Stareable’s Guide to Creating a Show (Part 5)
By now you’ve written a script, gathered a team of hopefully competent people behind the scenes, but now you need someone to film. That’s right — it’s time to open up your email to headshots from every hopeful performer in a fifty mile radius.
Actors Colin Hinckley (left) and Marshall Taylor Thurman (right) receiving direction on the set of Brains
Because you’ve already made your script breakdown, you should know exactly how many characters you need to cast, so it’s time to write what’s called a “casting call.” You’ll pen a short paragraph about each character, describing their age, gender, ethnicity, and other important traits that will be helpful for actors to get a feel for the part. Helpful traits to list: “funny, life of the party, brooding, quick-tempered, whip smart, confident, insecure.” Unhelpful traits: “hot but she doesn’t know it, hot but she knows it, just the girlfriend.”
Example casting call from my show, Brains, via Backstage.com
Facebook and other social media are a great start for blasting your casting call, but if you’re in a larger city like L.A. or New York, I suggest coughing up a few bucks for a listing on sites like Backstage or ActorsAccess. These are sites specifically for casting, and will increase your odds of finding talent outside your personal network. They’re also set up to make it easier to sort submissions, instead of just getting a bunch of random Facebook comments and posts.
I’d suggest staying away from Craigslist. Not only does it make your production look less legitimate, but the only actors who actively use Craigslist for casting are looking for… more revealing roles, if you catch my meaning. (Hint: I mean porn)
I’m a fan of a three step casting process.
Have actors that fit your specifications submit headshots and, if possible, acting reels, or a compilation of their previous acting roles. Not all actors, especially younger ones, will have a reel, and you shouldn’t disqualify someone for this, but seeing them in action will make it easier to narrow down the initial deluge of submissions.
Ask your favorites to send in a video of themselves reading sides. Sides are just excerpts from your script that you think best define the role you’re casting for. This way you can hear potential actors reading lines they’ll potentially have to perform. Usually one scene is good enough — all you’re doing is trying to get a better idea of what kind of performers they are before you meet them in person.
Narrow down submissions even further by scheduling in-person auditions. Don’t hold auditions at your house or apartment — people are crazy, and it also doesn’t set a professional tone, even for a no-budget web series. Larger cities will have empty studio spaces for rent on an hourly basis that are pretty cheap. Otherwise, consider asking local universities for an empty classroom or friends for an empty office where they work.
This third step is more complicated than it sounds, because you’re not just auditioning people to see if they can play your character. You’re also deciding if they as a human being are going to jive with your production. As an example, when I was casting for my series, we had one auditioner who would have been perfect for the character, but he gave off a very creepy vibe, and since we were planning on shooting with very few people in very small locations, we just didn’t feel comfortable offering him the role. It’s like interviewing a potential roommate, because filmmaking is a very intimate and arduous process, and if you can’t imagine spending twelve hours at a time hanging out with this person, even if they read the lines well, it’s not worth it. Trust me.
Congratulations, your scrappy team is now complete! Next week we’ll talk about contracts, which are necessary even if you’re only paying people in IMDb credit and fruit snacks.