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Tag: Casting Notes Series (Page 1 of 2)

Casting Notes #16: Making the Final Casting Decisions (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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Making the Final Casting Decisions

Now comes the moment of truth.

By the way, “final casting decisions” may be a misnomer. As you’ll see in Part 17, your first choice may suddenly be unavailable, which leads to your second choice.

But this is still decision time. You can do it. And by ‘you,’ I mean the same creative team who was behind the callback decisions.

As before, the director or showrunner should get the deciding vote. However, the decision may not be obvious. The director may appreciate some perspective from the rest of the creative team.

Before meeting, all of you should try narrowing actors down with these questions:

Who’s the top choice for each role?
Yeah, this is the question some of you have been wanting to put off for the longest time — especially if the the casting director has given you a lot of choices.

What does ‘top choice’ mean? Ask yourself who’s going to be best at that particular role.

Remember any role has some essential attributes an actor needs to sell. That’s what you were testing in your auditions. Among all the contenders, you had the “green, yellow, and red” candidates, but like as not, there were one of two “green” candidates that you and your creative partners raved about. [1]

Sometimes you’re aided by the fact that one actor was good in Role A, but great in Role B, and you can’t see anyone else in Role B.

This realization is critical to building your cast — and one of the reasons you often don’t get the cast you were expecting, yet all your hard work results in a strong cast at the end of the process.

If you’re truly stuck on two different actors for one role, it’s probably because you found both actors were very strong at selling those essential attributes. [2] Now’s the time to step back and consider not just that character’s essential attributes, but how they relate and must relate to other characters. Understanding those key relationships and how the two actors sell that relationship can be crucial, which also leads to:

Will the top choices work with each other?
Don’t ignore this question! This is more than chemistry, though that’s a big part of “working with each other.” One of the biggest issues I find consistently arise in indie film productions and smaller theater productions is uneven casting. By this, I mean that it’s clear some actors are more experienced than others — or their acting styles are remarkably different and aren’t meshing.

A veteran actor can be generous and give younger actors a great deal to work with in a scene, but that sometimes depends on the temperament of the actor and skills of the director.

Who are the next choices?
You won’t want to do this and it hopefully won’t be important, but it’s all part of risk planning.  You want to think about other actors now versus when you suddenly need a replacement for your lead.

The reasons for this are multi-fold. Not only may your preferred actor be unavailable when you first contact them, they also may suddenly need to bow out because of an emergency.

Will those choices work with one another?
Don’t worry about figuring out every iteration of who will work with whom. There’s no reason to go through a neverending thought experiment on this. However, if you have a key relationship, especially between leads, it’s worth while to spend a moment considering if the new match will be uneven in any way (for the same reasons mentioned above).

Is everyone happy, or at least comfortable, with these choices?
If you’ve gone through all questions above diligently, this particular question should be answered. Nevertheless, it’s good to ask yourselves this question at the end. Nagging doubts and tingling spider senses should be voiced and addressed (though perhaps not always resolvable in that same meeting). Does one of your creative team really feel you need to call in more actors for one role? Do you all agree that you have the strongest cast you can have? [3]

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can move on to who will be contacting actors and what information to be conveyed, but that’s the focus of the next article.


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FOOTNOTE # 1: If you recall in part 11 about running the auditions themselves, I recommend always taking a minute after each audition to discuss the actor who just left the room. This is because, yes, you can remember the actor’s audition and, yes, you can review the tape — but you absolutely remember if you raved about a particular actor to your creative comrades. This happened for various actors for all of us while casting The Broken Continent. Enthusiasm counts.

FOOTNOTE # 2: It’s not uncommon for an actor to discover something about the character that you –even as the writer/director– may not have realized that still rings true to what you intended. You may find that actors sell a character’s essential attributes in much the same way OR you may find two actors find two ways to play a character that are different, but you find equally compelling. So long as the chosen actor’s approach meshes with the other actors and their approach, that’s fine.

FOOTNOTE # 3: Every project has a different timeline, so answering the question of if you have the strongest cast you can have is constrained by how soon you need to move into production. There have been many projects where I would have loved to have audition or outright cast certain actors and the schedules didn’t work out. You need to be prepared for that unhappy possibility.

Casting Notes #15: Don’t Mind Me – Casting Background Performers (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.

Previous Casting Notes Article | Next Casting Notes Article

Don’t Mind Me – Casting Background Performers

Just as with the fight auditions, not every project –even an indie feature or web series– is going to have background performers (aka “Extras”)[1].  The good news is that most of what you’ve read so far about getting the casting notice out and processing the submissions holds true for casting background performers.

Good background performers know how to re-create their actions precisely, take after take, as well as take direction just like the speaking roles you’re casting. This is not to say that you shouldn’t pack an audience scene with friends and family. Indie projects by their nature have a small budget and may need bodies for crowd scenes. Just remember that you do get what you pay for and the allure of “working on a film” can make the bodies of those friends and family restless as you press on into hour four of the shoot.

Here are some things to consider when casting background performers.

Consider always having some background performers
I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but background performers are a great way to expand the cinematic world you’re creating. Just as I always advocate having a variety of ages, body types, and so on in the cast (like you have in the real world), the real world is full of people in the background. [2]

Even when the world you’re portraying is far from real, you often want people in the background. For The Broken Continent, we had committed to some form of “epic” fantasy. Having a couple people with swords on camera wouldn’t do. Wherever it made sense, we wanted to have additional soldiers, advisers, or denizens in the background to fully realize the world.

Even in an indie project set in modern times, you may have characters in offices and stores or walking in hallways or sidewalks. Unless it’s apocalyptic setting, there might always be one or two people in the background (and even in apocalyptic settings, c’mon: zombies!). [3]

Getting the word out for background performers
The method for getting the word out for background performers is essentially the same as for your regular cast. In fact, you might find some potential background performers among the actors submitting for regular roles (more on that below). So when you’re crafting your casting notice for background performers, try and find a way to make them want to come and stand around for hours at a time. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you describe the background role as exciting? (“We need background performers to portray a crack SWAT team.”)
  • Can you describe the scene where the background activity is exciting? (“We need 20+ background performers to be mystified, befuddled, and ultimately entertained by a street performance by our two female leads.”)
  • Can you evoke memorable, archetypal crowd scenes from other movies?  (“Be part of the frightened masses fleeing mutant snakehead fish as they emerge from the Potomac River!”) [4]

You will not have an enticing hook for every project and every type of background performer. In some cases, you might honestly just want to make sure this office or that street corner isn’t completely deserted. But you don’t lead with that. Remember, in part 4 of the Casting Notes series, we talked a lot about crafting your casting notice with a mind to woo the performer. Don’t stop wooing when it comes to seeking out background performers.

Create a separate casting notice for background performers
Now, using Stonehenge, I would both create a different casting notice for background performers and make sure to note whether or not the performers had checked the box on the site that they were open for background work.[5] To explain that reasoning, I should explain what we did for The Broken Continent.

For that series, we created one omnibus casting notice. At the bottom, after the 20-some roles, there were clearly plenty of opportunities for background performers listed.

Then, during the auditions, we checked in with people at the end of the audition to see if they would be at all interested in background work. Our director, Francis, cheerfully noted that we were asking this of everyone (which was true) and we would perfectly understand an answer of “Hell, no!” (which was also true). This question was asked with what I thought was about as light a touch as could be done. And we did have a good reason to ask people whom we were calling in for principle roles. As we explained, we fully hoped the pilot would lead to a regular web series — and so it would be wonderful to cast someone as one of the king’s advisers in the pilot who then could be revealed to be a key supporting role in a later episode as if we had planned it all along.

Many of the people we wound up casting were excellent actors, and we had every intention of doing exactly what we said because we knew they had the acting chops to rise to the challenge. That Woman of the Wood you saw in the opening? She could strategize with one of the leads at the eve of a later battle. That courtier looming behind King Eadwyn? He was in league with the scheming Barda to consolidate power. Even some of the refugees were capable of popping up in later episode to add to the epic story. The background actors were a combination of people whom auditioned for us along with some people who we did not initially call in, but had indicated they were up for background work.

Nevertheless, in retrospect, there were a few instances that, despite Francis’ light touch, the actor was surprised and probably a bit uncomfortable at the question. For that reason, in the future, I would do the separate casting notice as mentioned above — and also check the Stonehenge tool to see who was up for background work. However, I would make sure that the check-in staff informed all the actors that their Stonehenge profile was up-to-date in terms of their availability and interest in background work (“Make sure it’s not checked if you don’t want it and make sure it is checked if you do.”)

Consider budgeting for background performers
One thing I would not change with what we did with the Broken Continent was to pay all the actors, including the background performers.

Time and again, I hear from fellow filmmakers who’ve had no end of trouble getting even 10 people to come out and be background for free. That’s because the mystique of filmmaking quickly loses its allure to many a newcomer when they realize just how much hurry-up-and-wait is involved. [6] Background actors hurry up and wait even more than most.

Consider that you could ask for 4 hours’ time for a background performer, pay them $40 and they’d be making well above current minimum wage. [7]

For the Broken Continent, we didn’t pay that much, but we did follow state and federal minimum wage laws — and we paid overtime if actors were hurrying up and waiting for more than 8 hours (like you’re supposed to). We did this, in part, because we knew we needed to make costumes for these actors and, in part, because we knew our shoot days could be long and would be somewhat remote. We wanted the actors to commit to being there.

Now many filmmakers reading this might be running numbers in their head. They might reasonably calculate how they could add 10-20 extras at that $10-per-hour rate and quickly add $400 to $800 of cost. If you wanted a modest throng of people over a couple days, you’d quickly add thousands of dollars to your budget.

It’s fine if background performers are where you want to cut costs. Just don’t pretend that “being in a film” is that big a motivator, especially because you’re asking someone to hang out and not do much of anything — and often they need to be near set and quite quiet. For isolated needs, where you need people for less than a four-hour chunk –and ideally a less-than-one-hour chunk– many family and friends can probably be relied on again and again. If some of your friends are actors or creatives –and the background performers have something moderately interesting to do– you’ve just given creative people an opportunity to play. You can safely bet on an extra hour or so. But if you really want people to commit to being background not simply state that they “should be available,” money should be one of your tactics.

Remember, you’re spending the money on background performers to add production value. Not every shot is a crane shot or needs a Steadicam. Not every set or costume needs to pop. But sometimes, having one of those elements is that special ingredient you want to spice up a shot. Feel free to cut those ingredients from the budget if you don’t need that spice, but plan on adding that to the budget if not having the background performers will visibly lessen the production value or take an audience away from what they expect.[8]

Storyboard the shots with background in mind
Do you need to do this step before casting? Not absolutely. But you do want to do it before the day you’re shooting with background performers. Otherwise, you run the risk of looking at your set, looking at your limited amount of extras, and realizing things won’t look good.

Storyboarding with a realistic notion of the final number of background performers you’ll have therefore becomes critical to ensuring that you’re maximizing your production value — and also not looking too cheap in key shots. In general, you want enough extras so that they can fill out the edges of the frame indicating further people off camera. Sometimes they’re integral to establish motion and activity of a location by cutting in front of the camera or passing in back of the main action. You can do a lot with just a few background actors and careful framing.

I counsel many indie filmmakers to take a look at television shows, especially those from more modestly budgeted days of yore. Nowadays, TV shows may have show-stopping cinematic setpieces with a lot of background performers (though some of them might be CGI). Modern TV directors also know that they can get away with more cinematic compositions because of both expectation and the rise of huge home theater screens. But older TV shows wanted to give the impression of bustling Western towns, hospitals, space stations, and police precincts without having anything close to a blockbuster budget or epic-sized audience expectations. The camera framing and number of background performers in these shows reflect those constraints. [9]

Regardless of how average or ambitious your shot list may be, you want to take the time to know how you’ll use background actors to your best advantage. Depending on what location you wind up with and the number of extras you get, you may need to adjust your framing.

Have at least one crew member manage the background performers
This may come as an absolute shock to some industry folks, but not every production has a Second Assistant Director, let alone a Second Second Assistant Director or Third Assistant Director. Heck, many an indie production I’ve been on hasn’t had any assistant director. That’s okay. [10] However your crew is organized, make sure someone on the crew is responsible for (and knows beforehand they’re responsible for) checking in and checking out the background performers including all their paperwork especially their release.

