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Tag: Casting Notes Series (Page 2 of 2)

Bonus Casting Notes (#6a): An Actor’s Casting Submission Checklist

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.

P.S. This is actually a bonus entry in the 20-part series, but for many of you actors, it may well be the most valuable one.


Previous Casting Notes Article | Next Casting Notes Article


An Actor’s Casting Submission Checklist

As mentioned in Part 6, Responding to the Casting Notice, there are so many little details to mention about submitting the headshot/resume itself, I decided that it’d be best to separate out this not-so-little annotated checklist as its own article.

Let’s keep it simple: Read over the checklist. If you answer anything other than “Yes” to all the checklist questions below, you’re not doing it right.

“Not doing it right” may not be damaging enough to cause you not to be called in, but it does not help you by any stretch of the imagination. And not only do we casting directors have good imaginations, we’ve seen plenty of actors who can follow directions and keep things simple. All we need is enough actors following directions to submit… and we will work to achieve that end. [1]

Don’t forget the principle raised in Part 2:

Whatever you can do to make the casting director’s job easier is a good thing.

So, read through the checklist [2], and if you’re not sure why you need to answer ‘yes,’ read the gory details below for each entry:

  1. Is everything spelled correctly?
  2. Does your headshot resemble how you look right now?
  3. Does your headshot list your name?
  4. Is your name the same on your headshot and resume?
  5. Do you have your height and weight listed on the resume?
  6. Have you listed one and only one phone number?
  7. Does that phone number work? Is the voicemail working?
  8. Have you listed one and only one email address?
  9. Does that email address work? Is there enough space in the mailbox?
  10. If you’re emailing your headshot, have you resized it to the size they’re asking for?
  11. If you’re emailing your resume, is it in a file format they asked for?
  12. Is your resume just your acting resume?
  13. Are you sending a headshot and resume as requested and not just assuming we’ll go visit some website?
  14. Do you know what you are submitting for (and is that reflected in the email/cover letter)?
  15. Do you know what role you’d like to read for (and is that reflected in the email/cover letter)?
  16. Are you embracing “less is more” in your email/cover letter?

1) Is everything spelled correctly?
Pretty basic, but absolutely essential: make sure you go over the resume even after a spellcheck. Better yet, do what you’re always advised to do with any other resume: have a friend look it over. Easily avoidable spelling errors show a lack of focus. You should know the names of everything you’re listing.

This includes not only spelling your skills correctly (I am always amused to learn someone can speak ‘Spanihs’), but also the names of roles and plays (and playwrights! — it’s Sam Shepard, not Shepherd). If you’ve been in work in the area and misspell the name of a director or production company I know, that’s not a dealbreaker, but it doesn’t help you either.

Note: This also means your phone number and email address are spelled correctly.

2) Does your headshot resemble how you look right now?
For film and video work, this might be one of the key reasons you’ll be called in: don’t underestimate its importance. This actually goes back to an earlier Team J article about “The Best Headshot, Period.” Your headshot needs to look like you really do look, right now.

Not only is headshot accuracy important for being called in, in many cases it can be critical for being called back: because if we can’t remember you among a sea of headshots when we’re staring right at your headshot, you’ve lost the part.

Note that changes in facial hair and hair length are more forgiveable than drastic differences in your age or weight. [3] If your headshot shows none of the wrinkles you have abundantly in person OR if your headshot shows the slim you of several years ago compared to the full-figured you now, you have metaphorically shot yourself in the face. It doesn’t matter why you haven’t gotten around to getting new headshots, you’ve now attached at least a tinge of dishonestly about you in the casting director’s mind.

3) Does your headshot list your name?
It’s a little thing. It only takes a few seconds to check the resume, but multiply those seconds by 100 — or in the case of Broken Continent, 550.

Also, when we’re looking at your headshots physically, it becomes so much faster. [4]

4) Is your name the same on your headshot and resume?
I hope most of you answered a quizzical, “Yes. Why wouldn’t it be?” Sadly, I encounter this issue far more than I’d like, and it is not, as near as I can figure, because the actor in question is recently married.

The reason appears to be because the actor is “experimenting” with different possible stage names, and forgets to end the experiment before submitting their headshot and resume.

The two major culprits of this are:

  1. Different last names
  2. Unnecessary and inconsistent use of middle names

Your name, whether an invented stage name or a plain ol’ version of your name is your brand. Be consistent.

For example, if you’re John Smith, then sure, make it John A. Smith — or just adopt the stage name of Aloysius Smith if you like (because of course, that must be what the ‘A’ stands for, right?). However, If you’re John Snuffleupagus, there’s no reason to have a stage name of John Aloysius Snuffleupagus. Casting director sentimentality fades quickly once you’re looking at resume # 207. Less is more.

Okay, “less is more” holds true unless you’ve decided to style yourself with just one name. That’s just a red flag.

Also, unless you’re a Barrymore or your parents are also actors, there’s no reason to be listed with suffixes such as “III” or “Jr.”

There’s also no reason to list any academic degrees, certifications, or other letters after your name. We can read about that in your education.

Please explore variations of your stage name on your own time. Yes, casting directors can eventually figure out who the heck you are, but that time is better spent on considering who to call in. I admit I only have anecdotal evidence, but I will say the people with ever changing names are never as good as the actors who know who they are. [5]

Extra credit: Make sure your email address is the same as your stage name. More on email addresses below.

5) Do you have height and weight listed on the resume?
You have a little leeway here, especially as to weight. We know it can flucuate, but here’s the deal: if you put your weight on your resume, we won’t carp if we don’t notice.

Yes, you could carp, but then you’d be silly for choosing a profession that concerns itself, at least partly, on appearance. [6]. List the weight.

There’s no reason not to list height. We know what heels are. We know they come in different sizes. We know many men are shorter than 6′ 3″. Just list your height.

The big problem comes when your headshot does not fully reveal your body type, and with obnoxious consistency, both with The Broken Continent and otherwise, the people with misleading headshots “forgot” to put their height and weight.

What do I mean misleading? I mean really, really close-in headshots that hide the fact you’ve put on more than a few pounds since age 15. As if films never need heavyset actors. Sorry, you’re not competing with the inegnue waifs. List height and weight.

Theater is more forgiving of this, but film and video often have specific needs. Are all of them fair? No. Do you have any control over that? Nope. Accept that, as an actor, you are going to be judged, labeled, and typed. So go ahead and list your height and weight. [6]

6) Have you listed one and only one phone number?
For Broken Continent submissions, a few people did not list a phone number. I can think of a number of scenarios where an actor would choose to do this, [7] but none of them are convenient for casting directors.

We want a number where we can contact you and at least get a voicemail with the expectation we’ll hear back from you within one business day — unless it’s shorter notice than that. [8]

In view of this requirement, actors listing two phone numbers (or, on a couple occasions, three ) make things more complicated. The time spent tracking down an actor could be sent making several more calls. This does not make the casting director’s job remotely easier.

Some folks might allow for a leeway regarding listing an additional number for an agent, but I say no. Why not just put the agent’s number on there? [9] Mind you, I’d expect them to be responsive as well. Several actors I wanted to call in never got called in because their agents never gave them the message.

Then there are the people who apparently don’t want to be too reachable and don’t list their phone number at all. Get a burner phone to be your answering service if you must or figure out something nice and fancy via VoIP and/or Google. I don’t care. But have a phone number we can call and leave a message. [10]

7) Does that phone number work? Is the voicemail working?
I have tried to call in people who decided to boldly feature no email address and a disconnected phone number. In other instances I need to cast a role within 24 hours, so a phone call is preferable.

Then there’s the cases where the actor’s voicemail is full. We do not stop to think, “Wow, what an in-demand actor this is!” We look to the next name on our list to call.

For extra credit, make sure that your voicemail greeting:

  1. Actually identifies you by name so we don’t worry we misdialled
  2. Identifies you by the same name as the name on your resume
  3. Is short and friendly

8) Have you listed one and only one email address?
I can understand why someone might be tempted to put more than one phone number. Here, I have no sympathy. None.

In fact, there’s no reason in this day and age not to have a dedicated webmail acting address that forwards to your main address, such as buddysmith-actor@nifty-webmail.com. Of course, if you can do buddy@buddysmith.com that’s great too, but usually involves some hosting fees at least. Since you can get a distinct and easy-to-identify email address for free, do it! [11]

Extra credit: Only send information from that one email address. I know this may be hard if you’re trying to be sure to shoot off a resume during work hours or whenever you may not have direct access to your actor email account, but it opens up the door to the casting director or a casting assistant replying to the “wrong” address.

9) Does that email address work? Is there enough space in the mailbox?
Your email is ready to receive. I will not get bouncebacks because you misspelled it on your resume or your mailbox is full. You’re going to make sure of that because you know that I could just as easily move on to the next actor whose email address does work.

10) If you’re emailing your headshot, have you resized it to the size they’re asking for? 
Most likely, you’re getting your headshots as big electronic files in excess of 4mb that you can print out on demand or take to your favorite place to get beautiful 8″ x 10″ copies.

When you’re emailing a headshot, we’re not planning to print it out. If we call you in, we’ll get your print version. For now, we want a headshot that shows us what you really look like, and one that we can view not only on a computer, but our mobile devices. Besides downloading huge honkin’ headshots eating up our data plans, it takes longer. If you’re trying to review actor submissions in a hurry, this takes extra time for each. huge. headshot. [12]

Do you really want to add potential cost and inconvenience to the casting director who now already knows you can’t follow directions?

If you are an actor, your job, now and for the rest of recorded time is to know how to resize your headshot or find someone who can. This is non-negotiable. It is an actor requirement just like needing to dress appropriately for auditions, memorizing lines, and not getting lunch all over your costume (unless called for in the part).

