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Tag: Auditions

Casting Notes #13: Determining and Conducting Callbacks (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 for actors to find work.


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Determining and Conducting Callbacks

If you’ve actually gone to all this trouble with your auditions thus far, you owe it to yourself to do callbacks. And if your casting director has done their job well, the director has some tough choices.

At the same time, you can rest easy: you should already have the audition space for all the time you need for the callbacks. Plus, you already know how you’re going to go about running the auditions. In many ways, the callbacks are even more fun — because you’re excited about all the actors you are calling in.

The overall steps are:

  1. Sort all the actors
  2. Review the actors & auditions and pick your “finalists”
  3. Schedule the callbacks
  4. Run the callbacks

1. Sort all the actors
Now it’s just about time for the creative team to meet and discuss who to call in. The definition of the “creative team” can vary from project to project. It nearly always means the director (or showrunner) and the casting director, but may also include producers or writers. Just as not every decision-maker is in an average writers’ room, you won’t want all your project’s leadership here. Ultimately, the director or showrunner should have the final decision about who to bring in for callbacks. [1] At the same time, other members of the creative team can and should have recommendations.

For the Broken Continent, since all three of us were not only producers, but potentially wearing writer or director ‘hats’ for a future series, all three of us felt comfortable weighing in. Of course, as the showrunner, Francis had final say.

However, before this meeting (see step # 2 below), there’s a few things the Casting Director should do, either by organizing the the print headshot/resumes into folders or by organizing them into online folders in a tool like Stonehenge Casting.

First off, you want to eliminate all the ‘Reds.’ No, you’re not being a McCarthyite, you’re just being practical. As mentioned in running the auditions, you have some actors who did not do well. You rated them ‘Red.’ These folks are not up for any of the speaking parts, so they may be removed from the pool under consideration. If you want to consider any or these actors for background roles, go ahead and make sure they’re marked as such. [2] You may still want to have two folders of the Reds on hand for the review: ones who rated a Red who are up for background and ones who rated Red who did not, in case one of the other creative team asks, “Hey, where’s [Actor they know]? Didn’t they audition?” [3]

Next, the Casting Director wants to group the “Greens” for each role. If you have two-to-three greens per role (or more), you’re in good shape for callbacks. If you don’t, you want to be sure you have the ‘Yellow’ folder for each role handy. That way, you can determine if you want to call back any of those actors. Alternately, if all of you review the ‘Yellows’ and no one looks promising, you may want to call in additional actors for that role — perhaps even doing a new casting call in extreme cases.[4]

Also, you want to make sure it’s reasonably easy to review the taped audition. This can be as simple as having the video files marked by day along with a printout of the final audition check-in list of the actors who showed up, so you know where to fast forward it.

Note that this whole preparation is primarily, “put the actors into folders according to a Green, Yellow, Red system.” In that sense, it isn’t complicated. The complexity comes in that some actors might have read very well for one role, but not another, and some roles might not have any “Green” candidates. To facilitate the meeting going smoothly, the one among you wearing the Casting Director hat should know all of these facts: they should have the big picture on everyone’s reactions thus far.

 2. Review the actors & auditions and pick your “finalists”
There’s no hard and fast rules for where to begin, but if the Casting Director does have a good idea of who the green candidates are for the various roles, there is a good approach to pursue.

Start with the roles where there are few, but sufficient ‘Greens’ for the callbacks. For these roles, all the group needs to do is validate that those are indeed the people to call back. Starting this way builds momentum and confidence as you get to the more complicated decisions: for example when you have multiple actors who could be called back for multiple roles… or you have roles where you don’t appear to have a lot of good candidates.

For the Broken Continent, we only occasionally needed to consult the audition tapes at this point. The auditions were fresh enough in our memories, it was mainly if someone’s headshot did not resemble them at all that we needed to go back and find out why we rated “So & so” a ‘Green.’ (Yet another reason why actors need a good headshot).

In discussing the candidates for a particular role, one actor might clearly be favored candidate by all the decision-makers. For any of a number of scenarios, if you’re committed to having callbacks, you might as well call that favored actor back. These very possible scenarios include:

  • If you cast Actor A in Role # 1, that decision greatly impacts who you should cast in Roles 2 and 3. [5]
  • You may want Actor A, certain to be offered Role # 1, to read with the actors for Roles 2 and 3 during callbacks to ensure a good fit.
  • You may want Actor A for Role # 1 — and they might even agree to it tentatively. But then something comes up and Actor A isn’t available. Good thing you had those other actors called back, huh? [6]

If you’ve already laid out the process of callbacks during the initial auditions, this won’t be a surprise for the actors and they’ll be excited to hear from you… which neatly brings us to:

3. Schedule the callbacks
This can be essentially the same process discussed in Steps 4 & 5 of Part 8: Deciding Who to Call In. Once again, since actors are busy people too, sending requests for schedule dates via email is a perfectly acceptable practice. If you have new and additional sides, be sure to include those as well.

Feel free to include that you enjoyed their audition in the email and be sure they know how to contact you with questions about the script, etc. If you haven’t worked with these actors before, this is where a lot of the relationship-building begins. Odds are that some of the actors you don’t wind up casting are still actors you want to work with in the future. Expect to spend a bit of time with the callbacks.

With that in mind, for the Broken Continent, we went with 3-4 actors per half hour. I’d definitely recommend no more than that. If you want actors to read with each other, you might want to structure things a bit differently, but there too, try not to overcrowd your hours. For example, you might want no more than the 6-8 people you want to read together for the same hour.

4. Run the callbacks
Here should be a process very similar to the process described in Part 11, about how filmmakers can run their auditions. The difference is that you should have more time, which you can fill with trying a few more takes at a read and playing with a given actor. You can and should address some of the logistical questions an actor might have. At this point, the actor should have no doubt about the payscale [7] and while shooting schedules are often in flux, your final candidates deserve to know the latest, greatest information. After all, if you want to hire them, they better have those dates free — and the best actors are working hard to fill up their schedule. [8]

In terms of what scenes the actors are reading for the callbacks, I highly encourage having additional or alternate sides from the script. In studio and commercial situations, it’s not uncommon for an actor to audition with the same scene from the script through several rounds of ever-higher-level staff on the project. There’s certainly merit in this approach as it shows consistency [9], but taking into account our case study, since you are the final decision makers on casting, why not be that much more certain of your casting choices? As mentioned previously for the auditions themselves, if you don’t have additional material, write it! We did this for several characters in the Broken Continent and were very happy we did.

As with the first round of auditions, you want to address actor questions. It’s okay to be vague about when final casting decisions will be made. We’ll talk about the different reasons why you might not want to give a firm deadline in Part 16. However, if you can provide a “no later than” date for casting decisions –even if it’s “before the end of April”– then that helps the actor.

Before you get to letting the actors know, you need to make your final casting decisions. Before you do that, you might have some additional casting, which is the focus of the next two articles.

