Ideally, you want a casting director with experience. Hopefully, this casting director’s resume includes projects with strong performances from the primary leads on down to that guy you really liked in that one scene. Maybe your project is a comedy, and you’ve noticed Allison Jones credited on just about everything. Well, unless Judd Apatow is your producer, you probably won’t be able to hire her. Look for casting directors who have worked on projects that are more in your budget range. Rumor has it there’s an entire database of movies on the internet, so that’s a good place to start. You can also try for a hungry assistant or junior casting director who has worked for someone more established. There’s no guarantee you’ll get the same magic, but at least that person has been in the room with the likes of Sharon Bialy and hopefully learned something in that time.
The Casting Team
So here’s some good news: a lot of the problems that come up in pre-production and production will eventually get taken care of in post-production. Now for the bad: there’s no amount of cutting, layering or even dubbing that can fix a lousy performance. The casting department is the first line of defense against actors who can ruin a project.
Your principal cast includes anyone whose character has a significant role. Still confused? Ask your casting director. Haven’t hired one yet? Ok. If a character needs to display any kind of complex emotion that impacts the story, consider it a role in the principle cast. That’s too abstract and wordy? Fine. Think of the worst actor and/or actress you’ve ever seen. This is all in your own head, so you can be as harsh as you want. If having that person in a role would ruin your entire project, that role belongs in the principal cast.
The background cast includes extras and very minor roles. How minor a role you ask? Remember the project killing performer from the principal cast section? That pale imitation of actual talent should be able to play any one of these roles. On low-to-no budget productions, background parts often end up going to friends, family, crew or the drunk dude who keeps stumbling into your shot so you might as well make use of him anyway. There are a lot of struggling actors out there who grind through background work, but generally they expect to be paid – at the very least in the form of meals from craft services.
Considerations in Development
A while back we asked you to be honest with yourself: do you care more about the story or about that cash money? A storyteller should find the best actors available even if “Ibsen on the Street Corner” is their biggest credit to date. For the financial crowd, there are certain names that add value to your production, and these aren’t always the ones you’d imagine. A lot of the time, there’s a trade-off in finding cast members with enough recognition to justify a certain budget level but also fit the role. Be warned though: actors with any kind of name recognition can be painfully aware of this fact – painful for you and your crew, that is.
You Can’t Teach Talent
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again (because that’s just how we do it): nothing ruins a project like a bad performance. You probably won’t have time to train your entire cast in Stanislavsky and the Strasberg Method. You can, however, find actors who are willing to work hard and don’t consider themselves better than the material. In fact, if a lesser name actor proves easier to work with and delivers a better performance, this actually sounds like a win-win situation for everyone – including the narcissistic egomaniac who didn’t make the cut for that role. It’s also good to consider any limitations your cast members might have. For example, Andre the Giant certainly wasn’t the second coming of Marlon Brando, but he still played a memorable role in “The Princess Bride.” A lot of actors will have natural strengths as well as weaknesses. If your resources are limited, make sure your production takes advantage of what the actors do well.
The cast you hire also needs to understand the budget of your project. Maybe an actor’s last role was on a Spielberg film. Well, unless you are Spielberg (and thanks for visiting the website, Steven!), you won’t have a blank check for your production, so this performer must realize that the craft services will not be as lavish. In fact, you probably won’t have craft services at all. If performers have certain prima donna tendencies, this could end up holding up your production. At a certain point, the stress, hassle and even the outright cost might not justify whatever financing these big names bring to the project.
Like the other unions, the Screen Actors Guild has a specific set of rules based on the budget level of your project. If you’re using SAG actors, you must understand these rules. These regulations range from the minimum you can pay your cast to what you can ask them to do. At the same time, if your actors are members of SAG, they should know what they are getting into based on the type of production. A project classified as a “New Media” film, for example, will have a very different set of rules than a “Basic Cable Live Action” television series. In general though, it’s better to work with the unions whenever possible than to keep your production under wraps for fear of reprisals.