members — and while those aren’t all actors or even actors you’ll want to cast, the membership does cover a good range of Mid-Atlantic talent. You’ll likely need to register with the site, but it is free to post a casting notice — though there’s always the chance that they’ll re-post the casting notice themselves (I got an email alert from them about “a fantasy webseries” before I got around to posting on their site). You may want to also consider searching their database of actors before posting your casting notice. You might find some actors you want to invite to submit. 
5) The Actors’ Center online “hotline:” Another longstanding area resource, the Actors’ Center has transformed its old telephone hotline into an online form that producers can submit notices to. The form itself is pretty straightforward and even has a “kill date” for when it will be taken off their listings. I love that. Fill in the information and your notice will be seen by about 1,100 actors and related artists. Additionally, if you have credits as someone who casts productions, you can apply to become an Actors’ Center associate and search their online database, adding to the pool of actors you may wish to invite to audition. 
6) MAUTH: It’s pronounced “mouth” and it stands for the Mid-Atlantic Union Talent Hotline. If you’re going to use union actors (i.e., you have a project that will be done under a SAG-AFTRA agreement), send an email to MAUTH *at* yahoogroups.com, and if your casting notice answers all the questions we talked about in the last entry, you should be able to reach over 400 union actors in the Washington/Baltimore markets. Score!
7) The TIVA-DC and WIFV listservs: These are member-only listservs for members of the Television, Internet & Video Assn. of DC (TIVA-DC) and the local chapter of Women in Film & Video (WIFV). Members pay an average of $120/year to belong to each of these organizations and many members find that one of the biggest benefits is the listservs. That de facto paywall, combined with steady moderating, sets these listservs apart from many of the others on this list. Almost all the WIFV members I know –and most of the TIVA members I’ve spoken with– have high praise for the information shared and gained on both listservs. This doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get more results from posting on here, but the actors who might respond certainly fit the “pre-qualified” criterion listed above. Also, actors are likely to look more favorably on your casting notice (assuming it answers all the regular actor questions) on a channel that has proven itself to the film and video community time and time again. 
8) The DC Film Alliance calendar and listserv: The DC Film Alliance was created in part to increase communication among the local film and media community. Two excellent tools to help with this are the DC Film Alliance’s calendar and their listserv. I have frequently used the DC Film Alliance calendar to list Stonehenge events and deadlines, so you may want to consider listing both the call for submissions as well as the deadline. Their listserv functions very much like the TIVA and WIFV listservs, except that it does not require paid membership at this time. You will need to create a free DCFilm account however.
2015 Update: The focus of the DC Film Alliance has shifted to its main program: the DC Shorts Film Festival. Really, your focus for film and video projects should be on the sources above.
9) The DC Theatre listserv: Like MAUTH above, this is another Yahoo Group listserv that is open for people to join. Its focus — as the name suggests — is on theater actors, directors, stage managers, designers, producers, etc, etc., etc. I have been able to post Stonehenge notices with them in the past, but as memory serves, they’ll want to make sure you’ve got a project that pays before they list — and you may want to check with the listserv moderator that they still accept such non-theater casting notices.
10) Your Facebook page(s) and Twitter accounts: While I like social media for creating buzz and interaction with people (certainly it helped with our fundraising), it’s not an essential priority for casting notices. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great way to get the URL of your original casting notice out there and have that message and URL spread further with the ease that social media allows; however, you should have reached most of the actors you want to reach using the channels listed above. Send complaints of my old fogey-dom to firstname.lastname@example.org.
11) Other Facebook actor and film pages: There are numerous other film-related Facebook pages that are frequented by local DMV actors and filmmakers. As alluded to above, since the membership to this groups is so open, these social media pages don’t share the same listserv “culture” as TIVA or WIFV–or even MAUTH, DC Film Alliance, and DC Theatre. There’s a far higher percentage of one-way communication and generic self-promotion. Nevertheless, after you’ve attended to the local channels listed above, you may want to post your casting notice URL to further spread the word. Here are ones we’ve used:
- DC/MD/VA – Actors, Extras, and Film Makers: This catchall group boasts over 970 members. It can’t hurt to post here, assuming you’re trying to cast a wide a net as possible.
- Filmmakers Unite: Looks to be a national page, which would explain the hefty membership of over 5,400. Nevertheless, there are many DMV filmmakers and actors who members here. Likewise, this seems to be okay for larger coverage.
- Prince William County Media Arts: An energetic group of, you guessed it, filmmakers and related artists mainly hailing from Prince William County. They have about 130 members
- DC Professional Digital Moviemakers: An affable group of about 230 members, who, as the name suggests, are more likely to enjoy talking about DSLRs than the Kodak Filmstock Preservation Society.
Note that I have not included any of the LinkedIn groups not only because we didn’t use them for the Broken Continent, but I haven’t seen any DMV-specific film groups.