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FOOTNOTE #1: Remember our case study example. If you’re dealing with studios and whatnot, I don’t have any claims about what should be — except I know anecdotally that creative teams often have their meeting and executives often then exercise their input which may be a veto.


FOOTNOTE #2: For the Broken Continent, as part of the audition process, we asked all the actors if they would be interested in background. That way we knew if they were up for it (or ambivalent) before asking.

Note that if you are using Stonehenge Casting, actors already indicate in their profiles whether they are willing to work background, so you can filter accordingly. Remember, they might change their mind depending on the project — most hard-working actors are up for any part, but don’t yearn for background.


FOOTNOTE #3: Usually, at least one of the auditors remembers who auditioned, including those actors they know and had great hopes for, but whose auditions were lacking. Disbelief, couched in previous excellent experience with a given actor on set might make an auditor forget the disappointing audition. Nevertheless, the auditor asking about the actor may lead to a necessary discussion about who to call in. There are, occasionally, actors you want to call back, but often if your expected cast does not materialize, you need to talk through your assumptions to find the new cast. Remember what I mentioned in Part 8, step 3: almost without fail, you don’t wind up with the cast you expected at the start of the casting, but you’re still excited by your cast.


FOOTNOTE #4: Depending on what you’ve worked out for your audition venue, you might be able to add in a new casting call with the same audition space, perhaps adding a few more hours at the beginning and end of a callback day. Ideally, you’ll be able to do this within or close to your original schedule.


FOOTNOTE #5: Actors play off of each other. Even for stories where you have a clear protagonist, you want the actors to mesh. As we’ll discuss when talking about making the final casting decisions, you’re casting an ensemble — or if you prefer analogies, you have several ingredients and spices for the dish you’re making. Time and again, one of the faults I see in low-budget film and smaller theater productions is totally mismatched actors. To go back to the spice allusion, you know there’s something off with the dish if the spices are wrong.


FOOTNOTE #6: As mentioned throughout this series, things come up and actors are suddenly not available to audition. The same thing happens with actually booking actors for a project.


FOOTNOTE #7: For The Broken Continent, we left the exact details of the compensation somewhat up in the air, because we did casting before we did our crowdfunding. This made sense because we wanted to show potential backers the cast we had assembled and we then had a larger team rooting for us to succeed. Nevertheless, we were clear with the actors that the project was under the SAG-AFTRA New Media Agreement and the rate we were aiming for was similar to the SAG-AFTRA Ultra-Low Budget agreement which at the time was $100 per day (standard 8-hour workday if you actually follow Federal labor law, I might add).

While this approach worked well and made sense at the time, I don’t think I’ll leave things so ‘up in the air’ for Team J projects in the future. I want to be able to let the actors know up front what the rate or pay range is, so they can choose whether or not this project is for them. It’s fairer in my mind to the actor and also fits with my overall Norwegian communication style: I have a low ‘bull’ threshold and like to be as direct as propriety and need-to-know considerations allow.


FOOTNOTE #8: I almost always have the good actors I want to work with contact me if there’s a schedule conflict or even a potential conflict. Generally, they’re trying to build relationships too — and they know that if they can’t work with you now, they hopefully can work with you later. However, that respect they’re giving you goes both ways. If you really don’t know and can’t give them definite production dates, then you have to be prepared to let them go. For example, let’s say you’ll shoot for 10 days in “the month of September,” but you don’t know when yet. Maybe you don’t have all your locations locked down. An actor you really want to work with can book some other three-day shoot from September 14-16 and calls you because of the conflict. If you can negotiate a deadline to let them know the dates, great. If not, then thank them for letting you know and if the dates don’t work out this time, then hopefully you’ll get to work with them in the future. This is an easy approach because it’s the truth. Plus, you’ve also shown that you value the actor booking work. Note that if it’s a case of the actor (or agent) trying to force you to commit to a casting decision before you’re ready, this approach still works. You’ve given them an answer and they get to decide. Team J’s unofficial official policy is to be insidiously nice. It works for the nice people and annoys the jerks no end.


FOOTNOTE #9: It can be frustrating to the actor, who may silently say, “If you like me enough to keep calling me back in, just hire me already!” but they won’t say it out loud. Unfortunately, this is often part of the process, and it’s often hard to tell where the proper vetting of actors ends and the corporate covering-of-posteriors begins.

Casting Notes #12: The Audition – For Actors, it’s Time to Play (For Actors)

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.


Previous Casting Notes Article | Next Casting Notes Article


The Audition – For Actors, it’s Time to Play

Welcome back, actors!

If you’ve skimmed any of the filmmaker articles, you’ve hopefully picked up on this theme: you want to make the boring parts of casting easily repeatable so you can focus on the fun parts.

The same idea applies to you. There are plenty of classes and workshops you can take about how to audition well. Apart from some general audition strategy, we won’t focus too much on the creative side of the audition. You can take classes and get coaching for that. We will, however, cover what to expect in the audition room — along with some concrete actions you can take before then.

For those of you who are fans of lists, there’s 15 steps to remember: [1]

Before the Audition Day

  1. Do your research – reconfirm this audition is worth it
  2. Plan your trip
  3. Organize your clothes

At the Audition Site

  1. Check-in
  2. Freshen up (as needed)
  3. Review what you planned to review
  4. Make sure you’re breathing

In the Audition Room

  1. Seriously: make sure you’re breathing
  2. Ace the preliminaries
  3. Take the stage
  4. Make strong choices
  5. Make adjustments
  6. Exit graciously

After the Audition

  1. Let go
  2. Follow-up (if applicable)

Before the Audition Day

As mentioned several times throughout this series, an audition is a job interview albeit a specialized type of job interview. Therefore, all the regular preparation for job interviews applies, to whit:

1. Do your research – reconfirm this audition is worth it
This is admittedly a step that should already be completed, but there might be new information to research and, in turn, that new research means you need to re-evaluate the audition.

If you followed the steps outlined in Part 6, about responding to the casting notice, you’ve done the work. If you’re at this point, you decided this project was worthy for submission. But if they’ve reached out to you for an audition, they may have provided some additional information about the project.  Most often, this means the script.

As mentioned in Part 6, there’s several points during the process where you might get a better idea of the filmmakers and the project. And it’s entirely possible that you decide that this project might not be a good one to work on or these filmmakers might not be good to work with. Every actor is going to have a different threshold and this threshold will undoubtedly change over the course of one’s career.

And let’s be honest: sometimes you get the sides prior to the audition and they’re underwhelming (to say the least). I’ve noticed consistently employed actors do have a high tolerance for underwhelming scripts, because often the script itself is not offensive, the actors know they can rock the part, and they have bills to pay. [2] However, I have seen enough scripts to know that there are instances where the script is offensive or the actor is simply not comfortable with the part.

