Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Casting Your Micro-Budget Film (Part 1)

Today's post is the first in a three part series written by guest blogger Chris Henderson.

So you’ve written a brilliant screenplay, you’ve found a spectacular crew, and you’ve applied for three separate shiny new credit cards. You’re ready to make your film. Now you need to cast it.

Whether you’re making a short, a feature-length film, or an entire web series, casting the right actors is, in my opinion, the single most important aspect of filmmaking. Yes, even more important than having a taut, compelling script. You can write dazzling, poetic dialogue, but if it’s delivered by a stiff, monotone mouth-breather, it will fall flat. On the flip side, a great actor can actually mask deficiencies in the script with his face or body language. (This isn’t to say that an intriguing story isn’t important; it absolutely is!)

Now I am not a casting director, but as a writer/actor/director I have been on both sides of the audition table, so I hope you’ll find my perspective helpful.

Let’s start with the casting call. Now there is an industry standard for an official casting notice (it includes a short plot synopsis, character breakdowns, pay scale, etc.), but we’re not talking about the industry standard here. We’re talking about a casting call for your micro-budget film. You can make it read however you want, and you can include whatever information you feel is relevant. But here are some things to consider:

Your casting call is the first impression of your film that you’re sending out into the world. Make sure it accurately reflects the kind of production you’re developing. If you send your script to L.A. and have Breakdown Services create your casting call, actors are going to expect a highly professional film with a large budget and are going to feel swindled when they show up for the auditions in your garage and read opposite your grandma. Likewise, if your casting call gives little or no information about the actual film or characters and is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, actors will think you are disorganized (which you probably are) and have no idea what you’re doing (which you probably don’t), so don’t expect a big turnout. (By the way, unless you have no other choice, don’t hold auditions in your garage.)

Your casting call should probably include the following information:

Brief plot synopsis.

Brief (one or two line) description of each character.

Projected timeline for the production.

Time, date and location of the auditions. (You would be surprised at how many audition notices I’ve seen that forget to include this info.)

Compensation (Copy and credit is fine. You’re making a micro-budget film and you can’t afford to pay the actors? That’s okay, but be upfront about it.)

Contact Info.

Attach audition sides, or provide a link. (Don’t make people email you for the sides. There are plenty of tools on the internet, like Sendspace or Dropbox, where you can easily link to the sides.)

Choose your audition sides carefully. Make sure the scene gives the actors an opportunity to really show what they can do. Also make sure the scene is representative of the work as a whole, both in character and tone. Some actors are uncomfortable using profanity and will feel tricked if the audition scene is a squeaky-clean conversation about family values, and then you surprise them later with 183 F-bombs.

Now this next part is VERY IMPORTANT: Your sides need to be from the actual script that you intend to produce!!! Okay, if you’re paying scale, use whatever sides you want; but if you’re paying anything less than scale, be aware that you are auditioning for the actors every bit as much as they are auditioning for you. It’s for this reason that I say don’t make the actors email you for the sides. As an actor, if I have to email an independent producer for the sides to a micro-budget film for which actors are not being paid, I am automatically skeptical of the quality of the film. I feel like they’re keeping things under wraps because they themselves are not confident with the quality of their screenplay. But the fact is, you don’t want people auditioning for you who don’t want to be a part of THIS project, especially if you’re not paying them. If they don’t love your script, they’re not right for your film. I cannot stress this enough.

Be as upfront and honest as possible about EVERYTHING. Obviously you don’t want to be divulging details about how the film ends to just anyone, but always be honest. Don’t downplay the commitment you expect from your actors (and your crew for that matter), and don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you do this, your production is going to fall apart midway through when people feel deceived and become resentful. Be upfront. If the actors can’t make the commitment you’re asking of them, then they are not right for your film.

On a micro-budget film, when you aren’t paying the actors or can’t pay them very much it is all the more important that they love the film you’re making. Otherwise every day on set will be drudgery. (That is, if the actors don’t bail on you at the last second for something they would rather do.)

In the next post, we’ll discuss holding the actual auditions.

CHRIS HENDERSON is the writer and executive producer for the upcoming series “The Gap.” He graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Film (focus on Screenwriting), and has worked full-time as an actor/writer/director/producer in the film/theatre/television industry of Salt Lake City for over 10 years. Check out “The Gap” on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Gap/120242371339975

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sanyo CG10 deal: $109

With this being the "black friday" weekend when everyone goes totally insane to save a few bucks, I thought I'd chime in. I don't have a big list to share (PVC pipe prices don't change much), but there is one good deal that lasts through the weekend.

If you don't mind shooting with a small camera, the red HD Sanyo Xacti CG10 is on sale right now for $109. It's got a ton of manual features (white balance, focus, exposure, zoom lens) and some bonus ones (macro focus, webcam mode) that make it very attractive. A feature I really appreciate that some camera makers (including Sanyo) seem to be dropping at this price point: a tripod mount.

The camera isn't perfect. It doesn't come with an AC adapter (and you can't buy one), which means you're stuck with battery power so you'll need at least a second battery. These can be found on eBay for $1 (and with double the capacity of the stock version--sick!) and since the CG10 comes with an external charger, you can be shooting while the backup charges.

