Join Koura on Episode 16 of Filmmaking (Actually) to learn about...casting! Defined as the assigning of parts in a play, film, or other production (specifically to actors), casting is one of the most important parts of filmmaking. Any discussion about casting calls and auditions must give equal attention to actors who want to fit the part and the filmmakers who need to find just the right actor for a given role. Listen as Koura explains her experiences on both sides of the casting table, from learning how to take and receive notes, what it means to be the character, fitting the look of the project versus typecasting, and more. And, you know, you might learn something (actually) - ta-da!
If you want to ask a question or just want to say hello, you can write to us at filmmakingactually(at)gmail(dot)com! You can also sign up for our mailing list through the "Contact Us" section of our website, for filmmaking tips and tricks, along with all the latest projects and updates on what we are working on.
For full access, you can also join our Patreon where we host exclusive virtual panels and workshops and share other behind-the-scenes content.
Below please find a transcript of this episode. Episodes are also available as audio-only podcasts here or with subtitles in this video:
What Do You Need to Know About Casting, Actually??
Hi! I'm Koura, and welcome back to my podcast, “Filmmaking (Actually)”! Ta-da!
So, maybe I thought about this too much, but I feel like this is a potentially controversial topic. The way I do the podcast is I write out the episode first, and then I try and kind of work out my thoughts on paper, and then I record the episode. But this one has been hard, and I think part of the reason is that casting is a potentially really subjective process, and I feel like maybe it's a little bit hard to pin down. And people tend to find what helps them make some sense out of it all. I don't know. Personally, I found they can get a little bit aggressive if you challenge that in any way. I kept struggling with, “How do I share my perspective and experience without freaking out about all the judgment I'm gonna get for sharing my thoughts?” (Which is pretty much how I live my life every day.) But I figured I would just write it and record it, and I'll just put my usual disclaimer that this is what works for me so you don't have to agree with me. I have my own limited experiences and all I can do is share them in the hope that maybe it'll be useful? And, you know, if you just think it's crap or I'm crap, then, I don't know, just stop listening to my podcast. If there's something in here that maybe is helpful, that's really all I want to do is try and share that. So, yeah.
These are some of my thoughts and experiences on casting, and hopefully it'll be useful to you whether you are an actor going on auditions, or whether you're a filmmaker who's trying to cast people in their projects. I did think about doing a two-part where, like, one episode is specifically for actors, and one episode is specifically for casting directors. But I actually feel like it might be more helpful to have both sides together in one episode. When I was acting, I wish I had more understanding of what it was like on the other side of the casting table. And working on casting my own projects, it's been helpful! At least to me to have an understanding of what it's like to be going on auditions as an actress. So I figured I would do it as one episode and kind of put them together just as one thing.
Also, obviously a lot of this is going to be about in person casting, but it actually does go for self tapes and zoom calls as well. I personally love a tape as the first round of auditions because it shows me how the person looks and acts on camera. That said, I've had some tapes come in that were amazing! And then the person's a hot mess when they're doing a live read. And I've had okay tapes that I decided to give a live read to, and the live read is amazing! In the end, can the talent portray the character naturally, can they work with the director and take direction, and do they fit well with the other cast?
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Again, casting is a super weird process because it is so subjective. And there isn't like some scientific set standard that acts as a universal guideline for the industry. You know, there are some quote-unquote “looks” and quote-unquote “types” which, in my opinion, is just lazy casting and acting. Because unless you're casting for a very specific role - for example, when we were casting our film “Names on the Wall”. It's a Vietnam War film and we needed a Vietnamese actor to play the role of the Vietnamese soldier. But even then the quote-unquote “look” stopped at... They are actually Vietnamese. That was it. It's my opinion (and I sometimes say that this is an unpopular opinion), I feel like it's not that it's unpopular because people don't like it, but it just isn't the general idea. The whole point of acting is to pretend to be someone else. The whole point of casting is to find someone who's able to portray the character that you're looking for.