In that case, my favorite tactic, often employed by actors when discovering a political ad they’re up for may espouse views they can’t stomach, is to have a “scheduling conflict.” Most filmmakers won’t begrudge you being unable to audition because you have “booked a paying gig since submitting” and if you don’t inquire about re-scheduling the audition, odds are it ends there.  If you don’t know the filmmakers well, but believe you may want to work with them again, this is a good way to hedge your bets — and generally, there’s no advantage in burning bridges. [3] If you do know the filmmakers and have rapport with them, you might feel comfortable saying that the script isn’t a fit, but this is usually the exception. [4] Additionally, if you learn something more about what they’re paying and it isn’t up to the threshold you know you want or need, you should feel free to send a quick, polite message, especially if it’s a project you’d otherwise want to work on. Your rates are thus — and best of luck with the project. [5] Note that if you’re not consistently getting booked at those rates, you’re better off having a “scheduling conflict.”

If you decide not to audition after being contacted to come in and audition, the one thing I would not do is not send any communication. That goes double if you’ve confirmed the audition time and don’t show up. That we do remember. [6]

2. Plan your trip
This is exactly like any other job interview. You want to know:

  • How you’re going to get there
  • How long it’s going to take to get there, including a buffer for traffic, etc., ending with
  • An arrival time ideally 5 minutes before your interview time.

This ideal is for your prospective employer: from multiple articles to anecdotes to personal experience, we don’t want to deal with you way before your scheduled audition time. Five minute before is perfect in our minds: not too far before and not late. Definitely not late. If you personally want to aim for 10 minutes beforehand, because of any prep you want to do — or simply to do a pit stop before going into the audition, feel free. If you’ve skimmed the other articles in this series, you’ll realize filmmakers should have a waiting area with friendly check-in staff who don’t mind too much if you’re early (provided it’s not the first audition of the day and you never expect that means you get to audition earlier).

3. Organize your clothes
The night before the audition, make sure your preferred wardrobe is clean and ready to go.

As should be echoed with any other audition prep class or article, with the rarest of exceptions, please don’t go in costume. [7] Your wardrobe should be emblematic of you and the character you’re going after.

We saw many actors take this to heart for the Broken Continent. Many of the people auditioning for the lords wore suit jackets with button-down shirts. Those auditioning for the queen often had dresses. Simple and emblematic. There’s no one-to-one and there’s no one right answer regarding your audition wardrobe. You’re presenting yourself as a candidate for a particular role: what’s going to help that? You can’t forget yourself or the character in that answer. [8]

At the same time, it’s easy to over-think this. If you’re spending more than 5 minutes riddling this out, go with something you’re comfortable in that doesn’t look bad. We cast plenty of people who showed up in jeans (fake gasp!).

At the Audition Site

Once you get to the audition site and before the audition, there’s four things to keep in mind, two of them optional.

1. Check-in
Obviously not optional: you want to be sure the casting people know you’re there. Ask any logistics questions you need and confirm that you have the right number and format of headshots & resumes. If you’re going to freshen up, feel free to let them know that too. The check-in staff are hopefully friendly, but they also might have many actors asking them questions. Re-assuring them that you haven’t disappeared (or indicating where you might have disappeared to) can’t hurt.

2. Freshen up (as needed)
While this is an optional step and –depending on how soon your audition is– potentially not an option, it’s not a bad idea. After checking in, go ahead and take a pit stop, check your makeup, and make sure your threads are in order. Also, if there’s any possibility at all for there to be anything in your teeth, it will be there if you don’t check.

3. Review what you planned to review
Highly optional, but if part of your process is to review the facts of the production or the script so you can be nimble with questions and choices in the audition room, go ahead and do so.

Just like good test-taking behavior, this is meant to be reviewing, not cramming. This should be relaxed or at least a way to focus your energy.

4. Make sure you’re breathing
Speaking of energy, this is not an optional step. It’s okay to be anxious. It’s not okay if that gets in the way of delivering the audition you’re capable of. Whatever methods you use to get in the groove, focus, and get less anxious, make sure to employ them. Breathe. Listen to music. Simply freshening up and reviewing the script often works for many actors, which is why we mention them, but you’d be surprised at how many actors I notice at Stonehenge forget to breathe.

And remember, everyone in the audition room wants you to succeed.

In the Audition Room

Here’s where there’s plenty of workshops and acting coaches who will be happy to help your with your craft. Nevertheless, there’s several parts to an audition you should be expecting and be prepared for.

1. Seriously: make sure you’re breathing
You may have just left the waiting area remembering that everyone in this room wants you to succeed. Now you’re meeting them and –depending on how they look or react– maybe you’re anxious again. Stay cool, stay breathing. [9]

2. Ace the preliminaries
It’s not uncommon for the auditors to ask you some questions about you and your resume before doing the audition. This is as much part of your job interview as the audition, so expect it and embrace it and don’t try and rush past because you want to “get down to business.” And just like with a regular job interview, you should be ready to speak about every single credit you have listed. What was that show like? How was it like to work with that director? Did you do any stage combat in this play? All of those are fair game. And by the way, this should go without saying, but all your credits and all your classes and education you list? They should be real. Don’t embellish and don’t make things up. [10] As with any other job interview, accentuate the positive.

If you have questions, something that’s keeping you from fully committing to a choice in your read, ask them! For the Broken Continent, we had a whole new fantasy world with its own rules of magic and plenty of unusual names to pronounce. As long as your question is focused on performance and clarity, the writer or director will probably enjoy clarifying it. Save your logistics questions like schedules for at the end of the auditions.

If you don’t have any questions, no problem! And if they ask, you can say so, ready to jump in.

3. Take the stage
Take your time to find your mark and connect whomever’s operating the camera: they’re your ally too (in terms of our case study, that camera operator could be the DP for all you know).

Just like the beginning of movie, your audience will forgive a slow start, so take those seconds that seem like minutes. Soon enough, the minutes will seem like seconds.

4. Make strong choices
There’s no way to phrase this in such a way to address all scripts and situations. However, after seeing literally thousands of auditions, I know when an actor has committed to a choice and when they’re unsure. A fully inhabited choice that’s in no way what we’re looking for is still more interesting than a half-hearted one. And it tells us you can commit to a character. Whether we find a match with you and the character you’re auditioning for is where the adjustments come in.

5. Make adjustments
If you take nothing else away, know this: your job is not to “nail the audition.”

Look at the title of this article. Look at it again.

“It’s time to play” was not chosen at random.

You’re working your craft and talent to bring that character to life with a freshness and immediacy that rings true.

Do you think you did that? Looking at the faces of the auditors, do you think they think you did that?

Cool! Now let’s try something else.

Because maybe the truth you brought to life is one they don’t want in this scene. Or maybe they want to see how much you can do the same thing, but make the character more noble. Or sleazy.

Playing is, after all, what you’re trying to get paid to do. Even if you’re going to punch a card on camera, you’re going to do it in a style that serves the script.