Someone on YouTube suggested that I make a Frugal Filmmaker episode around this camera since I keep babbling about it so much. It's a really good idea. There are some good, inexpensive DIY mods you can do to this camera to extend its usability quite a bit.

And you always wanted a RED camera anyway, right?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Narrative Promo: The Findle

Here's a short promotional video I recently created for a client. I liked the fact that they wanted me to tell a story rather than just pimp the product. I love working with talented people and we had some good ones not only in front of the camera (I had worked with Jessica Pearce previously on Midnyte), but behind as well.

Chris Henderson is an excellent AD/line producer (he's incredibly organized) and Doug Clift does anything you want with everything he has. I also want to speak highly of Josh Rowley our sound guy and Rochelle Jahdi (also from Midnyte) who did an excellent job with costumes and makeup.

All in all, a good experience. Most importantly, the client was happy.

My favorite anecdote from this project was the fact that I forgot to separately record the students laughing as a result of Brain Lame Guy (Jeffrey Lee Blake) trying to sing the ABC song. I completely overlooked this and was thinking I'd have to record it somewhere else. Fortunately, I found a bit of footage where Jessica cracked a joke after a take was over and the class laughed. Those laughs are in the video.

It was also fun working with my daughter, Melanie. She's an extra sitting in the front row. Watch for her standing up when Jessica becomes the most intense teacher in recent memory.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Weekly Recap Link List 11-15-10

Hack your background stand

Can we make discovery (of our movies) a more integral part of the process?

"I don't have any good ideas"

Electron Stimulated Luminescence Lighting Technology

Double and Quad suction camera mounts

Cool, effective and cheap promo art for "Down the Chain"

How to create a video camera bay for your model rocket

Mini ball head: My new favorite camera mount

Air Hogs Hawk Eye (camera) helicopter

Think small and find success

Entry level shotgun mics

HDSLR shopping? What you want is a Canon 60D

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mini Ball Head: My New Favorite Camera Mount

I've recently come across a camera mount that I really like. It's a mini ball head that allows 360 degree camera placement, can hold a DSLR and costs under $6. It is solid metal construction and has a 1/4" mounting thread on the bottom. I also like the fact that loosening the screw not only releases the ball, but also the base (to turn). This will give you another level of placement, making it that much more versatile.

This mount solves the tilting camera issue I had with the Frugal Crane, and will replace the plastic mount (which costs $8-12) found on my Table Dolly. I really like it, and I'm sure it will find its way into future builds.

I got mine for $1, after another bidder cancelled on eBay, but I've noticed this model is no longer up for bidding. Still, the "Buy It Now" option for $5.80 (free shipping) is still a smokin' deal. The only downside is that you have to wait two weeks for it to show up as it is coming from China. Very much worth the wait.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Frugal H Frame Mic Stand

I was going out to a shoot when I realized I'm going to need some good sound for this location. I had asked a number of friends to come through and be my boom operator to no avail. I recalled a design I had seen on your site and knew that it was perfect for what I needed. I work with PVC as well so I have plenty of options for buying and experimenting.

I used a ½” SCH80 cap because I had one lying around, drilled a ¼” hole into it and used a 1 ½” hex head bolt nut and flange washer to affix my rode video mic and shock mount. The delivery so far is really good, the video looks great and when the sound is all cleaned up (I filmed outdoor in nyc and got some ambient sound that is fairly low but noticeable) Im sure it will have been a success. I listed this in my gear list as “Frugal H frame mic stand”.

Thank you so much for all the posts and keep them coming.

Chris Hackett
Bald Guy Shampoo Productions

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Canon 60D on Sale for Under $1K

You may have noticed from my sidebar that the Canon 60D is the upper-end camera I would buy if I had the money. If you do have the money, this may be the month to get one. There is a deal right now that could get you a great filmmaker's camera for $999 (good until November 24). You still have to buy your own lenses, but one of the great things about the DSLR video market is the wide (and I'm talking WIDE) range of lens choices. Last year I bought my Canon HFS100 with some accessories for this same price. This year, the Canon 60D would be the obvious choice.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Weekly Recap Link List 11-1-10

Internet TV and the death of cable, really

Steve Albini on being an artist (think DIY distribution)

Use of sound effects in current films

Recording of the week: yo-yo

Reverse engineer this lighting setup

Breakthrough designs for ultra low-cost products (movies?)

A practical guide to field recording (part 2)

What not to say to an actress

Frugal Film ($1500): "Simple Inquisition"

Old portable movie screen as reflector

The guy who embraced the 'pirates' of 4chan (web distribution)

Newbies guide to publishing: It's your universe

Halloween fire house display (lo-tech practical effect)

3-4 things that help films "break out"

Eddie Burns learns to love doing it DIY

Cheap $20 HDSLR shoulder rig

DIY film school grip truck

The fun stuff: art direction and practical efx

The Frugal Filmmaker: Dry erase clapper slate for $8


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