The actors who glibly imagine they are above such sordid technical details have relegated themselves to a place of special dishonor in the casting director’s minds. [13]

If the filmmakers are foolish enough to not ask for a headshot size, have an under 200k headshot ready to go.

11) If you’re emailing your resume, is it in a file format they asked for?
Again, following directions means you are far, far more likely to keep things simple for casting directors. The less trouble they have opening your resume means they have more time to study your roles and consider whether they want to call you in. The more trouble they opening a resume is rarely worth it.

I don’t care how cool you think Macs are: iWorks is not a standard application and you should not expect casting directors to be able to open anything with a .pages extensions.

If the filmmakers do not specify, it is hard to go wrong with a PDF. Granted, you should make sure that your PDF is well under 500k and hopefully under 200k. It helps not to have the PDF include your 5mb headshot too. We can deal with the two files. Really.

Runners up include .doc and .docx. They do not include .rtf, .txt., .odf or any other “open source” extension. [14] Google Docs can open .doc. OpenOffice can open .doc. PDF is better to preserve your crafty formatting, but .doc will work.

12) Is your resume just your acting resume?
Dancers, musicians, and assorted variety artists (e.g. clowns, jugglers, sword swallowers, etc.)  get a little bit of leeway here as those are related performers.

Furthermore, there’s no problem with highlighting your different acting work on stage, film, voiceover, and even modeling or commercials. People have to start out somewhere and it may take a while before you can have the fun of putting “selected list” or whatnot next to your headers. [15]

However, here are credits that, when I am looking for actors, I do not want nor care to see on an actor’s resume:

  • Writing credits
  • Directing credits
  • Stage manager credits [16]
  • Production crew credits of any kind [17]
  • Art gallery opening listings (really, this happened)
  • Anything other than acting credits

Why? Because we sent out a casting notice and we’re looking to hire actors. Actors, not jack-of-all-trades. Those resumes that try and pack in those extraneous credits do not look impressive. They look unfocused. Besides, you can always note some significant other experiences in your “Special Skills” section, or even mention you have additional targeted resumes at their request. [17] (Hint: they may not request it).

13) Are you sending a headshot and resume as requested and not just assuming we’ll go visit some website?
If for some reason the casting director is asking you to submit/upload to a particular website or mentioning they’re only looking at actors on some website, I suppose this step is moot. However, most casting directors are going to want you to email them your headshot and resume.

For the Broken Continent, as mentioned in previous articles in this series, we arranged for all the headshots and resumes to go to one web-based email address. This meant that all three of the producers, the core creative team, could view the submissions. That’s what we wanted. That’s why we asked for it. Now we had a repository of all the actors who submitted in our webmail. A quick search by name meant their files would come up. Easy and convenient.

Nevertheless, we got several submissions that simply pointed to some website or another. I’m sure the actors thought this saved time — and it did for them. For us, it meant an exception. We needed to go — and in some case create an account — to view the page. More time spent and it interupted our webmail-based groove.

Oh wait, it didn’t. We focused on the actors following directions.

14) Do you know what you are submitting for (and is that reflected in the email/cover letter)?
It may sound basic, but it really helps to know what you’ve applied for. You’re not applying for some film gig, you’re applying for that particular film gig. You’ve followed the steps in Part 6 and can speak to what research you’ve found in the project.

We’re hoping to pick actors with care. We hope the actors who are submitting are picking us with some care. Remember, indie projects need a healthy dose of passion. I can’t say I always see that passion in submissions, but I certainly pick up on a lack of it. I don’t want to cast someone who wants an acting gig, any acting gig at all, which leads to….

15) Do you know what role you’d like to read for (and is that reflected in the email/cover letter)?
The Broken Continent has over 40 roles to cast. Way too many actors responded with some variant of:

“I’m interested in all the roles that might fit me.” [18]

I suppose some people might feel stating a role you’re interested in smacks of presumptuousness, but that puzzles me. These are actors we’re talking about, not wallpaper. They should be interested in something, show excitement, and have passion. If you were applying for another job, wouldn’t you mention something about why you thought you’d be good at that particular job or perhaps why that particular job caught your eye? Of course you would!

So the trick here is to first have actually read the casting notice carefully, and second, decide on a role you might be good for, but third, leave the door open for any other roles the casting director might want you for. [19]

Accentuate the positive. If you don’t want to do background, you don’t have to say, “Frankly, I won’t do background” in your email. But if you do think it’d be fun to be background in a project, say so. We needed to scramble to find additional background actors for The Broken Continent and when I looked through the emails, those people were some of the first we called in.

16) Are you embracing “less is more” in your email/cover letter?
Ah, but not so fast. Yes, you can only benefit by addressing questions 14 and 15 above, but you need to do so economically.

About 2%, or 10 submissions we received had tomes. We don’t want tomes. We don’t have time to read tomes [20].

Give us enough to answer our casting notice, ask any clarification questions (if needed), and be on your merry way. If all goes well, there will be a far greater dialogue during the audition.

###

FOOTNOTE # 1: In case you hadn’t picked up on some of the tone already, this is indeed “tough love” time. My goal is not only to reduce annoying submissions to casting directors, but also to help actors get a better chance of being called in. Everyone benefits here.

FOOTNOTE # 2: Remember, for the types of projects we’re talking about in this series: indie features and webseries, we’re looking to get at least 100 and probably over 200 submissions. A given role needs only one actor and we’re looking to have at least 10 candidates per role.

FOOTNOTE # 3: However, men should always try and have a clean-shaven and bearded headshot. In fact, I’d suggest having the current facial hair style as the main headshot (the one we’ll most likely look at first) and the alternate as an inset in the resume. I know this isn’t always possible, given when you need to grow a beard and when the audition is. Casting directors understand, but again, make it easier for us if at all possible. You will benefit from the thoughtfulness.

The equivalent for women is hair length. I already know many women who have headshots with their different wigs and extensions as the case may be. It always helps to have the headshot be your current “default” hair length and color. For the right project, we can always find the right hair and wig people, but we need to know (this goes double for shorter-term commercial projects).

FOOTNOTE 4: Yes, I know I am a former 20-something white guy, but seriously, all you 20-something white guys begin to look alike. Names help.

FOOTNOTE # 5: I knew one actor who changed not only their first name, but their last name constantly, so that, at last count, I had seen at least seven variations of a very thin resume under different names. The time spent being creative with their name would have been far better spent making creative acting choices.

FOOTNOTE # 6: I know that there are many stereotypes and prejudices when it comes to appearance in casting. That’s worthy of another article or series of articles in itself. However, the bottom line is that film projects are going to be concerned about appearances and audiences, rightly or wrongly, respond to a certain visual shorthand. That shorthand can change over time and with each project. Good casting directors will always offer their filmmakers options in terms of casting looks. You’ll never be able to assume what the casting director is looking for with 100% accuracy, but you can be very self-aware of what you look like, and hopefully some of the default “types” you might be labelled with. You can always say no to any part. This goes back to choosing whether to submit to a project at all.

FOOTNOTE # 7: Maybe responsibilities at the home or office mean you’re trying to filter most queries through email. Maybe you want to save on cell phone minutes. Maybe you don’t want phone calls from random strangers. I don’t know what to tell you besides: it’s insanely inconvenient and the overwhelming majority of actors have embraced modern telecommunications.

FOOTNOTE # 8: In my experience, casting directors are very clear — and should be — when they make these time-sensitive calls. If your dayjob or other responsibilities preclude you from being able to have a phone number that’s virtually available most of your working hours, you simply have to accept that you might miss urgent jobs. Remember, “urgent” doesn’t necessarily mean “important.”

FOOTNOTE # 9: I would not list both your number and your agent’s number. Given the choice, I can’t think of any indie filmmaker who’d prefer to talk to someone’s manager or agent over the actor themselves. If you need the agent to safeguard your time for projects you’re really looking for, then just list ’em from the get go.

FOOTNOTE # 10: You can always not answer a phone number you don’t recognize. Heck, I don’t answer my phone sometimes if it’s a number I do recognize as food, sleep, and family time may take precedence.

FOOTNOTE # 11: And make sure it actually has some element of your name in it. The best option is first.last@mail.com, or perhaps firstlast@mail.com. Leave the creative and esoteric email addresses back in the 1990s where they belong. I’ll see your creativity in the audition.

FOOTNOTE # 12: And you just made me upset all the fans of pristine sentences. Have you no shame?

FOOTNOTE # 13: Yeah, I know this won’t change anytime fast. Easily 20% of submissions for The Broken Continent, or at least 100, had some oversized attachments. I’m sure some of the actors were thinking they we simply must be mistaken, we needed to see every pore on their face, even on our mobile devices.

As one of the other producers pointed out: “If they can’t get that right, what else are they going to get wrong?” We don’t want to find out.

FOOTNOTE # 14: Yes, yes I know “.odf” stands for Open Document Format — emphasis on ‘open’ –and I’ve read up on how it connects to the work of the OASIS consortium and the ISO/IEC 26300:2006 international standard.  You know how many other casting directors have read that? None of them. If you find yourself morose at an unkind world that refuses to embrace truly open source solutions in computing, do what I do in such instances and read some XKCD. But first, send your dang resume in PDF or .doc form.

FOOTNOTE # 15: Smart actors tailor their resumes (and headshots) to the project at hand, and often have a theatrically slanted resume, one with more emphasis on film, and so on. It can be tricky and may not always be possible for all submissions, but changing up the resume to better fit the casting notice is almost always worth it (assuming you’ve correctly identified what they want).

FOOTNOTE # 16: Yes, yes, I know actors and stage managers co-exist in the same theater union, but it’s still gloriously irrelevant on an acting resume.

