Scott Be Positive

How To Cast Your Movie

By Scott Shaw

Casting an actor for your film is one of the most important elements to the success of your project. In fact, it may be
the most important element because it is an actor who will portray the message you are attempting to convey to your audience.

People come here to Hollywood, California from across the globe chasing the dream of becoming a movie star. Certainly, there are actors everywhere, but Hollywood is the home of the movie industry. As such, this is also the focal point of where people direct their hopes on achieving acting success.

As someone who grew up in Hollywood, I believe I have a unique perspective of the film and television industry. Throughout my life I have been surround by those who have
made-it in the industry, and those who wish that they could have.

Very early on in my life I came to realize that what may be defined as talent has very little to do with whether or not a person will make-it in the industry. Industry success is based more upon luck and being in the right place at the right time, as opposed to being in the wrong place at the wrong time; i.e. making bad career choices. But, more than anything else, industry success is based upon karma or destiny. This being said, everybody comes here to Hollywood believing that they will be the one that will, “Make-it!”

From a filmmaking perspective, it is you, the filmmaker, who must put out a casting notice, go through all of the headshots that you will receive, decide which ones to call in, and then finally decided upon which talent to cast for your film. And, I use the term, “Talent,” very loosely.

The problems with casting a film are numerous. At the root of many, if not most, of these problems is the actor. This problem begins with a headshot.

As someone who has cast numerous films and has looked at literally millions of headshots, I can tell you, ‘What you see is not what you get.’

One of the most common things that people do is to send out a headshot that makes them look beautiful. This is based on several factors. It may be that the photo was takes ten years ago. Or, it may be that the photograph is highly retouched. I believe that the primary reason this problem arises is that people, (meaning actors and actresses), actually believe that they look better than they truly do. When they see a great photograph of themselves they think, “That is how good I really look. If this photographer can make me look this good, than certainly a director can.” But, anyone who has made a film knows, this is not the case. A film and/or particularly a video camera are very unforgiving. Though lighting can be adjusted and even diffusion filters used, doing all of this takes a lot of time and energy, which equals a lot of money. And, a lot of money is something that most independent filmmakers do not have.

This “Beautiful Headshot” scenario is particularly the case with actresses. I cannot tell you how many times I have called an actress into an audition and could not even confirm, with one-hundred percent certainty, that the person sitting in front of me was the individual in the photograph. I commonly say to them, “I would really like to meet the girl in this picture.” But, for the most past, they are so vain that they do not even get the joke. In some case, in my earlier days, I have simply torn up their headshot right in front of them. The point being, never trust a photograph.

The second problem you many encounter, while casting a movie, is the training an actor has undergone.

Here in Hollywood, and the surrounding area, there are literally thousands of acting coaches. People come from all over the globe to study with these people in hopes of landing a role in a film. The problem is, who are these acting coaches? With very few exceptions they are people who have come to Hollywood and have attempted to make-it. When they did not, they somehow landed a gig teaching acting.

Ask yourself, how many famous actors are professional acting coaches? And, the few one-time successful actors who have become acting coaches are those who fell away from favor in Hollywood and could no longer get roles. As such, they are left without any other skill than to train other people in how to act.

The main point to understand is that acting is not about learning to act. Acting is not about studying. Acting is about being natural. This is particularly the case of acting for the camera. So, for all of these people who pay all of this money to be judged in a class by other wanta-be actors, they are only lying to themselves if the think acting training is any more than a way to fill someone else’s pockets with cash and waste a lot of time.

This being stated, I cannot tell you how many times a person’s acting coach or their ongoing acting training has gotten in their way of their actually being in a film. There has been times when I cast an actor or actress for a film and later they tell me that they cannot show up on the day of the shoot because they cannot miss their acting class. Yes, it is hard to believe. But, this has happened to myself but to numerous other filmmakers I know, as well.

