When you've been doing this long enough you see a number of the same mistakes show up time and time again. While it's understandable that if you're a filmmakers starting out, you may not be up to speed on protocol, etiquette, or the standards of film production. That doesn't make those mistakes less infuriating, nor does it make them any less counterproductive to building a strong, vibrant film community. It also doesn't mean that folks will be instantly forgiving. Professionals and experienced filmmakers will keep on moving, those who have been burned will be right out dismissive. Casting calls are a prime example of this. Here's a sample of one that came in my email box recently:
The film is a character driven psychological drama about sex addiction. None of the parts listed above involve nudity or an suggested scenes. The film's major theme is redemption. A further description, script and shooting schedule will be sent upon a mutual interest in the project. If you don't fit the physical descriptions of a character and are still interested, please still let us know! We are flexible with looks of the characters.
Note, I've pulled out as much info that would identify this project, including the names of the senders, the roles they were casting for, the shooting dates, and the script's length. I'm not trying to embarrass these people or the project. What they've sent out is similar to other calls sent out on a regular basis. They're likely replicating what they've seen. That being said, I know a handful of actors and producers who would blow-up if they saw this. There's a critical lack of information provided, with the subject line of the email, "CASTING CALL: SUNDANCE SHORT", making it categorically worse.
Here are the problematic omissions:
- No title (I didn't redact that, it was never provided)
- No producer/director/writer identified
- No story synopsis provided (you read that correctly, I didn't redact it, it wasn't there at all)
- No production company identified
- No compensation offered
- No links to any of the above
The absence of these key bits of information are red flags. Smart actors book gigs by the project, script, role and the talent behind the camera. Any actor serious about building up their career has to look at this post with a jaundiced eye. If you want to hook an actor, hit them up with the role and the story. Imagine if Denzel Washington had been sent Flight with no title, no synopsis, and just a description of Whip Whitaker?
Alcoholic pilot Whip Whittaker does a miraculous job crash-landing a plane that has suffered a severe mechanical breakdown in midair, however the mandated investigation into the incident will inevitably lead to the discovery that he was flying the plane while drunk and on cocaine. As he attempts to sober up, Whip befriends a fellow addict he meets during his post-accident stay in the hospital. Soon he fails in his attempts to white-knuckle himself to sobriety, and with the help of his favorite drug-dealer and his lawyer, Whip must prepare to testify about what happened on that fateful flight. ~ Perry Seibert, Rovi
The above is how you grab an actor and get them excited about the script. This holds true if you're doing a short or a feature. Now on to the part that's truly troublesome. Compensation. Let me bold this bad boy. Compensation. Let me back up and clarify in bold. Smart actors book gigs by the project, script, role, the talent behind the camera and by compensation.
If you're shooting a script that will likely require a minimum commitment of 12 to 16 hours a day, that's a lot to ask of any actor. What exactly is in it for them? At one point Copy/Credit/Meals was a go to for no-budget projects, especially shorts. It was never a great trade. However, at least it was something. Now even that low hanging fruit rarely makes it into many of the calls I'm sent.
Acting is a job. It should be treated as such. Even if you can't pay, telling folks upfront you can't pay them is still respecting what they do. It's perfectly alright to say I've got nothing to give if you don't have the budget. It's then perfectly alright if an actor decides to not submit for the gig. One just has to make sure there's a justifiable reason for shooting without a budget for the actors. Much too often, paying actors are the last thing on filmmakers' minds. It doesn't even to be a consideration. Budgeting a film and concluding that the only option to make the film with the money available requires a cut to salaries is one thing, to not even broach the topic at all isn't the way to build relationships with actors.
Circling back to the lack of a synopsis, if you want to snag a quality actor, you have to have a quality script and story, with a talented director that they believe in if they're going to forgo getting paid. Actors work on free sh*t all the time. Sometimes to their own detriment. Most consistently working actors eventually stop working on free projects unless they feel confident in a project. For the most part, consistently working actors are strong actors. Actors who are always available to work on your stuff, for free, regardless of time of year, either need to continue perfecting their craft so they can transition into becoming working actors, stronger actors. Or, they (and you) should begin to realize they're probably bad actors and they're going to not help your film one bit.
Lest you think I'm crazy, I sent Atlanta based actors Claire Bronson and Scott Poythress the original call from above, with the full text unedited, and asked them to weigh in with their thoughts about casting calls like this. Claire and Scott have credits that include One Tree Hill, Army Wives, Drop Dead Diva, My Super Psycho Sweet 16: Part 2, Resurrection and Necessary Roughness.
Someone early on taught me that an actor's career can be shaped just as much by what you say no to, as by what you say yes to. This market has grown exponentially in the last few years, and we of course are grateful, but as an actor just starting out, you need to be cautious, curious, and well educated to traverse these waters with success. Following your artistic passion doesn't usually come with a steady, weekly paycheck and a 401k...so be wise about where you spend your resources: your talents, your time, and your money. If you're not sure what a project entails, what you're going to get out of it...ask. These are details that you, as an artist giving of your time, deserve to know. same goes for classes, coaching, workshops; if you're paying someone, you better know what they have to offer. Research what it says on their website, their credits, their experience/training, their references, and request info about auditing.
How to look for casting calls Where to find quality acting teachers What legitimate talent agents are looking for in local actors The do’s and don’ts of the all-important headshot The role of casting directors and how to get their attention
Seminar meets 10–4pm, Saturday, June 8 Cost $150 for this valuable 1-day workshop.