And, again, I've said many times, I'm an indie filmmaker. I honestly try to avoid hardcore Hollywood for so many reasons. I'm also my own producer, so I don't have studio pressure of what they think someone should look like. Characters are characters, and very rarely does what they look like have anything to do with who they are. I mean, it breaks my heart when I see posts from actors on social media and share a headshot of themselves, and they'll be like, “What would you cast me as?” or “What type am I?” Actors, you should be like a doll in the tv show “Dollhouse”; you should be able to be anyone! Majority of roles have nothing to do with how you look or how you are as a person naturally. And this may be a totally lofty and idealistic goal, but hey, that's me! But narrative filmmaking is the act of creating a world and telling a story about people who don't actually exist! And I don't mean some sort of weird racially erasure type thing. Just seriously, aside from a few characters where their nationality is actually relevant to the storyline itself, how many characters in film or tv could be recast to be any race, or even any gender, and the story could stand exactly as it was written.
The whole point of a wardrobe team, and hair and makeup, and the talent, and all of these people working together under the direction of the director, and in collaboration with the writer, is to create a fictional character. (And I am kind of speaking to production right now.) But if you're looking for a strait-laced nurse, and you cast someone who's a nurse and very strait-laced, in my opinion, that's kind of lazy casting, and it's lazy acting. Filmmakers should never look for a type, and as an actor, don't let yourself be typecast! It's my opinion that so many actors get passed over because some casting director, or producer or, even director, has some preconceived idea of what a character should be or look like based on who they are. You know - the cute blonde next door, or the hot lead jock guy, or the bikini babe in the music video, or the nerdy science student. I'm almost done with my soapbox and I will get on with actual casting tips, but seriously. Humans are humans, and they really should be cast as such.
Last little side note, look at the world around you. Go out one day and just sit somewhere and people watch. Okay, maybe not right now, but whenever it's safe to do that. My favorite place to do that is at conventions. My husband and I have worked at a bunch of, like, Comic-Con type conventions, and Spooky Empire, and stuff like that, and we see thousands and thousands of people all totally geeking out over their fandom. And while some of them were clearly the stereotypical convention goers, so many are just random people you'd never think would be the type to hit up a convention. But why? They're people, of course! They're gonna have things they like! So here's the thing about humans. Humanity is ridiculously diverse just as its own thing by itself. Humans are layered and awesome and interesting and have stories and hopes and dreams and likes and dislikes, and it isn't just the one track 80s high school film characters.
You know a great example is the song “Stick to the Status Quo” from “High School Musical”. (Yes, I went there.) But the whole song is about people who are in one quote unquote “group” who actually love things outside of what would be considered quote unquote “normal” for them. I mean the whole point of the movie is the star of the basketball team wants to be in the drama club. So, yeah. When it comes to humanity, probably a hundred percent of all people like more than one thing and don't fit in a perfect box. So when it comes to casting (again, this is more for producers, directors, casting professionals), I say forget everything you've learned about types. If I see one more stressed out nerdy person dependent on an asthma inhaler due to an anxiety attack, I'm gonna scream. Like, I used to have to take my inhaler in the middle of gymnastics practice. Why aren't there athletes or just normal people with asthma having an asthma attack? Anyway...
Look for humans when you're casting. Who is your character? What makes them that way? Honestly, that does start with the writers, but sometimes it seems like the casting room is where characters go to die! Cast humans. And actors, if you find yourself stuck in a type and you can't break out of that, get yourself a better agent or a better acting teacher because if you're just being put out for auditions that are basically you, that's not acting. And casting directors, if you're only going for someone who quote unquote “looks the part” based on a headshot, give your production team a little more credit. You know, can someone act? Do I see the character in front of me without hair and makeup and wardrobe? Is this person standing in front of me as the character on the page? That should be the only thing in your mind in the casting room when you're sitting behind the table or when you're looking through audition tapes. And, as the talent, you should just be naturally saying the lines and being the character as soon as you start to read. That's my soapbox. I'm gonna put it away now and get to some basics for casting.
For actors, the best advice I ever saw on casting is this: Good casting directors actually want to cast you. When you walk into the room, they're as hopeful as you are that you're going to be the right fit for the part. I mean that's their whole job is to find the right fit! That isn't to say they aren't human, and that they couldn't be having a bad day, or be as emotionally exhausted as you are going through audition processes. You know, sometimes they can be a little bit less than enthusiastic when you walk in. But if they're doing their job - and, no offense, I mean, I know I'm guilty of this and it's a constant reminder to stay fresh and remember that when that new person walks into the room, I may have just watched 75 reads, but this is the first time I'm seeing this person. If the people behind the table really have their heart in it and they're doing their job, when you walk in they want you to be the right fit. That said, going back to what I keep saying, filmmaking is an art, not a science, and that absolutely goes for casting.
