Casting Your Micro-Budget Film (Part 2)

Today's post is the second in a three part series written by guest blogger Chris Henderson. Part one was published yesterday.

Today, let’s talk about how to run your auditions.

First of all, allow plenty of time for casting. You don’t want to send out your casting call a month before the auditions because people will forget or lose interest. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to hold the auditions a month (or even several months) before you plan to actually begin production. There are a lot of reasons for this, among them:

If you only hold one round of auditions, there will be a lot of talented actors with scheduling conflicts whom you will miss out on. If you hold auditions and plan to start shooting a week later, you won’t have time for multiple auditions.

People are going to drop out. Maybe they withdraw from the film because they don’t like the script, maybe they get a better offer, maybe they start dating someone who’s uncomfortable with them performing a screen kiss that absolutely cannot be cut from the film. Whatever the reason, odds are at least one actor will drop out of your film and you don’t want to be rushed to find a replacement.

Holding auditions well in advance gives you plenty of time to mull over your decision and then, once you’ve made it, gives you plenty of time to get to know the actors you’ve chosen.

SIDE NOTE: I know a lot of actors don’t care for them, but I am a huge advocate of rehearsals. And I don’t mean just a basic table read; I mean doing actual scene work. It helps you find your actors’ strengths (and capitalize on them) and identify their weaknesses (which hopefully you can fix or hide). I believe you should always be rewriting your script (or at least fine-tuning it) to fit your actors – but that’s another post altogether.

And really, if you don’t find the right actors in your initial auditions, post another casting call. Keep looking. There comes a point where you may have to settle, in order to move the production forward, but definitely don’t settle right away.

So how should you structure your audition? The short answer: Any way you want. This is your film. These are your auditions. You can run them any way you see fit, but here are ten suggestions:

1. At least for the initial audition, hold an open call. This means allowing anyone (agency representation or not) to show up and read for a part. Don’t schedule appointments. See everyone on a first come, first served basis (and don’t let people jump the queue – this will just frustrate the actors who have been waiting).

2. Find a place to hold auditions where you can bring auditioners into a separate room with the door closed. Other actors shouldn’t be able to hear how their competition reads the scene.

3. Show up early (or at the very least on time) for the auditions. (Again, you’d be shocked by how many directors show up late for their own auditions.)

4. While most actors will have printed out their own sides and brought them along, you should have plenty of copies on hand for those who didn’t.

5. Video tape the auditions. Not only does this give you something to go back and reference later, but if you video tape the auditions you don’t need to have three dozen people in the audition room with you.

6. Don’t have three dozen people in the audition room with you. Who really needs to be in the room? I mean, who REALLY NEEDS to be in the room with you? I can’t answer that for you, but those are the only people that should be in there. Sure, there are plenty of Hollywood auditions where twenty people are staggered around the room, half of them texting and not even paying attention. You are not making a Hollywood movie. Be considerate and respectful. You don’t want your actors to be uncomfortable or intimidated.

7. Don’t make actors do ridiculous things or jump through hoops just because you can. And don’t ask actors to do anything in an audition that makes them uncomfortable, unless it’s in the script and they are aware of it beforehand.

8. Bring auditioners in in pairs or have a reader to read the part opposite them. Don’t do it yourself. It looks unprofessional and prevents you from focusing on the performance.

9. Remember, you are auditioning for the actors every bit as much as they are auditioning for you. Do not go into the auditions with the attitude that you are above them or that you are doing them a favor. (If anything, they are doing you a favor.) Again, show respect to every single person who comes in to read for you, regardless of how shy, unprepared, or insane they may be.

10. Apart from being respectful, which is the most important thing to remember, here is THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL: Have someone you know and trust, and who knows you, come along to sit out in the waiting area to sign people in and answer questions. This is your spy. This person is going to watch how the actors behave when they don’t know they’re auditioning. Half the audition takes place out here. Why is this so important? Everyone is going to be nice and complimentary when they’re standing in front of the director. Not everyone is going to be nice to their fellow actors or the “secretary.” On a micro-budget set personality is every bit as important as performance, and you simply can’t gauge that in an audition.

In the third, and final, post of this series on casting, I will address some of the myths of casting, as well as a couple of additional tips for what to look for in your actors.

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: