Casting Notes #7: Processing all the Actor Submissions (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.
Processing all the Actor Submissions
If you’re like many filmmakers, there’s probably been something you’ve been wondering about since Part 4:
How do I manage those 100 – 200 submissions? What do I do if it’s over 500 like The Broken Continent?
The short answer is: spreadsheets. Spreadsheets aid in automating the boring parts of the casting process. They will help you find information on actors much, much quicker and allow you to sort and generate subsets of information that other people on your production staff can use (e.g., for scheduling auditions). You could do a database if you’d like, but most filmmakers I know are not also database aficionados. But even databases don’t eliminate the need for time.
[Note: Since this article was originally written, Team J has created Stonehenge, an online casting tool designed to do the heavy lifting that the spreadsheets do and, not coincidentally, save a lot of the time involved in processing actor submissions. However, if you have the time to burn, the spreadsheet method is still quite valid.]
Give yourself Casting Time
Regardless of the tool you decide upon, you need to budget for the time necessary to conduct all the business of casting. Based on our work with the Broken Continent I would recommend budgeting at least 10 minutes per expected actor submission for casting tasks from beginning to end — and this doesn’t include the hours of the auditions themselves.
For example, if you plan on getting at least 10 submissions per role for 10 roles, or, say, 100 submissions: that’s 1,000 minutes. Therefore, you should budget for at least 17 hours of “office time” for casting (because you might as well round up from the 16.66 hours).
If that sounds like a lot of time, consider that this “beginning-to-end casting time” includes:
- Writing the casting notice
- Posting the casting notice in multiple locations
- Getting the word out to actors you want to submit
- Processing all the pertinent actor information into your spreadsheet or other casting tool
- Answering any actor questions from the submissions
- Getting some actors to re-send resumes you can’t read, etc.
- Conducting initial vetting or ranking of actors (what I perhaps morbidly term “triage”)
- Reviewing submissions and deciding, perhaps as a group, who to call in for auditions
- Sending and arranging all the auditions
- Reviewing audition tapes and deciding, perhaps as a group, who to call back
- Sending and arranging all the callback auditions
- Reviewing audition tapes and deciding who to cast
- Contacting actors and offering parts
- Doing any other follow-up.
Note I’m not including the time you may need to find a proper audition space or the time you’ll need to file SAG-AFTRA paperwork (if you’re doing a union shoot). Those two tasks can also each potentially take significant hours, but it’s not as easy to generate the number of hours in relation to the number of actor submissions (if I do figure out good benchmarks, I will list them).
If I knew before casting The Broken Continent what I know now about processing large amounts of actors, I would have given myself 15 minutes per the estimated 200 submissions, or 50 hours. I wound up spending more than 50 hours given the Broken Continent had over 550 submissions. Still, I would have been less overwhelmed.
Now, just processing the actors will not take the 17 hours in the above example of 100 expected actor submissions. It’s a subset. In terms of the processing of actors submissions themselves, I’m including the tasks:
- Processing all the pertinent actor information into your spreadsheet or other casting tool
- Answering any actor questions from the submissions
- Getting some actors to re-send resumes you can’t read, etc.
- Conducting initial vetting or ranking of actors
For that, you want to budget at least three minutes per actor submission and maybe even closer to five minutes per actor submission. So, with the “100 expected actor submissions” example above, we’re talking about budgeting between 300 and 500 minutes, or about five to eight and a half hours. Remember you can guess you’ll get most of your responses to a casting notice within the first 48 hours, so in this example, having two hours per day the first two days is probably a good baseline.
Confirm Receipt of the Actor Submission
Another detail we didn’t initially do for The Broken Continent that I’ve done for other casting and would definitely do in the future would be creating an auto-response message. Remember, as mentioned in Part 4, I advocate creating a specific email alias to process actor submissions. When created the alias or a dedicated address, there should be a way to create an auto-response to say something to the effect of:
Thanks for your interest in [PROJECT]. We’ve received your submission and will follow-up if there are questions. As mentioned in the casting notices, audition dates are [DATES] in [CITY, STATE]. If we decide to call you in, we will contact you to schedule an audition time. Thanks again for your interest.
You can add a bit more detail as you need, and perhaps even make the tone a bit more chatty (but I wouldn’t suggest being too casual). The message above accomplishes several goals:
- First and foremost, it tells the actor that you have their submission. Some actors get anxious and email you to confirm you received it. The more actor submissions, the greater the number of anxious actors.