On set, when you’re going into hour 13, perhaps you can admit you’re feeling “kind of beat,” but right now, you want to be game for trying adjustments as long as they want to keep you in the room. Odds are, you’re learning a bit more about the director too.

6. Exit graciously
Eventually, playtime will be over. Perhaps all the auditors look each other and nod and you realize the audition is done, or one of them –clearly in the role of ‘bad cop’– says they need to move on to keep on schedule. Remember, that’s not a bad thing, so long as they’ve seen enough to call you back. [11]

At this point, they will probably thank you and hopefully give you some details about the project — possibly a summary of what has been provided before. They might also ask you if you have any questions. Just like at the top of the audition, it’s okay not to have any questions, but in that case, you ought to have at least one question:

Who’s the best person to contact if I have questions?
It’s probably going to be the casting director or, more generally, the casting firm. In any case, it’s worth knowing. [12]

When are you looking to make your casting decisions?
You can phrase this a number of different ways, but it’s best to ask in general terms. This is because most filmmakers are absolutely horrible at closing the loop on casting (as will be explained more in Part 18). If you’re not cast, more often than not, you usually just don’t hear from them. However, phrasing it in such a way that it’s not “When are ya gonna let me know?” means the filmmakers have space to say things like:

  • “We want to have our cast about a week or so before our shoot in September”
  • “We want to have our cast lined up by the end of this month”
  • “If we want to call you back, you’re hear from us in the next two weeks.”

In all of those cases, they don’t have to say exactly when they might contact you — or even if they might contact you (which they likely won’t). However, you now have a much better idea when you’re out of the running. This is a heck of a lot more certainty than you’d get from just hoping they’ll contact you.

After these and any other questions are answered, it’s time to thank them for the opportunity to audition and exit, stage left, right, or up center as the audition room geography dictates. Give a cheerful goodbye to the check-in staff  too [13] and proceed to let it go (see below).

Bear in mind, these two questions –and any others you might have– are only valid if you’ve decided you are hoping to be called back and get the part. If you’ve gotten red flags during the audition or during the casting process, you can cheerfully say you don’t have any questions, thank them for the opportunity, and move on.

After the Audition

Both of these steps will be covered in depth in Part 18 (The Reaction) and Part 19 (The Aftermath) respectively, but are worth mentioning briefly here.

1. Let go
I know it may seem too “zen” and definitely counter-intuitive, but even though I keep on saying this is a job interview, there are two points where thinking about “getting the job” is not productive. First, you need to not concentrate about “getting the job” aka “nailing it” in the audition room. Second, you need to not worry about “getting the job” after you’re done auditioning.

On the level of an actor practicing his or her craft, you want to leave all notions of “getting the job” before you even enter the audition room: because it does not help you get the job. In a 2012 video, actor Bryan Cranston expertly articulates this notion, which supports the ideas of play and being truthful.

Once you’ve done that, you’re done. Just like Michael Caine says in his book: you need to approach this as the part you’ve been dying to play all your life. But once the opportunity is done, which it is for all intents and purposes at the end of that first audition, you’ve got to move on.

Now, from a practical level of managing your schedule, you may not entirely be able to let it go if you think you might be booked (that’s where the notes about schedule come in), but on a psyche-preserving level, you have to enjoy the moment and then not expect anything. Even if your bills need to be paid by booking gigs, you need to move on to the next gig.

So engage in whatever celebratory ritual you want after auditioning, but move on. To paraphrase a certain Disney tune, the success or failure of one audition shouldn’t bother you, anyway.

(Additional considerations for letting go will be explored in Part 18).

2. Follow-up (if applicable)
If the filmmakers are ones who you really want to work with in the future, whether it’s based on the volume of projects they do or the type of projects they do, keep tabs on them and let them keep up to date on what you’re up to.

With Social Media today, it’s not uncommon for production companies and individual theaters to have pages you can like or Twitter feeds to follow. And on the low-tech side of things, if you have a mailing address, you can send them postcards from shows you’re in. All that, and other tactics (including how to do more effective networking) will be explored in Part 19.

For the next few articles, we’re going to switch back to a focus on filmmakers going through callbacks, casting background performers, and the special considerations for fight auditions.

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FOOTNOTE #1: As you’ll see, we expand on both letting go and following up later in the series.


FOOTNOTE #2: I think you’ll find that ‘industrial’ and training projects often have scripts written by committee which also must be approved after a legal review –a process that often does to the flavor of the script what freeze-drying does to the flavor of food. There is good money to be made by actors who can bring that text to life– and having met some of the original scribes of that material (who are not fans of the required “freeze-drying”), I know they thank you for it.


FOOTNOTE #3:  I’ve seen plenty of scripts that have stereotypes of women and ethnic groups that range from tired to incendiary. The sad truth is that the filmmakers who most need to “board the Clue Bus” are the ones least likely to think they even need a ticket. For that reason, I urge actors to resist the temptation to set the filmmakers straight. Odds are they are not open to a teachable moment. You time and energy are better spent finding the next project to submit to.


FOOTNOTE #4: As discussed earlier in the series, I specifically reached out to actors whom I thought would be good for certain parts. One actor, whom I’d worked with over 10 years previously was someone whose bread-and-butter are classical works and well-realized period characters. As I often tell young filmmakers, you want a variety of ages and looks in your film to implicitly sell the wideness of your world and was certain he could do it for Broken Continent. After I jogged his memory, he appreciated me reaching out –what actor doesn’t like being sought out specifically?– but after a few days he wrote back stating that he really felt the script and type of project wasn’t a good fit. I was bummed to be sure — but I was also sure that if he ignored his feeling, it could lead to a bad audition and wasted time on all our parts. But note it took both of us being able to step back and consider what was the best overall that made this approach work. It’s very easy for things to go badly.


FOOTNOTE #5: You have to be able to do this in a just-the-facts manner and stay pleasant. There could be good and bad reasons for filmmakers to not be able to have a budget to afford your fee. Actors aren’t the only creatives who are well served by just-the-facts negotiation versus emotional battling as Quinn McDonald wrote in a recent blog post:  http://quinncreative.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/growing-without-pushing/.


FOOTNOTE #6: In his excellent video about audition etiquette, Sean Pratt mentions that actors who don’t follow up after being specifically contacted to audition end up on The List of Actors We Don’t Follow Up With Again. This is 100% true. Actors who attended the in-person Stonehenge auditions may remember how we codified this with the “Mud List.” Because hundreds of actors tried to get the scant 120 guaranteed slots, an actor with a guaranteed slot who didn’t show and didn’t let us know couldn’t appear at another Stonehenge for three years (at one point, about 9 events). Once that was instituted, people got much better about canceling. And yes, issues with less-than-communicative actors for the Broken Continent and other projects I cast have lead me to create another Mud List. Life is short and casting deadlines are shorter.