There's no rule book, and the problem with auditions, in my opinion, is that there's no certainty to hold on to audition to audition. So, like, you can walk in and the people behind the table are going to have their own biases and personal preferences and taste and ideas, and you may not be a good fit for a jillion and one different reasons. But actors (I cannot stress this enough), if you don't get a part, that's literally the last time you should ever think about that audition. Because, here's the thing, you're going to scrutinize over what you could have done better, or why they didn't like you, or what went wrong. And then you're going to go into your next audition determined to do it differently, and make sure not to repeat the last failure. But here's the problem. The next audition you go on is for a different role with a different casting director for a different project, and you have no idea if what you did last time is going to be a good fit for this new project or not. Constantly replaying past auditions and trying to perfect your audition process audition to audition is in my opinion literally insane! Because the circumstances roll to roll are totally different. Even if you're going back to the same casting director, it's still a different part.
That said, It's one of my biggest pet peeves that apparently telling an actor why they didn't get a part is like a shockingly foreign idea in Hollywood. I mean, I understand that you've got a ten thousand person casting call, who has time for that? But, in my opinion, if you have a big enough budget to call in that many people, the casting person can literally take five seconds to jot down a note next to their number of why they're cut. And you can probably afford a PA for the casting days to just tell the person why they were cut. If you're a small project, you literally have no excuse. Take a few moments, give the actor a note or two on why you're cutting them before sending them home. “Oh my gosh! But that's so much work!” Well, guess what? Filmmaking is work! And from what I've seen of the mental health of actors, it is the least filmmakers can do after someone invested all of that time in learning the sides, working out the character, putting their heart and soul into it, potentially stood there all day going in and out of the casting room if you kept bringing them back, or even if they just read once, they still learned the lines you gave them, earn the character that you created and brought their heart. Take 30 seconds and tell them why you're sending them home.
Now, for actors, when you get that note, remember that the casting staff are not gods. No one is. Everyone is human and they have their own opinions and thoughts and whatever. If the note really sucks and you totally disagree, after you let go of your ego for a moment and you really reflect on the note, see if maybe it isn't something you could possibly work on. If it doesn't ring true in your heart, say thank you and move on with your life. Just as an example of how casting directors are not without flaw, the actor who played Thumper in the Disney movie “Bambi” - Literally the most perfect voice for that role! - the casting director actually rejected that boy because they said he could not act. It was the animators who heard the voice later and were like “Where is this magical child? Get them back here!” and then they made film history with one of the cutest voices in any animation ever, in my opinion, and that happens all the time! So actors remember, just because you get a note or you get sent home, it doesn't mean you have to give up on your dreams. It could be a bad note or whatever, or it could be helpful feedback that helps you do better next time. And when you go into a new audition, pretty much leave everything at the door and do the audition newly for this new character. That's my advice anyway.
So that said, what am I looking for when I audition a character? The very first thing and the biggest thing I always look for is: Can I tell this person is acting? If they're supposed to be talking to another character, do I believe they're actually talking to someone? Does it look like a random camera turned on in this person's life and I'm seeing someone just doing whatever it is in this scene? Or is the person just saying lines? And what does that mean? Well, there's a few kind of tells. One is when the actor is listening: Are they listening or are they just standing there waiting to say their next line? In real life, you have no idea what someone is going to say, and therefore you don't know what you're going to say back! So to sit there and prep with your next line is really unnatural and it's really evident. Also in real life (unless it's kind of part of whatever you're going through at the time), you're not usually thinking about how you just said what you just said, and if you could have said it better and self-critiquing. We as humans are not usually as painfully self-aware 24/7 as actors are. Thinking about every little movement, and word, and voice inflection, and if we said it well or not, and what is the director thinking? Most people are just talking. So number one is: Is the character just talking?