- You’ll answer their questions OR ask them questions if there’s something needing clarification (that second sentence in the response above is purposely ambiguous in order to perform double-duty)
- For all those actors who just shot off a submission without reading the casting notice carefully, you’ve just re-told them the audition dates and general location. Some of them are not going to be available. Oh well.
- You’re not guaranteeing you’re calling everyone in. Mature actors will be able to deal with this concept. Insecure actors will learn to deal. 
- You’ve thanked them for their interest, but you’re not promising anything.
Providing the auto-response also helps set the tone for what’s to come in the audition process, and supports the overall goal for filmmakers mentioned in Part 2:
Whatever you can do to respect the actor and make their audition experience more pleasant is a good thing.
And now the fun part: spreadsheets!
Based on my experience from Stonehenge and other large-scale casting I’ve conducted, I already transpose information on actor resumes into spreadsheets for easier reference. For The Broken Continent, I designed a new, more exhaustive spreadsheet in Google Docs to meet my requirements: chief among them was being able to share the information with the other producer and the director. 
Many filmmakers will find the system we used for The Broken Continent to be overkill, and it’s true that unless you’re doing an indie feature or a webseries, it probably isn’t worth the effort.  However, speaking as an actor, I find most filmmakers could improve their communications with actors with a little pre-planning, and these sorts of spreadsheets will enable better communication that will pay huge dividends during the auditions and down the road.
Whatever system you choose to process actors, I suggest your system should support these general requirements:
- Your system helps you communicate with actors
- Your system helps you determine who to call in
- Bonus: It helps you determine who to call in for which part
- Bonus: It provides potential casting information for the future
Here are some of the specific requirements I had in setting up The Broken Continent (TBC) casting system:
- Allowed all three of the producers to view the same information
- Provided the name, email address, and phone number of the actor
- Provided a record of our contact with the actor (e.g. when we received the submission, when we scheduled them, etc.)
- Provided a record of what parts they were interested in
- Allowed me and the other two producers to note which parts we wanted actors to read for
- Allowed me to determine which actors to call in first (e.g. “triage”)
- Helped us communicate with actors throughout the audition process
- Provided information for future casting
Now let’s look at both of those sets of requirements in detail. For reference to all the Broken Continent requirements, I have created a sample spreadsheet that’s essentially the same as the one we used, except with fake actor data.
Basic Requirement: Your system helps you communicate with actors
If you do nothing else, I strongly recommend that you create a spreadsheet of actors with the bare minimum of:
- First name
- Last name
- Email address
- Phone number
If you want a PA, intern, or other person to do the tedious data-entry this entails — possibly to enjoy the glamor of the film industry — fine. However, once it comes time to start contacting actors, you’ll find having this list is far faster than sorting through piles of headshots. It also provides a foundation for anything else you want to streamline or automate in the casting process.
Note: Almost all filmmakers have the opportunity to create this sort of spreadsheet after the traditional, labor-intensive process of having actors fill out paper sign-in sheets at the auditions themselves. Besides being nicer to trees, getting this process done up front makes it easier to adjust who you call in: you have all the people who submitted! 
This reduced our overall workload, as we were able to check in people via tablet computer: saving trees and looking cool at the same time. 
Basic Requirement: Your system helps you determine who to call in
Now that you have the basic contact information for the actors, what do you need to know about actors to know who to call in? There are a variety of approaches you can take here and, as the cliche goes, there is no one right answer. Each project is different.
You could add a column to the spreadsheet that has rankings of who to call in first, you could color-code names. Just adding a column to the spreadsheet listing what role you’d like to call the actor in for could be all you need. By the same token, you might have additional attributes based on the production.  The bottom line is that you want this spreadsheet to enable you to target exactly who to call in.
Note: This casting spreadsheet will probably be done as part of an overall system. Whether you’re sitting there with a stack of resumes, with a full e-mailbox of electronic submissions, or looking at an online casting site, you’re probably consulting the actor resume and stats while marking up your casting spreadsheet. While it would be nice for your casting spreadsheet to be a database of all possible information, that would likely take too much time. In making your casting spreadsheet, ask yourself: “What actor information can I distill to make casting decisions?”
Bonus Requirement: Your system helps you determine who to call in for which part
Really, with just a little extra attention to detail, you can go from knowing who to call in to making sure you’re calling in enough people for your female lead, your male romantic interest, and the clumsy-but-endearing comic relief.