FOOTNOTE #7: For the Broken Continent, one of the actors showed up in full armor. Needless to say, this made an impression and he did wind up getting a part. However, this still ranks as an exception for wearing a full-on costume to an audition. The reason here is that the gentleman in question not only worked on the Broken Continent as an actor, but he helped get similarly well-armored colleagues to appear in the web series AND helped make some of the armor we used. If you are a zealous re-enactor (e.g. Civil Way, WWII) with expertise in and access to the types of costumes the filmmakers might need, you might consider it. We make no promises.


FOOTNOTE #8: One of the actors auditioning for a lord delivered a fine audition and had a great wardrobe choice to complement it. He showed up well-dressed with nice pants, a suit jacket, and a calculatedly untied bow tie. He knew what he was doing with his costume choice, we knew what he was doing with his costume choice, and he knew that we knew what he was doing. It completely fit his rakish read of the character and his overall tone: perfectly presenting what he would bring to the part and the project. That’s an actor you want to work with.


FOOTNOTE #9: Remember, you might be catching them just after a particularly dispiriting audition OR while one of them realizes they really should have gone to the bathroom OR as the post-lunch sleepiness might be setting in. You’re bound to by hypersensitive at this point, but remember, you can’t control how they are feeling or what happened before. You can only control you.


FOOTNOTE #10: I say it should go without saying, but I have had the distinct displeasure of catching someone lying on their resume a couple times during auditions. It’s rare, but just like when it happens with a regular job: you never forget that person — and not in a good way.


FOOTNOTE #11: I’m sure there are examples of the production team feeling they have the perfect actor for a particular role after the first round and then they offer the part then and there. However, if producers are following the same casting format as the case study, then they are wisely not making any casting decisions until after callbacks. This is because almost no role is cast in a vacuum: you need to play off whomever is cast in the roles that interact with that character. Unless you’re one of the stars that is key to the project being funded, then the producers will consider this (and if you are one of the stars integral to the project’s funding, why are you auditioning? Everyone else is auditioning in part to be a fit for you).


FOOTNOTE #12: Incidentally, if this question completely confuses them or clearly annoys them: that’s a red flag for you (and yes, I mention this from my experience as an actor). At best, they clearly aren’t interested in you for the role and, at worst, they’re so disorganized, they haven’t really worked how they’ll deal with actors as they move into production (which, if you think about it, is an important HR/logistics question). Besides which, the best filmmakers you want to work with can provide a general email address that works just as well for the people they do want to hear from or work with in the future as it does for the people they’re not so keen on. And they’re also wise enough not to burn bridges. As I’ll explain in Part 18, there’s any number of reasons why you might not get a part. Good filmmakers might be absolutely sure you’re not the right choice for this part, but they may be equally sure they want to work with you in the future.


FOOTNOTE #13: Your goodbye to the “check-in” staff is not only an easy way to leave a good impression, but it might tell them that the auditors are free. Frequently, the check-in staff needs to ask the auditors a question during the day, but they obviously don’t want to interrupt an audition. If they see you and know you’re done, this might now be the time for them to get an answer from the auditors.

Casting Notes #11: Conducting the Auditions (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.


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Conducting the Auditions

Filmmakers, isn’t it nice to go to 11?

While this isn’t the only fun part [1], all the work you’ve done up until this point should pay dividends. Indeed, after processing all 500-odd submissions for the Broken Continent and going through the all the efforts to find a good audition venue, I enjoyed the auditions far more than others I have done previously — and I know it was very much thanks to all the prep work.[2]

However, while there’s fun to be had, you need to be prepared for long days and the need to take breaks. The overall audition day will have five parts:

  1. Beginning your audition day
  2. Checking in the actors
  3. The Audition itself
  4. Checking out the actors
  5. Ending the audition day

As we’ll explain, parts 2 through 4 run concurrently. The auditors will be handling part 3 –the auditions themselves– while the check-in staff will be handling parts 2 and 4.

1. Beginning Your Audition Day
There’s three basic tasks that should be done starting a half-hour to an hour before the auditions are set to begin. Due to your team needing to get on the same page  –and some actors invariably arriving early (so as not to be late)– I recommend planning on starting this an hour before the first audition, at least on your first day.

a) Set-up the Space 
As explained in the previous article, there’s a number of set-up functions that you might only be able to do on the first day of the auditions. In addition, on any given day, you will probably need to set up your equipment, make sure you have your WiFi connections, hang signage, etc. Divide and conquer as you see fit, but consider partnering audition veterans with the new folks for efficiency’s sake. [3] Even with an hour’s head start, the time will go fast. You should not be surprised if you start seeing actors 15 minutes before your first schedule audition time.

b) Level-set Expectations
Whether it’s a huddle with the whole team or two separate touch-points with the auditors and the check-in staff respectively, it’s a good idea to let people know how you expect the day will go. For the Broken Continent, I did separate touch-points with the check-in staff and the auditors in my role as the casting director. Even if you’re working with people who’ve done this before, it probably won’t hurt to reiterate some of these points — unless you all were casting last week.

In terms of the check-in staff, you’ll want to make sure they don’t have any questions and are comfortable saying “I don’t know, but I can check.” for any questions they can’t answer. You also want to re-affirm your expectations about the flow of getting people into and out of the audition room. And don’t forget to let them know where the food is.

For the auditors, especially a director who many not have tackled a large casting like this, make sure they’re comfortable with their role in directing the audition and how they want you as the casting director to facilitate. For all the auditors, remind them that the day may seem long and that they should take breaks even if it’s just the proverbial stretching of legs. They also should be told where the food is (though in the case of the Broken Continent, we had the food in the audition room).

c) Check/get supplies and do “pit-stops”
Speaking of supplies, make sure every has the food they need, the batteries are charged (if needed), and the phones (at least in the audition room), are set to silent. At about 5 minutes to the first audition time, it’s time for anyone who’s going to be in the audition room to heed the call of nature and be back so you all can start on time.

2. Checking in the actors
Even as the auditors are getting ready for the first auditions, your check-in staff will likely be greeting actors. This will continue throughout the day and be a ‘rolling’ activity. Some actors will be very early and some will be very late due to traffic problems, parking problems, and other fun reasons.

By scheduling actors into half-hour blocks, it’s easy to take actors as they come for their half-hour slot. And if you make sure you don’t overbook your half-hours, you can easily plug in an actor who comes late. Nothing relieves an actor more than knowing they don’t have to rush and they will be seen. They also may be subconsciously happy to hear you’re on schedule. (For more details on the how we scheduled by half-hour, take a look at Part # 8: Deciding Who to Call In with particular attention paid to Section 4 about ‘Initial Scheduling’).[4]

Just as with Stonehenge, Team J takes pride in actually being on schedule. This often surprises and confounds actors, who are very used to filmmakers “running behind” by as much as two hours or more. Even if running late might be objectively ‘normal,’ we urge you not to find it acceptable. If you’ve done your ‘triage’ well (see Part 7 about processing actors and Part 8 about deciding who to call in), you should be reasonably confident about who’s coming through the door.[5] Incidentally, when it comes to projects done under a SAG-AFTRA agreement, you can’t be so cavalier about keeping actors waiting, so you might as well aim to be on time now.