??) Are there more options? Please note there are two distinct omissions on this list:
Craig’s List: I like Craig’s List. It’s a great place for thrifty finds. I know some enterprising companies have successfully recruited employees through job postings there. But actors actively working in the DMV will already know about your casting notice from the more qualified lists above. Moreover, way too many actors you want to call in have a pre-conceived notion of Craig’s List often borne of personal experience. They know Craig’s List as a haven for no-budget, horribly-managed, creatively-bankrupt productions that don’t treat actors well. Therefore too many of them never look at Craig’s List. You can argue this is a ridiculous and inaccurate perception… or you can save time and post to the channels listed above without this stigma.
Any of Team J’s channels: People occasionally ask me to post casting notices for them.  After going back and forth on whether to do this — some of the requestors are dear friends — I’ve decided that it’s Team J policy not to post any casting notices for projects we are not actively working on (either our own or we’ve been hired for casting support). There’s too much confusion as to whether this project has Team J’s full backing and I always wind up fielding questions from people who don’t read. Besides, this insanely long and detailed blog entry should suffice.
So there you have it.
If you skim over the list again, you’ll see that the first three channels I list are your own (your website, the actors you want to specifically call in, and your mailing list). That’s not accidental. If you’re casting the type of project we’re talking about you need to sell the community, at least a significant chunk of the actors, on your project. Attending to these first three channels will help ensure you have a visible foundation for your passion, planning, and professionalism to shine through. 
Next time, we’ll switch our focus from filmmakers to actors and let you know various “Dos and Don’ts” for responding to casting notices.
FOOTNOTE # 1: This recommendation is predicated on the scope defined in the first column: that you are doing an indie feature or webseries that will cast a large number of roles, and you’re budgeting as much time as you can for pre-production. This method naturally won’t work if you have a commercial project where you learn the details of the role to be cast Wednesday for a spot that needs to be shot Friday.
FOOTNOTE # 2: If you place the casting notice for maximum exposure, you can expect the most submissions from actors within the first week. In fact, most of the submissions will likely happen in the first three days. The Broken Continent was something of an oddity in that we not only received over 200 submissions in the first 48 hours, but also kept on getting steady submissions well into the second week.
FOOTNOTE # 3: I have had the unpleasant experience of discussing what consitutes a “professional actor” with snarky people on more than one occasion, so I feel compelled to define the term here. I am defining a “professional actor” as someone who regularly gets paid to act and is actively seeking to ensure that their livelihood is derived from money made related to acting, modeling, acting classes and so on. Perhaps that’s the main portion of their income, perhaps they have a dayjob and are trying to make acting be a bigger part of their income. I’m not ignorant of how hard it is to make a living as a actor, so I don’t begrudge talented actors finding other ways to make money. Someone’s finances does not make them less of an actor. I focus on their ability, craft, and overall professionalism. That allows me to hire many an actor with a dayjob. Snarky cynics can waste time quibbling on their own websites about what “really” constitutes a professional actor.
FOOTNOTE # 4: The reasons that actors may not be interested in working on your project are legion and may include pay, genre, and your reputation. However, just as often, the reasons actors don’t respond to your notice can be related to their schedule and availability. We thought that fantasy would strike a chord with actors, and it did for over 500 of them, but put another way, a couple thousand area actors did not respond. It doesn’t matter how many actors respond as long as enough do for your project.
FOOTNOTE # 5: I can’t emphasize enough how you need to sell your production and yourselves to potential actors (and crew). The people you really want to work with have experience — and part of that experience has been getting burned, unpaid, or otherwise badly treated by too many other film projects. Perhaps it’s because theater productions have certain demands (such as rehearsal space, performance space, and actual performance dates), but they don’t have the same horror stories of projects derailing that I hear about film projects here in the DMV.
More than a few veteran actors are willing to work with your lower-budgeted production if needs are met, like gas money and travel expenses (if they’re coming from far away), housing (coming from really far away), and dry cleaning (if they’re expected to supply all their costumes). Note that if you’re working under some union agreements, you have to pay these expenses. Also see footnote # 4 above. Actors have bills to pay like everyone else. They might not be interested if the pay isn’t good enough.
FOOTNOTE # 6: For the Broken Continent, we didn’t get the main website, www.brokencontinent.com, up and running until after we decided to post our casting notice on May 1st, so we listed it on the Team Jabberwocky site (this site). This seemed to work out fine–and especially in the cases where you have an established production company website, creating a whole new project-based website would be nice, but is not vital. The problem I’ve seen too many times though is people having a website that does not inspire confidence–or worse, no website at all. We’re in a significantly online world these days and it’s a must. You can also find many inexpensive web templates and hosting plans. You’re making a film that you would want to see, right? Make sure you have a website that you would want to visit yourself.