Remember, you ideally want at least 10 submissions for each role you’re casting. That gives you the flexibility to hopefully call in five people, call back two or three, and finally choose one for the role. 10 people might seem like a lot for each role, but the audition process reveals that not everyone clicks with your script. 
Bonus Requirement: Your system provides potential casting information for the future
The beauty of all the work we did in setting up the Broken Continent system is that we know have records on over 500 actors, many of whom we’d love to call in for future episodes should the Broken Continent take off.
While I keep all the actor resumes from any given Stonehenge, most producers don’t tend to try and maintain “authoritative” archives of every actor they’ve auditioned. However, especially if you know what your future projects are likely to be (as may be the case for some production companies), it can be very helpful to keep a roster of potential actors to call in. 
TBC Requirement: Allowed all three of the producers to view the same information
Very early on, we decided a good way to manage a large amount of the documents was via Google Docs (currently being re-branded into Google Drive).  This provides an easy way all of us could access and update the same document without the insanity of emailing the “right” version back and forth and do so for free.
If you look at the sample spreadsheet, you’ll see how giving the three producers access allowed us to fulfill some of the requirements below much, much easier.
It’s conceivable too that, if you wanted a stronger separation of duties, you could make some members of the team have read-only access. 
TBC Requirement: Provided the name, email address, and phone number of the actor
This requirement is a specific counterpart to the very generic basic requirement above to “help you communicate with actors.” It also supports a couple of other Broken Continent specific casting requirements (which I hope will become some of your specific casting requirements).
I knew I didn’t want to have to sift through a stack of resumes to get contact information. In fact, I wanted as much of the casting process to be electronic, hence getting actors to initially submit to our catch-all email address.
Also, based on my experience with Stonehenge as well as my experience casting for other anticipated series, I knew I’d want to be able to contact some actors in the future, even if we didn’t call them in right away. Again, rather than sift back through electronic or print resumes, I wanted to do that work up front.
Finally, I wanted to be able to have every actor’s email address so that I could communicate with the actors throughout the audition process. The main reason for this, as will be explained further below, is to let every actor who submitted know when casting decisions have been made.
TBC Requirement: Provided a record of our contact with the actor
(e.g. when we received the submission, when we scheduled them, etc.)
Knowing that you’ll be dealing with over 100 actors, it gets hard for even the most attentive casting director to keep track of everyone. When you’ve emailed 34 actors you specifically want to call in, it’s easy to forget you meant to email that 35th one.
Also, since The Broken Continent had three producers, each knowing a pool of actors they were interested in submitting, it became all the more important to have a central list to ensure people didn’t slip through the cracks. 
As I mentioned before, there were about 120 actors that I specifically invited to submit. Many of these actors were ones I had just seen at the Actor’s Center lottery auditions; so I essentially just copied and pasted my notes from that audition into the Broken Continent spreadsheet and noted that I emailed them. Invariably, some were unavailable and some I never heard from. When your fellow producers ask about Joe Actor or Jane Actress, either you or they can check the spreadsheet contact history and know.
Remember, when you start dealing with hundreds of submissions, you have to trust that at least some of the blind submissions are actors who might be great for some of the roles. Otherwise, why are you bothering to have a wider casting call?  For these larger projects, unless you have a team of casting assistants to help process actors in, you’ll likely find it time consuming to keep on following up with actors who don’t follow up with you. It becomes incumbent on the actor to actually submit and communicate with you. 
Note: For any actors reading this, if a casting director contacts you to submit for a project, in all likelihood you have better than average odds of being called in.
TBC Requirement: Provided a record of what parts they were interested in
For any casting notice I do, I always ask that the actor mention what parts they’re interested in. As mentioned in Part 6, finding out what roles the actor thinks they’re right for is always informative for me as a casting director (because even casting for a fantasy series, you want actors to be realistic).
This also helps when you’re sorting who to call in and for what role, especially as you compare them to what roles you and the rest of the production team have in mind. 
For The Broken Continent, we had over 20 roles. It would be easy to lose track of all the actors who were interested in a particular part (and we were interested in them as well). As you can see from the sample spreadsheet, the filter capability allowed us to quickly see where the actor interest (and our interest) lay. They’re marked with “A.” Also note how many actors are indiscriminate: they mark every role which fits their age or gender (and a couple wanted to audition for both genders). On the one hand, this is okay, but on the other hand, you’re not going to have time to read any one actor for all 10 roles they might be good for. As covered in Part 6a’s Casting Checklist, the good actors know how to hedge their bets by not discounting being called in for any viable role, but letting their interests be known.