For the actual check-in, you want to make sure the actor has the requisite number of headshots and resumes (whatever you asked for during scheduling). Even if you don’t know your production dates, it’s a good idea to collect the actor’s current conflicts in the date range you think you’ll be shooting (e.g., you’re pretty sure you’ll be shooting in June-July, so ask them for all their conflicts then). For Broken Continent, we filled this information in on the spreadsheet. Now, we’d ask them to update their availability in Stonehenge.

If your check-in staff are knowledgeable about the production details, you may want them to to ask the actors if they have any questions about the project (e.g., the shooting dates, rehearsal dates, SAG-AFTRA agreement, key personnel, etc.). This can lead to fewer detail questions in the audition room, however, the risk is similar to the game ‘Telephone’ where your staff may paraphrase something that leads to more confusion or questions in the audition room.[6]

Regardless, the check-in staff should note that the actor is “here.” For the Broken Continent, we used those modified spreadsheets with the audition call times for all the actors. You can easily create the same thing using Google Drive. Since we had a mobile hotspot, the check-in staff were able to mark every actor as “Here.” on the same spreadsheet we could view in the audition room. They could also update if someone was delayed and, importantly, when they were done and “checked out.” [7]

I highly recommend using some variant of this system: it improves communication, reduces paper, and gives the impression that your production is actually in the 21st century.[8] In the audition room, we had a better sense of where we were in our day, and who we had seen — and it was very reassuring.

In addition to that very real, technological “check-in”, your check-in staff should make sure the actor knows:

  • Where they should hang out (i.e., within eye-shot of the check-in desk in most cases)
  • If they’ll be asked to find their own way to the audition room or be guided (I recommend guided)
  • Whether or not they need to check out (Again, I recommend at least a ‘light’ check-out).
  • Where the bathroom is (along with any other amenities, like water, water fountains, power outlets, etc.).

As mentioned in the last article, your check-in staff are a critical part of setting the tone for the audition. Friendly, but firm people who can exude a “Don’t Panic” vibe will absolutely help your audition day be a success.

3. The Audition Itself
There’s nine steps to this dance. While there’s nothing I can say here that will address all the variables you may experience and all the tricks you might employ (that’s a whole workshop in itself), following this procedure itself is not difficult and I think you’ll find how to make it work well for you.

a) Get the actor into the audition room
You’re ready for the next actor. As mentioned before, for the Broken Continent, as the casting director, I went out and got the next actor, but the guide could be a casting assistant like a reader.

Rather than have one of the check-in staff point the way, I do recommend having someone guide the actor from the waiting area to the audition even if it’s obvious where the audition room is. This gives you another opportunity to make the actor feel welcome and exude the “Don’t Panic” vibe.

Remember, you want the actor to feel comfortable and make this environment a safe one for them to play and experiment in: all while they’re dealing with a special level of job interview stress. After all, most standard job interviews don’t involve you actually performing the job — they just talk about it.

Having that personal guide also allows you to easily transition into the next step.

b) Perform introductions and preliminary questions
As you lead the actor into the room, the guide can pass out the headshot/resumes and make the introductions.

For the Broken Continent, I would make the introductions, then hand Francis and Kelley the headshot/resumes. By the time I walked around the desk to sit down, they would have had time to scan the resume and possibly have questions. If not, I always had some questions about their experience with a particular show, working with a director I recognized, or asking them to elaborate on some interesting special skill listed. If one or more of you know the actor, it can be a chance to catch up collectively.

Don’t dismiss this as purposeless small talk. I know for some directors, this is the epitome of their job interview. [9] After all, you are deciding whether or not to work with this person. If you think audition stress is bad, what about a 12+ hour day on a difficult location shoot? Will you get along? What’s their personality like?

All of this can be light and quick and take less than two minutes. Maybe one minute. As the auditors, we found a natural flow with each other and, case-by-case, with each actor.[10] This small talk eases the actor into the room and assures them, even if it’s only subconscious, that they can open up in front of you. The final question from you should always be something along the lines of “Do you have any questions before we start?”

I want to make it clear that it’s absolutely fine for them to have no questions whatsoever. Indeed, many an actor might reply with “No, let’s go!” (in fact, several did during Broken Continent auditions). This question is a final “escape valve” for the actors. Perhaps they’ve been really wondering about an accent or an assumed bit of backstory. They’re conflicted about making a choice themselves and again, even if it’s only subconscious, this conflict will stop them from doing their best or connecting to the material to the fullest. Your answer might not help, but it might just give them the permission they need to make a bold choice. You want them to be bold.[11]

c) Let them perform
Steps C through E are what you could spend a solid workshop on, so I won’t go into great detail about all the tactics you might employ. Suffice to say Step C is where you let the actor take their first stab at the script you provided. While I always ask “Do you have any questions?” in case they need that background to take the flying leap into their read, I most enjoy seeing what choices they brought to the script with a minimum of direction.

What you’re looking for here is how well they connect to the character — and sometimes they connect to the truth of the character in a way you recognize as true, but hadn’t imagined. That’s always a delight, but don’t depend on it happening with every actor.

Regardless of whether they connect to the character in an expected or un-expected way, the important thing is that they do — and this is why it’s so important that the portion of the script they’re reading is that critical character moment: whether it’s where their essential nature is revealed, where they’re most vulnerable, where they’re honest, or where there’s a transformation. That character is in your script for a reason and there’s some point in the script where they sell the audience on who they are, why they’re there with that tone they have (e.g, bitter, banter-filled, brooding, buoyant, other adjectives not beginning with ‘b’). The script side need not be long and after many hours of auditions you’ll be glad that is isn’t, but the main thing is: you need to test the actor on that moment.[12]

d) Have the director make adjustments
Odds are, you’ll have many actors who didn’t quite connect with the material — you need to give them direction. Other times, what they did was fine, and you want to explore the character and their take on said character further.

However they perform, it’s good to be neutral to positive. For those of you new to being an auditor in audition rooms, this is why you hear directors and casting directors saying “good” or “nice” so much, as if they were giving out free candy. The reason they do this is because the average actor –even the veteran actor– has “self-doubt demons” looking for any excuse to come galumphing into his or her psyche and spoil the audition. You want to keep the energy up and the demons at bay to get the best audition: you want the actor to succeed. If someone does a great job, you don’t need to hide it, but the floor is always upbeat at the very least. When the director is giving adjustments, it’s because of a new possibility, something new and fun to tackle. Call it a conceit if you must, but don’t discount it helping you get what you really want: actors performing their best. [13]

By the way, I say the director here, because they’re the person who’s going to be needing to direct them on set. Depending on your project, several of you might be directing different episodes of a web series, so you can feel out how you want to give directions, but it is good for the director to work directly with the actor here in giving them notes (and even in the case of multiple directors, I would recommend the showrunner/pilot director be the one giving notes).

