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.
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.