TBC Requirement: Allowed all three producers to note which parts we wanted actors to read for
Let’s face it, if we’re soliciting specific actors to submit, we already have roles we want them to read for. 
Returning to the sample spreadsheet, you’ll see “D” for director, “C” for casting director, and “P” for other producer (for Francis Abbey, Bjorn Munson, and Kelley Slagle respectively). In hindsight, we might have used different abbreviations, but it worked well enough here, and you play around with the sorting to see how useful it was.
TBC Requirement: Allowed the casting director to determine which actors to call in first (e.g. triage)
Returning to the sample spreadsheet, you’ll notice the fun variety of color coding. This is an outgrowth of what I’ve done with auditions from Stonehenge (having learned a fellow filmmaker placed headshots into colored folders). So now, for Stonehenge or other mass auditions, I put actors into three categories:
- Green: They’re good, and when I’m looking for someone who fits their type and tone,  I’ll probably call them in.
- Yellow: They’re not bad, but they have some issues — whether it was a bad monologue choice, tentative phrasing, or what-have-you. They won’t be my first choice to call in, but if a client really wants that type, we can. They also might work for background if they match the type.
- Red: Let’s be honest, they’re bad. I rate very few actors this way because one of my baselines is that the actors in question need to demonstrate they don’t know how bad they are. Most actors rated “yellow” are going through the motions of acting; they’re just too artificial and not “in the moment.” “Red” actors are visibly off track, usually before they even begin their monologue — and they don’t even realize it. People who don’t know what they don’t know are no fun on set, so are usually not worthwhile as background unless they have a singular look that the client is demanding.
You’ll notice none of these are permanent states. Over the Stonehenges, I’ve seen some actors bounce between “green” and “yellow.” Sometimes, good actors have off days or pick bad monologues.
Now, for the sample spreadsheet, you’ll see colors that don’t quite match up. Depending on your screen’s color settings, the colors you’ll see are a bit different, but you should get:
- Dark Green: Actors the director wants to see audition (in some cases, he wrote the part with them in mind) or actors I know I absolutely want to call in for one or more parts.
- Green: Actors who I would like to call in based on seeing them before or if their resume is suitably impressive (a higher bar versus knowing they’re decent based on previous auditions or work)
- Yellow (Yellow/orange): Actors who I either have seen previously and knew were not as good as the “Dark Greens” or “Greens” above or those I was receiving blind and did not look like they had sufficient experience.
Initially, we didn’t know if we’d be sharing this spreadsheet with casting assistants, so I didn’t list any “Red” actors (though there were a couple actors the three of us producers were not going to call in). Also, because of the overwhelming number of submissions, I knew we wouldn’t get to any of the “Yellow” actors unless we were having trouble finding background performers.
One thing I might do differently in the future is create a column with ordinal numbers. For example, I could have ‘1’ be “Call this person in for the first available slot” to ‘5’ being “don’t call in because they’re inexperienced/a bad fit/high maintenance and completely insane.”  Or I could have done a 3-point scale. Or letter “grades.” If you’re being honest with yourself — and frankly you have to in order to keep the auditions themselves manageable — you need to start judging who you think you’ll want to call in and this sort of “triage” is vital (yes, pun intended). 
The reason I’m thinking of the ordinal system is that, even though the color coding makes for easy visual sorting, for determining who to call in, it’d be easier to sort by number or letter grade. This also saves the very efficient color system for the auditions themselves.
TBC Requirement: Helped us communicate with actors throughout the audition process
This requirement expands on the basic requirement of having contact information. Even the most dysfunctional of filmmakers know they need an actor’s contact information, because they’ll need to schedule auditions. As I’ve mentioned throughout the series, I want to go above and beyond what most actors have come to expect from filmmakers.  So that includes:
- The auto-response when actors submit
- Timely follow-ups to clarification questions 
- Email confirmations of audition dates and times with directions and script sides (as needed)
- Thanks for auditioning letting actors know decisions have been made
This last one is the least used and the most important. Yes, I know few regular employers use the previously ubiquitous “thanks for applying” letters, but being thoughtful enough to close the loop has next to no downside.