And there is this sort of very clear affectation people take on of "Acting!" versus just being a character. And it usually is really clear to me when someone has had a bad acting coach because you can see them, you know, "start to act" instead of just being. The best acting is just being the character. Stepping aside from yourself and taking on who they are. I don't mean method acting, that's a whole separate thing. Acting is just playing pretend. I mean, maybe you can relate to a character by understanding something similar to what they went through, but the whole point is to use your imagination. If your character is sad because they failed a test in school, work on your own empathy as a human and understand what that feeling of loss is and what it means to have worked so hard on that test only to have failed. Work up the emotion as the character. Don't just randomly make yourself cry by thinking about when your dog died when you were five and now you're crying because you are crying. The character is the one who's supposed to be crying because they failed the test! Hopefully that makes sense.
That's a whole other topic for another episode that I'm gonna do on working with actors, and working with directors as an actor, and how to direct, and how to, kind of, help actors find a moment. But for this specifically, for auditions when someone's sitting in front of me, the first thing I check: Is this actor just being the character in front of me? When another character is talking, are they actively listening? Are they just standing there waiting to say their next line? And speaking of lines, number two (which is important for an audition though I'm always open to more conversations once someone has been cast), number two for auditions is: Are they following the script? Usually, if they're off by a word or two, I'm not super worried. But at this point in the process I want to make sure they can, in fact, learn and say the words exactly as written. Some improv is cool, and I will do improv at the audition as a separate read if I want to see that. But some scenes, especially in the scripts that we do, they're usually actually very carefully written in a certain way and exact words were chosen for an exact reason. I will totally have those conversations with an actor once they are cast, we’ll go over the reason for the exact wording if that specific word is very key to that scene. Or, you know, they have to say it this way because it relates to a later scene or an earlier scene, or if I'm working with an actor on a scene and it's not super set in stone and the actor has an idea, “What if I said it this way? That feels more right for this character.” That's a conversation I'm gonna have with someone who's read the entire script, is tracking with the entire story and where this one particular piece of dialogue fits into the context of everything. But I'm not going to have that conversation 100 times in the audition process with people who don't even know if they're going to be playing the role yet. We haven't had the full conversation of who the character is, what's happening at that exact point in the story in relation to all the scenes before and after. I'm not going to get into all of that in audition. I mean, that's me personally. If you're listening to this as a production person and you're like, “Oh, I want to get into that with everybody auditioning!” you can totally do that! Again, art not science. Just for me personally, if someone can't do the lines as written during the audition where their very goal is just to perform the sides they were sent, unfortunately it's tended to be a red flag for me that they probably won't be doing the words as written when we're on set, and there are times where it's important that someone's actually sticking to the script.
So after just seeing if the read is natural, the next thing I do is I look. Are they natural because they're rewriting the words into their own words? Or are they actually as an actor able to internalize the words on the page as they're written and perform them as the character as written? That's something that's important for me to see personally during the audition process. Number three is kind of like number one but it has more to do with the physical performance. Do they seem stiff in their motions or are they moving around naturally? Again, are they comfortable as this character? Once we're into callbacks or we're doing a live read, you know, I'll have the actors move around in the scene, walk back and forth, tap their scene partner on the arm, sit down, stand up, whatever. Just how would a person in that situation be moving? Can the actor move around like that or do they only perform naturally when they're just standing or sitting still?
I will say another thing that I look for at this point is continuity. And this will kill you in production unless you've got all the time in the world to shoot so much coverage it's not going to bother you. You have to watch what the actors are doing in the audition because if they're not matching their blocking - and it's one thing if you just gave new direction on the spot - but some actors won't be able to duplicate emotion. They'll pick something up with their left hand, and then they'll pick it up with their right hand and even if you remind them, they still won't pick it up with the same hand at the same place in the sentence, and that's something that is going to be very hard once you get into editing. So not only do you have to watch the performance, but watch how they're doing the performance. And this sounds like a lot to look for! It does kind of come easier the more you do it. But it's hard. It's a lot of work! Casting is a lot of work on both sides of the table.