Ideally, you not only have a crew member to do the organizing and get the all-important release, but all the crew who might interact with them, from the production assistants to craft services, can be pleasant, but firm as necessary. Remember, for many background performers on an indie production, this is their first exposure to a film set. You need everyone who interacts with background actors know they need to helps them remember such boring but vital things like:

  • Where to stand and not stand
  • Who to talk to and who is going to be busy [11]
  • What activities are fine for hanging out and waiting… and waiting  (book-reading yes, beat-boxing no).
  • Who will bring them to set and what to do at the end of the day

In other words: don’t assume your background performers know “the rules.” On an indie set, “the rules” may vary (and that’s okay). But even if everyone on your set knows what “the rules” are for this set and can communicate those rules to extras in a firm, but friendly manner, having a point-of-contact that the background performers report to is a good idea.

In Conclusion
Whether you’re paying background performers to populate your web series world or you’re trying to get people to volunteer their time for short, student film, you want it to be easy for potential extras to say, “Yes!”

Figure out ways to woo your background performers from the casting notice, onward. Knowing that the extras will be doing something interesting or dressing up in costume can often entice people to spend some time hurrying up and waiting.

If you determine that you really need background performers in certain shots to sell the story, consider paying people as one of your tactics to make them commit.

Know what your “rules” will be on set, make sure the crew knows them, and make sure you have a designated point-of-contact for the background performers on set. [12]

Just as with your casting speaking roles, the effort you put in here will pay dividends. I have yet to have a standard guideline for how many people you should expect to reach out to in order to get a minimum number of background performers. Assuming you are paying less than SAG-AFTRA scale, you need to rely on the wooing indicated above and perhaps some novelty for the novice background performers involved — and it doesn’t hurt if you’re shooting in their backyard (proverbially if not literally). Searching by ZIP code isn’t a bad idea (and something you can do via Stonehenge). If you want 10 background actors on the shoot, reach out to 50… unless you can reach out to 100. I have yet to meet a director or D.P. who doesn’t find a use for the right background people (remember Footnote # 2).


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FOOTNOTE #1: Because people can take umbrage about anything and everything, it probably comes as no surprise that some actors object to the term “extras.” However, before you dismiss using the term “background performers,” as actors being overly sensitive, bear in mind you’re asking people to do, in some cases, precise repeatable actions take after take — that is, if you like your editor and continuity. Moreover, these actors are being asked to be this precise for the sake of being unobtrusive “moving scenery.” Just like we mention to actors: when you have a choice that won’t hurt you and might help you, choose to not hurt yourself. (At the same time, any background performer who freaks out or goes into a tirade upon being referred to as an ‘extra’ on set may need to consult a medical professional.)

FOOTNOTE #2: The needs of the story prevail. If you’re shooting a project like “The Wire” and your setting is the proverbial “mean streets,” it’s best that your extras don’t look like they’re about to go yachting. That’s not the problem I see. The problem I see time and again in indie projects is what I call “20-something White Guy Syndrome” where a film has characters and background that is very, very narrow and takes you out of any reality the film is trying to establish.

FOOTNOTE #3: Or mutants. Or Triffids. Or mutant Triffid zombies.

FOOTNOTE #4: Okay, that’s a bit of a dated reference for denizens of the DMV only. As it happens, someone made a snakehead horror film. I have no idea if they had a great pitch to entice people to be an extra in the film, but rest assured, if Team J ever does a creature feature, we absolutely will.

FOOTNOTE #5: I have seen other projects where they do the same thing on the paper form they have actors fill out upon checking into the audition. As has been alluded to elsewhere in this series, we don’t advocate doing on paper what can be done easier and more effectively online. Part of the Stonehenge profile actors fill out is whether they’re interested in background work. Yeah, you can have that checkbox on a whole bunch of paper forms, but this way, you can tally up the actors with a couple mouse clicks. (The results of actors suddenly deciding, no no, they meant “interested in background on the latest Hollywood-budgeted feature” are the same as the paper method, though.)

FOOTNOTE #6: One of my favorite stories to illustrate how quickly the cinematic glamour fades was when one roommate wanted to come out and be on set for the day during one of our shoots. I had no objection, but said he should bring his own car. He looked at me confused and more than a bit annoyed. What sense did that make? We were heading to the same place and it wasn’t like I was hauling a lot of gear. Moreover, this was going to be in the city and parking would be a pain. I insisted and he begrudgingly went along with it.

After about four hours of incremental camera set-ups in a less-than sweet-smelling alleyway, he pulled me aside and mentioned he’d be heading out and, hey, best of luck with the rest of the shoot.

FOOTNOTE #7: At least, the Federal minimum wage as of April 2015.

FOOTNOTE #8: The idea here is that viewers expect some shots to have “spice.” Offices and shops usually have other people in them. Streets have cars and pedestrians. We are used to seeing this in both film and TV. A great example of this was when I was working on a web series which had a series of episodes set at a gym. Part of the script called for a comic scene in a gym class. Even though he knew he could rely on some gym rats to be game to hang out and participate in some of the shots, the director enlisted the help of one of the staff to corral a group of gym goers and they were all paid $20 to participate in a brief scene and ensure the gym class was full. He was thrifty on budgeting the whole series, but this was where he knew for the sequence to work, it couldn’t take the viewer out of the location (or the joke) by having a sparsely attended gym class.

FOOTNOTE #9: I suggest this because many indie filmmakers have great ambitions for the look and feel of their films. I have no problems with this. Personally, I try and mix some Kurosawan elements into anything I shoot. However, we generally don’t have the budget for Rashomon, let alone Ran, so I find it’s good to eat a slice of cinematic humble pie and see what people with constrained budgets did. At the same time, I don’t advocate necessarily looking at indie films or web series. Why? Because network shows of yore, even though they had producers and network execs trying to figure out endless ways to do things on the cheap, they still didn’t want to look cheap compared to all the other shows on at the same hour. Trying to keep your show on the air for several seasons is more peer pressure than trying to get your low-budget movie into some sort of distribution.

FOOTNOTE #10: Assuming you can maintain high amounts of on-set safety and low amounts of sleep deprivation with the reduced crew. Small crews are fine, but remember: background performers, especially on an indie production, can be some of the most inexperienced people on set. Having someone make sure they’re safe and they’re not endangering the safety of others by galumphing into a power cable or messing with rigging is important.

FOOTNOTE #11: I know this varies on indie sets and the prohibition of extras talking to the lead actors or director may not be as strict. But  know what your version of “the rules” may be. For example, your director might be happy to talk to the extras and not be as distant. Just make sure when she needs to focus and huddle with her assistant director and cinematographer, she can.

FOOTNOTE #12: And don’t forget: if you’re shooting under a SAG-AFTRA agreement, there are certain rules you absolutely must follow in order to not violate the terms of your agreement. Luckily, this mainly means being detail-oriented and actually doing your paperwork… which is an unsexy behavior real filmmakers have accepted for some time.

Casting Notes #14: The Bonus Round – Fight Auditions (For Filmmakers)

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

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

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

Previous Casting Notes Article | Next Casting Notes Article

The Bonus Round – Fight Auditions

While many of the articles in this series can apply to many different projects, this one is pretty specific to what we did for The Broken Continent. Nevertheless –or perhaps for this reason– I wanted to go into the additional auditions we did specifically to test actors’ faux fighting ability. As you may be aware, the genesis of the Broken Continent came when its writer/director, Francis Abbey, worked with an accomplished actor-combatant and thought it would be fun to do a film involving some swordplay. Great fights were planned from the beginning and advertised in our crowdfunding campaigns, so we knew we needed to deliver.

If your project has any special physical performance requirements –anything from juggling to stunt driving to equestrian work– it’s not at all a bad idea to verify your performers can do what you need them to do. Odds are, you need them to do that specific physical action on cue and repeatedly.

Also, when it comes to stunt driving, equestrian work,  and even juggling –depending on what is being juggled– safety is a concern. The bad handling of a monologue means you need another take. The bad handling of stunts or stage combat could result in injury or death. ‘Death’ really should make you pause and think about how you hire performers here.

In many cases, you’ll have an expert on hand to judge the performer’s prowess. In fact, in situations where safety is even remotely a concern, you should absolutely have an expert. Specifically, unless someone on your production team is a sought-after stunt coordinator or fight director, budgeting for the services of such an expert is a must. In part, what you’re paying for is the expert’s experience with –and knowledge of– stunt performers and stage combatants who can safely deliver the needs of the script. In that sense, the expert is vetting the performers for you.

In our case, by the time we were ready to cast, we also had an experienced fight director in the form of Robb Hunter. The exact relationship you as the casting director or producer have with this expert varies. In general, a good approach is to consider the delegation that often occurs with a choreographer: the director or producer is responsible for the overall vision, but the choreographer often translates that vision into the particular physical display. This isn’t simply isolated to dance or performance skills. I recently worked on a short film set during World War II where the director had a team of historical reenactors. [1] In many cases, you may find you will have enthusiastic experts in some particular performance skill, happy to do it on camera. Just be sure they are ready to work in the way you need and safety concerns are addressed. [2]

Robb has worked with many actors in the area and had some suggestions for actor-combatants to check with. However, some of our leading roles ideally needed to be able to handle weapons as well — either for the pilot or for future planned episodes. For that reason, we scheduled an additional audition after our regular auditions when we had an idea who our cast would be. In addition, there were several along with those actors who voiced interest in being one of the actor-combatants both in their response to our initial casting call and then during the auditions themselves.

This meant that the special fight auditions were attended by two overlapping groups of performers:

  1. Actors who had speaking roles who we definitely wanted to do well, but would need varying degrees of fighting ability [3]
  2. Actors or stunt performers who did not have any speaking role that we wanted primarily for their stage combat prowess [4]

By design, we did not immediately tell Robb whether the performer walking through the door was to have a major or minor physical role. That meant he was testing each and every one of them with the same high standard for the expected physical demands that we were applying to the actors with the acting roles. [5]

Because we wanted the performers to get physical and be safe, we needed another audition space than what we used for the regular auditions. The process for finding an audition venue and organizing the venue was the same as outlined in our earlier articles in the series.

We wound up with a dance studio. The floor was such that it could withstand the rigors of the athletic audition and it was sufficiently large to accommodate several people.

This was a key difference in the format of the fight auditions: Robb and his assistants could audition a large group each hour and then break up into smaller groups to run individuals through additional routines. Finally, each individual or pair did a camera test with the routine. At the end of the day, we checked in with Robb about his recommendations.

Within those recommendations, there were surprises both pleasant and not as pleasant. Some actors whom we didn’t know at all who proved to be surprisingly good combatants: able to take direction and deliver hits that were soft as feathers but looked like sledge hammers. Other actors, some of whom clearly wanted to engage in some faux swordplay, hammered away with the weapons without regards to their fight partners.

The key thing is that we were now comfortable about how to proceed with the fight training (and related rehearsal costs). For The Broken Continent, we followed up the auditions with several rehearsals for the main fight, and staging the fight for the camera crew.

Whatever your project, in the indie realm, these physical performances are probably a key part of your “production value.” With that in mind, it’s worth the time to make sure it can be done safely and look spectacular.


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FOOTNOTE #1: In regards to the WW2 reenactors, these men are experts in period tactics and how to handle their weapons safely, but realistically. The director was able to give their commander basic instructions and they choreographed the action, even being able to repeat themselves on multiple takes. As long as safety concerns are addressed, being able to do this level of delegation is a joy to watch and capture on film.

FOOTNOTE #2: The production team (director, producer, casting director) should always discuss how they’re going to work with the performers or coordinators before they’re on set to avoid headaches, heartache, and potential injury as much as possible. Certainly, for any physical performance where the possibility of serious injury is possible (e.g. anything from motorcycle stunts to juggling chainsaws), you absolutely need to know what your production insurance is covering and what the performers’ insurance is covering (if anything — this likely only works if they’re hired as independent contractors, and even then, you better verify).

FOOTNOTE #3: Within the actors we cast, there were actors whom we knew would need to fight in the pilot and others we knew whose characters would eventually fight in the series. We proceeded on the assumption that we would do a series, so we didn’t have a problem with any of those actors attending the fight auditions. However, we only really tried to make sure the ones who would fight attended. If we were able to continue as a series, we planned to have Robb hold a “stage combat boot camp” for everyone who needed to fight on screen in addition to individual fight rehearsal times.

FOOTNOTE #4: Again, for many actors, just as we did with the background actors, wherever we could, we tried to make sure our actor-combatants had some vocal chops to match their physical prowess as, in many cases, we anticipated their characters appearing later in the series.

FOOTNOTE #5: This also meant that Robb came out to the check-in table a couple times to ask me if someone was already cast to fight in the pilot. Some actors, and would-be stage combatants, were not as skilled as perhaps they thought they were… especially in regards to safe hits.