Statistically speaking, you will get at least one person replying to this email who is offended that they weren’t even called in. The momentary annoyance of being railed against by a “legend-in-their-own-mind” is insignificant compared to the goodwill you have shown to all the other actors who hardly ever have a filmmaker be that considerate.  And if you’re a heartless filmmaker, there’s a number of selfish reasons to close the loop with actors as well — all of which we’ll go over in Part 17.
TBC Requirement: Provided information for future casting
This requirement really is no different than the bonus requirement listed above. I mention it here because I always wanted to end these auditions having a mass of information about actors interested in being part of The Broken Continent in the future. I expected the auditions to be a lot of work and this way, all that work pays dividends for the future.
We had over 550 submissions. Of the 400 or so we didn’t call in, I have a better idea who we could call in for a future audition and who might be good for background roles. Moreover, of the 120 or so actors we called in for both the regular and fight auditions, we know who would be great for specific roles in the future. All this saves time which is very valuable (which will become more apparent as we get deeper into how to run auditions). Plus, there’s the bonus of knowing actors that much better for any future projects.
FOOTNOTE # 1: I notice many a newer actors appear to feel entitled to an audition simply because they submitted. Although I leave the door open in Part 4, I am increasingly against truly open casting calls for specific projects. These are the casting calls for an indie film or whatnot where you’ve listed the time and precise address of when you’re having auditions. Maybe you’ve scheduled some actors, but basically, whomever comes by, comes by.
The reason I don’t like these is because I’ve seen time and again how both the actors’ and filmmakers’ time is wasted when the actor is oh-so-clearly not right for the part or the project. Doing casting well is going to take valuable pre-production time, and as you know, you never have enough pre-production time. Therefore, the casting director needs to take the lead on who gets called in from both actors they already know and blind submissions as required.
Your casting director should be someone who catches a lot of local theater, films, and web series as well as attends mass auditions like Stonehenge or the Actor’s Center Lottery Auditions. They should have an idea of who to ask to call in to begin with. Not only that, you’re going to write an enticing casting notice, and place it all the right places, so actors looking for auditions are going to see it. Bingo: blind submissions.
Plus, when it comes to blind submissions, you already have criteria. You know who wrote your script and you’ve doubtless discussed what types of actors you’ve looked for. If you’ve cast just one project, you know there is a cadre of actors out there that will submit for anything, no matter how ill-suited they are to the part or the project.
At the same time, if you’re looking to cast a large project, you’re inevitably going to want to call in actors you don’t know or, at the very least, don’t know well. You’re making your best guesses on some of those blind submissions. Hence, the audition isn’t truly closed.
In college and community theater situations, my experience has been to have truly open calls. And I know casting agencies have open calls for themselves and for particular projects where they want actors for some type of another (the other parts for the project already being cast). That shouldn’t be the case here. If you’re writing your casting notice well and getting it to all the right channels, you should have the submissions to sift through and know who you want to call in.
Because many actors are coming from these very open college or community theater situations, I’ve found many of them feel that very open method is the only way to “give actors a fair chance.” Sorry, but time is at a premium. This is the same reason employers don’t interview every single applicant for an opening if they don’t have to. The actor’s fair chance and opportunity starts with responding well to the casting notice and, yes, being right for one or more of the parts. And when we get to Part 8, you’ll learn how you might not even have a chance to call in everyone who might be right for the part.
FOOTNOTE # 2: The ability to share the casting information with the production team easily is invaluable. Kelley, the other producer, originally didn’t anticipate being as involved with the casting process as she eventually was–and we all benefited from it.
FOOTNOTE # 3: Unless, of course, you want to further expand it into a database and/or use it to begin a general casting spreadsheet for ALL your productions (though in truth, I still maintain Team J casting information and simply copied the relevant fields from the Broken Continent casting spreadsheet to my own system).
FOOTNOTE # 4: I pre-populated The Broken Continent spreadsheet with all the actors I wanted to invite to submit: about 120 in total.
FOOTNOTE # 5: Looking organized to actors is more important than looking tech-savvy, but frankly, looking tech-savvy helps in the overall impression of looking organized to actors. It helped that we also had neatly printed audition signs posted around and in the audition building, a clean and inviting waiting area, and friendly check-in staff. We’ll cover those sort of details more in Parts 10 and 11, but checking in people with a laptop, tablet, or other computing device means you save paper and time.
FOOTNOTE # 6: For example, The Broken Continent needed multiple characters who were skilled in stage combat. We could have added a checkbox for just that. Other checkboxes could be “Willing to do Background Work” or “Experience with Accents” or any of a number of special skills your production is looking for.