And speaking of all that, number four is probably my biggest deal breaker as a director. I may get a little bit sort of like, “Okayy...” if their continuity is, like, it seems like it's pretty good and it just seems like on brand new direction they take a beat to catch up on remembering, but this one absolutely there's no way the audition will go forward. And that is: Can they take direction? If I ask them to be a bit more angry or more reserved, or if I want them to open up and include the other person in the scene with them so it feels like they're talking to the other person and not just their own little bubble or whatever. If I give them direction, can they follow it? And I know, I cannot tell you how many things I've seen about how actors, they know best and they should just do what they think is right, and the director won't notice if they did it the same or not. First of all, maybe a bad director or a distracted director or a director having a bad day won't notice. If anything, a good script supervisor is going to notice and they're going to tell the director. But I promise you, if you're sitting in an audition room and you're given direction, and you do it the literally exact same way over and over despite direction, at least if you're auditioning with me, you will be sent home.
Because here's the thing about an audition, you literally have the sides and whatever information you've been given about the character, if anything, beyond the sides. If they're taking the time to give you notes, it means that they see the potential of the character in you! And you should take that note as more information about the character. They have way more information about the character at that time than you do, so being able to take direction is really important! Especially because they want to know once you're on set how are you going to respond. I personally think that checking that in the audition process is vital. If the actor can't take direction well, or worse, has some sort of personality clash with the director, you have to ask yourself from a production standpoint - How vital is it for you to cast that specific actor? You know sometimes people just don't get along, sometimes people just can't take direction. Do you really want to pay an entire cast and crew to stand around while the director has to deal with a recalcitrant actor who can't take direction? Usually the best action at that time in the audition process if you've been giving them notes and they're just not responding is to say thank you and to send them home with a note on working on taking direction.
All right, so, as an actor you've nailed it. You're naturally saying the lines, you've really embodied the character, they've given you notes, you've worked with them, you've stayed on script. From a casting side you've seen them do all of this. What's the last thing, in my opinion, that should be part of the casting process? And I truly don't think it should even enter into the room until this very moment after somebody has already checked off all of those other points. Number five: Does the person's look fit the project? Now, please note I did not say "Does the person look the part?" (I mean what does that even mean?) Okay, yeah, I'm not gonna cast a black woman as a Neo-Nazi soldier in World War II Germany. And I'm not gonna cast a white person as a princess in a historical fiction film about 1812 China. But beyond the very obvious most basic requirement like "character is Chinese," is the actor actually Chinese? "Does the person's look fit the project?" is the only question in my opinion that should be asked about look. I know I'm really passionate about this, but, I cannot stress how much... I don't know, I just think it's really important! And what do I mean by that?
People actually look different next to other people. Let me explain. So I once did a Cabaret show where I was a choreographer and I was one of the dancers and I had a duet with another dancer. And, for some reason, on stage next to this particular dancer, I looked huge! Like, cartoonishly large, and she looked disproportionately small. Like, it looked like there was some like effect put on the footage that we shot to make us look weird. And it wasn't just, like, okay, I'm taller than her. It actually looked distracting! Like, as an audience member watching that, it was weird! So we redid the casting to make it less distracting on stage. There's another time I auditioned for a project and I could have sworn I got the part! The lead talent was a moderate name actor and it was someone I had just worked with on another film, and they were excited to see me when I walked in. The casting PA was like, “Oh, he remembers you!” and I was like, “Wait, what?” I didn't know that that was who I was going to be reading against when I walked in. And when I walked in he was like “Hey!” The audition room was fun. We were joking around, and there was laughing, and the serious moments were really strong. I walked out of there so sure I got the part. No question. And this is another reason why I say you have to let it go if you don't get the part because you will never know why unless they tell you. And even then a lot of times it's just their opinion.
Okay, so what happened was when they were putting the full cast together, they realized I looked too much like the actress they were going to cast as the lead. Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, casting her for the whole project was more important than what would have been my character's couple of scenes. So they went with a different actress for the role I was so sure was mine because it would have been really confusing for the story for the character I was gonna play to look so much like the lead. Now, I only know that because production had a PA call to tell me this, which, full disclosure, that was actually really early on in my getting into acting, so I had no idea that that wasn't totally normal! They offered me a featured background role that wouldn't be in conflict with looking like the lead, which was (I thought) kind of cool of them.