Casting Notes #13: Determining and Conducting Callbacks (For Filmmakers)

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

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

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

Previous Casting Notes Article | Next Casting Notes Article

Determining and Conducting Callbacks

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

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

The overall steps are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Casting Notes Article | Next Casting Notes Article

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

Welcome back, actors!

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

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

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

Before the Audition Day

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

At the Audition Site

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

In the Audition Room

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

After the Audition

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

Before the Audition Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the Audition Site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Audition Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool! Now let’s try something else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the Audition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

FOOTNOTE #5: You have to be able to do this in a just-the-facts manner and stay pleasant. There could be good and bad reasons for filmmakers to not be able to have a budget to afford your fee. Actors aren’t the only creatives who are well served by just-the-facts negotiation versus emotional battling as Quinn McDonald wrote in a recent blog post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casting Notes #11: Conducting the Auditions (For Filmmakers)

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

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

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

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Conducting the Auditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casting Notes #10: Organizing the Audition Space (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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Organizing the Audition Space

Okay, so you’ve gone through the pain and suffering of finding an audition space that not only meets your logistical needs, but won’t break your budget.

Now that you’re probably at the stage where you’ve been figuring out who to call in, you need to make sure your audition space is ready. This isn’t rocket science, and many decisions may only be made the first day of auditions, but here are the things you should be doing prior to actors walking through the door:

  1. Confirm your staff and staffing needs
  2. Do a “Walk toward/walk around/walk through” of the audition space
  3. Check the waiting area
  4. Check the audition space proper
  5. Decide on food for you and your staff

As you may realize, some of these considerations you were at least subconsciously assessing as you were trying to find the right audition space. Whether you did already or not, it’s time to tackle these issues now: a well-organized audition space is key in setting the right tone with actors. [1]

1. Confirm your staff and staffing needs

Understanding the case study we’re working under, that of an indie film or web series looking to cast many roles, the production team is likely wearing multiple hats already.

For the auditions, you need people to wear the hats of auditors, a videographer, and check-in staff.

Your auditors should at least include the director and the casting director. For the Broken Continent, all three of us producers were there because all three of us were invested in the creative direction of the series — and the casting decisions made here could potentially impact our team. You don’t want to have too many people in that room, but you do want the people whom the actors will report to. By having the three of us there, we covered the writer, director, and casting director hats — and on a wider level anyone who should be making hiring decisions for the project.

Having stated that you should look to limit how many people are in the audition room proper, you may want to consider having a separate videographer. The reason for this is they can just focus on the technical aspects of the audition: is the audio and video good? For the Broken Continent, one of Francis long-time collaborators and accomplished camera wranglers was happy to volunteer his time. It’s very possible for your given project, you might already have a crew member who is willing to do this task whether for the promise of free food or part of their overall fee. [2]

If you don’t have a separate videographer, you don’t need to fret: just have your steps down for starting and stopping the camera. Otherwise, the one audition you really wanted to review will be the one you forgot to record.

Check-in staff, on the other hand, are both critical and can’t really be the auditors (though I, as the casting director, would come out and get the next actor during Broken Continent auditions). I’m sure you’ve heard many a tale of good, bad, and ugly customer service. Now you’re providing a form of customer service with the check-in process. Don’t you want to make a good first impression? With that in mind, pick your check-in staff carefully. I’ve seen family and friends often employed in this capacity and that’s fine, just don’t discount their importance in setting the tone you want. Here’s some things your check-in staff should do.

  • Be the calm in storm. This is Above All: even if they’re not the most chipper, extroverted soul, they should be friendly and exclude a “don’t panic” vibe
  • Have answers to common questions like where the bathroom is as well as the basic stats of the project (who the production company is, who’s the director and writer, when you’re shooting, etc.)
  • Feel comfortable saying “I don’t know, but I can check.”
  • Be the voice on the other end of the phone. In other words, if you’ve provided a phone number for the auditions, they should have that phone [3]

Besides their invaluable role in being able to empathize with actors without authorizing things, they take care of whatever process you’ve created to check people in. Sometimes they’re taking the headshots and resumes to take to the auditors before the actor comes in. Sometimes, they’re simply making sure the actor has the requisite number of headshots and resumes to provide to the auditors.

Often, the check-in staff have actors fill out an additional information sheet. Given the electronic tools at our disposal these days, I would strongly encourage using a web form — even one developed in Google Drive or a similar resource. For Broken Continent, we used a modified version of the sorting spreadsheet described and shown in Part 7. It worked wonderfully, though in the future, I might see how much Stonehenge can do — at the very least I’ll have the check-in staff ask them if their availability is up-to-date in Stonehenge. We’ll talk more about what the check-in staff do in the next article.

2. Do a “Walk toward/walk around/walk through” of the audition space

Ideally, your hard work has resulted in a space that is accessible by Metro, has decent parking, or both.

Whatever the case, one or two of you should walk toward and then around the building where your audition is, thinking of where the actors may be coming from (e.g., if the Metro stop or bus stop is one block north on Elm Street, look at the approach from Elm Street). Place your signs at intervals where nervous actors can see the next signs — and make sure to draw the all-important arrows in the right direction or have enough signs with printed arrows going in both directions. Do this all the way into the building and to your waiting area. You might even want a bathroom direction sign, though your check-in stuff should be able to handle that. Remember, wherever the Metro or parking is, someone will come from the opposite direction for reasons you will never understand. That’s where you post “[Name] Auditions – Entrance on other side of building” or whatnot and make some stressed actor that much more relieved.

Did you catch that the signs should be printed, not just be some piece of copy paper with some message scrawled on by marker? As you probably guessed, we advocate spending that time, even if you find you need to use the aforementioned marker to get the arrow direction correct for a couple signs. We did this for Broken Continent and several actors were thankful for it. Even if it’s subconscious, you’re telling actors you are prepared and this project will have a level of attention to detail they’ve found sorely acting on other projects they’ve had the misfortune to work on.

You certainly can do this the walk-around as late as the first day of the auditions. After all, we recommend only posting the signs the day of and taking them down after the auditions that day. Especially if you haven’t cased the building first, print at least two more signs than you think you need — and make sure you have duct tape as well as masking tape (duct tape will be overkill and potentially obnoxious on glass doors, but will be very necessary on stone or masonry).

Incidentally, you may be concerned that all these signs might lead some curious passersby wandering into your audition check-in area, perhaps hoping it’s an open call they can audition for — or perhaps even worse, “they’ve always been interested in movies” or “have this great idea for a movie.” Well, that is a risk. Bear in mind, this recommendation is based on the Broken Continent case study. If you have a known audition location (e.g. you’re doing casting for a series over the course of a season or seasons and actors know or should learn where you are) OR if you have a very small group of people you’re seeing (possibly for a smaller project or for callbacks), then perhaps you have few if any signs. However, remember that the trade-off with fewer signs will be that your check-in staff will get more calls.[4]

 3. Check the Waiting Area 

This is more of a checklist. Before the day of the auditions –or at least on ‘the day of’ before the facilities manager disappears to deal with other matters– make sure you have these questions answered:

  • How do you control the lights?
  • Can you control the temperature? If so, how do you do it? (And if not, what if it’s too hot or cold?)
  • Where are the outlets for your laptop or tablet or recharging your phone? [5]
  • Speaking of the phone, do you have cell phone reception here?
  • While it’s not expected, if there’s WiFi, how do you log onto that?
  • Do you have a table/desk for check-in or do you need to bring one in? [6]
  • Are there enough chairs?
  • Bonus: Is there a place to get water? Either a water fountain or sink? [7]
  • Bonus: How do you get to the bathroom from the waiting area? Do you need signs or is it simple?

As stated above, it isn’t rocket science, but it’s all good to know.

 4. Check the Audition Space proper 

This is markedly similar to number 3 above. Many of the questions are similar, but make sure to answer them too:

  • How do you control the lights?
  • Can you control the temperature? If so, how do you do it? (And if not, what if it’s too hot or cold?)
  • Where are the outlets for your laptops/tablets and camera and lighting?
  • Do you have enough outlets for your camera and lighting without tripping the circuit breaker?
  • Do you have tables and desks for the auditors?
  • How are you going to mark the floor so actors can hit their mark for the camera?

For The Broken Continent, our audition room was one of those classrooms that had two entrances and a partition — so we found we needed to explicitly mark the exit door lest nervous actors got confused at the end of their audition.

 5. Decide on food for you and your staff 

Even with the format of regular half-hour breaks, most likely you’ll find the day is packed, so you’ll want some snack food and drink on hand for all your staff.

Team J’s default is usually some variant of Cliff bars, fruit such as apples, bananas or grapes, and the wonderful combination of protein and sugar that is Peanut M&Ms. It’s easy to overdo it on the carbs though, so be mindful. We just go with water on the hydration side.

Also, in maximizing your audition time, you might not want to go out for lunch. That means you have to decide whether it’s best to figure out delivery or if one of the staff will go (the auditors probably can’t). One advantage of the classroom with the partition was we were able to have a meal on the other half of the classroom. Even if you can’t exit the venue, switching up the scenery from the audition room is surprisingly energizing (well, at least until the mid-afternoon slump).

So there you have it. Compared to the travails required to find an audition space, organizing the audition space itself is not earth-shattering. However, you’ll be glad you did — and it will leave you that more focused on our next topic: conducting the auditions themselves.


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FOOTNOTE #1: Yet again, I will happily point out that an audition is a job interview and a job interview works both ways. The actors you most want to woo will notice the effort you put into a well-organized audition.

FOOTNOTE #2: We have no problem with people being paid, though I understand if producers are being thrifty in this pre-production phase. Still, there’s a reason that them thar money stuff is commonly used in exchange for people’s time, so consider that when you’re considering your pre-production budget. And if audition staff are volunteering their time, do make sure their food and parking/travel expenses are met so all they’re donating is their time.

FOOTNOTE #3: Invariably, some actor is going to be late because of traffic, the hunt for a parking space, or some stranger circumstance. The phone number in this case is an escape valve and here your check-in staff serves their role as the empathetic “don’t panic” person admirably. It doesn’t disrupt the auditions you’re running, and they can update you during a break before the next audition.

FOOTNOTE #4: This is probably an opportune time to mention your check-in staff should be comfortable being friendly, but firm with any passersby. It’s a private event and it’s closed to “walk-ins.” That language alone usually shuts down discussion (needing a headshot and resume usually blunts things too). They may be disappointed, but I’ve never seen anyone become hostile — and if they seem to want to linger, the facilities manager –who’s probably on hand wherever your renting the space from– may also be useful as backup. By the way, if you are planning ahead, you can make the signs a bit more vague and let actors know exactly what the phrasing is. However, then you’ll still deal with that actor that didn’t pay close enough attention. And you can never eliminate the curious.

FOOTNOTE #5: And hey, an actor might have a laptop or need to recharge their phone. Think of good customer service, people!

FOOTNOTE #6: Team J invested in several roll-up camp tables that are roughly 3 foot square when unfolded. They travel easily and have proven to be invaluable investments for our auditions and for film shoots.

FOOTNOTE #7: As mentioned elsewhere, our audition space had a sink/kitchenette space within the waiting area which was really quite nice. As an added bonus to the actors, I made sure to provide little paper cups for water. I had the option of the more expensive Dixie cups or the cheaper, but just as good store brand. Plus, the store brand had dinosaurs on them. As a casting rule I just made up, you don’t want to hire any actor who doesn’t appreciate a dinosaur cup. We went with the dinosaurs (and received complements).

Casting Notes #9: Finding the Right Audition Space (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.

Previous Casting Notes Article | Next Casting Notes Article

Finding the Right Audition Space

Filmmakers should note that, while this is Part 9, it is by no means step 9 in your process. In fact, you should know where your audition venue is before you even write your casting notice; however, the next article on organizing the audition space naturally flows from this article.

Finding an audition space for the Broken Continent proved way harder than we expected. However, finding the right audition space is critical to one of the top two things to remember for casting: the right audition space sets the right tone with actors (and not coincidentally makes the audition process easier for you).

Finding the right audition space can be broken down into four general steps:

  1. Estimating the audition time needed (allowing a ballpark budget)
  2. Getting audition space options
  3. Evaluating audition space criteria
  4. Sealing the deal (and setting the budget)


1. Estimating the audition time needed (and getting a ballpark budget)

Before you book a space, you need to know how long you need it, right?

Before you even get to Part #8 and deciding who to call in, you should know how long you need the audition space. There’s an easy guideline to use. Going back to the example of 10 roles getting 10 initial submissions, you’ve  got at least 100 actors of whom you’re calling in no more than 50 of them (and might well call in less). Therefore, if you book a space to accommodate 50 audition slots, you’ll be fine.