FOOTNOTE # 17: We know people do more than one thing (even though many multi-talented people I meet seem to be under the delusion that they are the only one). If you have significant skills in, say, carpentry, photography, or other areas that might ordinarily be jobs filled on a film set, feel free to put them in your “special skills” section, which is a perfect “And I also can do this besides acting” section.

In fact, you may wish to put “Stage technician resume available on request” or “Film Production resume available on request” on your acting resume — and have that resume on you when you audition (assuming you wouldn’t mind being considered for some position like that).

But first, you need to address what they’re asking for in the casting notice, which is actors.

Oh, and for all future casting notices, I’m going to say we have a composer, whether or not we have one.

FOOTNOTE # 18: You know, any of the male characters. Or female characters. Or, really anything. It’s not my choice.

What?!? Good actors make choices. They make choices all the time. Sure, you’re not the casting director, but the casting director wants to hire actors. Actors are passionate people who make good choices and elevate the project by the nuance and skill of those choices. We need engaged actors. Otherwise, we’d just videotape the director and writer talking about the film.

FOOTNOTE # 19: Is this a minefield? Yes, but it’s really not that hard. Directors want to see you make your own choices, but be open to taking direction: the former because they want you to transform the text and their direction into something greater than the sum of its parts. The latter because you’re not going to get it right 100% of the time (in part because you’re not looking at the big picture as the director hopefully is).

So, with that in mind, it’s fine to say that you’re interested in this part or that part, but hey, whatever works. Or say that you would love to audition for any part they thought was suitable, but were really interested in so-and-so.

If you picked roles we never would have thought of for you, well, maybe we’ll ask you to read for it, maybe not, but we’ve learned more about your choices. Do you have a solid handle on your type? Good or bad for you, that’s vital for us.

FOOTNOTE # 20: Again, realize that any of these indie feature projects or webseries are going to get 100 to 200 submissions. We don’t have the time to read essays. Besides which, if I wanted to read a tome, there’s some Dostoyevsky novels I’ve been meaning to get to.

Casting Notes #6: Responding to the Casting Notice (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


Responding to the Casting Notice

Welcome back all you wonderful actors! Whether or not you were following along with the past three articles, I’m going to be referring back to “Perfecting Your Casting Notice” and  “Getting the Word Out” especially. Don’t worry about going back to read them just yet. The big thing I want you to remember is actually from Part 2. Do you recall the one good thing it was important for actors to remember?

Whatever you can do to make the casting director’s job easier is a good thing.

Those actors who don’t take this advice to heart, and I mean all four chambers of the heart, [1] will find they are called in far less frequently. The better a filmmaker has prepped for casting, the more submissions they will get; and the less likely they will have to deal with actors who do not heed this advice. [2]

One fact pointed out whenever Team J does Stonehenge is that the actor’s audition is essentially a job interview. In that light, casting notices are simply specialized job postings; however, just because these postings are specialized doesn’t mean an actor should avoid the same care and attention they might pay to a standard job posting. [3] Many of the submission issues that cropped up during the Broken Continent, make casting that much harder — and are completely avoidable.

I suppose some actors hope that not following direction will be imperceptible, that somehow the casting director won’t notice that it’s taking longer to process that individual submission. In that case, those actors are merely making the experience worse for everyone. But what if the actor’s obstinate refusal to follow the directions is enough to make the casting director sit up and take notice? Now the actor is an exception whom the casting director will be happy not to call in. [4]

I should note that Francis, Kelley, and I (the producers of the Broken Continent) are all actors ourselves. Have we made some of the mistakes we urge you to avoid below? I know I have. Will we follow this advice in submitting? I hope so.

Here are the steps I would recommend actors follow upon reading any casting notice [5]:

  1. Ask yourself if it’s even worth submitting
  2. Research everything
  3. Ask for clarifications
  4. Read what they’re asking for again
  5. Submit your material (error-free)
  6. Move on with your life


Step One: Ask yourself if it’s even worth submitting
Sure, this project may promise fortune, fame, and glory. Sure, you’re applying for a job for a potential employer. But why apply for a job with jerks who won’t value all you bring to the table?

Those of you who’ve read the previous articles in this series know how much we urge filmmakers to put care into their casting notice, related website, and whole casting process. That passion and professionalism should come through in the casting notice — especially because if the project is anything like the type of indie features and webseries we’ve been talking about, “fortune” is likely lacking in the promises above.

So, does the project look interesting? Does it fit into your schedule? Is the compensation what you need right now? Do the filmmakers look like they have it together? What have they done previously? Should you talk to some colleagues about what it’s like working with them? [6]

Throughout this series, I urge filmmakers ensure that they are not dependent on one actor for a role. [7] Likewise, you should not be looking for any one production to answer all your acting prayers. Sure, you’ve read Michael Caine’s book about acting in film; and you’re ready to audition for this role as if it’s one you’ve always been dying to play. But that’s for the audition. For now, you need to look at the casting notice with a critical eye. [8]


Step Two: Research everything
Do they have a website for the project? How about for their production company? Have you seen their former work? Where can you see it? Who worked on it? Can you or should you talk to them? If they mention working under some sort of union agreement, what does that mean? What are the rates? The minimums?  Can you work on it if you’re non-union? Where are they shooting? How will you get there? Will the commute suck? What kind of food are they likely to provide? Are they old enough to know actors don’t subsist on Subway and pizza?

Depending on the level of detail in the casting notice, you may not get solid answers to all of these questions, but it behooves you to ask yourself these questions and more. It all goes back to giving any notice a critical eye. [9]


Step Three: Ask for clarifications
This is a tricky step and one you might want to fold into Step Five (Submitting), but it’s important to think about before you submit.

As you probably know, most of actors are going to submit in the first 48 hours. You probably don’t want to be seen as an unenthusiastic actor and you don’t know how fair they’ll be in calling in if you delay. Maybe they’re assigning audition slots first come, first served. You might as well ‘put your hat in the ring’ as soon as possible, right?

However, some actors have genuine dealbreakers. For example:

  • You’re out of town for a gig. Will the producers accept video auditions for the first round?
  • You’ve don’t want to spend 4 hours commuting round-trip for one day’s work. What are the shooting locations?
  • You are actually based out in Pennsylvania or North Carolina. You’re used to taking jobs all along the East Coast, but will this job actually pay worthwhile rates?

During the submission process we had for The Broken Continent, we had over 500 submissions, and about 6%, or 30 had various clarification questions. Only about 2%, or 10, asked for clarifications prior to submitting their materials. Conscientious casting directors will have time to respond to that percentage of questions, but remember that not all casting directors will feel they have time to be that conscientious.

In general, I would suggest actors go ahead and submit their material per the directions, and include the clarification question(s) in the email. [10] Of course, you want to be diplomatic and make sure you’ve answered all the casting director’s questions and concerns first (see Steps Four and Five below). [11] This allows the casting director to decide whether they’re going to call you in anyway, and then hopefully address your question before the audition (and if they don’t and you are called in, there’s no reason you can’t address it there). [12]

If, on the other hand, it is a high level-of-effort to submit: for example you’re on set away from a computer and your files or whatnot [13], you might want to ask a clarification question first. Just know you’re not guaranteed a response. [14]


Step Four: Read what they’re asking for again
Let’s be honest: you might have skimmed through the casting notice to see if it was interesting, and you might have missed a few important details. If you’ve decided that this casting notice is worth applying to, you’ve researched it to the extent you feel necessary, you’ve asked your clarification questions (or know which ones to ask and when), then, it’s to go through the casting notice again:

  • What do they want submitted? Is it anything other than the usual headshot and resume?
  • What file size do they want the headshot?
  • Which of your headshots (assuming you have different looks) would be best to submit?
  • What file format do they want the resume in?
  • Where do they want the materials sent?
  • Is there anything you should be sure to highlight in your cover letter/email? (For example, in The Broken Continent, several people pointed out their proficiency at stage combat, various accents, etc.)
  • Do you know the casting director or any of the filmmakers? If you can highlight past work with them, let’s be honest, that’s probably going to help your submission stand out. [15]


Step Five: Submit your material (error-free)
Whether it took you all of 5 minutes to speed through the first four staps or an hour, don’t rush this all-important second-to-last step. Remember the principle mentioned at the top:

Whatever you can do to make the casting director’s job easier is a good thing. [16]

Here is where the majority of minor and major gaffes can come in. Not only do they make the casting director’s job that much harder, they are self-inflicted wounds on the part of the actor.

Multiply every little error and annoyance that might be in an actors submission by 100 — or in the case of the Broken Continent — 500. By avoiding common mistakes, you not only improve your chances of being called in, but improve everyone’s chances. Odds are, the filmmakers don’t have nearly as much time as they’d like to spend on casting. The less time they spend riddling out file formats, oversized photos, and incorrect phone numbers is time they can spend reviewing resumes.

To help you — and because there are so many common mistakes — I’ve created a whole other article: An Actor’s Casting Submission Checklist. Read the article. Spread the word. Every cringe-inducing gaffe listed was visited upon us as we went through the many, many Broken Continent submissions; and while I know there will always be error-laden submissions, a few less is always welcome.

Remember, sending an error-filled submission hurts you more than the filmmaker. The worst that can happen to us is we work harder to complete our job. The worse that happen to you is you don’t get a job. We’ll find actors. Why not let it be you?


Step Six: Move on with your life
This step is absolutely, positively vital for your well-being.

Some actors give off an air of experience and confidence. I don’t know how lucrative acting has been for them, but I know they keep getting work, based on their long resume. And more often than not they have a charm and easygoing nature coupled with their acting chops that gives me a clue as to why they keep getting hired.