So, as much as I say "look" should have nothing to do with casting (and I mean that), the only time it's relevant is if it is going to actually affect the telling of the story. And I don't mean like some projection of a studio's idea of what the audience is going to relate to. I mean like legit obvious issues. A supporting character who looks exactly like the lead, and for whatever reason when put in line with the plot that just doesn't work. Um, you can have other things, like... There was a film we were casting, and one of the characters who was supposed to be kind of mousy, when I put her next to our lead actress on screen, she looked very domineering just physically next to our actress, and our lead looked very small, and it just messed with the dynamics of their scenes together where she wasn't supposed to look that small in comparison. So, we had to go in a different direction, and, again, I called the actress. I told her she was amazing, it was just a matter of the final chemistry read. And she did great! It had nothing to do with her performance, it was just the visual on screen. Does the person's look fit the project? That should be the only time someone's look is brought into question and it should be the last thing that gets asked. Also, asking it at this point in the process opens you up to talent you might have passed by if you were going for a quote unquote "look" to begin with.
Now I will say there's another thing you can do at this point from behind the casting table. And if you've worked in casting at all, it's a very blunt, impolitically correct world, and the conversations that get had are very direct. If you have a few different actors you're considering at this point, lay out the headshots. The casting call should have been put out in the first place with no mention of look, so you should have gotten a ton of different submissions. So, now that you're down to your final few based on acting ability, look at the people you're narrowing down. Is your whole cast about to be one race? Does that fit the story? If not, now is the perfect time to lean into a more diverse cast. You'll end up with actors that are more naturally the part while diversifying your story in a way that actually reflects humanity without playing into racial stereotypes or trying to find, like, the black guy or the white girl or whatever! If you just go in for, “Who is this human being?” and you bring in all kinds of actors, once you're down to your final few you can lay them all out and go, you know, “These two actors were both awesome; this one brings us a little bit more diversity.” Honestly, aside from the actual writing, casting rooms are where age and gender and quote-unquote "looks" can be totally wiped out of playing such an overbearing place in visual storytelling. Just cast humans.
Okay, I'm gonna put away that soapbox now. So, for actors, if you want to work on anything audition to audition, these are the things I recommend practicing. Doing your lines naturally, moving around as the character relaxedly. How do they stand, how do they sit? Do they sit? How do they move, where do they look, where do they put their hands? Are they emotional, are they kind of flat, are they happy, are they sad? All of those things can play into not only the voice tone but also the physicality of the character. Taking direction. Sometimes it's hard on the fly. You know, you prepared for an audition and the character in your head is furious and super screaming, and you do your read and they say “That was great, can you do it again but calmer?” Can you as an actor shift gears that quickly? I will tell you, I went on an audition once where the character was angry that someone was taking her furniture, and there was this chair that meant a lot to her and she was really mad. I came up with a whole backstory about this character and why it meant so much that this one particular chair was being taken. And when I went into that audition room I was screaming mad about this chair! They were really impressed and asked me to do it again, just a little less angry. Here's the problem, I had spent so much time nailing this anger I wasn't really able to shift gears, and needless to say I basically just gave the exact same read again, and it sucked, and I was sent home. So work on flexibility and shifting emotion and motivation, and remember that this is their character. At this point you're just trying to show them your ability to portray their character, so take their direction, try and internalize it. Improv classes can help with this kind of being able to jump around on the fly.
And last but not least, literally not caring after the audition is over. And I know this is so hard because no one likes not knowing, and sometimes it does help to know why. But if they don't tell you, the best thing you can do is move on, or you're going to potentially drive yourself crazy, or worse, you're going to start limiting your own ability as an actor because you're going to bring the ghost of every past audition with you to every new audition instead of walking in fresh and new. To that casting team and to that character you're a new person! So it's hard but I cannot stress that enough. And if you're behind the casting table, I like to say give clear sides with maybe a little paragraph about who this character is for context. Maybe explain the scene a little and what's happening just before and just after so the actor can kind of like work into it and have some more understanding and it's not just like words on the page. I once sat through an audition and it was literally like five hours of the exact same read and every single guy just read it exactly the same. All that had been sent was the side. That's it. And, like, the character name and a very basic description. At one point the director turned to me and said. “I'm just waiting for someone to do it different,” and I thought to myself, "They're all doing it exactly the same because they all were given the exact same information and these men are not psychic." So sometimes it helps to give like a little bit of a paragraph or a little bit more information. I know for me, like, I have actor friends. If I'm doing an audition and every single tape is just terrible and it's all terrible in the same way, sometimes I'll actually check the sides and I'll just send the sides to another actor and I'll say, “Hey can you just read this with me real quick? I just want to see, do these sides just suck or am I just not finding the right people?” And we'll work it and maybe I'll tweak the sides a little bit or I'll tweak the information I'm giving. Like, being willing to actually collaborate with the talent so that they can give you the performance you're looking for.