If you estimate 4 actors per half hour as discussed in the last article, you need 6.25 hours. That easily means a day. For each day you hold the auditions, you should add a 1/2 hour for set-up and a 1/2 hour for take-down. Every full day should also include about an hour for lunch. Therefore, for the example above, you can rent a venue for a single 8-9 hour day and be confident you have the time you need for the first round of casting.

If you can’t find a space for the full day or if you have enough roles that you need to do the initial casting over a single day, be sure to budget the set-up and take-down times as well as meal times you need. [1]

Note that you can easily estimate your callback audition time at this point: You’ll be calling in 2-3 actors per role (and that’s a maximum: you might find the right person for a role in the initial round). [2] From the previous sample, that means you’ll be calling in no more than 30 people, which means budgeting another 3.75 hours, or about 5 hours with the aforementioned set-up/take-down time.

You also might want to calculate what additional audition time you need as we needed for fight auditons (See Part #nn on the details there). However, as we’ll discuss in that article, the requirements of the fight audition space may not match what you’re able to get for the regular auditions.

In both these cases, if you don’t have to book the audition spaces yet, you may not want to — though if you’re able to get them all at the same place, you might get some volume discount.

So having said all this, what’s a good ballpark budget? In 2012 dollars, we found that estimating $50/hour for the audition budget was a good ballpark guideline. As you’ll see in Step 2, audition venues will vary wildly in price. The $50/hour guideline comes from aiming for $35/hour for the venue itself with the other $15/hour meant to cover the additional expenses including, but not limited to :

  • Parking fees
  • Staff costs
  • Snack costs
  • Meal costs
  • Signs and Supply costs

Remember, you don’t need to spend extravagantly on any of these additional items to make the auditions more comfortable for both yourself and for the actors auditioning. Of course, you’re probably still concerned with how thrifty you can be about your audition venue which leads us to…

2. Getting audition space options

Now that you have a budget estimate, it’s time to go and get sticker shock. Starting with some internet searching and following up with phone calls, you’re going to check and see what spaces meet your requirements.

For the DMV area, you have an invaluable resource in the DC Space Finder. This online, searchable database includes audition, rehearsal, and performance spaces around the area. You can search by several different criteria including price. We used it for The Broken Continent and I highly recommend it.

You’re also going to want to ask your peers: possibly both before you begin your research and during to expedite which places are worth site visits.

Bear in mind as you search that every production has different needs and there’s tradeoffs with every audition venue, but in general you’ll want to consider:

A. Location
B. The Audition Space itself
C. Availability
D. Price

A. Location
For the Broken Continent, we knew a downtown DC location would be ideal. We found a space near Mount Vernon Square and the new Washington Convention Center which therefore offered several options in terms of parking, bus routes, and Metro stops.

While you may not feel the need for quite so central a location, giving consideration to how people will get there is important, especially if, like the Broken Continent, you have many roles to fill and not top dollar to pay them. You’ll also want to consider a location that all of your team has no problem getting there early enough for set-up.

Bear in mind that you should have many options in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Public and commercial buildings are re-assuring to actors just as private residences and hotel rooms will send red flags. [3]

B. Space
Having held auditions in many a ramshackle production office before, I must say it was much nicer to hold the Broken Continent auditions in a church classroom. As one might expect, they keep their space clean.

Just like having access to mass transit is nice for the location, “clean” and “clean bathroom” is absolutely preferable for your audition space. The audition room itself doesn’t need to be large. A classroom or conference room will often do. You want space for you and your fellow auditors to be comfortable. You also want space and power for your camera and any computers you’re using. [4]

Don’t overlook the waiting area. A clean, well-lit waiting area with space for your check-in staff to set-up helps set a good tone for actors right from the beginning. We were lucky enough to have a sink in the area too, so we provided cups for water (even though we know most people carry water bottles with them these days). [5]

C. Availability
Good venues are in demand, so it is not uncommon for you to find the right space that has some limitations in terms of availability. The rental coordinators I talk to are generally quite up front about what times cost more than others — and know when their busy times are. They want your business, but they don’t want headaches.

Bear in mind, for most theaters and performance venues, their “bread-and-butter renters” are going to be companies that are renting for the run of a show, which often includes rehearsal time in the same or a related space. [6] That can often mean renting various spaces for eight weeks. For the Broken Continent and similar projects, you’re only looking for 2-5 days of rental. Savvy venue coordinators prefer longer rentals and take care of their regular customers. [7]

D. Price
One of the things you’ll find as you search online and call around is that many venues are theater spaces and many can easily climb upwards of $100/hour. Sure, there’s business space rental places, but they often don’t have a dedicated waiting space you want.

In our experience, rental coordinators were pretty up front about when their busy times were — and their peak times also can come with peak prices. Those times, often weekend afternoons, are often ideal for indie producers to hold auditions.

This is one of the reasons you don’t want to try and call everyone in. This is also why many productions go for the more run-down audition location.

At the same time, there’s a reason we arrived at the $50/hour ballpark: we wanted a nice venue for the auditions. If you find a deal through connections, by all means take it. But don’t start your project already in the poverty mindset. [8]

3. Evaluating audition space criteria

Eventually, you will hopefully have a two or more options. I’ll be honest, even with the DC Space Finder and recommendations from peers, you’re going to not only going to need to do some legwork to find options that fit availability and price, you’ll find it’s not particularly easy to hear back from venues. Really. I can speculate, but it’s clear to me some venues find taking your money is an inconvenient use of their time. [9] Budget your time accordingly and you should find some okay options.

Odds are any space you have will have some of those tradeoffs mentioned above. It’s a balancing act, but just as you’re figuring out who the best candidate is to call in for a role, you want to start with the venue that seems to filling your needed role as Great Audition Space best.

4. Sealing the deal (and setting the budget)

Contact them and find out the particulars they need for finalizing the rental. For the type of venues you want to rent (i.e., the nice ones we allude to above), will almost certainly ask for the following:

  • A signed rental agreement or the equivalent
  • A security deposit
  • Proof of insurance

For the rental agreement, definitely review it to make sure there isn’t anything crazy and feel free to ask their rental coordinator questions. In our experience, the agreements have been all about limited their liability and there aren’t wacky conditions, but occasionally, there are some assumptions or language built into the contract that might not make sense (e.g., that assume you’re a rehearsing show or the like).

The security deposit should be expected, and this is where having a corporate bank account is nice to keep the venue feeling that much more comfortable renting with you (it’s a weird thing, but true).

If the thought of having a company bank account made you break out in a sweat, then proof of insurance probably made you cry out in terror, “How can I get that?!?” You have many options. Assuming you do have insurance, ask the rental coordinator for all the info that needs to be put on the certificate and how they want to receive it (yes, some still like via fax). Then call up your insurance copy and make sure they send a copy to your email. If you don’t have insurance, than there are various places that are happy to give you some private event insurance with the liability limits that will please the venue (and it is a private event, unless you ignored all our advice to this point about avoiding open auditions, right).

If you’re not comfortable handling all these obnoxiously un-artistic dealings, please make sure someone on your production team is. As mentioned above, the right venue sets the right tone with actors — many of whom will be getting to know you for the first time at this location.

This also assumes that you’ve found a user-friendly rental coordinator, but if you’ve made it this far, hopefully you have. Remember what I said about the rental coordinators wanting your business, but not wanting headaches? You want to come across as, and then be, the low-key, stress-free rental. Hopefully, this isn’t your only project. Now that you’ve found the right place, you want to use it again, don’t you?

Now that you have a good audition space, we’ll focus on how to organize it in the next article.



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FOOTNOTE #1: One consideration for indie production is what days of the week to consider holding the auditions. Strictly commercial enterprises will almost always do weekdays and many indie productions will do nights and weekends for auditions.

For the Broken Continent, we looked to have auditions Saturday, Sunday, and Monday — Monday being the traditional day off for many theater actors (and as you probably know, DC has many theater actors). At the same time, DC also has plenty of actors who have a dayjob, so there was still value in having weekend auditions. In addition, we made sure audition times were during the day and night to accommodate the maximum number of actor schedules, another subtle way to try and be nice to actors.

FOOTNOTE #2: We’ll get more into this into the article about conducting callbacks, but it’s okay not to be certain about roles until callbacks. With almost all projects, you’re not simply casting roles in vacuums. You’re casting an ensemble that needs to play off one another and have a similar skill level and sensibility.

FOOTNOTE #3: While hotel rooms send a classic skeezy red flag, hotel conference rooms may be an option. Depending on the layout of the hotel, a hotel location might feature a reasonably public waiting area, with good access to transportation.

FOOTNOTE #4: For The Broken Continent and most audition situations, I always plan on bringing one to two surge protectors and a number of extension cords. All three of us producers had computers or tablets. Team J also provided a mobile hotspot so we could coordinate the electronic check-in list with the “Front Desk” in the waiting area (which, given the time we were there, we kept plugged in).

FOOTNOTE #5: Purely for needless detail, I should note that we did not get the classic Dixie cups because the Giant brand was not only cheaper, but had fun drawings and facts about dinosaurs on them. Why would anyone not opt for dinosaur cups? Several actors noticed this as well and correctly deduced that we wanted them to get into a spirit of play.

FOOTNOTE #6: Many theater spaces will have a rehearsal space with the same approximate dimensions as their stage space. As mentioned earlier in this article, just a classroom or a conference room can do for the audition space, but a rehearsal space could be another option.

FOOTNOTE #7: If a shared space has “resident companies” they often will have priority. This can translate into blackout periods when venues will not want to book the space

FOOTNOTE #8: I have encountered way too many productions that “don’t have any money for casting.” This strikes me as would-be chefs having “no money for ingredients” who nevertheless want to cook up a world-class meal. There’s thrifty and there’s cheap.

FOOTNOTE #9: In several cases I called and emailed the contact listed on the DC Space Finder, in addition to cc’ing the general info address, and never got a reply. It’s clear many of these venues know they ought to be renting out their spaces and they’ve made efforts to do so on paper. However, it’s clearly fallen apart in terms of the execution whether the core reason is uninspired staff, disinterested organizations, or a dispiriting combination of the two.

Casting Notes #8: Deciding Who to Call In (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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Deciding Who to Call In

And now the hard part.

Actually, if you’re doing it right, some of the previous steps might be hard — or at least should take some noticeable effort. [1] However, I find many filmmakers get especially antsy at this stage.

While deciding who to call in is a critical step in the process, if you’ve done the previous work, rest assured that you have laid the groundwork that allows you to focus more on casting versus logistics (though we’ll touch on logistics regarding scheduling below).

Nevertheless, do not discount the importance of choosing which actors to call in. In essence, this is the your first round of casting choices. Far too many indie productions — and a few commercial production companies — depend on that first round of casting to narrow down the field. I’ll hear people say they want to “be open” and “see what’s out there,” but it wastes valuable time, energy, and money. [2]

(For those of you who are anxious about cutting out worthy candidate or not getting enough of “the right” candidates, this is why a good casting director is so valuable.)

When it comes to deciding who to call in for your web series or indie feature, here’s how we planned the steps for Broken Continent:

  1. Review the Casting Rankings
  2. Review the Casting Spreadsheet with the Director
  3. Make sure you have enough actors for each role
  4. Initial Scheduling
  5. Contacting Actors (Finalizing Schedules)

Bear in mind that these steps will not go perfectly; you will not be able to call in everyone you were convinced at the outset were going to be perfect for this or that role. And yet, you’ll find a great cast.

1. Review the Casting Rankings
Whatever ranking or “triage” system you are using — whether it’s letters, numbers or colors as shown in our sample spreadsheet [3]— I find it’s useful to go through the list of actor submissions after the initial processing to double-check all the rankings (this is assuming you’re ranking them as you’re processing them).

During the Broken Continent, we eventually had three people (including myself) going through and transferring information from the over 500 submissions to the worksheet. At the same time, I was going through submissions and giving them a ranking per the color-coded system I mentioned in the last article.

Normally, actor submissions will taper off dramatically after the first three days of a casting notice and drop to almost nil after a week [4]. That should give you the perfect opportunity to review all the submissions thus far and see:

  • If some of the people you invited to submit have, in fact, submitted. [5]
  • If you’ve ranked all the submissions.
  • If you see a ranking that you want to tweak
  • If you see anything missing from a submission (e.g. contact information incomplete, etc.)

There’s always going to be something. The goal here is to be confident that your casting spreadsheet includes everyone you might want to call in — as well as rankings for everyone.