A trait I find again and again in these actors is the ability to move on from opportunities without feeling they have failed or something is incomplete. And, in fact, they know when to walk away at any point in the process.

This can be hard. Actors, and most people I meet in film and theater, are often a passionate lot. Some projects seem, if not the chance of the lifetime, something that could make you smile with satisfaction for the rest of the year. As long as you’ve done everything you can right now, the choice is out of your hands.

I advocate that filmmakers let actors know when they receive the submission and when casting decisions are made. Hardly anyone does this and there are no repercussions if they do not. It takes a tremendous amount of time to communicate with all the submitting actors after all. [17] You are not guaranteed a response. You are not entitled to a response.

If you’re really keen to get an audition or there’s some other reason you’re genuinely concerned your submission was not received, you get one and only one follow-up. I will not begrudge any actor a simple, “Just wanted to be sure. Did you receive my stuff?” Anything over and above that query is too much and you shouldn’t expect anything other than “Yes, thank you” or “No, please resend.” That’s it. After that, it’s in the black hole of You-might-never-hear-from-them-again-and-that’s-fine.

Besides, there’s another casting notice out there that wants your attention.

###


FOOTNOTE # 1: Yes, this is hyperbolae. I will never quiz actors on the four chambers; I’ll know by the quality of the submission. Just in case, you remember left ventricle, right venticle, left atrium, and right atrium from school biology, right?


FOOTNOTE # 2: Ironically and tragically, if you accept the logic that more prepared filmmakers will attract more attention and suffer foolishness less, the converse is more likely: actors who persist in not following directions in casting notices are more likely to be called in by more desperate, less prepared filmmakers; because those filmmakers have less options. For actors and filmmakers, you always want to have options. You always want to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’


FOOTNOTE # 3: As revealed earlier, we do understand actors may have — gasp — dayjobs.


FOOTNOTE # 4: As will be explained with far greater detail in Part 7, when you’re dealing with these large scale casting, you’ll be getting submissions from 200 or more actors. Imagine if you’re an indie casting director looking at 100 actors and it takes only three minutes to process an actor’s submission on average, assuming the actors are following directions. That’s still 300 minutes or five hours. Now imagine the more likely scenario: that large numbers of actors don’t follow directions in one way or another; or otherwise don’t make it easy to process their submission and review their materials: the average has bumped up to five minutes per actor. That’s 500 minutes or over eight hours, a full day. Casting directors are human and their patience is not inexhaustible. Yes, it’s ultimately their problem if they gloss over a perfectly good actor after trying to riddle out the alien file formats of the previous 10 resumes, but that perfectly good actor loses too. So for the sake of you and your fellow actors, make the casting director’s job as easy as possible. Everyone benefits and everyone includes you.


FOOTNOTE # 5: Any casting notice? Yes: even though this whole series and this advice in particular is based around casting indie features and webseries, using these steps for any casting notice isn’t a bad idea. You might go through the steps at a faster pace, but you should go through them.


FOOTNOTE # 6: Mind you, some of these questions may, and should come up for you repeatedly through the process. Perhaps the casting notice looks good, but the scheduling of the auditions seems sloppy; or you get a weird feeling when you finally audition. You should always learn more about your potential employer if you can. You owe it to yourself. Trust your gut.


FOOTNOTE # 7: The perfect actor for the role might be unavailable, uninterested, or get sick. For filmmakers, who’s your backup? Likewise, for actors, what project are you going to work on if this one doesn’t pan out? Always have a Plan B.


FOOTNOTE # 8: Local actor Sean Pratt, who also conducts classes about the business of acting, has a great workshop about the “Three Magic Questions” actors should ask themselves when considering these issues. If you have a chance to attend that workshop, it’s likely to be worthwhile.


FOOTNOTE # 9: As mentioned elsewhere, this entire series is based on the case study of a web series being cast. Both a web series or an indie feature are often larger time commitments both during production and possibly after (depending on an actor’s zeal and willingness to participate in post-production marketing — something they may feel the need to do out of self-interest if nothing else). For that reason, these notices bear closer scrutiny than, say, a one-day gig (not that they shouldn’t be scrutinized too).

FOOTNOTE # 10: Perhaps this is a dangerous assumption, but we had actors submit via email for The Broken Continent; and we’re assuming email is going to be the dominant method of submission most of the filmmakers will be using for the indie feature and webseries projects we’ve been talking about.

FOOTNOTE # 11: The general tone to strive for is that their project sounds interesting and you’d love the opportunity to audition. Here’s your materials. Oh, and you were wondering about X.

Anybody can have questions about a job (especially if they haven’t given you answers to expected questions in their casting notice — something I urge filmmakers to do in Part 4). As with submitting to any job posting or with any job interview, you don’t necessarily want to lead off with questions about pay, benefits, and so on; however, those questions need to be answered at some point. If the producers can’t answer anything regarding compensation, even pay ranges, during the audition, that’s a big red flag.

I wish it were more definite, but each casting notices will raise different flags with each different actor. You’ll need to assess each casting notice based on what your needs are at the time.


FOOTNOTE # 12: A perfect example of a question you might want to get answered before you head out to audition is: “What’s the pay scale?”

For The Broken Continent, our casting notice mentioned we were planning to shoot under the SAG New Media Agreement. As an actor, this raises two flags for me:

  1. They’re planning to shoot under a SAG-AFTRA agreement, so they’re probably not a signatory yet. When will they know? For a union actor, this is important. Depending on the non-union actor, it might be important too.
  2. The SAG New Media Agreement has no required minimums for pay. In fact, pay can be deferred. What payscale are the producers planning? Are they planning for all the actors will be deferred?

There’s always room for better communication. As mentioned in Footnote # 11 above, the trick is when to try and get those additional answers.


FOOTNOTE # 13: If I were a cold-hearted casting director, I would say that you should be ready to submit the appropriate headshot and resume anytime and anywhere. We all know that isn’t always possible; however, this is probably a good time to mention that if you are out on a shoot or otherwise away from your usual computer, that you have given thought to how you might submit your information to job postings. Alternately, you may need to make peace with the fact that you might miss out on some opportunities.


FOOTNOTE # 14: I’ve said it before and I will say this again, but casting directors across the globe have checked and know this to be true: neither Miss Manner nor any law enforcement agency on Earth can do anything to them should they not respond to an actor’s email, voicemail, or whatnot. The only thing at stake is the filmmakers’ reputation among actors — and as we know, many filmmakers clearly don’t care about that.


FOOTNOTE # 15: It never hurts to jog memories. At this point, I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of area actors. Sorry, but stuff spills out of my memory all the time, so I might forget I’ve seen you. There’s also a great chance I won’t know that you’ve worked with one of the producers on one project or another. Both I and every other casting director you’ll meet are human and cannot connect all the dots instantaneously and repeatedly. Friendly reminders are always fine in these cover letters even if it’s just, “Hey, I’d love for the chance to audition for you again.”

By the way, I reserve the right to remember not only when and where you auditioned, but what you were wearing, what monologue you did, and whether I liked it. I do this for men, women, boys, and girls. I love rattling off the what monologue this actor or that actress did at a Stonehenge five years ago just to make them wonder, “Geez, how much does he remember?” The answer is, of course: nothing and everything.


FOOTNOTE # 16: If an indignant “but–!” is coming to your lips, perhaps you’re thinking of all the times where filmmakers have not been equally considerate of actors. There will be plenty of time to determine if these filmmakers, these potential employers, are clueless clowns who don’t value talented actors. You might be able to pick that up in the casting notice, the auditions themselves, or any of the communications in-between. If you’ve read the other articles in this series, you’ll know I take filmmakers to task on doing everything in their power to make the audition experience pleasant and respectful for actors. You greatest power in dealing with inconsiderate filmmakers is to stop dealing with them — not try and be inconsiderate in return. Life is too short.


FOOTNOTE # 17: The fact that pretty much no other casting directors or production companies communicate with actors to this level is precisely why I do it; and why I advocate other indie filmmakers to do so. The indie filmmaker has limited resources and being extra considerate can pay dividends. I’ll go into more detail on this extra communication in Part 7.

Casting Notes #5: Getting the Word Out (For Filmmakers)

This 20-part series, written by Team J’s Bjorn Munson, covers the lessons learned during the casting of The Broken Continent web series pilot in 2012. You can find the full Table of Contents in Part 1.

This series is meant to help other independent filmmakers, primarily those who are casting a large ensemble (10+ speaking parts, multiple background actors, etc.). Individual articles may be useful to production companies looking to cast other work such as commercials. There are also a number of articles specifically for actors on how to better submit for auditions, do the auditions, and deal with the statistically inevitable rejections.

The lessons learned have been applied to Team J’s Stonehenge Casting service, an online tool for producers to find actors and actors to find work.