FOOTNOTE # 7: These 10 candidates for the role will ideally be whittled down to about five people to call in (something to be detailed in the next article: Deciding who to call in). Of those five, there will be actors you were certain were going to nail the part, but will not. Also, of the 10 people who submit, a couple will discover that they’re out of town during the audition or might never respond when you try and call them in.
Remember, 10 is an ideal minimum. You could easily have 20 or 30 people eager to audition for a role (something that was certainly the case with The Broken Continent). The important step, because it involves times and money, is how many people to call in — with the artistry being who to call in.
FOOTNOTE # 8: For example, The Broken Continent will likely always need actors who have good classical credits, actors who are good with accents, and actors with significant stage combat training. Other local DMV production companies might want to maintain a roster of actors good for historical re-enactments, background performers who can portray military personnel, and actors who can easily rattle off medical and scientific terminology.
FOOTNOTE # 9: For a more traditional, easily-accessible, shared folder of production company documents, we also added a Dropbox account.
FOOTNOTE # 10: Conceivably, you could switch users from being able to edit to being read-only and back, but most likely just doing any kind of spreadsheet will be a significant level-of-effort for most productions — and most producers interested enough in the casting will want full access. However, some production companies (and casting directors) might want the casting director to have the sole read/write access with the client producers/director being given read only access to review and approve as needed. As with so many aspects of processing actor submissions, there’s no one solution here.
Another, more likely scenario would be using the main spreadsheet, that has confidential information about casting notes (i.e., the triage requirement mentioned in the article). Then, the casting director can create subsets of the main list that then could be used by casting assistants to schedule the auditions: another time-intensive task.
FOOTNOTE # 11: As mentioned previously, I know actors want to (and should) build relationships with filmmakers, so that said actors get called in by said filmmakers more frequently. That’s fine. For both actors and filmmakers, please don’t think those relationships are a reason to circumvent your own casting process. For example, for The Broken Continent, some of the actors we called in were people I’ve known for 15 years. They went through the same process that completely blind submitters did.
I don’t know if their contact information has slightly changed. I don’t know if they have an updated headshot they’d prefer everyone see. Perhaps there’s new credits on their resumes I don’t know about. Perhaps, and this happens frequently: they aren’t available. If that’s true, these in-demand actors still have time to email me back and then I update the contact history noting that fact.
The irony of either actors or filmmakers looking for “special treatment” is that it increases the risk of worse treatment and slipping through the tracks. Process every actor the same way. You won’t forget the actors you really want to call in — and the actors you want to work with won’t mind the horrors of… submitting for an audition like they do anyway. These actors know you’re looking for the best actors. They’re hoping they fit the bill, but guess what? They’ve not gotten parts before. They know it’s a possibility. If they’re not best for this particular role this particular time, they’re grown-ups. You’ll call ’em in again. If you have not pre-cast the role in question, process every actor the same way (because you’re being nice to everyone, right?).
FOOTNOTE # 12: Again, this applies to casting indie features and webseries. Now, this is not to say that none of your roles for these sorts of project are ever going to be pre-cast. In fact, I would not be surprised if one of the leads was also part of the creative team, a fellow producer, an investor, someone who could attract money, or some combination of all of those factors. However if they’re not in a crucial production role or integral to financing the project — and are therefore pre-cast in the role before you begin the casting process — the same guidance of getting 10 people to submit for each role applies.
If you’re doing a small project — something faster to complete compared to the marathon that is an indie film — by all means pre-cast it with some of your favorite actors and go have fun. The assumption here is that if you’re doing an the indie feature or a webseries with as big a cast as Broken Continent, you’re trying to collect the best talent you can. That almost certainly means casting some people you haven’t worked with before.
FOOTNOTE # 13: The importance of two-way communication is something that, time and again, I find anxious directors and producers ignore. Why didn’t I call in Joe Actor or Jane Actress? Then I have to explain, as patiently as possible, that if I phone and email actors, letting them know quite unambiguously that we want them to submit for the project, the rest is up to the actors in question. If they’re not interested or available, they may not respond. I certainly can’t schedule someone who doesn’t even contact us back. As a casting director, I’m happy to follow up with actors as time permits, but my priority is getting multiple actors to read for each role, not just one.
