Microbudget Filmmakers: Don't Be A Do-It-All - Get A Casting Director!

Next time you, my fellow microbudget filmmaker, must cast several speaking roles and featured non-speaking roles, plus gobs of extras, you need to delegate this position.

Want to grow? Delegate.

I struggle with it. Chances are you do too if you're here. I don't mean it as a slight against us; it's a reality check: we need to level up, and we'll never reach millions with stories of hope if all we do are the "I shot this over the weekend with a Sigma 18-35 mm" types of videos. I've been hard on them lately - I don't see myself letting up anytime soon, so buckle up.

Microbudget-Film-casting-director

Today, we're going to look at a simple, easy-to-follow-along blueprint for working with a Casting Director (henceforth "CD") and expectations and processes you should have (and vice versa as well).

BONUS: Near the end, I'll share a release/work agreement you can use and modify for your actors. It's not at the end of the post because I'm trying something different today.

Step 1: Find A CD

My wife has served as a CD twice now - and wonderfully I might add. Of course, I'm biased because she's my wife, but objectively, I know the actors always appreciate her sincerity, her time, and her warmth. I've heard as much.

Neither of us are crazy about administrative tasks like data entry and emails, but we'll do 'em when it's called for. What my wife does do magnificently is talk to people and observe whether they're really a good fit for a role. She's way more observant of actors and actresses and their misfires in big budget tentpole movies than I am, and she's no different on the microbudget scene.

Me? I'm too subjective. You shouldn't cast your own film for this very reason - plus you have to delegate. I hope with enough repetition (even out loud), you'll get the need for delegating - I hope I do too. 

I highly recommend brushing up on ways to vet (i.e. see if you two will work well as a team) your CD. I wrote up my strategy for finding crew on Powers & Principalities, and you can see it here in the example of my Assistant Director.

My wife describes herself as an ambivert, someone with qualities of an extrovert and an introvert, a middle-of-the-road need to be with people to recharge and also to retreat from people to recharge. A CD who is either an extrovert or an ambivert helps in the long run. If your s.o. (or potential CD) isn't too fond of people, this will likely not be a good fit.

Expectations: be thankful. Be receptive. Don't let your CD be cold and unresponsive. When actors aren't going to hack it, smile, offer encouragement about something, shake their hand and look them in the eye and say thanks. Basic customs and courtesies - I see these get thrown out all the time in the microbudget film world as though we're big shots. We're not! It's great that we're in film, and even if we were leading big budget Holllywood films, we still need to treat people with respect.

I once saw a microbudget feature in the audition stage for local actors. I sat in on the audition because if it's one thing this director is fantastic at is promoting. He knows how to build excitement and build hype. Heck, I bought into it too for a stretch, and that's why I showed up to sit behind the table as an observer with the other key positions.

At the audition, the director was less than warm, didn't really address people by their first name, and he hardly said a word to people at the end of their auditions.

"Thanks, here's the door. Next." 

He surrounded himself with influencers and decision makers across two folding tables as if to create a moat between himself and the actor. I wish him well 'cause in the end, the film was completed, but like my microbudget feature, it didn't really go anywhere. He went back to his day job and hasn't touched film since, to the best of my knowledge.

We've all been there. Don't live there. Grow up and love your neighbor as yourself. Make sure your CD is on board with this - showing love, grace, and yes, affirmation; even the most painful, awkward auditions deserve a word of encouragement.

Step 2: Post Casting Calls

I helped with this and blasted Facebook. If you're in Casper, WY, you're doomed. If you're just about anywhere else, you'll be fine. 

Don't use Craigslist. You get what free gets you on CL - *shudders*.

At least with the book of Faces, it's a billion-plus user database with rich, anti-spam features. Granted, some horrific things have happened on Facebook live, but any place (real or virtual) is susceptible to horrible things.

Get plugged into your local Facebook groups. Don't just show up out of the blue. Start liking, commenting, and making yourself a part of the group months before you need to make a withdrawal. Commercial director Jarod Hogan, formerly of Elevation Church, said it really well: make more deposits than withdrawals.