FOOTNOTE # 7: We thought our casting notice was good to go when we posted it to the Team J site, but we quickly got some questions from actors which made us realize some of the sentences could be made clearer (it all goes back to answering those actor questions mentioned in the previous blog entry). Having the casting notice be on our site allowed us to quickly update the information, and all the actors getting the link would now get the same corrected information (this won’t help as much for channels where you cut and paste the whole casting notice, but it helps a little).
FOOTNOTE # 8: I reached out to about 120 actors for The Broken Continent, some I’ve known for years, others I saw for the first time at the Actors’ Center Lottery Auditions. I had no idea we would get the overwhelming response we did, so I wanted to be sure we had enough good candidates for the huge slate of roles. And in case you’re wondering, yes, some of those people, including at least one I had just seen for the first time at the Lottery Auditions, wound up being cast.
FOOTNOTE # 9: For the Broken Continent, I insisted on every actor submitting through the “casting at brokencontinent.com” email address. It deposited every actor’s headshot and resume into the same email address that I, the other producer, and the director had access to. It also became a central space for processing the actors (more on that in Part 7).
I can easily suppose circumstances where someone will not want Actor So-and-So to “have to go through the same process” as the rest of the blind submission actors (it could be the actor friends themselves or an overly sensitive producer). However, it actually does these known actors a disservice. Odds are they already have an advantage because you’ve been talking to them about the script and backstory more than the other actors you’ll see blind. And unless they’re processed in the same way as the rest of your actors, it’s actually easier for them to slip through the cracks. (This will make even more sense as we get into Part 7: Processing all the Actor Submissions).
That, by the way, is what you tell the rest of your filmmakers and crew and anyone who “has a suggestion” for someone we should read. Have that person submit here so they don’t fall through the cracks. This goes back to the one “Good Thing” for actors to remember: you need to make the casting director’s job easier. Classifying you as an exception to be tracked separately does not make our jobs easier.
And frankly, unless the actor in question is part of your appeal to investors (and is therefore pre-cast), they go through the same audition process.
FOOTNOTE # 10: Especially for indie projects I’ve worked on, it’s not uncommon for the script to have a certain actor in mind. However, on more than one occasion, I have seen those actors come in and not connect with the material. That’s one of the reason it’s so important to have multiple actors to read for a part that is not pre-cast due to financing considerations (see footnote # 8) above. And for goodness sake, don’t ever tell the actor you wrote the part for them until they are cast (I might hold off until they’re cast and the production is done, frankly). If they don’t click with the material, it could be devastating for you and them.
FOOTNOTE # 11: I’m just going to mention this again: aim to get at least 10 submissions for each one of your roles. By the end of casting, you will not have 10 choices by the end of the casting sessions. A couple won’t be able to make the audition, a couple will discover they actually have schedule conflicts for the shoot. At least three will either not be as good as you hoped or as good as some of the other actors you called in. That means you have, at best, three choices out of an original pool of 10–and more often than not, there’s one person who just seems a fit.
FOOTNOTE # 12: It wasn’t simply actors who contacted us when the casting notice went out. We got word from stunt choreographers, prospective crew, and composers. Lots and lots of composers. You never know who you might excite with your production and what they may be able to bring to it — at any part of the process.
FOOTNOTE # 13: I know, I know, there’s no end of assumptions in this post. But seriously, by the time you’re ready to post your casting notice for a production as big as an indie feature or webseries, you had better be ready as this is likely your first big reveal of the project to the wider community; this is the beginning of potential buzz. So you obviously already have a script that’s hopefully had at least had a preliminary budget and schedule treatment. You’ve rented the audition space (if you want to list audition dates in the notice). It’d be great if you’ve already taken care of any SAG-AFTRA agreement if you’re going down that route; and it’s really good if the casting director of your team has already looked at various casting databases and/or attended mass auditions beforehand. Of course, you may have been quietly casting people in your mind as you see them in various shorts and theater. For me, on one level, I’m always casting.
FOOTNOTE # 14: I’m sure people running other local listservs may grumble, but the fact is, the TIVA and WIFV listservs are made up of members who are, by and large, making their living in the local film and video community. The professional, business-oriented messages that dominate the listserv speak to an almost a different culture compared to most of the “free” listservs; those are invariably awash in self-promotion and one-way communication that’s more focused on “look at me.” You’ll definitely reach veteran members of the local acting community through TIVA and WIFV.
FOOTNOTE # 15: More often, they ask me for actor recommendations without a good character description. Sigh. I may eventually have to draw a line there too.
FOOTNOTE # 16: As touched on elsewhere, I assume the casting process and the casting notice in particular to be the end result of some serious planning, so while this entry and the whole series will hopefully help people who “need to cast someone now!” it’s really meant for people who will be casting in the future. (You always want someone on your production team who loves planning).