Casting is one of the most important parts of indie film making.
The reason I am writing this article is that we had a successful casting last week in Melbourne for a film called “Blessed”. The film is about a corrupt priest who has turned into a Godfather Gangster.
Starting at 6pm, we had about 30 actors test for the various parts in the film. By the time we had wrapped the casting, it was 12 midnight. The result was the objective; we had successfully found some great actors to play the roles in the film “Blessed”.
I always stress that a successful casting is one of the most important film directorial skills. Today I would like to outline five important tips that dramatically improve your casting
1 Send the scene to be auditioned for and if you are making a short film the whole script five days in advance of the casting.
This way, actors can prepare an interpretation of the script in advance. Also it will tell you how much an actor is into the film. Actors who actually learn their lines and prepare for the casting show a more conscientious committed work ethic. Actors who have to read from the script and do not learn the lines demonstrate a lack of interest in the film.
2 Be prepared to direct the actor if they show promise on the first read. Remember this is a screen test, so test the actor
Give the actor outrageous directions. An example: An actor is auditioning for the role of a gangster priest and plays the character in a priestly educated and controlled way. The Director then decides to test the actor and asks the actor to be sleazy and creepy. He or she requests the actor to seduce the other character with the same lines as in the script. See what happens on the second read.
If the actor is accomplished they will give you a very convincing sleazy and creepy interpretation. As a director, you will want to see if an actor can take direction well. If they pass this test, you know you have an actor that can take direction and is versatile. This actor should be listed on your short list.
3 Make sure you have a challenging surprise improvisation.
The Director should spring an improvisation on the actor. This will illuminate the level of acting talent, the actor has.
As a Director you could say to the actor
“I want you to play a gangster priest. I want you to imagine you are in a warehouse with a member of your parish who has disobeyed you. You are furious and you scream at the person and lose your temper with him and then shoot him.”
See what happens with the actor. If they are good at improvisation, this part of the test will tell you if you want this actor on your final shortlist for the part. Only do this with actors you like.
4 Focus on the 15 % that are suitable for your film
When you test actors, 85% of them will be unsuitable for the role. This is the hard work aspect of casting shifting through the unsuitable actors. My advise is save your energy for the 15% of actors that are suitable for the film. You only direct the 15% that make your short list. This is the easy fun part and everyone in the casting room gets an emotional high when you score a suitable actor for the short list
5 Record your Screen Tests so you can watch the short list later.
It is very important to record all the tests on camera so that you can play them back later. This way you can make a decision. Most of the time the right actors stick out head and shoulders above the rest.
Set up a successful casting and it will dramatically improve your film directing and the quality of your film. If you want to learn how to organise and run a successful casting, please book into one of our 4 month Film School
Colm O’Murchu owns and runs Australian Film Base and Sydney Film Base, a successful film production company and indie film centre that trains emerging film makers. His next feature film production Absolute Freedom starts preproduction in late 2013