You ask, “Why?” Because their acting coaches are very vehement about them never missing a class or postponing a scene study they are set to present with their acting partner. But, more than this, most acting coaches are simply jealous of anyone who has actually been offered a role. From this, they talk their student out of accepting it. They do this by convinced them that they have the potential to be a Big Star. Therefore, why should they appear in an indie film? Of course, those people who have listened to their instructor and passed on the roles offered to them in indie films have never gone on to anything expect pay their acting coach more money. But, these are just a couple of examples of how acting training negative effects an actor’s potential and how it may effect the outcome of your film.

Never Acted Before
Here in Hollywood and in other cities, as well, there is the major problem of people auditioning for a part in an indie film who have never acted in front of the camera before but they have been an extra on a major movie or television set. On these sets, they see the massive number of crewmembers doing things, the name-actors being led in from their trailers to the set. Plus, the food is great and the atmosphere is electric with high-budget film energy. They think this is how all movie sets are supposed to. But, to the independent filmmaker, we know this is not the case.

This being said, it is very important to weed out those ‘A-Picture Dreamers’ from the ones who actually want to act.

It is essential to understand that it is not a bad thing to bring a person onto your set who has never acted before. In fact, from personal experiences, I have gotten some great performances from people who can simply be themselves in front of the camera but never had any intention of becoming a professional actor. On the other hand, there are those who are locked into the ideology that all movie sets are major productions—where the actors will be pampered and catered to.

The reason that you do not want to cast someone like this is that they will simply be disappointed once they arrive on your set. This disappointment will be obvious and it may spread to your other cast members. And, negativity spreads on a movie set very quickly. Therefore, you really need to watch out for this type of person and keep them off of your set.

The simplest remedy to find out an actor’s expectation, if you are thinking about casting them, is to ask, “What sets have you been on?” If they tell you about a student film they were in or an indie project, then you have no worries. They will be fine on your set. On the hand, here in Hollywood, it is very common that a person will have been an extra in a film and or on T.V. and they will list these roles on their resume. But, being an extra is not being an actor. If their resume is made up of several of these productions, then you know you may have a problem. Now, this is not to say that a person who has been on a large set will not be willing to work in the indie market. But, this is simply a warning that you must talk to them about their expectations to alleviate any on-set misconceptions that may bring your production to a halt.

Very Average
Probably, the most damning of all elements to any film’s production is an actor’s ego. Everybody comes here to Hollywood assured that they will be the next Big Star. They all believe that they have the looks, the talent, and the drive to become successful.

This world has become celebrity obsessed. Everywhere, the life of the famous is broadcast, written, and spoken about. Due to this fact, actors believe that they have the potential to come to Hollywood and become just as big as the biggest name. “If they can do, so can I.” I have heard that statement so many times from so many wanta-be actors and actress that I cannot even count the number.

But, none of them ever do make-it. Why? Because they are very-average. They are just like everyone else who comes to Hollywood. They look the same, have the same hairstyle, wear the same trendy clothing, study from the same acting teachers, and go to the same headshot photographers. But, they all go home never having done anything in Hollywood but to be an extra and show up to auditions with headshots that don’t look like themselves, spouting the promise, “I am great actor.”

The ones I have known that have made-it in Hollywood, (to whatever degree), are the ones that have had their own style and their own identity. They created their own niche for themselves by being who they are and not defining themselves by whom they studied with or circulating beautiful headshot that they look nothing like.

Casting the Actor
We, as filmmakers, are always dependent upon the actor. We are also dominated by what is available. Meaning, we can only create our cast from the available options we are presented with. So, what is the answer?

1. Don’t trust the headshots. Tear ‘em up if the actor or actress comes to you and looks nothing like their photo.

2. Forget about where they studied—as ‘The Studied’ bring far too many preconceived notions and other nonsense to your set.

3. Cast people you like. People you wouldn’t mind hanging out with.

4. Never become friends with your cast. At least not while you are filming. Why? Because then the relationship becomes convoluted and they may expect more than you are willing to give.

5. Always tell actors what to expect on your set. Tell them where you will be filming, how large is your crew, what kind of equipment you are using, and how many actors they will interact with. With this, you prepare them for what is to come and they will not surprise you with an attitude of discontentment.

Copyright © 2006 – All Rights Reserved