read Part One: Pre-Production here
One night in January, I was sitting on Ashley’s couch eating Thai takeout and sifting through hundreds of headshots. I was trying to figure out who I wanted to call in for auditions for our new web series, and this was the fourth day we’d met in a row trying to figure out who her co-star would be. Ashley, a good friend whom I had written one of the lead roles for, was just as overwhelmed as I was about the sheer volume of submissions we’d received for the remaining roles.
“Unfortunately I don’t think you can’t call in everyone,” she told me as I geeked out over resumes that included credits from Hawaii Five-O and Hunger Games, and acting schools such as Carnegie Mellon.
She was right, of course. Narrowing down 600 submissions to around 20 for each of the three roles was near-impossible, but finding quality actors is so important, especially for a web series with recurring roles.
With Antidote 15, we were incredibly lucky to find the cast we did. I distinctly remember during callbacks watching Conner and Ashley read together and just knowing that they were perfect for the roles– seeing them perform the lines made everything fall into place. Not to mention after Daniel left the audition room, we decided to cast him immediately and cancel callbacks for his role since we didn’t want to see anyone else.
Casting is a great process, but it needs to be highly organized in order to run smoothly. These talented performers are taking time out of their day to come and read for you– if your audition process is a hot mess of confusion and long waits and miscommunication, you’re starting off on the wrong foot.
What to Look For
Know what you want for a role before you start casting.
When you’re looking for actors, know what qualities you need for the role:
- What does this character look like? Doesn’t have to be specific down to hair color, but should be a general look. Do they have to match the appearance of a co-star or fit within an ensemble that’s already been cast? Does ethnicity matter, or are you doing colorblind casting?
- What does the role require? Do you need someone with a tough guy exterior who’s actually a romantic? Someone with emotional depth? Or someone who can deliver snappy Sorkin-esque mini-monologues? Tailor your sides to each role, and be sure you use direction to see how an actor adjusts their performance.
- Pick someone you want to work with. There was one actor who came in who was known for not treating the employees of a local establishment well– and one of the people in my casting room was one of said employees. On top of his reputation, he also didn’t know the name of the character or the project he was auditioning for, which made him a definite pass. Finding someone who will be reliable and kind and consistent is key to a smooth shoot. One actor dropping out last minute could kill a web series since our budgets are so small and we don’t have the money for reshoots. I was lucky enough to find actors who were able to make room for my show despite all their commitments, but I know of other projects in the past that weren’t so lucky.
How to Audition Actors for Your Web Series
If you live in LA, you need to post your casting call on these websites:
- Breakdown. Free, and connects with Actors Access. By far the best casting website I’ve worked with that got the most quality responses.
- LA Casting. Not as good as Breakdown, but another good free option.
- Cazt. Haven’t tried this one, but I’ve heard lots of good things about it from trusted friends.
We received over 600 headshots from actors for our three roles on LA Casting and Breakdown websites alone. We called in around 50 actors to audition, and brought about 6 to callbacks, and cast 3. Cazt is another new choice out there that I believe also provides a free space to audition your actors in.
How to Create a Casting Call
This is one of the most important parts of casting! The quality of actors you’ll attract to your project depends on how you present yourself and your web series.
- Be upfront about your project. If you are not paying your actors, say so. You should offer your actors meal/copy/credit (food, a copy of their performance, and credit in the film.) Will you be paying for your actor’s parking costs? What about transportation? How will the project be used? Will it be posted on the web, submitted to festivals? When will it be released?
- Write good character descriptions. Good descriptions will include the name and age of the character as well as defining characteristics. The better the description, the more actors will want to play the part.
- Describe the project commitments. Make sure to clearly communicate how many days they’ll be expected to be on set and whether or not they will be asked to come back for season two of your web series.
- Give good directions to the audition room. There’s nothing more stressful than getting lost on the way to an audition. I even included photos of how to get to the room because it was hard to find.
You can read my casting call here to see what I wrote. Once you get submissions from actors, start putting together a list of your favorites, and then call in around 10-20 for each role. I schedule about 10-12 actors for every hour and a half timeslot. I pare down the submissions based on whether or not they look the part, the contents of their resume, and their reel if they have one. Our lead in Antidote 15 had to look young enough to conceivably date our youthful lead actress, and while we called for 18-23 age range, we received a lot of submissions from people well into their 30’s.
- Book your room 30 minutes earlier than the first audition. Good actors are usually early. In order to prevent the awkward hang-on-while-we-get-set-up moment, I book my audition room 30 minutes early so my team and I can set up the camera, put signs up, and get settled in. This also helps us stay on-time: we usually get set up in 15 minutes and then get started with auditions 15 minutes early when people start showing up.
- Have a sign-in sheet outside the room. This way you can make sure you have the contact information for everyone and can more easily communicate.
- Do a cold reading of sides in the actual auditions. “Sides” are short scripted scenes from actual movies. You can find plenty of scripts online, and you want to pick a scene between two people with a character and dynamic that is similar to the part you’re casting. I place my sides out on the table next to the sign in sheet and give the actors about 5-10 minutes to go over the sides before calling them in for their cold read.
- For my auditions, I chose a scene from Casino Royale between Vesper and James Bond because I wanted to emulate their witty banter in my web series, and I wanted to see how the actors audition played Bond: flirtatious? Suave? Snarky? For the character of Tim, I chose a side from Stepmom (a side I got from my friend Ben Wilkinson, a fantastic director) that was highly emotional and showed dimension and depth that was necessary for Tim.
- Re-direct the good actors. You can tell in the first 15 seconds whether or not an actor is right for the part or not. However, you may find six or seven people who fit the part, and in order to cut down that number for callbacks, re-direct actors during the audition. Ask them to read with a different intention (re-read page two as if you’ve got a secret you’re keeping from Vesper) or different inflection and see how they take direction. This isn’t always possible depending on time.
- Videotape all the auditions. This is important not only on deciding who gets called back, but also for future reference. What if you need to cast a guest star a few episodes down the road? Keep headshots and audition tapes so you can contact those who make an impact but you don’t end up casting.
- Thank everyone who comes in. Actors are amazing people. They spend their own time and money on transportation to get to your audition and spend five minutes reading for a role that odds say they won’t book. Don’t interrupt their auditions, thank them for coming, and overall just treat them with respect. May seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve heard horror stories from some of my actor friends.
Once you’ve decided who is going to get called back, make sure to send an email to those who didn’t make the cut thanking them for coming to your audition, and that after careful consideration you decided they weren’t right for the role but will keep them in mind for future projects. Don’t be that casting director who leaves people hanging on whether or not they got cast.
In callbacks, have actors read with their co-stars, and mix it up. For our callbacks, we paired our lead actress (who we already cast) with each of the male leads to figure out who looks better on frame and has chemistry during the read. Also for callbacks, it’s good etiquette to pay for the actor’s parking and book them in timeslots so they aren’t waiting around too long.
My Casting Experiences
Casting is one of my favorite parts of the process because once you see the right actor, you know it. Meeting great actors who take their craft seriously is energizing, and I’ve been extremely lucky to work with some true stars so far.
Stay tuned for more articles on how to create a web series!
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