Your script is written and edited to perfection. Now you need to find some talented actors to cast in your low-budget film or theatre production. Where should you start? We ask a casting director and two filmmakers for their advice…
Beginning your search
“Free talent websites such as Starnow and Casting Call Pro are essential for finding that much-needed talent to make your film more real,” says filmmaker Rob McLellan, who made the short film RAHAB starring David Oyelowo after winning The Pitch in 2010, and is now developing it as a feature. “You often find actors who are willing to work on a collaborator basis so they can beef up their showreel. The downside is there are no qualifications or references needed for these sites. Anyone could turn up at your door, so safety should be a consideration.”
“Going to lots of theatre and seeing independent films is helpful,” says director and screenwriter Aimee Powell. “Especially as in most theatres the cast are in the bar afterwards.” Another great place to spot up-and-coming actors is in third-year drama school shows. “Guildhall, RADA, Central and LAMDA are really good,” says Aimee. And tickets are generally under a tenner so won’t break the bank.
Read the trade press to find out who is on the cusp of getting big. “Screen International has a feature called ‘stars of tomorrow’ – they have a knack for identifying actors who are very good but not as recognised as they will be shortly,” says Aimee, who also recommends following the nominees for the Ian Charleson Awards, a prize for actors below 30 who have delivered an outstanding stage performance.
In the audition
“Make the situation as friendly as possible,” advises Casting Director Annelie Powell. “It should not feel like an exam to actors and there shouldn't be a feeling of hierarchy in the room.” While watching the actors perform, ask yourself: “Does it feel truthful, ie do you believe what they are saying? Do they fill the moments with detail and make the script come alive? Give them a chance to do a second read, and give some direction, a steer, to see what they do with it.”
See beyond looks
Don’t let yourself get fixated on physical attributes. “It’s more important to get the performance [you need] than to have the exact same person as you see in your head,” says Aimee. “People can surprise you.” And she would know, having experienced this first-hand while casting for a short film. “I’d chosen people [to audition] according to what I thought the character should look like and wasn’t getting anyone suitable, so I opened it up and ended up casting a girl who didn’t look anything like how I had seen the character. I realised there was no real narrative reason why the character needed to look the way I’d initially intended."
Go for it
“Don’t be afraid to approach people whose work you like, even if you think they’re too famous and won’t give you the time of day,” advises Aimee. “The worst that can happen is they say no and actually, if they like the script and you can work around their schedule, people are a lot more willing to consider doing short films than you imagine.” Rob concurs: “Nothing flatters an actor more than being approached because someone appreciates their work.”
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Image by The University of Iowa Libraries, available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.