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Getting the Word Out

So you’ve spent the time to craft a compelling casting notice. For those of you not casting in the DMV (i.e., the DC/Maryland/Virginia area), the specifics in this entry are going to be less useful to you directly. However, there are  two points you should bear in mind wherever you’re casting:

  1. Give yourself enough time to receive submissions. I recommend posting the notice at least a month before audition dates [1] to give yourself a solid two weeks for submissions (and your solicitations for certain actors to submit) as well as at least a week, preferably two, to decide who to call in. [2]
  2. Your casting notice should be posted in places with a high percentage of pre-qualified applicants. What does that mean? That means sending your casting notice out via channels that are going to reach the highest percentage of (a) professional actors [3] that (b) are going to be interested in working on your project. [4]

So here, in order, is where I recommend placing your casting notice to in the DMV:

1) Your Website: I’m going to assume your production and/or production company has a website where the casting notice can be a new web page and/or blog entry. You have that website for said production or production company because you want a place for the actors to conclude that they will be well taken care of before, during, and after the shoot. [5] What combination of creative team bios, concept art, and info on past productions you include on this site will depend on what you materials you have, but don’t think you don’t need to spend time impressing actors. They are the first audience you’re marketing to. In fact, they’re more than an audience, they’re your potential employees and you want the best employees you can afford. So get to wooing. [6]

Making sure your casting notice is on your own website is also important for a number of practical reasons. Numerous channels listed below are going to simply offer an opportunity to direct people to a web page. You want to be in control of that web page: to be able to update it if need be and ensure it won’t become a dead link arbitrarily. If your casting notice’s main online presence is your own website, you’ve just solved a potential headache. [7]

2) The actors you specifically want to call in: Just because you’re looking beyond your circle of familiar actors doesn’t mean ignoring the actors you know. [8] If fact, odds are you have certain actors in mind for some of the parts. You’ve probably told some of them about the project already. Now is the time to email or call those actors. Make sure they know about your casting notice URL, and any other details you want to share, but make sure to get their details the same as you would any other blind submission. [9] I have never heard from a filmmaker who regretted having an actor they know read for a part in competition with everyone else. Even your favorite actors may not connect with your script this time around. [10] However, they’re at least a better known quantity than blind submissions, so it behooves you to call in all the actors whom you think may be part of the best cast you can afford. [11]

3) Your mailing list: This is another one of those “I’m just going to assume you have this” because having a mailing list is so helpful in building your brand and getting the word out to people efficiently — about both your company’s or your production’s events. You can set up an incredibly robust, free mailing list through services like MailChimp, which is what Team J uses. Our mailing list is now over 800 strong and has been used in promoting the Broken Continent casting as well as the following Kickstarter campaign. Because I’ve personally met and auditioned several hundred area actors, it’s now a statistical certainty that I’ll forget to contact someone. However,  many of those selfsame people are on the mailing list. In any case, whatever your project may be, building “buzz” about it will be important and a mailing list should be part of that process. [12]

4) DragonukConnects.com: Currently the largest publicly searchable casting database in the region, this website is the evolution of the incredibly handy email listserv local actor Brian Dragonuk started over 10 years ago (hence their slogan of “connecting the entertainment industry since 1999”). It boasts over 7,000 members — and while those aren’t all actors or even actors you’ll want to cast, the membership does cover a good range of Mid-Atlantic talent. You’ll likely need to register with the site, but it is free to post a casting notice — though there’s always the chance that they’ll re-post the casting notice themselves (I got an email alert from them about “a fantasy webseries” before I got around to posting on their site). You may want to also consider searching their database of actors before posting your casting notice. You might find some actors you want to invite to submit. [13]

5) The Actors’ Center online “hotline:” Another longstanding area resource, the Actors’ Center has transformed its old telephone hotline into an online form that producers can submit notices to. The form itself is pretty straightforward and even has a “kill date” for when it will be taken off their listings. I love that. Fill in the information and your notice will be seen by about 1,100 actors and related artists. Additionally, if you have credits as someone who casts productions, you can apply to become an Actors’ Center associate and search their online database, adding to the pool of actors you may wish to invite to audition. [13]

6) MAUTH: It’s pronounced “mouth” and it stands for the Mid-Atlantic Union Talent Hotline. If you’re going to use union actors (i.e., you have a project that will be done under a SAG-AFTRA agreement), send an email to MAUTH *at* yahoogroups.com, and if your casting notice answers all the questions we talked about in the last entry, you should be able to reach over 400 union actors in the Washington/Baltimore markets. Score!

7) The TIVA-DC and WIFV listservs: These are member-only listservs for members of the Television, Internet & Video Assn. of DC  (TIVA-DC) and the local chapter of Women in Film & Video (WIFV). Members pay an average of $120/year to belong to each of these organizations and many members find that one of the biggest benefits is the listservs. That de facto paywall, combined with steady moderating, sets these listservs apart from many of the others on this list. Almost all the WIFV members I know –and most of the TIVA members I’ve spoken with– have high praise for the information shared and gained on both listservs. This doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get more results from posting on here, but the actors who might respond certainly fit the “pre-qualified” criterion listed above. Also, actors are likely to look more favorably on your casting notice (assuming it answers all the regular actor questions) on a channel that has proven itself to the film and video community time and time again. [14]

8) The DC Film Alliance calendar and listserv: The DC Film Alliance was created in part to increase communication among the local film and media community. Two excellent tools to help with this are the DC Film Alliance’s calendar and their listserv.

I have frequently used the DC Film Alliance calendar to list Stonehenge events and deadlines, so you may want to consider listing both the call for submissions as well as the deadline.

Their listserv functions very much like the TIVA and WIFV listservs, except that it does not require paid membership at this time. You will need to create a free DCFilm account however.

2015 Update: The focus of the DC Film Alliance has shifted to its main program: the DC Shorts Film Festival. Really, your focus for film and video projects should be on the sources above.

9) The DC Theatre listserv: Like MAUTH above, this is another Yahoo Group listserv that is open for people to join. Its focus — as the name suggests — is on theater actors,  directors, stage managers, designers, producers, etc, etc., etc. I have been able to post Stonehenge notices with them in the past, but as memory serves, they’ll want to make sure you’ve got a project that pays before they list — and you may want to check with the listserv moderator that they still accept such non-theater casting notices.

10) Your Facebook page(s) and Twitter accounts: While I like social media for creating buzz and interaction with people (certainly it helped with our fundraising), it’s not an essential priority for casting notices. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great way to get the URL of your original casting notice out there and have that message and URL spread further with the ease that social media allows; however, you should have reached most of the actors you want to reach using the channels listed above. Send complaints of my old fogey-dom to whatsthatsonny@getoffmylawnyoudangkids.com.

11) Other Facebook actor and film pages: There are numerous other film-related Facebook pages that are frequented by local DMV actors and filmmakers. As alluded to above, since the membership to this groups is so open, these social media pages don’t share the same listserv “culture” as TIVA or WIFV–or even MAUTH, DC Film Alliance, and DC Theatre. There’s a far higher percentage of one-way communication and generic self-promotion. Nevertheless, after you’ve attended to the local channels listed above, you may want to post your casting notice URL to further spread the word. Here are ones we’ve used:

  • DC/MD/VA – Actors, Extras, and Film Makers:  This catchall group boasts over 970 members. It can’t hurt to post here, assuming you’re trying to cast a wide a net as possible.
  • Filmmakers Unite: Looks to be a national page, which would explain the hefty membership of over 5,400. Nevertheless, there are many DMV filmmakers and actors who members here.  Likewise, this seems to be okay for larger coverage.
  • Prince William County Media Arts: An energetic group of, you guessed it, filmmakers and related artists mainly hailing from Prince William County. They have about 130 members
  • DC Professional Digital Moviemakers: An affable group of about 230 members, who, as the name suggests, are more likely to enjoy talking about DSLRs than the Kodak Filmstock Preservation Society.

Note that I have not included any of the LinkedIn groups not only because we didn’t use them for the Broken Continent, but I haven’t seen any DMV-specific film groups.

??) Are there more options? Please note there are two distinct omissions on this list:

Craig’s List: I like Craig’s List. It’s a great place for thrifty finds. I know some enterprising companies have successfully recruited employees through job postings there. But actors actively working in the DMV will already know about your casting notice from the more qualified lists above.  Moreover, way too many actors you want to call in have a pre-conceived notion of Craig’s List often borne of personal experience. They know Craig’s List as a haven for no-budget, horribly-managed, creatively-bankrupt productions that don’t treat actors well. Therefore too many of them never look at Craig’s List. You can argue this is a ridiculous and inaccurate perception… or you can save time and post to the channels listed above without this stigma.

Any of Team J’s channels: People occasionally ask me to post casting notices for them. [15] After going back and forth on whether to do this — some of the requestors are dear friends — I’ve decided that it’s Team J policy not to post any casting notices for projects we are not actively working on (either our own or we’ve been hired for casting support). There’s too much confusion as to whether this project has Team J’s full backing and I always wind up fielding questions from people who don’t read. Besides, this insanely long and detailed blog entry should suffice.

So there you have it.

If you skim over the list again, you’ll see that the first three channels I list are your own (your website, the actors you want to specifically call in, and your mailing list). That’s not accidental. If you’re casting the type of project we’re talking about you need to sell the community, at least a significant chunk of the actors, on your project. Attending to these first three channels will help ensure you have a visible foundation for your passion, planning, and professionalism to shine through. [16]

Next time, we’ll switch our focus from filmmakers to actors and let you know various “Dos and Don’ts” for responding to casting notices.

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FOOTNOTE # 1: This recommendation is predicated on the scope defined in the first column: that you are doing an indie feature or webseries that will cast a large number of roles, and you’re budgeting as much time as you can for pre-production. This method naturally won’t work if you have a commercial project where you learn the details of the role to be cast Wednesday for a spot that needs to be shot Friday.

FOOTNOTE # 2: If you place the casting notice for maximum exposure, you can expect the most submissions from actors within the first week. In fact, most of the submissions will likely happen in the first three days. The Broken Continent was something of an oddity in that we not only received over 200 submissions in the first 48 hours, but also kept on getting steady submissions well into the second week.

FOOTNOTE # 3: I have had the unpleasant experience of discussing what consitutes a “professional actor” with snarky people on more than one occasion, so I feel compelled to define the term here. I am defining a “professional actor” as someone who regularly gets paid to act and is actively seeking to ensure that their livelihood is derived from money made related to acting, modeling, acting classes and so on. Perhaps that’s the main portion of their income, perhaps they have a dayjob and are trying to make acting be a bigger part of their income. I’m not ignorant of how hard it is to make a living as a actor, so I don’t begrudge talented actors finding other ways to make money. Someone’s finances does not make them less of an actor. I focus on their ability, craft, and overall professionalism. That allows me to hire many an actor with a dayjob. Snarky cynics can waste time quibbling on their own websites about what “really” constitutes a professional actor.

