Casting & Read-throughs
Last week we wrote a script. The only way to truly know if what you wrote works is that little voice in your heart that tells you every half hour that you’re one of the worlds great geniuses and your words will be studied long after your passing. But if you’re smart you’ll only let that voice make .05 percent of your decisions, no matter how assured and British it sounds in your head. So now you need to subject the script to the studio standard method of discovering problems—the read-through.
It goes without saying that before you can have a read-through you need to find your cast. There are plenty of ways to do this. Question: Are you going to wade through the paperwork integral to the process of obtaining a SAG low-budget agreement so you can use card-carriers as your actors? If you are, you’re a better person then I. I’ve never been through the process, so if you’re looking for casting advice then this is all I got. Cast your friends. Especially if you’re making a series for no money. A lot of free time is given up to no-money production and your friends are the people most likely to stick with you through the YEARS it’s going to take to finish. It helps if they can act and it’s even better if they can adapt to your direction. If they’re interested and excited to be a part of the project, that’s the best you can hope for. On a side note, make friends with attractive people. They’re more fun to look at on camera.
If you still need other people to fill up roles after talking your good-looking friends into it or you would prefer to go through the casting process, there are huge numbers of people who want the chance to act for free. All you have to do is open a new tab on this browser, go to Craigslist, and post a casting notice under the Gigs section in the Talent sub-section. It has to go in GIGS because that’s where they keep the unpaid work. There are also a bunch of other free-actor sites like NowCasting or ExploreTalent. Or ActorsAccess, if you want to take it up a notch. Of course these actors are hoping to be paid, and the really talented ones are going to have to get some kind of back-end agreement for when you sell this thing, but the usual agreement is for copy, credit, and meals. The meals thing is a little flexible depending on how much of the day the shoot takes up. But I usually sweeten the pot in casting notices by saying that participants usually end up on IMDB (see the first blog I posted), that we have accrued a very loyal audience base, and that I can give them a copy of just their scene for their reel in whatever format they like. The only actual hurdle is that if someone is acting for free, they usually expect to be a lead. Posting that it’s a guest-starring role will limit the number of submissions you get but it’s honest and you don’t want to get your hopes up over a headshot that’s going to ditch you when they find out that they only have a scene or two.
The only other thing I have to say about casting is that it’s not very professional to have actors come to a private residence to read. It throws up so many red flags in the actor’s mind that you might get a lot of people seeing the building and then driving away before their scheduled audition time. Every city has some kind of rehearsal space that can be rented cheaply for auditions. Failing that, try your local community center, they’ll most likely be happy to help.
Once you have your cast, you need to get everyone together for a read-through. I find that these are much more fun if you feed everyone and have some wine or beer on hand. It doesn’t matter if the wine is cheap, as far as your cast is concerned, it’s free, and that’s all that matters. Pizza is the fallback read-through food of choice, but for our last read-through my wife made a mountain of pasta and garlic bread. Again, cheap and delicious. A good read-through is like an ambition-driven dinner party.
The main purpose of a read-through is to get everyone on the same page (Ha! Like a script page? That’s right, I said it). This is when you can see if the actors have the same idea of the character that you do, and if they don’t, you can guide them into the right frame of mind. It makes everything much easier when you get to set. This is also a great time to find out if the script works. The initial draft of episode 3 of The Platoon of Power Squadron had a really heavy scene in the last act. It was great in my head and on the page. It was powerful, I was taking a personal stand as a writer, and it was gripping. But at the read-through it was an atrocity. It seemed to come out of left field. The plot point still exists in the outline of the whole series, but I had to push it back several episodes. The problem was that we hadn’t earned it. I had a scene and a character growth-point that I was really excited about, so I rushed it. Because it felt wrong at the read-through I re-wrote the script with a completely revised act 3 for the B-story. I can’t tell you how relieved I am to this day that I did the re-write. If I had left it as it was, the scene I was so excited about would have felt totally out of place and ruined the entire episode, not to mention our credibility with our audience who entrusts us to make the right decisions for their characters at the appropriate times. The real moral of the story is that every turn of your characters and plot has to be motivated and earned.
Now you have your cast and a locked script. It’s time for the worst part of the entire process…SCHEDULING.
One of the most important factors in scheduling is finding locations. But I’m going to talk about that next week.