When it's time to post your casting call, be abundantly clear what you're looking for:

Microbudget-Film-casting-calls
  1. I highly recommend starting with the name of the project followed by its logline. If it's outside someone's wheelhouse of acceptable projects, they ought to know. I had an actor express interest because they thought it was faith-based. I don't like the "faith-based" tag because it severely limits the film's audience, and it boxes you in. I have characters of faith, no faith, and everything in between in this story Powers & Principalities of angels and demons, and if my main character, a withdrawn veteran says d*** once or twice, it's true to her life. Nonetheless, I take responsibility for creating the illusion this was faith-based because it involves angels & demons, and when the actor caught wind of the mild swearing, they said "deuces." 
  2. Include whether the project is union or non-union. Most of microbudget filmmakers only dabble in non-union, so go with that.
  3. Paid or non-paid - be upfront!
  4. Even though I was posting in a Las Vegas film group, I can't assume everyone knows I'm shooting in my town. Make it clear!
  5. Dates - even days with no times are better than nothing.
  6. Give them a link to visit for more instructions and sides. Just one link. Remember the lion tamer principle here.
  7. Turn off comments - trust me, you don't want lazy bones jones actors commenting on the post. Everything should be in #5 above, and if they can't follow simple directions ("Click here for more..."), you don't want 'em. They're not the droids you're looking for.
  8. I recommend having a dedicated email for this glut of actors you'll get. I simply set up forwarding for our info@ch... address for my lady, and set it up so she could reply as info@ch... as well right inside the comfort of her gmail. Because I won't profess to know everything about every mail program, I recommend digging into your email's help articles if you want to do this. Or, just set up a unique gmail: unclebobmoviecasting@gmail.com and call it a day. Bueno?

Step 3: Video Auditions

On your landing page, include some of if not all of the exact same primer material on your Facebook post. First, this consistency reassures them they're in the right place. Second, as teaching math taught me, people come in all shapes and sizes when it comes to learning/following instructions. Some folks are simply high-rep learners and the extra repetition is not wasted on them.

Microbudget-Film-casting-call

Notice how on the left of the screen, I have generic photo off pexels.com. I recommend doing the same for two reasons:

  1. You want a high-quality photo, not some janky iphone photo you took with poor white balancing.
  2. You only need an aesthetic here, so pick one that matches the tonality of your film. 

Don't get hung up on photos here. You haven't shot your story yet, so don't sweat the details.

At the bottom of the page, I had instructions.

Microbudget-Film-casting-instructions

Make it as direct and as painless as possible. Tell them in the final instruction to send it here

Now build here. I recommend using this free code generator to build out the here they'll be sending their unlisted links to. Here's what it looks like:

Microbudget-Film-code-generator

Then hit the "generate mailto link" button and you're ready to drop in a web-savvy hyperlink for your actors to pull up their default email program and start composing an email to you.

Microbudget-Film-generator-email-code

Copy and paste the bottom field on your landing page. It's quick and easy, and this way they don't have to rummage around for your email or what to say. Keep it uniform for everyone's sake - it makes filtering your emails so much easier if every audition has the same subject.

Make it super basic: tell actors their phone works, use a basic background like their apartment wall. Spell that out - some people will ask otherwise. Here's what a shortened version from our leading lady, Kamiko looked like:

Headsup: some extras will still click this link and send their headshot without changing up the default email body text (e.g. "here's my video audition:").

You're probably thinking, "I'll just have one link for actors to click and one separate link for extras."

Yeah, I tried that. No bueno.

I personally would rather (lion tamer principle) give everyone one link than two because - please allow me to qualify this - after 1,000 hours of teaching math, I know one thing - any sequence of instructions is bound to confuse and mix up a handful of people. When you're casting for 10 actors and dozens of extras, you can bet you're going to confuse some people. Minimize the confusion: use ONE link.

Step 4: In-Person Auditions

I recommend finding a day on the weekend to host auditions. I also recommend reserving a space at your local library. Do you want strangers pouncing on your house?

I'm all for showing love to the broken, the hurt, and the lost - we are wired for relationship after all. I'm not okay with having my home invaded by folks who might be out to kill, steal, and destroy. It's a diverse world we live in after all.

We paid a small sum, about $40 to rent a conference room at our local library for 90 minutes. It was perfect. 

Bring a third person to help in a PA manner. My mistake with auditions this time around was not having a third person to help with odds and ends. If it's your DP or someone who can comfortably hit record on the recorder and the camera (you can use your phone after all), that's even better because that frees you up to talk with your actors and really study their performance, alongside your CD.

Make sure your CD is completely free to watch and listen. That's their job. Don't have them fetch people or make coffee runs. They need to zero in on what they're there for.

Auditions always go both ways in terms of timeliness. Some people will be super early, others will be late. Those that don't show and invent half-hearted excuses, well, it's your call as to whether to extend a second chance to them. Mercy triumphs over judgment, ja? 

With Powers & Principalities, I had several folks tell us well in advance they couldn't make the weekend auditions. We reached out to the handful (three, I think) and asked for alternative arrangements. Two were done by Skype, another was at a Starbucks. Since the scene was rather calm, I had no problem reading through lines at a Starbucks over a cup of joe, and the actor didn't mind either.