FOOTNOTE # 4: The reasons that actors may not be interested in working on your project are legion and may include pay, genre, and your reputation. However, just as often, the reasons actors don’t respond to your notice can be related to their schedule and availability. We thought that fantasy would strike a chord with actors, and it did for over 500 of them, but put another way, a couple thousand area actors did not respond. It doesn’t matter how many actors respond as long as enough do for your project.

FOOTNOTE # 5: I can’t emphasize enough how you need to sell your production and yourselves to potential actors (and crew). The people you really want to work with have experience — and part of that experience has been getting burned, unpaid, or otherwise badly treated by too many other film projects. Perhaps it’s because theater productions have certain demands  (such as rehearsal space, performance space, and actual performance dates), but they don’t have the same horror stories of projects derailing that I hear about film projects here in the DMV.

More than a few veteran actors are willing to work with your lower-budgeted production if needs are met, like gas money and travel expenses (if they’re coming from far away), housing (coming from really far away), and dry cleaning (if they’re expected to supply all their costumes). Note that if you’re working under some union agreements, you have to pay these expenses. Also see footnote # 4 above. Actors have bills to pay like everyone else. They might not be interested if the pay isn’t good enough.

FOOTNOTE # 6: For the Broken Continent, we didn’t get the main website, www.brokencontinent.com, up and running until after we decided to post our casting notice on May 1st, so we listed it on the Team Jabberwocky site (this site). This seemed to work out fine–and especially in the cases where you have an established production company website, creating a whole new project-based website would be nice, but is not vital. The problem I’ve seen too many times though is people having a website that does not inspire confidence–or worse, no website at all. We’re in a significantly online world these days and it’s a must. You can also find many inexpensive web templates and hosting plans. You’re making a film that you would want to see, right? Make sure you have a website that you would want to visit yourself.

FOOTNOTE # 7: We thought our casting notice was good to go when we posted it to the Team J site, but we quickly got some questions from actors which made us realize some of the sentences could be made clearer (it all goes back to answering those actor questions mentioned in the previous blog entry). Having the casting notice be on our site allowed us to quickly update the information, and all the actors getting the link would now get the same corrected information (this won’t help as much for channels where you cut and paste the whole casting notice, but it helps a little).

FOOTNOTE # 8: I reached out to about 120 actors for The Broken Continent, some I’ve known for years, others I saw for the first time at the Actors’ Center Lottery Auditions. I had no idea we would get the overwhelming response we did, so I wanted to be sure we had enough good candidates for the huge slate of roles. And in case you’re wondering, yes, some of those people, including at least one I had just seen for the first time at the Lottery Auditions, wound up being cast.

FOOTNOTE # 9: For the Broken Continent, I insisted on every actor submitting through the “casting at brokencontinent.com” email address. It deposited every actor’s headshot and resume into the same email address that I, the other producer, and the director had access to. It also became a central space for processing the actors (more on that in Part 7).

I can easily suppose circumstances where someone will not want Actor So-and-So to “have to go through the same process” as the rest of the blind submission actors (it could be the actor friends themselves or an overly sensitive producer). However, it actually does these known actors a disservice. Odds are they already have an advantage because you’ve been talking to them about the script and backstory more than the other actors you’ll see blind. And unless they’re processed in the same way as the rest of your actors, it’s actually easier for them to slip through the cracks. (This will make even more sense as we get into Part 7: Processing all the Actor Submissions).

That, by the way, is what you tell the rest of your filmmakers and crew and anyone who “has a suggestion” for someone we should read. Have that person submit here so they don’t fall through the cracks. This goes back to the one “Good Thing” for actors to remember: you need to make the casting director’s job easier. Classifying you as an exception to be tracked separately does not make our jobs easier.

And frankly, unless the actor in question is part of your appeal to investors (and is therefore pre-cast), they go through the same audition process.

FOOTNOTE # 10: Especially for indie projects I’ve worked on, it’s not uncommon for the script to have a certain actor in mind. However, on more than one occasion, I have seen those actors come in and not connect with the material. That’s one of the reason it’s so important to have multiple actors to read for a part that is not pre-cast due to financing considerations (see footnote # 8) above. And for goodness sake, don’t ever tell the actor you wrote the part for them until they are cast (I might hold off until they’re cast and the production is done, frankly). If they don’t click with the material, it could be devastating for you and them.

FOOTNOTE # 11: I’m just going to mention this again: aim to get at least 10 submissions for each one of your roles. By the end of casting, you will not have 10 choices by the end of the casting sessions. A couple won’t be able to make the audition, a couple will discover they actually have schedule conflicts for the shoot. At least three will either not be as good as you hoped or as good as some of the other actors you called in. That means you have, at best, three choices out of an original pool of 10–and more often than not, there’s one person who just seems a fit.

FOOTNOTE # 12: It wasn’t simply actors who contacted us when the casting notice went out. We got word from stunt choreographers, prospective crew, and composers. Lots and lots of composers. You never know who you might excite with your production and what they may be able to bring to it —  at any part of the process.

FOOTNOTE # 13: I know, I know, there’s no end of assumptions in this post. But seriously, by the time you’re ready to post your casting notice for a production as big as an indie feature or webseries, you had better be ready as this is likely your first big reveal of the project to the wider community; this is the beginning of potential buzz. So you obviously already have a script that’s hopefully had at least had a preliminary budget and schedule treatment.  You’ve rented the audition space (if you want to list audition dates in the notice). It’d be great if you’ve already taken care of any SAG-AFTRA agreement if you’re going down that route; and it’s really good if the casting director of your team has already looked at various casting databases and/or attended mass auditions beforehand. Of course, you may have been quietly casting people in your mind as you see them in various shorts and theater. For me, on one level, I’m always casting.

FOOTNOTE # 14: I’m sure people running other local listservs may grumble, but the fact is, the TIVA and WIFV listservs are made up of members who are, by and large, making their living in the local film and video community. The professional, business-oriented messages that dominate the listserv speak to an almost a different culture compared to most of the “free” listservs; those are invariably awash in self-promotion and one-way communication that’s more focused on “look at me.” You’ll definitely reach veteran members of the local acting community through TIVA and WIFV.

FOOTNOTE # 15: More often, they ask me for actor recommendations without a good character description. Sigh. I may eventually have to draw a line there too.

FOOTNOTE # 16: As touched on elsewhere, I assume the casting process and the casting notice in particular to be the end result of some serious planning, so while this entry and the whole series will hopefully help people who “need to cast someone now!” it’s really meant for people who will be casting in the future. (You always want someone on your production team who loves planning).

Casting Notes #4: Perfecting Your Casting Notice (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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Perfecting Your Casting Notice

So you have a spectacular script that you want to share with the world in film form. You’re ready to cast and you’re ready to look at both actors you know and far beyond your circle to get the best cast you can.

To do that, you have to put together a great casting notice.

Creating an engaging casting notice proves to be a stumbling block for many a filmmaker. One important issue I’ll bring up here—and not for the last time—is that filmmakers need to remember they are the prospective employer. The casting notice is a job posting for potential employees (actors) you want to hire. (And for each one of you reading this who says, “Of course” there are 10 filmmakers I’ve met who resent such real world considerations).

Far too many casting notices I see rely on the fact that their project is—gasp—a potential acting job as the sole enticement. The best actors, the actors you want, are not impressed. They want a good idea of the project with specific questions answered as to dates, locations, and compensation. [1] That doesn’t mean you should skimp on explaining the story and the characters, and here is where one of the biggest stumbles consistently occurs.

Step 1: Create intriguing character descriptions
Every one of the characters in your script is already intriguing in some way because every single one of them, lead or supporting, is advancing the story in some way. Right? Yet too many filmmakers, with the prospect of casting the next Indiana Jones, lists something like:

Henry Jones, Jr., M, white, 30s, archaeologist. Some experience with a whip preferred.

The most important part of the character descriptions isn’t the name or even the supposed stats (i.e. gender, race, age). You may well want a character’s name, race, gender, or age to change based on the casting (I’ve seen flexibility even in adaptations). What you want to ensure is that you let prospective actors know what the character does and how they do it. “What they do” can simply be their approach to life or this particular story or plot. Sure, being an archaeologist gives what Indiana Jones does context. He is passionate about seeking out ancient artifacts, and is not exactly a boy scout in his pragmatic pursuit of them. However, his zealous pursuit is tempered by the notions of preserving knowledge and sense of justice—as compared to his rival archaeologist, the insidiously practical Belloq.

(If readers prefer, I can add an example using A Room with A View or perhaps something from Hitchcock, but I’m assuming more people have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark).

Time and time again, filmmakers will ask me for recommendations on actors giving me their preferred gender, age, and race: stats that do very little to narrow down candidates among the thousands I’ve seen. Give me descriptive adjectives about the character that reveal what they do and how they do it and now I can give you actors with the right tone.

Now the cynics will point out that many an actor has no idea of his or her tone—or perhaps has a wholly incorrect idea of what type of actor they are and the roles they can reasonably portray. We’ll deal with that issue in a later entry in the series. Just for the filmmakers alone, it helps to create these character profiles for your project (in fact, the filmmaker version of these character descriptions may be more detailed).