Before going to the next step, it’s great to already have at least a partial call-in list of actors covering most of the roles (see the second tab on the sample spreadsheet). Of course, you might be able to generate this partial list (or finalize a list) in talking with the director. [6]

2. Review the Casting Spreadsheet with the Director
We posted the Broken Continent casting notice on Tuesday, May 1, confident that we’d get the usual flurry of submissions and by the week of May 7, we could set up a time for me and Francis, the director/showrunner to go over who I was planning to call in for the auditions, which would start on May 20.

By May 10, we were still processing submissions, racing to be ready to start inviting actors to audition by May 14 (just shy of a week’s notice).

The lesson learned here is to back out the casting notice a bit further and have a deadline for receiving submissions (though being unofficially open to receiving submissions after that).

I know many professional projects where the director or producers simply show up as the casting director has handled it all. Who is being called in? It’s a surprise, but there’s sure to be good actors called in. Depending on how you’ve organized your indie operation, you might want to do it that way. [7] However some form of dialogue here can potentially be very valuable — even if you wait to talk to the director until you have a call-in list — as the review addresses questions like:

Have we missed someone?
The director was sure they told you to call in Joe Actor or Jane Actress, but doesn’t see them on the list. This might be because someone genuinely forgot to contact the actor and they’re not even on the spreadsheet.

A frequent possibility is that the actor is not listed, probably because even though you reached out to them to submit, you haven’t heard from them. As I’ve mentioned previously, directors, producers, and other people who are not casting directors often seem perplexed that actors don’t respond to email or phone calls — and so they often need to make peace with this fact. [8]

Reviewing the casting spreadsheet at this point allows you to contact that in-demand actor again.

Do you not want to call in someone on the list?
This happens. The most likely reason not to call in a particular actor is because you know they are both high maintenance and insane. [9] However, there are other reasons the director might not want Joe Actor. Perhaps the role requires special skills the director knows Joe doesn’t have. Perhaps the director wants to save Joe for a future role (if it’s a web series). Perhaps the director’s vision for the role doesn’t really fit Joe’s tone.

The bottom line is that your audition slots are limited, and if you can save both your time and the actor-you-won’t-cast-anyway’s time, you’re doing everyone a favor.

Have we misunderstood a role?
If you are able to sort the spreadsheet and show the director all the actors you’re thinking of calling in for a role, that might jog the director’s memory about another actor to call in.

However, it’s also possible that, in seeing the actors you have lined up, the director realizes you’re not getting actors who match his or her vision. Does the role need to be more unconventional? More conventional? Should the possible types be broader? Narrower? Is there some aspect of the role that isn’t being addressed? [10]

As mentioned previously, you may not have the time to have a thorough meeting with the director to talk about casting choices. In some cases, some teams may want to delegate more to the casting director (or producer wearing the casting hat). However, taking time for these review points is always beneficial.

3. Make sure you have enough actors for each role
Theoretically, you can always add additional audition dates, but as we’ll get to in the next few articles, finding the right audition space for the time you need will be moderately daunting at the very least. Therefore, you want to make sure you have multiple good candidates for each of the roles you’re casting. [11]

Let’s go back to the casting example of a project with 10 roles. You’ve theoretically received at least 100 submissions, or at least 10 actors, interested in each role. In reality, you probably have more actors interested in what appear to be leading roles or “cool characters.” For The Broken Continent, we had far more people interested in being King Eadwyn or Queen Malkyn than, say, the hulking knight Vymont or Loe, the wounded footsoldier.

Some of this is because there are less actors who can play imposing hulks convincingly, but many an actor — not unlike regular people — would rather play the superhero than the sidekick, the lead rather than the supporting player, and the beautiful person rather than the homely foil. [12] One of your jobs as the casting director is to ensure you invite or otherwise find enough actors to be called in for the various roles, whether or not the actors were originally looking to fill them.

In short, you should do your best to have 10 candidates for each role, but in reality, you might not. You’re going to cut down that group of 10 (or 20) actors to the five you’re going to call in (or attempt to call in, see “Initial Scheduling” below). The casting police will not come because you have four candidates for this role and seven candidates for that role. The real pressure is that you have called enough actors in to cast the project.

Wait! How do I know which are the five? Isn’t that the most critical part of this whole article?

Good questions. In short and in order: you’ll know, and no, the most critical takeaway from this article is to know you’ll find the right cast (more on that below).

In regards to the first question, all the steps above will naturally narrow down the field. Some of the actors will simply not be as experienced. Some of the actors will be ones you or the director (or both of you) absolutely want to call in. You’re also about to do scheduling where you’ll find some of the actors — including people you absolutely knew would rock the part — are unavailable. Your list of actors to call in will naturally diminish from the 10 or more you were looking for into five or so you want to (and can) call in. Know this will happen and trust the process.

Trust the process? Perhaps that sounds overly “new age-y” to some, but if you’re looking for something with grueling mechanistic precision and absolute answers, casting really isn’t for you (film and theater are pretty much out as “scientifically precise pursuits” as well). Maybe I’ll change my mind after a few dozen more casting gigs, but there are a few things I find with each casting I do:

  1. You don’t get to audition everyone you want
  2. Some actors are a delightful surprise
  3. Some actors aren’t quite as delightful
  4. Your final cast in no ways resembles what you thought your final cast would be at the beginning of the process
  5. You are excited by your cast

Number five is not automatic. It’s the result of all the hard work you did up until this point (and through the auditions and the final offers to actors). I can’t explain number five with scientific veracity, but every time I find it to be true. If you work hard on casting, you will get a great cast. It’s not the perfect cast, but in its own weird way, it seems like they’re the cast that had to be there right there, right then, for that project. If the auditions had been on another day or if the project was shooting a month later, it probably would have been a different cast. But then, that would be the right cast for then and there.

The best analogy I can think of relates to long-distance running [13], but if you don’t believe me about trusting the process, you’re probably won’t believe the analogy.

Work hard. Give casting the time it’s due. Be diligent and you’ll be both comfortable and confident that you will find the right actor for every role you need to cast [14]

4. Initial Scheduling
Now comes the relatively zen task of taking all the people you want to call in and plugging them into your available audition times. The key trick here is to fill up your timeslots (i.e., X actors per hour) so that:

a) You’re not keeping actors waiting for a long time to audition [15], and
b) You all have time to discuss your impressions of the actor after with each other without
c) Feeling like you’re running out of time (“Oh my god we have 20 minutes left in the space and there’s five actors in the waiting room!”)

Don’t worry about grouping actors reading for the same character unless it seems to magically happen. If you really feel you need to see people that close together, save that scheduling feat for the callbacks (i.e., when you have far fewer people to call in).

What we did for The Broken Continent

You can see some of this on the sample spreadsheet. Yes, another part of the spreadsheet, check out the Tab marked “Schedule.”

After the top contenders were determined, we simply cut and pasted them into a timeslot. This method easily allowed us to transfer information about which characters both the actors and we wanted them to read for — a planned technique that proved very handy in the audition process (to be further discussed in Part 11).

Those actors that noted restricted availability based on the posted audition times, were, in almost all cases, accommodated. [16]

We estimated about five minutes per actor, with a five minute buffer each half hour to allow for some auditions going longer as well as bio breaks (aka “using the restroom”). That broke down to 5 actors per half-hour or 10 actors an hour.

Filling in the slots wasn’t strictly first-come, first-served. Because of our rankings, I made sure to first call in the actors we had identified as absolutely wanting to read for parts. In fact, if you recall the article about getting the word out [link to article,] there were some actors I emailed or called right off the bat. If they were interested and available (and submitted their materials — a pretty good sign of being interested and available), I booked an audition slot for them early.

What we’ll do next time

Well, for one thing, I’ll be using Stonehenge Casting’s folder management function to expedite some of the sorting, but that’s for another article.

In terms of the tactics described in this article, they worked pretty well.

I will limit the actors to four per half hour versus five for future casting calls. That little adjustment should make the actual casting sessions next time that much more relaxed. [17]

One way to accommodate less actors per hour may be to shift the first round of auditions to video auditions, allowing us to have one to two smaller callback sessions.

5. Contacting Actors (Finalizing Schedules)

So now you should have a nice draft audition schedule.

The next step is to create a boilerplate email send out to the actors. [18] You can leave space to personalize each email for actors you know — and you can also go the other direction and essentially do a mail merge depending on your technical skill. However, this original email must contain:

  1. The location the auditions will be held (i.e., at least the address they can plug into the computer to calculate how far away it is); and
  2. The time you want them to audition (you’ll let them know they can ask for a different time if that doesn’t work). [19]
  3. The instruction that they, the actors, must confirm with you that the audition time works OR to contact you if it doesn’t.

You may also want to include:

  • Payscale, such as any agreements your production is operating under (e.g. SAG-AFTRA Modified Low Budget Agreement, etc.).
  • What character(s) you want the actor to read for.

Since what you most want from the actors at this point is to confirm they are still available for the audition (and at that time), this initial email contact should be as short as possible while still providing enough information to make the decision.

Once the actors have confirmed, you can send them a second boilerplate email. This should:

  • Confirm the time and date they’ve agreed to.
  • Confirm the location with painfully detailed directions (perhaps as an attachment) [20]
  • The roles they should prepare for (with sides almost always as an attachment)
  • The rehearsal dates and shooting dates (which should have been at least generally indicated in the original casting notice, but might be more definite by the time you’re sending these emails).
  • Contact information they can use if they’re delayed.
  • The cutoff time and what to do if they’re really, really delayed. [21]
  • Re-iterating any other information already provided. For example, a link to the original casting notice, the link to your company or production website, and the payscale — always the payscale.

The goal here is to give them all the information they need to prepare for auditioning for the role, which of course is a specialized job interview. Good information on your part makes actors more at ease and more confident. It also answers many logistical questions that would otherwise take up precious audition time.

At this point, if at all feasible, I recommend providing the audition phone number. It could be just for the audition day itself or it could be for any questions beforehand. In either case, providing the number gives actors a crucial channel of communication — and the ones that really need it will appreciate it. [22]

Bear in mind that the schedule won’t be completely finalized in the week leading up to the auditions. Someone will invariably get sick or have car trouble or book a paying gig the same day as the audition. They may frantically contact you to re-schedule — and since you’ve planned all of this out, you should have space in the schedule and can usually oblige.

But to get into how to organize and conduct the auditions, we first need to make sure you’re squared away with a great audition space, which is the focus of the next article.


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FOOTNOTE # 1: And if it wasn’t hard at all, perhaps you might consider writing a series of articles on casting the rest of us could read? Whenever possible, I like to work smarter, not harder.

FOOTNOTE # 2: As will be repeated many times, your actual audition time will be finite. Even if you have your own space to audition people (and as we’ll go over in Part 9, don’t choose just any old space), auditions take valuable time — usually when people are in the midst of other pre-production activities.

Eliminating candidates from consideration before even calling them in is something every other industry does when they do their hiring. They do this because they want to save time, energy, and money — and it works.

FOOTNOTE # 3: The Broken Continent Sample Casting Spreadsheet was mention in the last article. This is essentially how we handled processing all the actor submissions for the Broken Continent. In the last article, I explain how I went about color-coding the entries. Here you can see why I might change the “triage” rankings to letters or numbers in the future as it would make sorting that much quicker.

FOOTNOTE # 4: This is assuming you don’t post the casting notice on a weekend and are not casting for The Broken Continent, which got over 100 submissions in the second week — along with people interested in choreographing stunts, doing camera work, and, of course, composing music.

FOOTNOTE # 5: Time to shoot off another email, Facebook message, text, or phone call. And, depending on how many submissions you have and how much time you have, you might decide to let the actor do whatever it is that’s taking up their time as you already have plenty of people to call in. Remember, as stated elsewhere, I’m assuming any actor part of your production team or integral to your investment and fundraising strategy is pre-cast. That great actor you know might get the part? They get to audition with everyone else (otherwise, why solicit blind submissions?).

FOOTNOTE # 6: There are no rigid rules in an indie production for who is doing the casting. There were three initial producers for The Broken Continent. Oftentimes, a writer/director will share the “casting director hat” with one or more producers. In this case, I served as the casting director, but even there, the level of sharing casting minutiae will depend on the working relationships of everyone involved. In the end, the director (or showrunner, in the case of a web series) should have the final decision on who to cast. However, the casting director can and should work to give the director the best range of choices and so may have a large influence on who is initially called in (theoretically, the director/showrunner could always ask for additional casting calls if everyone is a disappointment).

FOOTNOTE # 7: The logic here being that the director and producers are busy with other aspects of pre-production.