Incidentally –and this is something that I always make clear to the director when I am the casting director prior to the auditions– even if you think the actor has absolutely connected with the character, with the scene, or what-have-you, I always make adjustments. If they did a scene standing, I ask them to try it seated. If they did it seated, I might ask them to stand. If they did it big and worked great big, can they make it small and still work well? If they did it small and it was exquisite, how big can they make it and keep it true? You get the idea: it’s time to play.

For actors (and directors) who obsess about “nailing the audition,” they wonder “Why?”

Find a reason. Make a bold choice. Because if you think having to suddenly do the scene sitting in a chair is odd during an audition, just wait until you’re on set and you need to re-block, re-work, or re-costume a scene for any of a number of reasons so you can make your day. Often there’s 30+ people on set who are working to shoot X number of pages that day.

The ability to play and experiment in the audition room often translates into the ability to problem-solve on set — and in the most wonderful, creative way. You’re not having the audition for the actor to “nail it” or for the director to be absolutely sure the actor can “take direction.” You’re there to see what kind of magic the actor and director can create together.

Yes, that magic should pertain to the character at hand. Yes, you should be confident that the actor can take direction, but it’s worth noting that even though this is a job interview, you’re in this business to do more than make widgets or hire good widget-makers. If the audition is all about checking off a box, we have some exciting medical paperwork job opportunities for you… [14]

e) Let them read another character (if applicable)
Given our case study, it makes sense at this point that you might have a second character you want them to read for. Or perhaps you’ll ask them if they wanted to read for another character (don’t discount this, as sometimes you’ll discover the perfect actor for a given part). [15]

The process here is similar to step (c), give them enough background so that they can jump in — and let them have at it.

f) Have the director make adjustments there
This is essentially the same as step (d). Have fun working on some “alternate takes” as it were. You probably won’t have time to do more than one or two adjustments — and in some case, feel free not to do any (see step (g) below).

g) The auditors agree that they have what they need
Eventually, which is to say about five to seven minutes after step (a), you know you need to wrap up. The given format of 4-5 actors per half-hour means you can’t keep on working out a scene with one actor: the main idea is to know whether you want to call them back and doing the initial read followed by a read with adjustments should do that.

Bear in mind that you could always mix this up and have 4-5 actors per hour, giving you ample time to work with each actor in turn. However, given the cost of the audition venue rental and thinking of our case study of trying to find and cast 21 roles, we think you’ll find large casts may require a rather full initial round followed by call-backs (we’ll talk about the more leisurely pace of the callbacks in that article).

h) Conduct a wrap-up with the actor
Here is where the one of you wearing the casting director hat goes over the logistics of next steps. For us, this included:

*How callbacks would work. We were careful not to promise them to anyone and made sure they would hear from us regardless at the end of casting (i.e., we would actually close the loop — something most people never do).
*How fight auditions would work for those interested (this is a separate audition, which we will describe more in Part 14)
*If they were interested in background work (we’ll do this differently in the future, but we’ll describe this in detail in Part 15)
*When the shoot dates were.

In addition, we gave them another opportunity to ask questions that any of us could answer. We fell into a pattern of which ones I would answer as the casting director (more of the logistical/business ones) and which ones Francis would answer as the writer/director (more of the artistic ones).

This is, in some ways, an optional step because it constitutes something of a “Check-out” process, but we found it was reassuring to the actor to have Francis, Kelley, and I answer the questions directly, further establishing trust.[16]

Finally, before they head out the door, we thanked them again for coming out.

i) Judgement time
We can and should be as nice as possible to the actors and make the audition room a safe and fun place to play in: but after they’ve left, you gotta judge them.

There’s no way around that this is the best time to do a parallel to the ‘triage’ you did when figuring out who to call in. Was the actor you saw good, bad, or ugly? Besides that, did they connect with the character and the material? Did they take direction well? Did your spider sense tingle?

All of these questions and more may spring to mind. You don’t need to answer all of them or create a checklist, but the auditors definitely need to discuss what they thought.

For the Broken Continent, we sorted them into a similar red/yellow/green system as we did for calling people in, only we made sure to put post-its on each headshot resume as to which character they were red, yellow, or green for. In addition, between this and the callbacks, we devised a new category that might be more in line for people doing web series: Future Episoders. These were actors that we thought were great, but didn’t really fit any of the characters we were reading for — or as well as another actor for that character. Still, we knew we’d love to work with them.

This entire conversation usually takes less than a minute, and then your guide is off to get the next actor.

Remember, these nine steps will be happening four to five times every half hour if you’ve scheduled as outlined in Part 8 — and some of those half hours you’ll want and need to take a break. Usually the time evens out as the actors you really want to try new characters take a bit longer and the ones who are sadly duds take less. However, the time only evens out and you only stay on schedule if one of the auditors is willing to be the slightly bad cop. If the director is having a lot of fun directing the actor and they’re really connecting to characters, that’s your clue that they’re a callback candidate.

4. Checking out the actors
After all the energy inherent in an audition, this part isn’t nearly as exciting, but it’s part of closing the loop. Generally, you’ll want the actor to let the check-in staff they’re done, especially if you have actors waiting to audition multiple times as you may do during callbacks or however you’ve structured the auditions. This also gives the actor another opportunity to ask some logistical questions they may have forgotten to ask.

Once the actors were done, our check-in staff turned their green “Here” to a blue “Done” in the spreadsheet which helped us in the audition room know where we were in our day.

So make sure your check-in staff have a FAQ or cheat-sheet to answers, and know how to let the actors leave on a good, friendly note.

5. Ending the audition day
At the end of the day, you want to have one of the check-in staff go and collect any and all signs posted for directions to the auditions. Meanwhile, the auditors check and make sure all the actor headshots are properly marked and sorted and the videographer does a spot check of the footage.

Then, all of you can go around the audition area and make sure you’re leaving the space nicer than you found it, Scout-style.

If you’re coming back the following day and you have a place to store materials securely, by all means do so. In our experience, we’ve always needed to pack up everything.

Breaks
From the schedule discussed in Part 8, you can potentially have breaks every half hour, but the truth is you both won’t want to and you won’t have time. You will be running over from time to time and you’ll use that buffer time to get back on track.

However, occasionally for sanity or basic biology, you can and should take a break –and any of the auditors should feel free to heed the call of nature whenever the need arises. You can easily inform the check-in staff you’re in a holding pattern and everyone will be happier in the audition room because of it.

For lunch, as mentioned in the last article, even if you’re eating in the audition venue (which you probably will due to time constraints) being able to sit someplace else in the venue other than the audition room has a great psychological benefit. Just do it out of potential earshot of any actors wandering upon you as the temptation to discuss some of the auditions of the day thus far is only natural: this is indeed an integral part of the lunch break.

Speaking of breaks, filmmakers can now take a break as we switch our attention to the actors for next article and go into what they should be planning for and doing on audition day.

