Today we officially finished casting all the speaking roles in This Is Art. With the shoot scheduled for the end of August, it was important to us that we assemble our cast far enough in advance that we could get in a table reading, take promotional photos, film promotional behind the scenes interviews, and plan our Kickstarter campaign.
From the day we realized we had to hold auditions within the week, it took us six days to:
-post auditions on Facebook and Actors Access
-select the actors we wanted to call in based on their headshots/resumes/reels
-contact all the actors we wanted to see and invite them to audition
-plan the format of the auditions
-determine the sides we would use for each character
-email all the actors the audition materials
-find a legitimate central location to have the auditions for the lowest price point we could manage
It was a very daunting six days, but we pulled it off because everyone dedicated themselves to the cause. Clint Okayama agreed to come in and read the sides for the auditions, James Herron provided a camera to film all the auditions, Emily Floyd printed signs and bound a copy of the script to put in the waiting area, and Christopher Gravenstine ran the auditions and checked in all the actors when they arrived. Together, Emily and I selected the actors from the submissions we received and our boss at Radio City Music Hall kindly let us use his office to start calling everyone during our lunch break. All I had to do was post the breakdowns, select the sides, print them out, and handle the bulk of the email communication leading up to the auditions. It was a sink or swim moment for the team and we all swam together. So brava and thank you!
As an actor myself, I have noticed that there are many different ways to hold auditions and that all of them are successful to varying degrees. Personally, I do everything I can to give the actors the opportunity to do their best work. The following is a list of all the things I try to do during casting and an explanation of why I think they’re important. Hopefully if anyone out there is holding auditions, this will be helpful. However, I’d also love to hear your opinions in the comments section. Note that this list is very skewed towards auditions specifically for a webseries.
Selling an Unpaid Gig to Poor Actors
When you’re asking folks to donate their time to a project, not only do you have to pitch the concept well, but you also have to promise them things like reel footage and express the limited nature of the time commitment. Professional actors will want to get into a project, dedicate a set number of hours/days to it, and then be on their way. Pitching this particular project has given me some trouble. I know that I love the show and I think it’s really special, but my description so far tends to fall a bit flat. If you want to hook an actor’s interest and provoke their imagination, it’s important to give them a sense that this is something really unique and that they’ll want to be a part of it. “The pitch” is a weakness of mine and I’m continually working on it and trying to rephrase it. Any ideas or tips out there in webland?
Getting your friends involved.
If you’re an actor, writer, or producer, you’ve probably worked with a lot of people. You may already have a few people in mind for certain roles. Call them first and get them to come to the auditions. Sandeep Parikh of The Guild and The Legend of Neil, two of the most successful webseries yet, once gave me a very good piece of advice. “Have fun. If people aren’t having fun, then you don’t have a show.” Working with friends and people with whom you have an established camaraderie is FUN and the more fun you’re having, the more time and effort people will put forth to make the show and the audience experience the best that it can be.
Post breakdowns on public sites and forums.
It will be important to expand your social circles and connections on social media outlets in order for the show to succeed, especially if you aren’t working with any big attention-grabbing “names.” If you and your close friends all post links to the show, they are generally seen by the same group of people. You’ll begin to exhaust your audience. It makes sense to look for ways to expand the amount of direct connections between your cast/production team and potential viewers. Post your breakdowns and casting notices on public forums like Actors Access, Playbill.com, and Facebook. That way, you’ll have a chance of reaching new people outside your own contacts.
Help your actors prepare their best work.
I’m amazed at how few people send out sides ahead of time. Choose your sides and send them to your actors as soon as possible. Emily and I went back and forth on whether or not to send the whole script because we didn’t want it getting out to too many people. We have a commonwealth copyright, but we were nervous about what people might do with the material. We chose to only send out the script to people auditioning for a particular character who we felt needed more context than was provided in the side itself.
Choose a central legitimate location for the least amount of money possible.
We attempted to use a connection at NYU to get free space, but in the end, we didn’t have enough control of the space and the number of hours we’d be able to stay there. Emily used her connection at The Players Theatre to get us discounted space in downtown Manhattan. It’s worth putting down some money to hold auditions in a legitimate studio space because it shows that you respect your project and you respect the professionalism of the actors coming to the audition. It’s always good to start strong. Conversely, we ended up having call-backs at Emily’s apartment for one character when it came down the wire, but by then, you’ve already established a relationship with the actors, so it’s a little less jarring.
Signs. Use them.
A teacher I had once said to imagine yourself at your most self conscious, stressed, and fraught moment and then try to find your way from the front door to the audition room. Every time you don’t know where to go, put up a sign with directions on it. As an actor, there’s nothing worse than getting to a location and searching hurriedly for the location. Making it easy for an actor to find their way to the audition might seem stupid, but it just gives them that much more time to relax, prepare, and give the best audition they can.
Film the auditions.
With most film projects, this is a given, but if you’re new to it, you’d be surprised how useful this is. Sometimes rewatching an audition on film can help you make some really tough casting decisions.
Put your shooting and rehearsal dates on everything. People tend to breeze past those things and it’s important that you don’t waste their time and that they don’t waste yours. When you say you’re doing something in a specific amount of time, stick to that schedule to the absolute best of your abilities. As an actor I’m often called upon for way longer than I’m needed. As a director/producer, a little extra time spent on scheduling people specifically for when they’re needed can go a long way to inspire the trust and respect of your collaborators.
Find out if they’re web savvy.
While the decisions ultimately come down to who the best actors are for the piece, try to gauge how internet friendly they are in the auditions/callbacks. You’ll want people on your team who are active on the web and subsequently, who can offer a whole new set of audience members. In addition, more social media savvy folks will also enjoy the immersive experience of new media entertainment a lot more than someone who isn’t. If they enjoy the project, they’ll want to put more effort into it.
Take the time to thank people for coming to the auditions and let them know as soon as you can whether they have or haven’t gotten the role they came in for. Waiting to hear is very annoying as an actor and in most instances, you don’t get anything back in return for your time. These are potential viewers, especially for a show with our subject matter, and its important to treat them with respect.
Bring snacks for your production team to thank them for their time. They may be behind that table for four hours or more. Don’t forget the guy/gal running the auditions outside. It’s usually a pretty boring and thankless job, but it’s an absolutely integral part of the process. They can also give you observations on how people are behaving outside of the audition room if you need further insight into a particular person.
Hopefully that gives you a sense of how we ran our auditions and the discoveries we made along the way. We saw some incredible talent and some folks even gave us hilarious ideas for changes to the script. Thanks to everyone who brought our characters to life for the first time. It was a very thrilling and memorable experience for us.
This update would not be complete without announcing our new cast members and welcoming them to the team! So without further ado:
That’s all for now!