FOOTNOTE # 8: To be honest, I know one of the reasons is that directors and producers often assume I contact the actors promising them an audition slot. I always say we’d like to consider the said actor for one of more parts. There were actors I was 99% certain we would call in unless they were out of the country and 95% certain we would offer a part. However, there’s that pesky 1% at the very least, isn’t there? Also, in talking with the director, we might decide to call the actor in for another part rather than the one I was originally thinking of. That’s why I don’t offer guarantees of auditions to actors.

There’s also the fact that I know quite well that it wouldn’t matter if I did guarantee an audition slot — or a part — to some actors. They might be too polite with me on the phone to say, but they might want to read the script first, might want a gig getting them more money, or might (gasp) not really think as highly of the director as much as the director thinks of them.

FOOTNOTE # 9: The truth is that there are some very talented actors out there that nevertheless are not worth the trouble of working with. If they are not bringing in investors, related financial advantages, or “guaranteed distribution,” why bother? (And if they are, they’re probably part of your production team and you don’t think they’re too high maintenance or insane).

The presence of high maintenance actors is felt by everyone on set — and often proves a drain on energy and time — making production that much harder. Therefore, save yourself the trouble. I always say that, wherever possible, drama should be on screen, not on set.

FOOTNOTE # 10: For example, let’s say you as the casting director knew the role needed to be filled by someone who is conventionally attractive, possibly even drop-dead gorgeous. However, you didn’t realize the role also requires the actor have a slimy tone and you picked some innocent ingenues. Or the role requires someone who’s good with accents. Or card tricks. Or partial nudity. Or card tricks while partially nude.

FOOTNOTE # 11: Bear in mind that this still may not work out. A veteran casting director I know has mentioned it’s not uncommon for the client to turn to him after an exhaustive casting sessions and essentially ask, “So, can we see some better actors for the role?” I’ll mention this again with finding the right audition space, but have a Plan B in case you need additional audition time. You might need it.

FOOTNOTE # 12: This principle is also at play when it comes to the intelligence and overall wit of characters, because actors by and large would rather play clever characters. It takes a special kind of humility to jump into playing the doofus and to do it well (a prime example would be Bill Fagerbakke, better known as the voice of Patrick Star of Spongebob Squarepants, whose delivery is often sublime). I’ve found the more access you have to veteran actors, the easier it is to find actors willing to be troubled, clueless, goofballs… and do a good job of it (another reason to try and budget as much as possible to pay actors). However, if you have these type of “uncool” characters, do make a point to invite some trusted actors to read for them. The “cool” characters will have many takers.

FOOTNOTE # 13: If you dear readers will bear with an analogy far afield from the realms of theater and film, this whole casting process, and knowing you’ve done a good job — and in fact all you can do — reminds me of long-distance running.

I’m thinking here of the cross-country runs you might have done in school or perhaps training runs you might have done for anything from a 5k to a marathon. Invariably, unless you conscientiously refuse to run solo, ample opportunities exist to slack off during your solo practice runs. You can slow to an almost walk-like trot up that steep hill. You can decide not to pick up the pace when you know you should push.

Absent a coach or other scrutiny, no one can say, come race day, whether your performance was the best you could manage or not, but you’ll know. For me, I find it’s the same for all sorts of aspects of filmmaking. I won’t beat myself up for not getting 4-minute miles. I’ve never gotten that. But I know when I could be shaving 10 seconds per mile off my time and am not pushing myself to do it.

Just as you won’t get a better race time than your body can manage, you won’t get a cast better than you deserve — because even if you luck out in getting actors far more talented than your material or your director, well, there’s the roadblocks that are your underwhelming script and director.

(And yes, having a great script and production team to execute said script is important too)

FOOTNOTE # 14: Indirectly, this is yet another argument for having the closed audition. I’m sure someone can provide anecdotal evidence, but I have yet to find statistics of other industries that consistently leave hiring to the vagaries of chance to who might walk in the door that day.

FOOTNOTE # 15: Bear in mind that, for SAG-AFTRA and other union productions, you may need to follow rules on how long actors can wait to audition. I can’t tell you how many casting calls I’ve been to where actors are hanging out for hours to audition. It’s completely avoidable — and it’s a good thing when actors notice the audition process was quick and easy.

FOOTNOTE # 16: This is another argument for stating the audition dates in the casting notice and for actors to read and respond appropriately to said casting notice.

FOOTNOTE # 17: What does “more relaxed” mean? Well, on more than one occasion, we felt like we couldn’t ask certain actors to read for all the roles we wanted or do all the reads we could. This was addressed with callbacks — the people we wanted to see again we were going to call back anyway. However, having that extra time would have made us feel more confident going into the callbacks — and perhaps put us a bit further ahead in our decisions.

FOOTNOTE # 18: Why an email versus a phone call?

Once again, this is for time management.

Let’s look at our case study example: you’re casting a large ensemble and you have those 10 people per 10 roles. In other words, 100 people. Now you’re going to be doing initial auditions with 40-50 of those people. It might take you 15 minutes to create the email template and then easily 2 minutes or less to personalize each email and shoot them off. That’s a bit less than 2 hours. Maybe even closer to 1 hour if you’re hitting your groove.

If you call each person, my experience is that each conversation is at least 3 minutes and usually 5-10 minutes. If they’re a new actor to you, you’re taking a moment to get to know them. If they’re an old actor to you, you’re catching up. This isn’t bad, but you’ll have a chance to catch up or get to know them later. Right now, this method will take 2.5 to 8 hours.

The point of this contact is scheduling the audition. You can be polite and efficient at the same time.

If you have actors near and dear to you, you’ve probably already called or talked to them to make sure they submitted for the project.

You can also list a telephone number if you want to make it easier for actors to contact you if they have questions — but you have to realize you’re accepting that potential extra time spent on logistics.

For the Broken Continent, the majority of actors had no problem handling the scheduling via email. Remember: most actors are busy too. Keeping something as boring as scheduling an audition time short and sweet is a plus.

FOOTNOTE # 19: The reason to give them a time is the same rationale as discussed in Footnote # 18 above: efficiency. Since you’ve already mentioned the date(s) that you’re going to have auditions in your casting notice, actors who are serious about their submission have “penciled the time in.” If the particular date and time you’ve proposed won’t work, they’ll let you know!

Even if you only get half of the people to accept the initial audition slot, you’ve saved a bundle of time — and in my experience, it’s easily 80% of people who accept the initial audition slot.

Remember, you do want to leave enough openings in the audition times to move people around AND you want to make sure actors know to ask for a different time if they can’t make it.

FOOTNOTE # 20: “Painful” only to the extent that you have gone to the pain of walking around the audition venue and an explain any vagaries of the location (e.g., “from the lobby, look for the red door on the right” OR “walk past the ancient suit of armor after defeating the pygmy sphinx” and so on). We’ll go over the walk around in Part 10: Organizing the Audition Space.

FOOTNOTE # 21: You don’t need to dwell on this in any communications to the actors, but if you’re like many productions, you’re renting the audition space and so there’s a particular hour you need to be out of there. No, the actors don’t need to know the details of your rental agreement, but you do need to communicate a time when auditions are over for the day. This helps conscientious actors know when “incredibly late” becomes “too late” and it makes it easy for your check-in staff to provide answers.

If you don’t do this, you’ll have some actor hoping to audition at 6pm when you’re closing up shop at 5pm. All the drama of that conversation could have been avoided (assuming the actor reads their email).

FOOTNOTE # 22: Perhaps we’ll move almost entirely to a world of texts and twitter updates for this, but the day of the audition itself seems to be when actors call the casting people when they’re stuck in traffic, have a flat tire, or suddenly need to take a family member to the emergency room (all of which I’ve been called about, by the way).

Bear in mind that the casting director and director don’t need to be at the other end of this particular phone. In fact, it’s best that the casting staff member responsible for check-in has this phone. The can adjust the schedule for that day and inform you during a break.

For the Broken Continent, Team J purchased a pay-as-you-go phone that is only used during audition days. Very cheap, absolutely helpful on the days that it’s needed and completely ignorable on days it’s not.

Casting Notes #7: Processing all the Actor Submissions (For Filmmakers)

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

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

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

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Processing all the Actor Submissions

If you’re like many filmmakers, there’s probably been something you’ve been wondering about since Part 4:

How do I manage those 100 – 200 submissions? What do I do if it’s over 500 like The Broken Continent?

The short answer is: spreadsheets. Spreadsheets aid in automating the boring parts of the casting process. They will help you find information on actors much, much quicker and allow you to sort and generate subsets of information that other people on your production staff can use (e.g., for scheduling auditions). You could do a database if you’d like, but most filmmakers I know are not also database aficionados. But even databases don’t eliminate the need for time.

[Note: Since this article was originally written, Team J has created Stonehenge, an online casting tool designed to do the heavy lifting that the spreadsheets do and, not coincidentally, save a lot of the time involved in processing actor submissions. However, if you have the time to burn, the spreadsheet method is still quite valid.]

Give yourself Casting Time
Regardless of the tool you decide upon, you need to budget for the time necessary to conduct all the business of casting. Based on our work with the Broken Continent I would recommend budgeting at least 10 minutes per expected actor submission for casting tasks from beginning to end — and this doesn’t include the hours of the auditions themselves.

For example, if you plan on getting at least 10 submissions per role for 10 roles, or, say, 100 submissions: that’s 1,000 minutes. Therefore, you should budget for at least 17 hours of “office time” for casting (because you might as well round up from the 16.66 hours).

If that sounds like a lot of time, consider that this “beginning-to-end casting time” includes:

  • Writing the casting notice
  • Posting the casting notice in multiple locations
  • Getting the word out to actors you want to submit
  • Processing all the pertinent actor information into your spreadsheet or other casting tool
  • Answering any actor questions from the submissions
  • Getting some actors to re-send resumes you can’t read, etc.
  • Conducting initial vetting or ranking of actors (what I perhaps morbidly term “triage”)
  • Reviewing submissions and deciding, perhaps as a group, who to call in for auditions
  • Sending and arranging all the auditions
  • Reviewing audition tapes and deciding, perhaps as a group, who to call back
  • Sending and arranging all the callback auditions
  • Reviewing audition tapes and deciding who to cast
  • Contacting actors and offering parts
  • Doing any other follow-up.

Note I’m not including the time you may need to find a proper audition space or the time you’ll need to file SAG-AFTRA paperwork (if you’re doing a union shoot). Those two tasks can also each potentially take significant hours, but it’s not as easy to generate the number of hours in relation to the number of actor submissions (if I do figure out good benchmarks, I will list them).

If I knew before casting The Broken Continent what I know now about processing large amounts of actors, I would have given myself 15 minutes per the estimated 200 submissions, or 50 hours. I wound up spending more than 50 hours given the Broken Continent had over 550 submissions. Still, I would have been less overwhelmed.

Now, just processing the actors will not take the 17 hours in the above example of 100 expected actor submissions. It’s a subset. In terms of the processing of actors submissions themselves, I’m including the tasks:

  • Processing all the pertinent actor information into your spreadsheet or other casting tool
  • Answering any actor questions from the submissions
  • Getting some actors to re-send resumes you can’t read, etc.
  • Conducting initial vetting or ranking of actors

For that, you want to budget at least three minutes per actor submission and maybe even closer to five minutes per actor submission. So, with the “100 expected actor submissions” example above, we’re talking about budgeting between 300 and 500 minutes, or about five to eight and a half hours. Remember you can guess you’ll get most of your responses to a casting notice within the first 48 hours, so in this example, having two hours per day the first two days is probably a good baseline.

Confirm Receipt of the Actor Submission
Another detail we didn’t initially do for The Broken Continent that I’ve done for other casting and would definitely do in the future would be creating an auto-response message. Remember, as mentioned in Part 4, I advocate creating a specific email alias to process actor submissions. When created the alias or a dedicated address, there should be a way to create an auto-response to say something to the effect of:

Thanks for your interest in [PROJECT]. We’ve received your submission and will follow-up if there are questions.  As mentioned in the casting notices, audition dates are [DATES] in [CITY, STATE]. If we decide to call you in, we will contact you to schedule an audition time. Thanks again for your interest.

You can add a bit more detail as you need, and perhaps even make the tone a bit more chatty (but I wouldn’t suggest being too casual). The message above accomplishes several goals:

  1. First and foremost, it tells the actor that you have their submission. Some actors get anxious and email you to confirm you received it. The more actor submissions, the greater the number of anxious actors.
  2. You’ll answer their questions OR ask them questions if there’s something needing clarification (that second sentence in the response above is purposely ambiguous in order to perform double-duty)
  3. For all those actors who just shot off a submission without reading the casting notice carefully, you’ve just re-told them the audition dates and general location. Some of them are not going to be available. Oh well.
  4. You’re not guaranteeing you’re calling everyone in. Mature actors will be able to deal with this concept. Insecure actors will learn to deal. [1]
  5. You’ve thanked them for their interest, but you’re not promising anything.

