A Better Way: A Casting Process Alternative (Part Two)

This is the continuation of my previous post about shaking up the way filmmakers cast projects, where I hopefully presented a reasonable enough case for why the following process is a change for the better.

·         Step 1: You or your casting director need to write character breakdowns that are descriptive and sell the roles you are looking to cast to both the performers and their reps.  If you can't do better than "[TOM] 30's, police detective" for a lead role in the film, there is no question that your story and script are not to a producible point.  There should be nuances, small character traits that make a person (good/compelling films are filled with interesting people, not film characters) unique, and these should be able to be spelled out in the character breakdown.  Easiest way to get an agent to click right past your breakdown is for it to be comprised of a list of one-line stock character breakdowns, particularly if the producers and directors listed on the project are not well-known - which would be a given because no director would become accomplished if they put forth so little effort towards casting.

·         Step 2: With that posted to the traditional channels (Breakdown Services being the relative monopoly-holder here, another thing we should work to break free from), submissions will come pouring in.  A casting director really earns their bread here, sifting through and sorting the haves from the have-nots, and then creating lists of vetted actors for you to consider.  This is where my approach deviates from the traditional path - instead of scheduling that first round of impersonal evaluations in the form of auditions, I go through the CD's list(s) and do my own homework on them.  Look at their demo reels to get a feel for their past performances, research whether they have worked with anyone you have worked with or know and value the opinion of and ask for that person's take on the performer, even just googling away on them often can shed a great deal of light on what kind of person and actor you are dealing with.

·         Step 3: After comparing my own research and notes with the CD's (you're paying for their professional casting expertise, you should be open to their suggestions even if you don't agree with them) we schedule general meetings.  Coffee, lunch, a chat on a park bench - doesn't matter.  The idea is that you sit down with them in an informal setting and work to get them out of the mindset that they are being scrutinized and evaluated.  If you are good at communicating, which you had better be if you want to be worth anything as a film director, you hopefully can get them to drop the job interview facade and get a gauge of who they really are as a person - for better or worse.  Provide them with the full script at least a week in advance, and you can also get a feel for their thoughts on the material here.

·         Step 4: At this point, you should have shortlisted a few actors that meet two criteria: they have somehow demonstrated ability as an actor (based on your research) and are a human being (based on your general meeting) you are at least comfortable, if not excited, to hitch your wagon to and take this long and arduous film production journey alongside.  Only then do we pair them with your script to see how they fit with the material.  You should schedule reasonable blocks of time with each actor, at least 20-30 minutes, and instruct them to have two contrasting scenes prepared.  If you can pair them with an already-cast actor in the scenes, all the better.  Shoot the sessions so you have them to review later.  Work with the actor as you would on set, get a feel for their needs and preparation process and make sure they jive with the environment you intend to provide them during production.  Look for red flags of difficulty throughout - once the train is moving, it is very difficult (and costly) to replace cast members.

Pending working out the financial side of things and the always near-impossible variable of scheduling, you should be able to make a choice from the above that is the best one for your material and creative environment.  It's not a new way of splitting the atom or anything, but it is a fairly different approach that I believe allows us to make considerably better and more well-informed decisions about who we are choosing to work so closely with in bringing our material to life.  It is also a less frustrating process for the performers, as an added bonus...and any director that's worked with a ticked-off actor before will attest to the value of keeping a smile on their face.


Josh Folan is a producer, writer, director and actor with professional credits dating back to 2005, prior to which he studied finance at The Ohio State University. Filmmaking highlights since founding NYEH Entertainment in 2008 include BODY (2015 Slamdance premier, co-producer), All God’s Creatures (2011 Hoboken Int’l premier, best screenplay and actress nominations, writer/producer), it’s just One line (2012 Film Racing NYC 24 Hour Film Race finalist, writer/director/producer), and What Would Bear Do? (writer/director/producer). Also an author and contributor to the independent filmmaking blog community, he penned the low-budget indie case study Filmmaking, the Hard Way. You can follow him (@joshfolan) and NYEH (@nyehentertains) on twitter and facebook if you’d like to keep up with his coming soons.