There are so many places that a film can go completely wrong. Having been a part of making two feature films now, it’s honestly a miracle that films come together into one cohesive whole at all.
One of the most crucial elements is casting. You can reshoot scenes if there is a technical issue, you can rewrite parts of you script if the story isn’t working. However, if you cast someone and they end up not being right for the role, there is nothing you can do short of recasting and reshooting your whole film.
All that to say, being sure you’re finding the right actors is crucial. As up and coming, independent filmmakers, we don’t have the luxury of spending millions of dollars to attract known talent such as Chris Hemsworth or Emma Stone.
Our job will be to find low-cost, local talent, trying to make their break into the industry.
There are several ways to find talent in your area, however the most conventional is through an in person audition.
It would seem pretty straight forward, but it’s actually quite the endeavour to pull it off, and will require a little help from your friends.
We held an audition recently for our own feature film, The Out of the Woods Project. Follow my simple step by step guide, and you too can host the perfect audition for your film.
- Find a Venue
A crucial first step in this process, and one that is often overlooked. It is very unprofessional to hold an audition in your home or apartment. If you’re asking a self-respecting actor to come and audition in your home, they may question the nature of your film, and the legitimacy of you as a filmmaker.
Rent out a venue. In larger cities, there are often offices or creative centres that rent out rooms for this very purpose. Sometimes, local libraries will let you use their study rooms. Whatever you find, you’ll want a place that will give you access to tables and chairs that you can use.
Call local theatres, schools, community centres, etc. If all else fails, call local churches; they’re filled with lovely people, tons of empty rooms during the week, and more than likely would love to host someone outside their church.
Once you’ve found an available venue and have worked out available times with them, it’s time to schedule your auditions accordingly.
Thankfully, I work on a centre with several rooms that are vacant regularly. When I need to hold an audition, I simply have to book out one of the rooms. #spoiled
The more traditional approach to an audition is to hold an open audition; this means that anyone is welcome to come in between a certain time that you set beforehand.
This is one way you can hold an audition.
If you’d rather not waste your time with a lot of people you know won’t work for your film, it’s better to pursue actors you like and set up appointments.
You can find local talent through local casting websites such as StarNow, as well as contacting local talent agencies and pitching them your project.
Once you’ve found people you want to audition, set up a schedule for them to come and see you.
You can do this traditionally and keep all your auditions in a ledger, or do what we did and use a scheduling app. We used a free, online scheduling software called Setmore (link https://my.setmore.com/). The software automatically placed the auditions into our calendar once they were scheduled, as well as send notifications to the actors to their e-mail address.
There is also an app for the iPad as well, so our receptionist could use the app to see who was scheduled to come next for an audition, but that comes later.
Now all that’s left is to prepare everything for the day(s)!
- Prep Work
Ok, you’ve got your location, you’ve got your appointment, now you’ve got to get the site ready.
Here’s a list of everything you will need:
- Audition Signs
For the uninitiated, “sides” is short form for the portion of the script that your talent will audition from. Hopefully, they will come prepared with the sides you e-mailed them already (surprise, you should have e-mailed this to them). If not, you should come with several copies for each character just in case. Regardless, you’ll need a few copies for each character that you’re auditioning for so others can follow along in the script with the actor, but more on that later.
B. I Saw the Sign
If the venue you’re using is anything like mine, then it can be confusing to navigate without prior knowledge. Oftentimes, the room you’re auditioning talent in isn’t the space directly next to the parking lot. This is why I created these fancy schmancy “audition” signs. I printed them off, laminated them (so I could set them up outside without fear of weather destroying them and also reuse them if needed, and cause I’m me), set them up with arrows pointing in the appropriate direction, and placed a sign arrow free at the spot where the audition was, in fact, happening.
Now it’s time to set up some tables and chairs outside of your audition room and make ready your loyal, ever-loving receptionist.
- Find a Receptionist
Time to phone a friend and ask them to be your receptionist.
While, this is not 100% necessary, it can help the actors give better auditions and keep you more organised.
They’re going to need a few things:
- iPad with ReleaseApp (or comparable app) OR a simple camera and affidavits for filming the audition
I acted as receptionist and my job was two fold: I was to keep a record of everyone who came through to audition using an iPad app called Relaseapp. Through this app I gathered the actors’ name, photo, and a signed affidavit to allow us to film their audition. If you don’t have an iPad, you can have them take pictures on their phone, keep and match them to the printed, signed affidavits they collect from the actors.
My more important job, however, was to make the actors as comfortable as possible, so they went into their auditions relaxed. I would strike up conversation to get their mind thinking about other things, offer them tea, water or coffee, and would do whatever I could to make them feel safe and comfortable.
It’s easy for a great actor to have a bad audition. We wanted to stop that from happening. Having a receptionist (particularly one who is calm, kind and conversational) can be a great tool in that regard.
- Roll Camera
It’s time for the audition itself to actually begin.
For this portion you’re going to want to find a friend of yours who either has a camera and knows how to use one if you don’t, or knows how to use the camera that you have.
What I’m saying is that you’re going to want to tape your auditions for several reasons:
- To see what your actor looks like on camera. People look different on camera than they do in real life; you want to make sure you like how you’re actor is going to look on camera.
- To show other important parties that may not be present for the audition (directors, producers, etc).
- As a reference for you throughout the casting process. At some point you’ll be wrestling between two of three actors for the same role, and it can be helpful to have their performance captured on camera to reference back to at another time.
It doesn’t have to be anything super fancy, but you want to be able to see and hear them clearly.
When I am operating camera for an audition, I always set up the camera to the side of the audition table at a higher angle, keeping at least the upper half of the actors’ body in frame. You want to be close enough to the actor to be able to see their face clearly, but far enough away that if they move suddenly, they’ll still be in frame.
- The Reader
The next friend you need to invite is someone called “The Reader.” What they do is read the parts of the script for your auditioning actor that are not said by the character that is currently being auditioned.
It’s great to have an objective, third party voice in the audition room, as well as someone reading who will respond to the actor auditioning without making it an audition for themselves.
When we held our auditions, we had a local theatre director friend of ours come in and be our reader. She understood actors and acting, but wasn’t trying to ham up the scene as she read the lines. She read the lines and responded to the actor without overdoing it.
It’s great to have a person reading the script who is separate from the director and casting director, so their focus can be solely on the actor and their performance during the audition.
Now, let the auditions begin!
There’s a lot to holding a great audition, and I am just skimming the surface here. Hopefully, this will help you create the best audition possible for your next short or feature film.