Providing the auto-response also helps set the tone for what’s to come in the audition process, and supports the overall goal for filmmakers mentioned in Part 2:

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

And now the fun part: spreadsheets!

Spreadsheet requirements 
Based on my experience from Stonehenge and other large-scale casting I’ve conducted, I already transpose information on actor resumes into spreadsheets for easier reference. For The Broken Continent, I designed a new, more exhaustive spreadsheet in Google Docs to meet my requirements: chief among them was being able to share the information with the other producer and the director. [2]

Many filmmakers will find the system we used for The Broken Continent to be overkill, and it’s true that unless you’re doing an indie feature or a webseries, it probably isn’t worth the effort. [3] However, speaking as an actor, I find most filmmakers could improve their communications with actors with a little pre-planning, and these sorts of spreadsheets will enable better communication that will pay huge dividends during the auditions and down the road.

Whatever system you choose to process actors, I suggest your system should support these general requirements:

Here are some of the specific requirements I had in setting up The Broken Continent (TBC) casting system:

Now let’s look at both of those sets of requirements in detail. For reference to all the Broken Continent requirements, I have created a sample spreadsheet that’s essentially the same as the one we used, except with fake actor data.

Basic Requirement: Your system helps you communicate with actors
If you do nothing else, I strongly recommend that you create a spreadsheet of actors with the bare minimum of:

  • First name
  • Last name
  • Email address
  • Phone number

If you want a PA, intern, or other person to do the tedious data-entry this entails — possibly to enjoy the glamor of the film industry — fine. However, once it comes time to start contacting actors, you’ll find having this list is far faster than sorting through piles of headshots. It also provides a foundation for anything else you want to streamline or automate in the casting process.

Note: Almost all filmmakers have the opportunity to create this sort of spreadsheet after the traditional, labor-intensive process of having actors fill out paper sign-in sheets at the auditions themselves. Besides being nicer to trees, getting this process done up front makes it easier to adjust who you call in: you have all the people who submitted! [4]

This reduced our overall workload, as we were able to check in people via tablet computer: saving trees and looking cool at the same time. [5]

Basic Requirement: Your system helps you determine who to call in
Now that you have the basic contact information for the actors, what do you need to know about actors to know who to call in? There are a variety of approaches you can take here and, as the cliche goes, there is no one right answer. Each project is different.

You could add a column to the spreadsheet that has rankings of who to call in first, you could color-code names. Just adding a column to the spreadsheet listing what role you’d like to call the actor in for could be all you need. By the same token, you might have additional attributes based on the production. [6] The bottom line is that you want this spreadsheet to enable you to target exactly who to call in.

Note: This casting spreadsheet will probably be done as part of an overall system. Whether you’re sitting there with a stack of resumes, with a full e-mailbox of electronic submissions, or looking at an online casting site, you’re probably consulting the actor resume and stats while marking up your casting spreadsheet. While it would be nice for your casting spreadsheet to be a database of all possible information, that would likely take too much time. In making your casting spreadsheet, ask yourself: “What actor information can I distill to make casting decisions?”

Bonus Requirement: Your system helps you determine who to call in for which part
Really, with just a little extra attention to detail, you can go from knowing who to call in to making sure you’re calling in enough people for your female lead, your male romantic interest, and the clumsy-but-endearing comic relief.

Remember, you ideally want at least 10 submissions for each role you’re casting. That gives you the flexibility to hopefully call in five people, call back two or three, and finally choose one for the role. 10 people might seem like a lot for each role, but the audition process reveals that not everyone clicks with your script. [7]

Bonus Requirement: Your system provides potential casting information for the future
The beauty of all the work we did in setting up the Broken Continent system is that we know have records on over 500 actors, many of whom we’d love to call in for future episodes should the Broken Continent take off.

While I keep all the actor resumes from any given Stonehenge, most producers don’t tend to try and maintain “authoritative” archives of every actor they’ve auditioned. However, especially if you know what your future projects are likely to be (as may be the case for some production companies), it can be very helpful to keep a roster of potential actors to call in. [8]

TBC Requirement: Allowed all three of the producers to view the same information
Very early on, we decided a good way to manage a large amount of the documents was via Google Docs (currently being re-branded into Google Drive). [9] This provides an easy way all of us could access and update the same document without the insanity of emailing the “right” version back and forth and do so for free.

If you look at the sample spreadsheet, you’ll see how giving the three producers access allowed us to fulfill some of the requirements below much, much easier.

It’s conceivable too that, if you wanted a stronger separation of duties, you could make some members of the team have read-only access. [10]

TBC Requirement: Provided the name, email address, and phone number of the actor
This requirement is a specific counterpart to the very generic basic requirement above to “help you communicate with actors.” It also supports a couple of other Broken Continent specific casting requirements (which I hope will become some of your specific casting requirements).

I knew I didn’t want to have to sift through a stack of resumes to get contact information. In fact, I wanted as much of the casting process to be electronic, hence getting actors to initially submit to our catch-all email address.

Also, based on my experience with Stonehenge as well as my experience casting for other anticipated series, I knew I’d want to be able to contact some actors in the future, even if we didn’t call them in right away. Again, rather than sift back through electronic or print resumes, I wanted to do that work up front.

Finally, I wanted to be able to have every actor’s email address so that I could communicate with the actors throughout the audition process. The main reason for this, as will be explained further below, is to let every actor who submitted know when casting decisions have been made.

TBC Requirement: Provided a record of our contact with the actor
(e.g. when we received the submission, when we scheduled them, etc.)

Knowing that you’ll be dealing with over 100 actors, it gets hard for even the most attentive casting director to keep track of everyone. When you’ve emailed 34 actors you specifically want to call in, it’s easy to forget you meant to email that 35th one.

Also, since The Broken Continent had three producers, each knowing a pool of actors they were interested in submitting, it became all the more important to have a central list to ensure people didn’t slip through the cracks. [11]

As I mentioned before, there were about 120 actors that I specifically invited to submit. Many of these actors were ones I had just seen at the Actor’s Center lottery auditions; so I essentially just copied and pasted my notes from that audition into the Broken Continent spreadsheet and noted that I emailed them. Invariably, some were unavailable and some I never heard from. When your fellow producers ask about Joe Actor or Jane Actress, either you or they can check the spreadsheet contact history and know.

Remember, when you start dealing with hundreds of submissions, you have to trust that at least some of the blind submissions are actors who might be great for some of the roles. Otherwise, why are you bothering to have a wider casting call? [12] For these larger projects, unless you have a team of casting assistants to help process actors in, you’ll likely find it time consuming to keep on following up with actors who don’t follow up with you. It becomes incumbent on the actor to actually submit and communicate with you. [13]

Note: For any actors reading this, if a casting director contacts you to submit for a project, in all likelihood you have better than average odds of being called in.

TBC Requirement: Provided a record of what parts they were interested in
For any casting notice I do, I always ask that the actor mention what parts they’re interested in. As mentioned in Part 6, finding out what roles the actor thinks they’re right for is always informative for me as a casting director (because even casting for a fantasy series, you want actors to be realistic).

This also helps when you’re sorting who to call in and for what role, especially as you compare them to what roles you and the rest of the production team have in mind. [14]

For The Broken Continent, we had over 20 roles. It would be easy to lose track of all the actors who were interested in a particular part (and we were interested in them as well). As you can see from the sample spreadsheet, the filter capability allowed us to quickly see where the actor interest (and our interest) lay. They’re marked with “A.” Also note how many actors are indiscriminate: they mark every role which fits their age or gender (and a couple wanted to audition for both genders). On the one hand, this is okay, but on the other hand, you’re not going to have time to read any one actor for all 10 roles they might be good for. As covered in Part 6a’s Casting Checklist, the good actors know how to hedge their bets by not discounting being called in for any viable role, but letting their interests be known.

TBC Requirement: Allowed all three producers to note which parts we wanted actors to read for
Let’s face it, if we’re soliciting specific actors to submit, we already have roles we want them to read for. [15]

Returning to the sample spreadsheet, you’ll see “D” for director, “C” for casting director, and “P” for other producer (for Francis Abbey, Bjorn Munson, and Kelley Slagle respectively). In hindsight, we might have used different abbreviations, but it worked well enough here, and you play around with the sorting to see how useful it was.

TBC Requirement: Allowed the casting director to determine which actors to call in first (e.g. triage)
Returning to the sample spreadsheet, you’ll notice the fun variety of color coding. This is an outgrowth of what I’ve done with auditions from Stonehenge (having learned a fellow filmmaker placed headshots into colored folders). So now, for Stonehenge or other mass auditions, I put actors into three categories:

  • Green: They’re good, and when I’m looking for someone who fits their type and tone,  [16] I’ll probably call them in.
  • Yellow: They’re not bad, but they have some issues — whether it was a bad monologue choice, tentative phrasing, or what-have-you. They won’t be my first choice to call in, but if a client really wants that type, we can. They also might work for background if they match the type.
  • Red: Let’s be honest, they’re bad. I rate very few actors this way because one of my baselines is that the actors in question need to demonstrate they don’t know how bad they are. Most actors rated “yellow” are going through the motions of acting; they’re just too artificial and not “in the moment.” “Red” actors are visibly off track, usually before they even begin their monologue — and they don’t even realize it. People who don’t know what they don’t know are no fun on set, so are usually not worthwhile as background unless they have a singular look that the client is demanding.

You’ll notice none of these are permanent states. Over the Stonehenges, I’ve seen some actors bounce between “green” and “yellow.” Sometimes, good actors have off days or pick bad monologues.

Now, for the sample spreadsheet, you’ll see colors that don’t quite match up. Depending on your screen’s color settings, the colors you’ll see are a bit different, but you should get:

  • Dark Green: Actors the director wants to see audition (in some cases, he wrote the part with them in mind) or actors I know I absolutely want to call in for one or more parts.
  • Green: Actors who I would like to call in based on seeing them before or if their resume is suitably impressive (a higher bar versus knowing they’re decent based on previous auditions or work)
  • Yellow (Yellow/orange): Actors who I either have seen previously and knew were not as good as the “Dark Greens” or “Greens” above or those I was receiving blind and did not look like they had sufficient experience.

Initially, we didn’t know if we’d be sharing this spreadsheet with casting assistants, so I didn’t list any “Red” actors (though there were a couple actors the three of us producers were not going to call in). Also, because of the overwhelming number of submissions, I knew we wouldn’t get to any of the “Yellow” actors unless we were having trouble finding background performers.

One thing I might do differently in the future is create a column with ordinal numbers. For example, I could have ‘1’ be “Call this person in for the first available slot” to ‘5’ being “don’t call in because they’re inexperienced/a bad fit/high maintenance and completely insane.” [17] Or I could have done a 3-point scale. Or letter “grades.” If you’re being honest with yourself — and frankly you have to in order to keep the auditions themselves manageable — you need to start judging who you think you’ll want to call in and this sort of “triage” is vital (yes, pun intended). [18]

The reason I’m thinking of the ordinal system is that, even though the color coding makes for easy visual sorting, for determining who to call in, it’d be easier to sort by number or letter grade. This also saves the very efficient color system for the auditions themselves.

TBC Requirement: Helped us communicate with actors throughout the audition process
This requirement expands on the basic requirement of having contact information. Even the most dysfunctional of filmmakers know they need an actor’s contact information, because they’ll need to schedule auditions. As I’ve mentioned throughout the series, I want to go above and beyond what most actors have come to expect from filmmakers. [19] So that includes:

  • The auto-response when actors submit
  • Timely follow-ups to clarification questions [20]
  • Email confirmations of audition dates and times with directions and script sides (as needed)
  • Thanks for auditioning letting actors know decisions have been made

This last one is the least used and the most important. Yes, I know few regular employers use the previously ubiquitous “thanks for applying” letters, but being thoughtful enough to close the loop has next to no downside.

Statistically speaking, you will get at least one person replying to this email who is offended that they weren’t even called in. The momentary annoyance of being railed against by a “legend-in-their-own-mind” is insignificant compared to the goodwill you have shown to all the other actors who hardly ever have a filmmaker be that considerate. [21] And if you’re a heartless filmmaker, there’s a number of selfish reasons to close the loop with actors as well — all of which we’ll go over in Part 17.