Important: you brought a CD onboard, paid or otherwise. They've read the script by now. They're familiar with the vision. They know what to look for. Give them full authority. Their decisions are final. Communicate the following to them: I'm an influencer, but you are the decision maker. I asked you to do this because I trust your judgment.

This part will stretch you. Good. Delegate and don't second-guess them.

Step 5: ADR (optional)

This is theory. I've not done this yet, but it occurred to me, if I'm doing ADR for a project, and if I know I'm doing ADR before we ever start production, I want to test this out during auditions. 

I knew from the start I was doing ADR to control the sound, but I didn't realize it 'til well after the film's wrap I could've tested the waters during the auditions. It may not have changed my wife's choices, but it would have been beneficial to all parties to know if extra prep is required for the ADR.

I have fantastic actors who nail it on location, but when it comes to ADR, it's my responsibility to make sure they are as successful as possible. In the future, I will have ADR footage ready for them at their audition to see how they fare. Specifically, I'll be looking with my CD to see if:

  1. Do the actors understand timing? I've noticed even novice musicians really do ADR well - it helps when you have actors who are creative in a number of ways, and while music isn't the only discipline that translates well, its rhythms are helpful.
  2. Are they are consistent from take to take?
  3. Can they give varied deliveries as needed (bonus or wild tracks)?
  4. Can they copy nuances like inflection?
  5. How's their breath control? 
  6. How harsh do their consonants like c, k, and p sound? Think words like pizza and cactus. Even with a pop filter, these words can sound like they're being recorded by a condenser mic (I use and recommend the Rode mic kit → affiliate link). 
  7. Last but not least, are they wooden in their performance? Without another actor opposite them, and with limited movement (it's up close and personal with a condenser mic), can their voice cut through and sound authentic? Think voice acting is easy? It's not. So much communication is non-verbal anyways, so when you're forced to only use your voice, it's tough.

Better yet, from here on out, I'll have actors do a line with some gestures, inflection and nuance, then have them ADR said line on the spot right afterwards. Give it a try and let me know in the comments what the results are like.

Step 6: Get Understudies

One of the expectations you should leave with your CD is to pick understudies for your most critical roles. 

Both with my microbudget feature and this pilot promo, our original antagonists ultimately couldn't be a part of the film. The people who did fill the roles worked out beautifully, and I can't imagine a world without them. They were absolutely phenomenal, and we wouldn't have had the joy of working with them if we didn't commit to having backups (not to mention the films would have stalled in the worst way possible).

With every role, is it possible to have an understudy? If it's a short film, don't make excuses. Find backups. If it's a microbudget feature, you should at bare minimum have understudies for your protagonist and antagonist.

Step 7: Contracts

As promised, this is what you'll get when you sign up for the Bold Nation newsletter:

Not interested in email? No worries, here's a quick primer on what you should include: 

  1. Image release
  2. Audio release
  3. Liability statement
  4. ADR?
  5. How long their part in the project is?
  6. Payment - when, how much, and how will they get their funds
  7. Not an employee → make sure they understand this as well as...
  8. Not guaranteed future work
  9. Email and phone → super basic right? Easy to forget and kick yourself later for not asking. Keep it centralized.

Step 8: Communication

This last step is where the long, hard work begins.

Use Mailchimp for the long updates that go to everyone. You'll get crowds, mild interest, serious interest, and committed, probably in that order.

At least once every two weeks, let them know what's going on. Nobody likes to be left hanging.

Microbudget-Film-mailchimp

And of course, have your CD send personalized emails to those further along in your funnel.

Keep your CD in a constant loop with your actors and onscreen talent 'til production begins. They bear a lot of responsibility in plugging people in. Make sure they're aware of it.

CLICK TO EXPAND

My wife (on Powers & Principalities) stayed in touch with folks all the way through, and was responsible for communicating

  • times
  • locations
  • wardrobe
  • parking
  • release info
  • payment info
  • and more

and she did it with aplomb.

Empower your CD. Trust your CD. Delegate. I'm not the only one depending on you to do this; your stories depend on it. 

Wrap.

...

Your turn: What was the biggest learn for you working with a CD? comment below!

Jake

Las Vegas

I want to encourage others and bring honor to the Almighty in everything that I do with film and video. My goal is to take the first 11 minutes of my tv pilot and seek out decision-makers who can further the conversation about developing it into a show. If my team and I can do that, then we can teach 100,000 other microbudget filmmakers how to do the same thing so that we might tell stories of hope to millions. In the meantime, I'm a son of the King, a family man, a lifelong student of film, and the author of two microbudget filmmaking books.