 ###

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FOOTNOTE #1: As we’ll discuss in Part #17, being able to offer actors a part and hearing them accept is very much fun.


FOOTNOTE #2: By the way, for any of you just popping into this article now, ignoring the previous installments, you really should at least skim some of the other articles. There’s a reason conducting the auditions is Part # 11 and not Part # 1 or even Part # 2. Neither the captains of industry nor the generals of the battlefield have your back. Most of them agree that plans are often worthless, but planning is essential. There’s plenty of planning discussed between Part 1 and now.


FOOTNOTE #3: For example, if one of your check-in staff hung the signs yesterday, have them walk with the other person to hang the signs today. Now you have two people who know where it works to hang signs (assuming there’s a third day of auditions). Is your director going to be very particular about lighting? Have them work with your videographer to get that squared away on the first day so the videographer knows for future days. When it comes to delegation, there’s empowerment and there’s dumping — and for whatever reason, I see more dumping than there should be within the film industry. Much of the devilish details mentioned in this article and others in this series are dependent on filmmakers not embracing hierarchy for hierarchy’s sake.


FOOTNOTE #4: It was mentioned in Part 8, but I’ll mention it again now: we scheduled people to be 5 per half hour, but doing it again, we’d probably try 4 per half hour. Perhaps we’d do 5 for the first half hour and 4 for the second half-hour, hoping the 9 total for the hour would balance out. The trick is to find a manageable balance. As you’ll see as you go through all the nitty-gritty details of the audition itself, you’ll know some actors will not work quickly, others you won’t be sure, others you’ll want to spend more time with (hint: you can with callbacks!). Usually, it all averages out.


FOOTNOTE #5: For Broken Continent, we had many actors who didn’t connect with the material — perhaps because it’s something of a heightened fantasy world. Nevertheless, we were able to find our requisite number of actors we were excited to call back.


FOOTNOTE #6: As it happens, I rarely see check-in staff be pro-active and try and answer actors’ questions, for the reason that many times, the check-in staff, while capable, are last-minute additions: they really don’t know the information. In the case of the Broken Continent, I had worked with many of the staff before — and we also had created a FAQ about the project that we had sent to actors. We had a printout of that for the check-in staff. If you have any print-out, where your staff can check what is actually written down, you should certainly see if they can answer any questions. And remember, your check-in staff should always feel comfortable saying “I don’t know” or “That’d probably best be answered by the [casting director/director/producer].


FOOTNOTE #7: In some cases, especially with callbacks, you may want an actor to read with other actors, or read for additional characters. So, you do the initial audition, but ask them to wait for a follow-up audition or read that day. While we didn’t do that for The Broken Continent, it is a common enough occurrence and an excellent reason to use the computer-based/check-in system. Just remember, you shouldn’t leave the actor hanging out all day.


FOOTNOTE #8: Just in case we had battery failure or WiFi problems, we did have a printout of the audition call sheets, so if we needed to go manual, we could.


FOOTNOTE #9: I have heard this repeated in many different venues, from courses in directing theater to books on directing theater and film to Hollywood directors saying how they like to cast. Even where an audition is part of the overall job interview, they find simply talking with the actor for a few minutes is just as valuable to know if the actor will be a good fit. In fact, I’ve heard some actors and directors saying they just prefer a 10-15 minute conversation as the job interview for casting rather than the auditions. The directors often are interviewing an actor they feel can do the job and are just confirming fit –and the actors, especially established character actors– often feel that they’re a known-enough quality and being called in for a reason, so do ya wanna use ’em or not? I won’t discount this methodology, but I will suggest it might not work as well for the indie projects indicated in this case study, as you may not have a surplus of character actor veterans with 20-30 years’ experience and the budget to pay their fees. In addition, as I’ll explain in later articles, I have had parts which I wrote with specific actors in mind — and they didn’t connect with the material. So for me personally, I always like to have even my favorite actors audition. Nevertheless, you should feel free to have that conversation (I always want to have that too).


FOOTNOTE #10: Believe me: You’ll pick up on red flags or even if something feels “off” even if the actor doesn’t. It could be subtle, but their attitude towards you, the material, or the questions they ask may raise a flag that you recognize means this will not be the best fit.


FOOTNOTE #11: This “Do you have any questions about the script?” inquiry is all the more important if you’re doing something set in a fantasy or sci-fi world or otherwise looking for an unconventional tone.


FOOTNOTE #12: If you don’t have that moment for the character: you write it. For a web series, it makes sense that you may not have it, because you haven’t written the episode where the character in question had their reveal or whatever. In that case, write that scene. I’ve done this for a couple projects now: writing scenes for characters even though I wasn’t going to shoot those scenes anytime soon. But it helped me cast the right people for when we did have those scenes. If you’re doing a feature and you don’t have a scene that really illustrates the character, ask yourself: why is the character in that script? (Note: it’s perfectly acceptable to cast ‘one line day-players’ without creating needless backstory and scenework for them. Just know what your test and criteria are).


FOOTNOTE #13: If the director knows the actor and has the rapport, they may feel free to ask, “How did that feel to you?” or perhaps “Okay… you didn’t seem comfortable [at this point]. Do you want to try that again?” but in this case, it’s because the director and the actor have trust and have that rapport. This is something that is far easier to do on set because you’re not in a job interview situation. When you’re in an audition, the director and other auditors are automatically in an unequivocal power position. Yes, a power position is arguably (and almost always legally) the case when an actor is on set — and yet the ability to have that franker dialogue is always easier there. So look to the questions above: even there, being franker with an actor you know, you’re still engaging them in a dialogue, you’re both working on a solution together. If you’re looking at the audition as a test to pass or fail, you won’t have a chance to create an atmosphere of trust. Because it’s so hard to get that stronger atmosphere of trust with a complete stranger (i.e., the actor who’s just walked in the door), that’s why you don’t force the issue. There will be time to judge in Step I. For now, their read is what it is.


FOOTNOTE #14: There’s another reason I personally always love to give actors adjustments and generally play during auditions: I’m in it for the long game. Any actor I see audition now might be an actor I want to work with as director down the road — or might be a great actor to call in through my role as casting director for another feature. There are always friendly, inventive, excellent actors I encounter who simply don’t happen to be the right fit for the character we’re calling in here and now. I’m doing both them and myself a disservice by not taking this opportunity of working with them, if only for a couple minutes.


FOOTNOTE #15: Both for the Broken Continent and other projects, I have had an actor say they really wanted to read for a part that we didn’t call them in for. For the Broken Continent and at least one other project, they got that part. Be humble and know that an actor may have really hooked into what makes a given character tick. After all, there are some things that don’t occur to you when you’re reviewing an actor’s headshot and resume — even when you know the actor.


FOOTNOTE #16: Remember, you haven’t sealed the deal yet. Especially if they’re new actors you know you want to call back and are pretty sure you want to cast, the wooing isn’t done.

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