As mentioned before, unless that actor is integral to financing, or they’re otherwise pre-cast and you’re not reading other actors for the role, there’s no reason to process them differently. By definition, the auditions are for roles where several people, known and unknown, may be reading for the part. For the Broken Continent, the director and other producer had plenty of actors in mind they wanted to call in. Not surprisingly, these actors had no problem submitting along with everyone else. No friendships were harmed.
FOOTNOTE # 14: Something I like to do, and did whenever possible with the Broken Continent auditions, was, after reading the actor for the role we called them in for, let them read for a part they had voiced an interest in. First, it tells the actor that yes, you were reading their submission. Second, they might show you something you hadn’t seen from their headshot or resume (hey, you’re making your best guesses after all, something we’ll discuss in Part 8). In one case, I called in an actress certain she’d read well for one part and she did. But she had been very eager to read for another part. Guess what? She blew us away and got that second part.
FOOTNOTE # 15: There’s also the sad fact that many actors, often less experienced, do not have a good gauge of what roles they might be right for. This is one of the reasons the casting director should do a review to make sure the actors prepare for roles you want them to read for (assuming you’re not doing a cold read).
A flip side of this is the actor, often experienced, who is asked to read for something they don’t automatically think is their type. This will especially be the case if the character description does not match (e.g., the role is listed as younger or older — or with a different race or sex). As mentioned in Part 4, the important thing to get is the actor matching the role’s tone.
Of course, tone isn’t always easy.
In casting The Broken Continent, we discovered many actors did not connect to the fantasy portion, the faux medieval portion or both. Sometimes the actors realized it, sometimes they didn’t. I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed too: seeing actors I know are quite good stumble with the material. But in mixing blind and known submitters, I think it’s always worthwhile to call in some actors you know are good from other sources.
FOOTNOTE # 16: These aren’t “official” terms, but I use them as casting shorthand.
“Type” here means the physical attributes of the actor: their age, sex, race, and ethnicity. Also, their body type (thin, fat, muscular, etc.) and if they have noticeable scars and tattoos, I suppose.
“Tone” here means the far more interesting aspects of the actor. Are they intense? Warm? Scattered? Scary? Intelligent? Obnoxious? Could you see them as a police officer? Astronaut? Car mechanic? Librarian? Alien anthropologist with a psychosomatic limp?
FOOTNOTE # 17: The reality is that, after running auditions locally for many years, I have a good idea about the abilities of many local actors. Couple that with horror stories both I and other filmmakers could tell and there’s some actors you’re just never going to call in for your own auditions. Neither you nor they will benefit.
I will say that you should be just as polite and professional with those actors as with anyone else. There’s no benefit in burning bridges when actors can improve in their craft and even their attitudes. Besides, being polite and professional annoys the truly high maintenance/insane folks to no end.
FOOTNOTE # 18: As will become abundantly clear when we get to Part 9, the right audition space is usually not going to be cheap. Even if you get to use a great place for free, hours and hours of auditions are draining. It’s cheaper and less exhausting to take the time to narrow down your choices of who to call in. You have to take this plunge.
Remember, whatever your choices, some of the actors you call in will not do as well as you had hoped and some will do far better than you expected.
FOOTNOTE # 19: As mentioned before, you may be the potential employer with the really cool job (i.e. the cool acting role in the cool project), but odds are if you’re reading this, you don’t have the really cool pile of money to pay actors. That means you need to drive home the fact — and you are working to make this a fact not just a hope — that the actor in question will be well taken care of on the production. The best actors you can afford in this area are often veteran actors who’ve seen no end of cool-sounding projects. One of the only ways they have to differentiate the passionate professionals from the dysfunctional dreamers is how well the casting process goes. Having good communication with actors may seem small, but is absolutely, positively crucial to getting the best cast you can.
FOOTNOTE # 20: When you respond will depend on how many submissions you get and how you’re staffed to respond (this is why I advocated setting aside a number of hours during the first few days a casting notice is up). However, responding to questions within 24 hours is ideal and within 48 hours is definitely preferred. Assume that the actor on the other end of the communication is trying to book up as much work as possible as quickly as possible.
Also, no matter how inane the questions might be or obvious the answer is (often only requiring the actor read the casting notice), try and do what Team J does and be polite and positive.
FOOTNOTE # 21: Such an annoyance is also insignificant compared to the power of The Force (but you knew we were going to make that Star Wars reference, didn’t you?).
For the record, we here at Team J do not advocate use of the Dark Side of The Force, with the possible exception being judicious use of duct tape.