I’ve insisted on taking extra time to craft character descriptions since 2008 and I think it’s resulted in far more engaged actors coming through the door. You can take a look at the descriptions here in the Broken Continent casting notice:

http://www.teamjabberwocky.com/2012/05/01/unionnon-union-casting-for-fantasy-web-series-all-roles-paid/

Note that you can’t tell exactly which roles are the major and which are the minor ones—as it should be. Good actors know how to make the most of any supposed “small role.” The Broken Continent is full of supporting characters who have little screen time but tremendous impact. Simply put, we need a lot of good actors.

Step 2: Give a brief story synopsis that’s equally engaging
This is where you should list something akin to a logline. You want the actors to have a decent idea of what the story is and what kind of project they’d potentially be getting involved with. Here’s where you can let some or your excitement come out as actors will pick up on that. Hey, you’re doing some narrative film project, not a PSA. Celebrate that! [2]

At the same time, don’t overstay your welcome. Odds are good that actors will be reading your notice amid a sea of other potential jobs. Keep thinking of the logline concept and that less is more.

Step 3: Provide as much explicit detail as possible on the things actors really care about
Each situation will be slightly different, but you will improve your response dramatically if you can answer the following questions:

  • Whether the audition is open (just show up) or people will be called in. [3]
  • When the auditions are (exact dates definitely, times preferably)
  • Where the auditions are (at least which city — you probably don’t want to list the exact address)
  • When the shooting dates are (as precise as possible)
  • Where the shooting locations are (again, as precise as possible)
  • What the payscale is and, if you can, the specific rate [4]

You would be surprised how many casting notices don’t answer any of these questions.

Step 4: Go back through and ensure you’ve asked for your specifics
Every script has certain demands that are not going to change. You also need to be very explicit about how, where, and by when you need to receive actors’ submissions. Not only will assumptions come back to bite you, giving explicit submission directions gives you an insight into which actors actually follow them.

  1. What email address or website actors should submit their material to (we recommend an email alias like “casting@yourproject.com” or “casting-project@yourcompany.com”) [5]
  2. What format their resume should be in (we recommend PDF. DOC and DOCX are okay and you’ll certainly get types you’ve never heard of, but PDF is easy)
  3. What size you want the headshot (Since you’re not going to print it out, 100k – 200k is more than big enough. Some actors will obsess about the fact that theirs is 201k, not knowing that heedless actors have sent multiple 5mb headshots) [6]
  4. What date and time actors need to submit their materials by (Something we didn’t do for The Broken Continent and something I’ll do in the future. Would I look at someone submitting after that date? Probably, but as we’ll discuss in Deciding Who to Call In, you need a de facto cutoff point.)

We received close over 550 submissions from our casting notice. [7] I believe a huge portion of that was because of the information we packed into the notice itself. Of course, another factor is where you place your casting notice—and that is something we’ll cover in the next entry.

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FOOTNOTE #1: I will mention it later in the series, but you really want to plan to post your casting notice at least a month before your audition dates. Many of the actors you want to audition have schedules that fill up fast, so this way you get on their radar beforehand. Also, you want to give yourself time to go through the submissions. This timeline is, of course, predicated on the case study that you’re casting an indie feature or web series and that one of the tools in your arsenal –since you don’t have lots of money– is time. Use it. There will be plenty of times during the production itself where you’ll get to unwillingly suffer for you art. Since you don’t have to stress and scramble to find a cast like you might for a commercial project booked and needing completion this week, don’t!

FOOTNOTE #2: There’s seems to be a peculiar button-down attitude here in the DMV that is extremely reluctant to admit that doing narrative work is exciting. In fact, I sometimes get the impression that some folks feel it’s a bit improper if not being done by a Hollywood production. Growing up with all the great theater in the area, I’m quite mystified. Are we to believe all the talented actors in the DMV are banned from appearing on camera in anything save an industrial? Balderdash. Take pride in your narrative work. Especially at the budget levels you’re probably dealing with (i.e., something less than standard SAG-AFTRA scale), you need to excite your potential actors.

FOOTNOTE #3: After many years of experimenting with several different formats, I am now firmly on the side of closed auditions. The “open” can be in the open call for submissions (assuming you are posting the notice on some of the publicly accessible listservs and sites mentioned in Part 5). However, you are going to process all those submissions (as we explain in Part 7) into a smaller group of people you hope will knock your cinematic socks off — and as we explain in Part 9, finding an appropriate yet affordable audition space is not easy. Simply put: time is at a premium. You can’t and shouldn’t call everyone in.

I know this flies in the face of many a person’s experience from community theater and college days. Both those institutions regularly hold truly open audition where anyone and everyone can come and audition. That’s nice, but consider the goals of those organizations and your goals for this case study. In the case of the former, you’re trying to ensure that the community theater or college theater program has continuing participation. A college theater program should also be explicitly educational and probably also inclusive if it doesn’t have sufficient theater majors to cast all productions. For any project you’re undertaking in the DMV, you have access to a pool of over 5,000 semi-professional and professional actors. While you should always be polite and pleasant as mentioned in Part 2, there’s frankly enough good actors to find if you’re willing to put in the time (and commit to not being a jerk). You may get parochially-minded actors feeling they haven’t been given “a fair chance” by not getting a chance to audition, but that is their problem. Your problem is casting the best possible actors you can get for your roles — and as with any other job hiring process, that means you’re not calling in every single applicant for an interview. If you want to be sure to call in some actors you’ve never seen before, be sure to do a good job getting the word out. That’s you being open and, for actors, that’s their opportunity.

FOOTNOTE #4: In short: list what your payscale is (e.g. “SAG-AFTRA Low Budget Agreement”). If you can say the precise rate (e.g., “$100/day” or “$20/hour” or whatever), even better.

If you do not list the payscale or the specific rate, at best you will be deluged by actors asking you what your payscale and specific rate is. At worst, you will be deluged by actors asking what your payscale and specific rate is AND many actors will conclude that you are not paying what they are looking to make. Veteran actors in the DMV know that, as a rule, if the payscale isn’t listed, it’s “credit and copy” — and if the rate isn’t listed, the pay isn’t that good. Yes, there are exceptions, but there’s a reason this is a rule.

For The Broken Continent, we listed that we were doing the SAG New Media Agreement. That was all well and good, but as that agreement allows for negotiable rates, that still lead to plenty of inquiries and probably some people we wanted to audition deciding not to submit. One of the reasons we didn’t list specific rates was because we hadn’t done our crowdfunding campaign where our funds to pay the actors would be coming from. However, in the future, as much as possible, I want to be able to list a specific rate: I want the actors to know up front what they’ll be paid and if they don’t think the rate we offer is enough, they don’t have to submit. Everybody saves time.

There is an outside chance that, if your project sounds tantalizing enough, some actors will contact you about negotiating the rate (i.e., they want it to go up), though odds are for this case study, you’re paying what you can. I do advise trying to make sure that you are covering additional costs like dry-cleaning (if needed) for actors bringing their own costumes and mileage reimbursement (as of this writing, SAG-AFTRA’s is lower than the IRS/standard reimbursement rate). Especially if you are asking for credit and copy, make sure the actor is only giving you their time (we’ll discuss this later in the series).

FOOTNOTE #5: Since this was written, I would simply use Stonehenge to collect submissions. However, if you are using email to collect submissions, there are two reasons to specifically recommend an email alias: both are all about making your job processing submissions easier.

First, a dedicated email address often has mailbox size restrictions. If you are collecting submissions via email, a significant number of actors will ignore any headshot file sizes you request and send you the original 4mb – 10mb file. Having a general webmail account like Gmail means you are less likely to run out of space (a webmail account also allows multiple members of the production team to log into the same account at the same time and look at submissions. This is what we did for Broken Continent).

Second, an email alias allows you to sort all of these submission emails initially and obnoxious follow-up later on. For example, let’s say your webmail or general email address with the ample storage is “info@yourcompany.com.” Now, all the email submissions will be coming to the alias you designed so that they can all be filtered into a folder or a particular tag or whatnot. This makes it easier to go through submissions as they’re all grouped. In the future, this automated sorting also easily removes the inevitable follow-up emails you get from actors who, for some reason, think they can ask “Casting-ProjectA@yourcompany.com” to be their Facebook friend or LinkedIn contact.

FOOTNOTE #6: The short answer here is to insist on a headshot size of 200k or less, with a resume size of 500k or less, whether or not it includes a headshot or not. Specify that headshots must be JPG or PNG files and resumes are PDF. If you add “submissions not meeting these specifications will not be considered” or similarly uncompromising language, that may make some actors curse, but the good ones will comply because the specifications listed are perfectly reasonable and they have materials like that ready to go.

As alluded to in Footnote #5 above, now I would simply use Stonehenge to collect submissions, forcing inconsiderate actors to re-size their headshot to the proper specifications. The design of the casting tool was directly influenced by our experiences with Broken Continent and other large project submissions.

In the case of The Broken Continent, we originally had a dedicated email address, which quickly filled up with emails chock full of over-sized headshots. This meant other actors were getting their submissions bounced back because the mailbox was full. You can imagine their anxiety and our lesson learned about the email alias (I thought it was a good idea before, I knew it was essential now). We actually needed to send an addendum to our casting notice reminding actors that our size limitation was a real one and that to ignore our instructions made baby pandas cry (which is 100% true, by the way. Baby pandas are not only cute, but very sensitive to needless suffering).

FOOTNOTE #7: I fully expected 200-300 submissions. This is because, after doing these projects that require massive casts, I have found a pattern that you want about 10 submissions for each role. Of those 10 submissions, you’ll want to call in about 5. Of those 5, only 2 or 3 will be ones you want to cast — and of course, you wind up casting 1. More popular characters will get more submissions and that’s fine — more people want to play the hero than the sidekick and the villain versus the henchman. However, if you have a sidekick or henchman who has lots of screen time and is not simply a one-line dayplayer (e.g. everyone from Mr. “Two fighters against a Star Destroyer?” to Mrs. “I’ll have what she’s having.“), you want to get at least 10 submissions. It’s your statistical bet that you’ll find someone who you’ll be happy to cast.

