Casting is King
by Hal Landen
“Seventy-five percent of directing is casting.” — Alfred Hitchcock
The most important thing a director does is usually casting. With the right cast and a good script, the chances of a successful video or film improve dramatically. This also applies to off-camera narrators.
The ancient Greek word for “actor” means “one who interprets”. The actor interprets the dramatic character in your script. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word “actor” originally referred to both sexes. While the word “actress” is considered sexist by some, it is commonly used in major acting awards such as the Academy Awards e.g. Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting role. Some, like Sigourney Weaver, object to this word. She says “I’m an actor. An actress is someone who wears boa feathers.” The gender-neutral usage of “actor” is growing but is not yet universal. Be sensitive to this issue when dealing with male and female actors. Actors are also called “talent.”
Where To Find Actors
One strategy that’s worked for me is meeting actors through local theater groups. Many of these groups will have websites where you can sometimes find a page of Resident Actors, but this page may not have enough information. Often a simple phone call will start the ball rolling. “Hi, I’m casting for a corporate video and am looking for an actor with the following characteristics (concise description here). Do you know any actors who might fit that profile?” By calling enough theater groups I often find a number of actors who sound like they fit the role. I call these actors and, after chatting a bit, may invite them to do a reading at a specific date and time. I tell them I’ll videotape the audition and I’ll give them the script when they arrive. Those who come a half hour late are usually eliminated.
While that may seem harsh, if the actor is late for the audition, he or she could cost me money by being late for the shoot. One reason I don’t give them the script in advance is that I like to see how well they think on their feet. In low budget productions, everyone has to work quickly. After you’ve cast an actor, it’s very helpful to give the script to the actor well in advance and to rehearse as much as necessary.
Before asking the actor to read for a part, be sure to fully explain any special requirements for the role. One casting session I did was for a corporate video with a script full of challenging technical language. I choose the most difficult parts of that script and asked each actor to read them. That alone told me a lot about their verbal skills. Some people could not read it convincingly.
One of the most important traits I look for in casting any actor is intelligence. An actor who is a quick study will make your filming much easier. You want someone who won’t forget their lines and won’t require ten re-takes. Beware of an actor who makes excessive demands before you even hire them. It’s very important that you have actors sign a release before any shooting occurs. Here’s are some good releases you can use:
If the strategy of calling local theater groups does not give you the kind of actors you want, you may need to call theater groups in larger cities. Or you can try an ad in Craigslist.org
How To Find Actors On Craigslist
Get an account at www.craigslist.org. Then search for your city, or region. Then start reading casting calls from others, check the jobs column and look for the category “tv/film/video.” After you’ve studied a few casting calls, write your own. Include a good description of the role and the work required including the compensation you offer. Then click the “post to classifieds” link. Follow the instructions. You may have to pay a small fee of $25. You may want people to send you an email with pictures, resume, experience.
Local Casting Websites
There are websites that specialize in presenting actors and models. They are called are talent agencies. Performers pay to be listed in these sites so this is not an ideal way for find good talent. You can usually tell if this is the case just by the average age of the actors and models. A site that mostly has twenty-something or younger people is not likely to be a serious place to find skilled actors.
Much better than local acting sites are local casting sites. These may not exist in your town but they can usually be found in larger cities or areas that have more theater, film or video work. Do a Google search for “casting TOWN” without the quote and substitute your town or a larger nearby city for TOWN. Also try “find actors TOWN” and similar searches without the quotes. Internet searches don’t always find helpful sites for casting. Ask producers, directors and other people who work in the upscale film or video business in your region. You know you’ve found the right site when some of the actors list feature films or TV commercials you know.
What About Casting Agencies? They may help if you have a budget and are willing to sign a union contract. While I do not have direct experience working with casting directors, I know they can help you find the best talent and save a lot of time.
Union or Non-Union
Unless you have a union contract with Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), you will want to state in your advertising that you are offering a a non-union acting job. A great many fine actors do not make a living at acting and must support themselves with other jobs. So for them, acting is a part-time passion. Actors who belong to one of the unions, will work on non-union jobs if they are low profile e.g. never be broadcast on TV.
The more successful actors may refuse to work on a non-union job because they have too much to lose. In those cases, you can work with union actor, by using a payroll service that also can serve as a signatory of the union. You pay the payroll service, they pay the actor. To find these services do a Google search for “cast crew payroll service” without the quotes.
For more information on working with a casting director, paying union rates and more see Selective Casting
Voice Over Casting Online
I’ve used many of the same techniques above to cast Voice Over talent. In addition there are websites devoted to voice over casting. For instance on “VoiceBank” www.voicebank.net, you can search and listen to over 70,000 voice-over demos from the top voice talent around the world. See their Voice-over Demo section.
Another site is https://www.voicesonlinenow.com/ Their motto is “cast it, book it, record it.”
How To Find Actors in Back Stage Magazine and Show Business Weekly
Back Stage publishes a weekly tabloid-sized trade magazine in the U.S. (Back Stage) and a bimonthly digest-sized resource directory (Call Sheet) that cover the entertainment industry from the perspective of performers (singers, dancers, comedians, etc.), the performance unions (SAG, Actors’ Equity Association, AFTRA, AGVA, AGMA, the American Federation of Musicians, etc.), casting directors, agents, writers, directors, and, in particular, actors.
Back Stage also publishes related and newsletters, produces industry trade shows (such as Actorfest),
For a small monthly fee you can post a Casting Notice. Be sure you check Non-Union, Video if that applies.
This is more for New York actors and directors than Back Stage is.
Casting The Same Actor in Other Projects
Many feature film directors cast actors they have worked with previously. John Hughes is one example. Finding good actors for one project will often help you on future projects.
When I was producing corporate videos full-time, I worked with a handful of very skilled actors and narrators who appeared in many of my productions. The reason we could get away with this – seeing the same person in different roles – is that the videos were in very different industries, such as security systems, metalurgy, surveying, furniture sales, well reclamation and many more. When you’ve found an actor who is really good at what they do and you’ve established a good working relationship, it can make a lot of sense to cast them in more than one production. This is especially true for corporate videos which have different audience. But it could be a problem when there is an expectation of exclusivity whether written or not. For instance if you are producing local or regional TV commercials and you used the same actor to promote dog food and then plastic surgery, you might have a problem. A little common sense and sensitivity to your clients will go a long way toward eliminating this problem.
For more information on producing videos see our home study course “Professional Video Producer”