PRODUCTION TIPS: 7 Tips to Choosing A Top-Notch Cast... Even After Only 1 Audition

Picking your cast is one of the most important decisions you will make as a filmmaker, probably only second to the script you choose to shoot.  Not taking anything away from the beautiful shots, inspired soundtrack and rhythmic edits but it will be the cast embodying the characters and saying their lines that will be what audiences remember most about your movie.  People may say an actor was "born to play that role" and refuse to believe that anyone else could've played that role but actors don't just show up at the filmmaker's doorstep as if delivered by the stork readymade to act as the character.  A director needs to make that vital decision.  

A big budget director has the luxury of a team and a casting agency to help him with the decision.  Furthermore, he has access to some of the top actors in the biz vying to be in the film.  An indie director rarely has those advantages.  Because the low budget director does not have the money to cast with the help of a good casting director, attract the best talent or run multiple auditions, she needs to be able to choose the best person in a short amount of time.  And even if she can afford a good casting director, she should still have her own personal but objective criteria for why she prefers one actor over another.

The following is a list of things your actor will do or possess that will help you decide, even with only one audition, if the actor is the best man or woman for the role. 
  1. COME PREPARED. They arrive on-time or even early, bring their own copy of the script, provide you with their resume and headshots, show interest in the role and discuss it with you and are ready to do their monologue or act your scenes out with the right amount of energy.  Basically, they come like a professional and treat it like the job interview it is.
  2. HAVE THE LOOK.  Film is a visual medium so having "the look" is supremely important because the physical features of a person can express the essence of a character in an immediate non-verbal way.  And if you find a person with the "perfect" voice and mannerisms for your character then you know you've struck gold.  Of course, you should not ONLY cast for "the look." There are other factors to consider.  And don't forget that makeup, costumes and props will help that actor "look" like the character, too.  But be sure to take into consideration the actors who invest the time and effort to change their look for an audition to embody more closely the character in the script.
  3. LISTEN TO YOUR DIRECTIONS.  You need to know from day 1 that your cast will listen to you.   Some actors are very uptight about their training and experience especially if they are dealing with a novice director and this could lead to uncomfortable and energy-sapping friction on the set.  Avoid this by testing your actor during auditions with suggestions to play the role multiple times in multiple ways.  Even if you like the first thing they did, have them do it again, differently, if only to see whether they will listen and give you what you want or argue with you.
  4. QUESTION YOUR DIRECTIONS.  You are hiring the actor to help you mold your vision and bring a character to life.  They are not simply CGI models that you command to do this and say that.  Although you want them to listen to your directions, you also want them to contribute their opinions and ideas.  They should question some of the things you want to do with your character and the script in a thoughtful manner as options for you to consider.  During the audition, provide the actor multiple opportunities to ask you questions about the role, the script and your vision.  Ideally, a good actor will come prepared with questions.
  5. LISTEN ACTIVELY.  A good actor will always be "on" during takes even if she is not saying anything and another actor is talking.  The most compelling actors are the ones who you can't take your eyes off of, who draw you in with the way they stand or light a match or walk away.  The reason they can do this is because during takes they are in a zone, actively listening to what is going on around them as if they were an antenna.  During auditions, have your prospective actor act with another person and watch how they "listen."  Avoid actors who only listen for the end of a line to jump in and emote; that ping pong style of acting sucks (unless you are going for a sketch or parody effect... then by all mean).
  6. SHOW SIGNS OF INTELLIGENCE.  The ideal actor for a role only has to be smart enough to bring your character to life in a believable way.  And that's not an easy thing to do.  Now, of course, she doesn't have to be a physicist or a lawyer or a philosopher (although she might be) but she should show signs of an active intelligence making sense of the character, the script and life, in general.  Do they reference historical periods and events when discussing the biography of a character?  Do they surprise you with the literary or cinematic conventions they uncover in your script?  Are they great storytellers who engage you even when they are just telling you what they had for breakfast? 
  7. HAVE A FOLLOWING.  Although one might question whether an A-list actor deserves to make the money he makes, there is no doubt that the A-lister at least gets audiences interested in the movie.  That initial interest might eventually lead to eyes on the screen.  That's the gamble studios and filmmakers make when they hire A-listers and it still seems like a viable plan.  An indie filmmaker still has options of getting people interested by casting properly.  The explosion of social media networks has created an underworld of "celebrities" within them.   These celebrities have influence within their network and, as time goes on, people are starting to realize the monetary value of these celebrities who can bring something to the attention of their fanbase.  During the audition, find out if your prospect has a large following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Vine?  Do their videos have a high number of views on YouTube and Vimeo?  How big is their network on LinkedIn?  How many views a month does their blog get?  If you choose an actor with a large following, ensure that they will promote the project in their social media network.
As you audition, prepare a page for each actor and number it from 1 to 7.  Create your very own point scale for the 7 things above (ex. 1 to 5; 1 = No Good, 5 = Very Good, etc.) to help you assess between different actors who come.  Because each project is different, weigh each of the 7 things according to your needs and let that help you assess, as well.   


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