Cast the Right Kind of Talent for Your Story and Project

“In the world of mostly every successful producer and director, talent is of critical importance.”

By John Carrico

Every filmmaker who’s ever cast a cousin, a sister, a new friend from the softball team, or some really hot ingénue in the theater department has learned the same lesson: working with professional actors is indispensable in making the leap from “paint by numbers” to creating works of art – or, at least the creation of something that will make the client happy and put money in your bank account.

“Talent is the linchpin that holds the project together,” says Andrew Wright, of Wright Bros. Films in Denver. “You can have the best crew, the best locations, the best production in the works, but if the on-camera talent isn’t right, you’re just wasting your time and going through the motions. “

Wright is an advertising and marketing savant who’s cast thousands of actors in hundreds of prominent projects and national ad-campaigns throughout his career.

“It is the talent who tells the story, relates the message or portrays the emotion to the viewer,” he says. “It is the job of the director/filmmaker to provide a means to help let that talent tell the story and to relate it as it is intended. Therefore, it is up to the director/filmmaker to select the appropriate talent for the story or project, and to get the best performance out of them.”

In Andrew Wright’s world, and in the world of mostly every successful producer and director, talent is of critical importance.

Unfortunately, filmmakers starting out tend to shy away from using professional talent for a number of reasons. The biggest being they think working actors are a luxury beyond their means. And they’re probably right. Depending on the market and talent agency, working with pros will cost you anywhere from a few-hundred to a few-thousand dollars – per actor, per day. So what do you do? After all, professional actors are found at professional talent agencies, and neither of them are in the business of working for free. Right? Well, yeah…but. Actors and agencies can be surprisingly receptive to the notion of helping out a budding filmmaker who has champagne dreams and a water fountain budget.

“Student films are always a good learning experience for any actor at any level,” believes Kathleen Ham, Director of Broadcast Media for the Donna Baldwin Talent Agency. Overseeing a stable of some 350-actors at the oldest and largest talent agency in the Rocky Mountain region, Ham regularly hears the pleading of student filmmakers. And, she’s willing to listen and help, provided you know how to knock on the door.

“There are two ways to approach the start of a professional production, and that is to treat it like it’s a professional production and a business,” she says. “Behave like a pro if that’s what you want to attract to your project.”

Allow me to reiterate –

IT’S A BUSINESS, SO ACT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL.

This means when you approach an agency with hat-in-hand, you absolutely, positively must be prepared. Your act must be together and your ducks must be in a row. Failing to do so will result in having a stake swiftly plunged into the heart of any dreams and ambitions you entertained of working with professional actors, and you’ll be back to using that lady in your mom’s gardening club.

First of all, use e-mail. Don’t call and request a meeting. And never, ever show up in a talent agency’s lobby with a smile on your face and a script clenched in your hand. They have paying clients to attend to. As in any business venture, it’s imperative that your e-mail create a good impression. Without being obsequious, you must present yourself as a courteous, respectful, and cordial young filmmaker with limited credentials who will be appreciative of any assistance being afforded. Don’t just slam the details together and fire off an e-mail. Spend some time crafting your message. You’re in the communication business, and this is when you need to demonstrate that you are an effective communicator.

Be succinct and to the point. Your vision, your philosophy, and your aspirations for the project are admittedly very, very important – to you. If you’re to convince the agency that they should petition their actors on your behalf, include – in a neat, tidy and concise manner – everything that pertains to the actors. How many actors does the script call for? What flavor of actor do you need? How many women? How many men? How old? Skinny or equatorially challenged? What race/ethnicity? Character personas? Wardrobe? Make-up? Will you reimburse for mileage? Are you providing lunch?

Flesh out essential details of the shoot. The date? Call time? Where? How long a day? Are you providing lunch?

And don’t fail to mention, humbly and with great respect, that you promise on the good name of the generations who came before you that you will provide the actors with a copy of the final product… and lunch.

Do all this, and there’s a good chance the agency will take the time to let their actors know about your cause. If your e-mail starts overflowing with replies from actors clamoring to be a part of your “most intriguing” production, you’ll need to have a game plan in place for auditions.

You can include the audition info along with a script or sides in your initial e-mail, or wait until you start hearing from actors. Most actors I know prefer reading some copy and learning the audition time and date up front, so my advice is to include all that info in the initial e-mail.

And you must never, ever hold an audition on the weekend. This is a pretty prominent pet peeve for actors. I’ve passed on numerous student films because the auditions were held on a Saturday morning between 10:30 and 11:30 at a location I’d never heard of. It may fit your schedule, but not ours. Actors are used to auditioning weekdays during business hours. So plan accordingly. Why? Well, it’s a business, and we, too, have lawns to mow, soccer games to attend, and burgers to be grilled. Shooting on a Saturday and/or Sunday is okay because that’s part of the commitment made when accepting a role. Scheduling an audition on a weekend, however, tells us that even though we’re willing to provide our talent for free to your project, you still consider your needs to be greater than ours. So suck it up, and find a way to hold your auditions at a convenient location, Monday through Friday between the hours of 9:00 and 5:00. Otherwise, you’ll be casting the bouncer from your favorite bar. You know, the bald guy who has that “eyebrow thing” going on.

As a novice filmmaker or as a student filmmaker, the door to using professional actors isn’t closed, and the sooner you learn how to interact with professionals on a professional basis, the farther ahead you’ll be when it’s time to get out there and start making a buck.

Besides being a business, good agencies and strong actors are keenly aware that this is a craft and helping new talent benefits us all in the long run. At the risk of sounding saccharine, a lot of us see it as a duty to help out.

“It is really rewarding to know that you’ve had a hand in helping bring somebody up who’s just getting started,” says Ham. “A mutual appreciation is established which can endure throughout a career.”

 

John Carrico is an actor and voice over artist living and working in the Denver, CO area.

Featured in StudentFilmmakers Magazine, April 2009 Edition.

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