TBC Requirement: Provided information for future casting
This requirement really is no different than the bonus requirement listed above. I mention it here because I always wanted to end these auditions having a mass of information about actors interested in being part of The Broken Continent in the future. I expected the auditions to be a lot of work and this way, all that work pays dividends for the future.

We had over 550 submissions. Of the 400 or so we didn’t call in, I have a better idea who we could call in for a future audition and who might be good for background roles. Moreover, of the 120 or so actors we called in for both the regular and fight auditions, we know who would be great for specific roles in the future. All this saves time which is very valuable (which will become more apparent as we get deeper into how to run auditions). Plus, there’s the bonus of knowing actors that much better for any future projects.


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FOOTNOTE # 1: I notice many a newer actors appear to feel entitled to an audition simply because they submitted. Although I leave the door open in Part 4, I am increasingly against truly open casting calls for specific projects. These are the casting calls for an indie film or whatnot where you’ve listed the time and precise address of when you’re having auditions. Maybe you’ve scheduled some actors, but basically, whomever comes by, comes by.

The reason I don’t like these is because I’ve seen time and again how both the actors’ and filmmakers’ time is wasted when the actor is oh-so-clearly not right for the part or the project. Doing casting well is going to take valuable pre-production time, and as you know, you never have enough pre-production time. Therefore, the casting director needs to take the lead on who gets called in from both actors they already know and blind submissions as required.

Your casting director should be someone who catches a lot of local theater, films, and web series as well as attends mass auditions like Stonehenge or the Actor’s Center Lottery Auditions. They should have an idea of who to ask to call in to begin with. Not only that, you’re going to write an enticing casting notice, and place it all the right places, so actors looking for auditions are going to see it. Bingo: blind submissions.

Plus, when it comes to blind submissions, you already have criteria. You know who wrote your script and you’ve doubtless discussed what types of actors you’ve looked for. If you’ve cast just one project, you know there is a cadre of actors out there that will submit for anything, no matter how ill-suited they are to the part or the project.

At the same time, if you’re looking to cast a large project, you’re inevitably going to want to call in actors you don’t know or, at the very least, don’t know well. You’re making your best guesses on some of those blind submissions. Hence, the audition isn’t truly closed.

In college and community theater situations, my experience has been to have truly open calls. And I know casting agencies have open calls for themselves and for particular projects where they want actors for some type of another (the other parts for the project already being cast). That shouldn’t be the case here. If you’re writing your casting notice well and getting it to all the right channels, you should have the submissions to sift through and know who you want to call in.

Because many actors are coming from these very open college or community theater situations, I’ve found many of them feel that very open method is the only way to “give actors a fair chance.” Sorry, but time is at a premium. This is the same reason employers don’t interview every single applicant for an opening if they don’t have to. The actor’s fair chance and opportunity starts with responding well to the casting notice and, yes, being right for one or more of the parts. And when we get to Part 8, you’ll learn how you might not even have a chance to call in everyone who might be right for the part.

FOOTNOTE # 2: The ability to share the casting information with the production team easily is invaluable. Kelley, the other producer, originally didn’t anticipate being as involved with the casting process as she eventually was–and we all benefited from it.

FOOTNOTE # 3: Unless, of course, you want to further expand it into a database and/or use it to begin a general casting spreadsheet for ALL your productions (though in truth, I still maintain Team J casting information and simply copied the relevant fields from the Broken Continent casting spreadsheet to my own system).

FOOTNOTE # 4: I pre-populated The Broken Continent spreadsheet with all the actors I wanted to invite to submit: about 120 in total.

FOOTNOTE # 5: Looking organized to actors is more important than looking tech-savvy, but frankly, looking tech-savvy helps in the overall impression of looking organized to actors. It helped that we also had neatly printed audition signs posted around and in the audition building, a clean and inviting waiting area, and friendly check-in staff. We’ll cover those sort of details more in Parts 10 and 11, but checking in people with a laptop, tablet, or other computing device means you save paper and time.

FOOTNOTE # 6: For example, The Broken Continent needed multiple characters who were skilled in stage combat. We could have added a checkbox for just that. Other checkboxes could be “Willing to do Background Work” or “Experience with Accents” or any of a number of special skills your production is looking for.

FOOTNOTE # 7: These 10 candidates for the role will ideally be whittled down to about five people to call in (something to be detailed in the next article: Deciding who to call in). Of those five, there will be  actors you were certain were going to nail the part, but will not. Also, of the 10 people who submit, a couple will discover that they’re out of town during the audition or might never respond when you try and call them in.

Remember, 10 is an ideal minimum. You could easily have 20 or 30 people eager to audition for a role (something that was certainly the case with The Broken Continent). The important step, because it involves times and money, is how many people to call in — with the artistry being who to call in.

FOOTNOTE # 8: For example, The Broken Continent will likely always need actors who have good classical credits, actors who are good with accents, and actors with significant stage combat training. Other local DMV production companies might want to maintain a roster of actors good for historical re-enactments, background performers who can portray military personnel, and actors who can easily rattle off medical and scientific terminology.

FOOTNOTE # 9: For a more traditional, easily-accessible, shared folder of production company documents, we also added a Dropbox account.

FOOTNOTE # 10: Conceivably, you could switch users from being able to edit to being read-only and back, but most likely just doing any kind of spreadsheet will be a significant level-of-effort for most productions — and most producers interested enough in the casting will want full access. However, some production companies (and casting directors) might want the casting director to have the sole read/write access with the client producers/director being given read only access to review and approve as needed. As with so many aspects of processing actor submissions, there’s no one solution here.

Another, more likely scenario would be using the main spreadsheet, that has confidential information about casting notes (i.e., the triage requirement mentioned in the article). Then, the casting director can create subsets of the main list that then could be used by casting assistants to schedule the auditions: another time-intensive task.

FOOTNOTE # 11: As mentioned previously, I know actors want to (and should) build relationships with filmmakers, so that said actors get called in by said filmmakers more frequently. That’s fine. For both actors and filmmakers, please don’t think those relationships are a reason to circumvent your own casting process. For example, for The Broken Continent, some of the actors we called in were people I’ve known for 15 years. They went through the same process that completely blind submitters did.


I don’t know if their contact information has slightly changed. I don’t know if they have an updated headshot they’d prefer everyone see. Perhaps there’s new credits on their resumes I don’t know about. Perhaps, and this happens frequently: they aren’t available. If that’s true, these in-demand actors still have time to email me back and then I update the contact history noting that fact.

The irony of either actors or filmmakers looking for “special treatment” is that it increases the risk of worse treatment and slipping through the tracks. Process every actor the same way. You won’t forget the actors you really want to call in — and the actors you want to work with won’t mind the horrors of… submitting for an audition like they do anyway. These actors know you’re looking for the best actors. They’re hoping they fit the bill, but guess what? They’ve not gotten parts before. They know it’s a possibility. If they’re not best for this particular role this particular time, they’re grown-ups. You’ll call ’em in again. If you have not pre-cast the role in question, process every actor the same way (because you’re being nice to everyone, right?).

FOOTNOTE # 12: Again, this applies to casting indie features and webseries. Now, this is not to say that none of your roles for these sorts of project are ever going to be pre-cast. In fact, I would not be surprised if one of the leads was also part of the creative team, a fellow producer, an investor, someone who could attract money, or some combination of all of those factors. However if they’re not in a crucial production role or integral to financing the project — and are therefore pre-cast in the role before you begin the casting process — the same guidance of getting 10 people to submit for each role applies.

If you’re doing a small project — something faster to complete compared to the marathon that is an indie film — by all means pre-cast it with some of your favorite actors and go have fun. The assumption here is that if you’re doing an the indie feature or a webseries with as big a cast as Broken Continent, you’re trying to collect the best talent you can. That almost certainly means casting some people you haven’t worked with before.

FOOTNOTE # 13: The importance of two-way communication is something that, time and again, I find anxious directors and producers ignore. Why didn’t I call in Joe Actor or Jane Actress? Then I have to explain, as patiently as possible, that if I phone and email actors, letting them know quite unambiguously that we want them to submit for the project, the rest is up to the actors in question. If they’re not interested or available, they may not respond. I certainly can’t schedule someone who doesn’t even contact us back. As a casting director, I’m happy to follow up with actors as time permits, but my priority is getting multiple actors to read for each role, not just one.

As mentioned before, unless that actor is integral to financing, or they’re otherwise pre-cast and you’re not reading other actors for the role, there’s no reason to process them differently. By definition, the auditions are for roles where several people, known and unknown, may be reading for the part. For the Broken Continent, the director and other producer had plenty of actors in mind they wanted to call in. Not surprisingly, these actors had no problem submitting along with everyone else. No friendships were harmed.

FOOTNOTE # 14: Something I like to do, and did whenever possible with the Broken Continent auditions, was, after reading the actor for the role we called them in for, let them read for a part they had voiced an interest in. First, it tells the actor that yes, you were reading their submission. Second, they might show you something you hadn’t seen from their headshot or resume (hey, you’re making your best guesses after all, something we’ll discuss in Part 8). In one case, I called in an actress certain she’d read well for one part and she did. But she had been very eager to read for another part. Guess what? She blew us away and got that second part.

FOOTNOTE # 15: There’s also the sad fact that many actors, often less experienced, do not have a good gauge of what roles they might be right for. This is one of the reasons the casting director should do a review to make sure the actors prepare for roles you want them to read for (assuming you’re not doing a cold read).

A flip side of this is the actor, often experienced, who is asked to read for something they don’t automatically think is their type. This will especially be the case if the character description does not match (e.g., the role is listed as younger or older — or with a different race or sex). As mentioned in Part 4, the important thing to get is the actor matching the role’s tone.

Of course, tone isn’t always easy.

In casting The Broken Continent, we discovered many actors did not connect to the fantasy portion, the faux medieval portion or both. Sometimes the actors realized it, sometimes they didn’t. I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed too: seeing actors I know are quite good stumble with the material. But in mixing blind and known submitters, I think it’s always worthwhile to call in some actors you know are good from other sources.

FOOTNOTE # 16: These aren’t “official” terms, but I use them as casting shorthand.

“Type” here means the physical attributes of the actor: their age, sex, race, and ethnicity. Also, their body type (thin, fat, muscular, etc.) and if they have noticeable scars and tattoos, I suppose.

“Tone” here means the far more interesting aspects of the actor. Are they intense? Warm? Scattered? Scary? Intelligent? Obnoxious? Could you see them as a police officer? Astronaut? Car mechanic? Librarian? Alien anthropologist with a psychosomatic limp?

FOOTNOTE # 17: The reality is that, after running auditions locally for many years, I have a good idea about the abilities of many local actors. Couple that with horror stories both I and other filmmakers could tell and there’s some actors you’re just never going to call in for your own auditions. Neither you nor they will benefit.

I will say that you should be just as polite and professional with those actors as with anyone else. There’s no benefit in burning bridges when actors can improve in their craft and even their attitudes. Besides, being polite and professional annoys the truly high maintenance/insane folks to no end.

FOOTNOTE # 18: As will become abundantly clear when we get to Part 9, the right audition space is usually not going to be cheap. Even if you get to use a great place for free, hours and hours of auditions are draining. It’s cheaper and less exhausting to take the time to narrow down your choices of who to call in. You have to take this plunge.

Remember, whatever your choices, some of the actors you call in will not do as well as you had hoped and some will do far better than you expected.

FOOTNOTE # 19: As mentioned before, you may be the potential employer with the really cool job (i.e. the cool acting role in the cool project), but odds are if you’re reading this, you don’t have the really cool pile of money to pay actors. That means you need to drive home the fact — and you are working to make this a fact not just a hope — that the actor in question will be well taken care of on the production. The best actors you can afford in this area are often veteran actors who’ve seen no end of cool-sounding projects. One of the only ways they have to differentiate the passionate professionals from the dysfunctional dreamers is how well the casting process goes. Having good communication with actors may seem small, but is absolutely, positively crucial to getting the best cast you can.

FOOTNOTE # 20: When you respond will depend on how many submissions you get and how you’re staffed to respond (this is why I advocated setting aside a number of hours during the first few days a casting notice is up). However, responding to questions within 24 hours is ideal and within 48 hours is definitely preferred. Assume that the actor on the other end of the communication is trying to book up as much work as possible as quickly as possible.

Also, no matter how inane the questions might be or obvious the answer is (often only requiring the actor read the casting notice), try and do what Team J does and be polite and positive.

FOOTNOTE # 21: Such an annoyance is also insignificant compared to the power of The Force (but you knew we were going to make that Star Wars reference, didn’t you?).

For the record, we here at Team J do not advocate use of the Dark Side of The Force, with the possible exception being judicious use of duct tape.

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