Another thing that's important from the casting table is let the actor actually perform. I once went on audition for a music video and they wanted custom choreography. So I prepared this whole thing, practiced it, learned it and made it up, everything. And when I got there, they said, “Actually, can you just do our blocking?” And then they cut me off after like 10 seconds and sent me home. For those listening, it's easy to go, “Wow, well you clearly sucked!” Here's the thing: That casting call was open for weeks! I kept seeing it popping up over and over and over and they kept running the exact same call, and it kept getting more and more urgent until they finally literally put "Urgent Casting!" in the actual casting call itself. And from what I saw waiting to go in, the people were coming in and out of the casting room really quickly. The roll was really simple and there is no way that in all of the greater Los Angeles area after weeks of casting they couldn't find anyone to fill the role. My take on it is that the person doing the casting was actually kind of doing a crap job of running the auditions because they were asking for choreography, then they were changing it the moment that you got there asking the talent to not do what they prepped, but do something else, and then just cutting them off and sending them home. If you're running an audition, actually watch the audition. Give the actors the space to perform for you. And if you ask for choreography or a specific monologue or whatever, don't change it when they get there and then not give time to do the new one and then, like, it's just, it's awkward and it doesn't lend itself well to finding the person you're looking for.
If you have someone who seems like, that maybe they could do it or they're close, give them a note or two and see how they do. I've had people send in tapes and I send it back with a note and have them redo it. And more often than not, the second tape is a million times better! Actors aren't mind readers, so tell them what you want and more often or not if they're a good enough actor, they'll be able to do it. So give them some direction. And then if they don't cut it, give them notes. Even if it was just that they didn't have the right look for the project in the end, you know you can still let them know that their acting was really good and you'll keep them in mind for future projects. We as an industry (meaning the people behind the table), we depend on talented actors to make actual projects that have heart and soul and living breathing characters on the screen. So give the actors some love. More often than not they worked really hard on that audition even if they didn't give you the performance you were looking for. And if they just came in and they were clearly unprepared, you can tell them that too. You know they may give you some attitude or push back, but if you're speaking the truth they're going to know it in their hearts. I mean, if they weren't prepared, they know they weren't prepared. So just be honest but be kind. Actors are people too.
Okay, I hope this was helpful. I know it's a bit out there, but for filmmakers, I hope it helps to hone your casting process. For actors, I hope it gives you a few cornerstones to hold on to. As always, like, subscribe, tell your friends, blah blah blah. If you have any questions you actually can send in a voice clip on our link at anchor! You can also always email us at filmmakingactually(at)gmail.com and yeah that's it. Bye!
You've been listening to “Filmmaking Actually” with Koura Linda, Space Dream Productions podcast. Subscribe to us on any or all the podcast platforms, but we especially recommend our sponsor Anchor! If you like what you hear, leave us 5 star ratings and positive reviews on iTunes and Stitcher. It helps more listeners like you discover the show. But the best thing you can do if you really like the show, is tell a friend! Want to leave a comment or ask a question? Email at filmmakingactually(at) gmail.com. This is Spacey speaking, and did you hear about the actor who fell for the floor? I think it was just a stage he was going through. And we'll see you next time.
Have more questions? Email us at filmmakingactually(at)gmail(dot)com.
Have more than one question? Set up a (free!) consultation with Koura Linda! Limited time slots are based on availability. There is no charge and no sales pitch as part of a one-time consultation. We got this far through the generous mentorship and support from friends and industry leaders who took their time to offer guidance and teaching and advice. It will always be our goal to pay it forward!