Casting Notes #3: The Importance of Expanding your Circle (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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The Importance of Expanding your Circle

This installment is all about doing what scares you, when you know in this instance that doing what scares you will lead to growth and achieving greater goals.

For a project as ambitious as The Broken Continent, I knew that we needed to reach well beyond our circles of familiar actors. And for indie productions, you’re almost never paying SAG’s current standard of  about $840 per day. That makes it harder to fall back on Noel Coward’s method of motivation (“Your motivation? Your motivation is your pay packet on Friday. Now get on with it.”). Additionally, we’re trying to cast for a series. We’re hoping to cast people that, if all goes well, we will work with for years to come.

In short: it’s a scary prospect hiring complete strangers especially for the long haul.

Sadly, the filmmakers who most need to read this article, won’t. I meet these filmmakers all the time: these are the filmmakers who have zero interest in what you’ve done or what you’re doing. They know how Things are Done — and that certainly includes something as inconsequential as casting. Somehow this supreme confidence includes the conviction that actors are:
a) Quite interchangeable and therefore disposable
b) Going to flock to them because of their brilliance

You do not want to be one of these people. Confidence is good. Confidence is necessary to muscle through some days on the shoot. But for casting, humility and graciousness are crucial. There’s a natural predilection for the director to be seen as a dictator, but every talented director I know is building a team, not a dictatorship.

And one of the ways you can achieve that is expanding your potential team.

We want the Broken Continent to be exceptional. Francis has mentioned several times about how integral stellar performances are going to be to the project. Despite any tricks we might have up our sleeve with inexpensive, but impressive special effects, compelling characters are going to be what keeps people coming back to the series — and really good actors are going to be the key to that.

Now Francis, Kelley, and I know some great actors. Odds most of you filmmakers reading this have a pool of actors you like to call in. But how often do you make it a priority to seek out new talent — whether or not you think you know an actor who can pull off the role you have in mind? I’ll admit that I don’t always like to do that — and there is professional precedent in this area and elsewhere to hire who you know. You know what these actors can and can’t do. You know how they deal with stress and long shoots. Picking actors you know is not only loyalty, it’s a risk mitigation strategy. Nevertheless, as a rule, I always like to see new people.

Perhaps I do this because I’m asked to cast a wide variety of projects, so I want to know more people out there. In addition, as we discovered while casting The Broken Continent, Francis  (the director) saw many actors that weren’t quite a fit for parts in the pilot, but we might want for a future episode. The Broken Continent is to be a webseries after all. We’ll talk about “future episoders” in a later article in the series.

You also simply want more options. What if the actor you first think to cast turns out not to connect with the material or is unavailable? Even actors you know well and would love to work with you are on their own trajectory. It’s taken me years to work with some actors I wanted to work with when I saw them half a dozen auditions ago because schedules didn’t work out. And there’s always a chance that schedules won’t work out.

This doesn’t mean you should regard actors as disposable parts to plug into your movie machine. That’s for the know-it-alls mentioned above. If you’re at all human, casting will be an emotional and potentially agonizing experience because you’ll be meeting dozens of wonderful actors who also strike you as wonderful human beings with whom you’d love to work. But there aren’t enough parts. Even with the 50+ roles in Broken Continent pilot, there aren’t enough parts.

Every Stonehenge, we see over 100 actors. How many times do you think I see actors who knock it out of the park? How many actors do you suppose I would love to cast then and there, but I don’t have a part for them? Every. Single. Time. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I enjoy casting because I get to match actors with so many more parts.

Then I go through casting and experience that agony all over again and see it on the director’s face. Maybe I’m just a masochist, but I digress. The point is, if you have too many good choices in terms of who to cast, you’re doing it right.

But you don’t have a chance to do it right if you’re not ready to do something a little scary.

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Casting Notes #2: The Top Two “Good Things to Remember” (For Filmmakers and 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.


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The Top Two “Good Things to Remember”

One of my goals for this series is to give people far more in-depth information about casting than I’ve been able to do in interviews and panel discussions in the past. However, I am not ignorant of the attention span of many surfers on the interwebs. So, even though I’ve tried to break the information into many shorter articles, I know that’s not enough (or rather, too much) for some folks.

Therefore, for those people, and for the more patient readers looking for a throughline in the articles ahead, here are the top two “Good Things to Remember About Casting.”

For Actors:
Whatever you can do to make the casting director’s job easier is a good thing.

We’ll touch on techniques to achieve this and — often more importantly — what to avoid by both action and inaction. None of what we’ll advocate is unethical or even unusual. However, it might burst some actors’ bubbles.

For Filmmakers:
Whatever you can do to respect the actor and make their audition experience more pleasant is a good thing.

Assembling a good cast takes a lot of work — and from what all of us on The Broken Continent team have seen as actors, a lot of filmmakers don’t do that work. We break down a lot of different tactics we used to impress the actors and make the auditions run smoother (and the actors noticed!).

I’d say, “That’s it” but that wouldn’t be true. There’s a whole lot of “how?” and “why” to support those two Good Things. And that’s what we’ll start exploring in Part Three.

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Casting Notes #1: The Broken Continent Case Study (For Filmmakers and 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 here, 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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The Broken Continent Case Study

As some of you who follow Team J know — and I certainly hope the followers of Stonehenge Casting on Facebook know — I’ve served as an unofficial casting consultant and official casting director on a number of film and video productions for the past eight years.

Most recently, I had the opportunity to serve as casting director for The Broken Continent, an ambitious, epic fantasy webseries and undoubtedly the largest project I have cast to date. It has 21 principal roles, eight stunt performers, and easily 30 background performers (if fully funded). It requires a wide range of performers and an ensemble that needs to work on multiple levels because of all the relationships, both explicitly in the pilot and planned for the future series.

We discussed the ins and outs of casting on the July 2012 episode of the Tohubohu Producer Podcast, but — perhaps owing to my being very under the weather — I felt there was a lot more I wanted to share.

This series of articles is not simply what we did and why it was so great. On the whole, we were really pleased with how the casting sessions went. However, as with all things, there was some room for improvement. Throughout the articles, I want to share with you not only what our strategy was, but also what worked and what didn’t. And I want to share with you some of our plans for next time.

We hope this Team J blog series will help other independent filmmakers in structuring and running their casting. Francis, Kelley, and I have all been auditioning actors and while I’ll speak for myself, I’d be surprised if they didn’t agree with me when I say, “Not all filmmakers take the same care with casting as they do with shooting.” In fact, many auditions seem to be run in a haphazard fashion that does everyone a disservice — and that’s completely avoidable with more planning. Our solutions don’t amount to a one-size-fits-all prescription. While I believe some of the notes and lessons learned will apply to any casting situation (for instance, The Top Two “Good Things to Remember”), some of our suggestions may apply better to those filmmakers casting for 10 or more roles, such as is often the case for webseries or features.

I’m also not going to go through the SAG-AFTRA agreements. A 20-part series seems long as it is, and I suspect fellow indie filmmakers will really want an in-depth dissection of the various paperwork you’ll need to fill out to be a union signatory.

Speaking of scope, you’ll notice that I’ve labeled each and every article in this series “For Filmmakers and Actors” or “For Filmmakers” or “For Actors.” Note that I did not say “only” I know some of you will read over both, and you should feel free to do so. I work as both an actor and as a producer, so I think both sets of information are good to share.

It’s important to give credit where credit is due. It’s the casting director’s job to make the rest of the creative team’s job hard in picking who to finally cast. However, the casting director is not and should not be the final decision maker. For this project, writer/director Francis Abbey had the ultimate choice, ably aided by producer Kelley Slagle (who was also invaluable in helping process the actor submissions). Not only that, we think you’ll find your support team during the casting process is invaluable, and here we were supported well by Tamieka Chavis, Ann Rowe, Meredith Sims, and Brooks Tegler.

Finally, here’s the Table of Contents of all the planned articles. I’m trying to break them up into nice digestible chunks for all you nice people on the interwebs. They are more or less sequential and you can feel free to hop around the articles. However, you may want to at least skim all the articles before starting your casting (you’ll want to have found an audition space before creating your casting notice, for instance).
(Links will become active as articles are posted)

Casting Notes and Lessons Learned from The Broken Continent
1. The Broken Continent Case Study (For Filmmakers and Actors)
2. The Top Two “Good Things to Remember” (For Filmmakers and Actors)
3. The Importance of Expanding your Circle (For Filmmakers)
4. Perfecting Your Casting Notice (For Filmmakers)
5. Getting the Word Out (For Filmmakers)
6. Responding to the Casting Notice (For Actors)
6a. An Actor’s Submission Checklist (For Actors)
7. Processing all the Actor Submissions (For Filmmakers)
8. Deciding Who to Call In (For Filmmakers)
9. Finding the Right Audition Space (For Filmmakers)
10. Organizing the Audition Space (For Filmmakers)
11. Conducting the Auditions (For Filmmakers)
12. The Audition: For Actors, it’s Time to Play (For Actors)
13. Determining and Conducting Callbacks (For Filmmakers)
14. The Bonus Round: Fight Auditions (For Filmmakers)
15. Don’t Mind Me: Casting Background Performers (For Filmmakers)
16. Making the Final Casting Decisions (For Filmmakers)
17. Letting Actors Know the Final Decisions (For Filmmakers)
18. The Reaction (For Actors)
19. The Aftermath (For Filmmakers and Actors)
20. Final Thoughts (For Filmmakers and Actors)

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