Traditionally, when casting a movie, there are a few standard approaches to how to do it. One is to have a cattle call, where actors come in, perform a monologue, give you their headshot and resume, and leave. Another is a process where actors come in and read pages of the script (called “sides”), by themselves, or maybe with a second actor also reading sides.
For me, the traditional casting process is useless.
I don’t have actors audition in the traditional sense. When I do a cattle call, I simply visit with people and take a look at their reels, or resumes, and that’s about it. If I decide to have them audition, I will have them put themselves on tape later on. But there is no reason to make actors do random monologues that have nothing to do with your movie. Unless your character is exactly like Hamlet, do you really care if Actor Carl the best Hamlet in the world?
Doing cold readings from “sides” are totally unfair to the actor and also to the director. I can’t expect an actor to walk in off the street without any previous discussion with me and nail it. Sure, sometimes magic happens. But, it’s unfair to ask the actor to do that. It would be most beneficial to everyone involved if the actor and the director could speak about the character in question. Actors act. That’s what they do. Most of the good ones can play any part you throw at them.
If an actor does a reading that isn’t a match with the director’s idea of the role, it is totally unfair for the director to judge that actor. How could that actor know what the director is thinking unless the director says so? Actors can be talented, but most are not psychic. They need some “direction” which—oh wait—that’s why they call it a Director.
Yet, most often, bad directors hold cold reads and casting calls and will judge an actor based on their ability to perform without any direction. Those are the directors who want actors who can direct themselves so he/she doesn’t have to do any work.
When I’m casting a movie, I like to meet performers and match their personalities with their co-stars. If I think someone has the right energy for the part, I ask them to do a private video audition. We visit a bit about the character, and then they record a short video in character introducing themselves to me.
They don’t work off the script, they just work off the energy inside the character and it’s totally improvisational. I explain to each performer that there is no right or wrong way to interpret the character. Part of the exercise is just so I can see how they look and move on screen. Videos also convey if the actor has a deeper understanding of the character in question, or if they’ll need some additional guidance.
Sometimes I’ll ask an actor to do two videos, each with a different character. This is a great idea if you’ve never worked with the individual before. Because, they will show you what kind of an actor they are and you won’t have to guess. If the actor shows you two totally different performances, it is clear they have a range and can do a variety of roles. But, sometimes, if they perform both parts with pretty much the same style, it sends the signal they deliver one type of performance. Which isn’t bad.
One time I had a gal do two video auditions for two roles, and she was pretty much the same in both. Even though they were vastly different characters. But, she was great at doing the thing she did. So I cast her in a part totally suited for that kind of performance. And, she nailed it.
Doing video auditions is also very valuable when you’re shooting a film across the globe. When I shot my film CULTURE SHOCK in London and Paris, the only way for me to audition people was via Skype and video. There was no money to fly me overseas to do the traditional casting process.
Traditionalists scoff at my concepts, but I think they work wonders and save lots of time and money. So next time you prepare a casting or audition, think about what it is you want to achieve from it. And do whatever you can to reach the goal.