Casting

Casting can be a fun and rewarding process when done correctly.

Whether you’re using Oxy students or actors from off-campus, remember that you’ll need to work with other people’s schedules, so plan ahead and start the casting process early. Once you've gone through the casting processes detailed below, be sure to check out The Day of the Shoot section of this handbook to ensure proper engagement of actors on set and the completion of crucial forms for your production including Actor Release Forms, Assumption of Risk Forms, and Emergency Medical Forms (all available under the Index of Forms)

Union vs. Non-Union

The first thing you want to decide is whether you want to use union or non-union actors. If you want to go the union route, you’ll need to go to the SAG website, fill out the preliminary info sheet, and fax it in to be assigned a caseworker and get the waiver process going: http://www.sagindie.org/resources/contract-downloads. This paperwork must be submitted at least three weeks prior to the shoot start date. Occidental College does not have a contract with SAG; therefore, any student film using SAG actors must pay approximately $470 for Worker’s Comp insurance. If you do decide to use SAG actors, contact your professor, who will then talk with risk management on your behalf. There is also a three week turnaround required for issuing Worker's Comp Insurance.

Working with Minors

Do you have any children in your film? Before you audition anyone under the age of 18, it’s important that you read and understand the protocol for working with minors on a film set. California Regulations do provide limited exceptions for the protocols detailed below according to LC 1310. But be sure to consult with your instructor well in advance of your shoot dates to coordinate any shooting with a minor. All usage of minors must be cleared through an instructor before casting begins.

Unless otherwise determined, student films using minors under 18 years old must apply for a permit to emply minors and have a studio teacher on set whenever the minor is present. Also, the legal guardian or parent of the minor must be present the entire time the minor is on set. Relatives, babysitters, etc, are not legal guardians. If you are using an infant from 15 days to 6 months old, you must also have a nurse on set.

Minors must also have work permits before they can accept a role in a student film. They must bring this permit with them to the set each day they work. Studio Teachers will want to see these permits before the allow a child to work in your film. All California laws related to Studio Teachers and minors can be found at http://www.thestudioteachers.com/resources-forms/

Here are some of the maximum work times for minors of different ages. This work time does not include a meal period (1/2 hour), rest/recreation (1 hour), and education (3 hours for school days, ages 6 and up). See http://www.thestudioteachers.com/look-up-labor-law/ for more information.

  • 6 months to 1+ yrs = 2 hours work time.
  • 2 yrs to 5+ yrs = 3 hours work time.
  • 6 yrs to 8+ yrs = 4 hours work time, Non-school days: 6 hours.
  • 9 yrs to 15+ yrs = 5 hours, Non-school days: 7 hours.
  • 16 yrs to 17+ yrs = 6 hours, Non-school days: 8 hours.

Studio Teacher Referral:  Stella Pacific Management: http://stellapacificmamagement.com (est. $200 for shoot days up to 8 hrs) 

While the use of minors in a documentary context does not require a studio teacher, you will need to go through the Human Subjects Research and Review application process. See the Documentary section for more information regarding documentary project protocol.

Before You Contact Actors

Write clear and detailed character breakdowns. These will help you crystallize exactly what you’re looking for and will communicate this to actors, so write them in detail. Something like “Female (20-28): Thin and pretty" will bring you submissions, but will probably not give you better specific choices to pick from. Find examples of posted breakdowns at: http://www.sagindie.org/casting.

Select your sides. Pick a brief, evocative scene from your film to be used an audition piece. Two scenes may be used if the character undergoes a drastic change and you want to see different sides of the actor. If you are using two scenes, make sure that there’s a specific reason why you want the actor to prepare two scenes – don’t just give them two scenes that convey the same emotion. Remember that actors spend time preparing and printing our your sides, so whether you’re sending one scene or two, keep it brief but meaningful.

Pick your audition time and location. Reserve a room and a block of time for your auditions. Weingart 6 and 10 can be reserved through the MAC room reservation process; other spaces can be reserved through Master Calendar. Keep in mind that other students in your class will be casting around the same time as you, so make sure to book your space early.

Reserve a camera. It’s a good idea to record your auditions. Once you have you have selected your audition date, reserve a camera and tripod from The Cage.

Finding Actors

Actors from off-campus: Post character and project info on one of many online sites. Be honest about the fact that it’s for no pay: the actors will be working for copy and credit. Be clear about your shooting medium (type of camera, HD or Standard def) and how to contact you. If you do not have a SAG agreement, you must also list that your project is non-union. If you have applied for one, the fact that it is a SAG production is a selling point you should list. Some sample sites for posting listings:

Actors from the Theater Department: You can take your breakdowns over to the department and post them or send them to Beatrice Gonzales, the department liaison, at beatrice@oxy.edu. Her office is Keck 202.

Inviting Actors to the Audition

After you’ve received several responses to your casting notice, it’s time to start scheduling. Contact the actors whom you wish to bring in to the audition. Book people in 15-minute spaced increments, and be realistic about how long you can sit without a break when doing so. NO cattle call auditions. Give each actor a specific time slot; don’t just post “Come anytime between 2:00-5:00." When you e-mail your actors, be sure to attach your sides in a PDF format, and include a time confirmation, parking instructions, and a phone contact for you. The more professionally your present yourself, the better turnout you’ll have for your auditions.

On the Day of Auditions

Remember that these actors are giving you their time when they come to your audition. It’s very important that you are respectful and friendly during the audition process. Make sure to stay on schedule and give each actor a fair amount of time.

Put up clear signs, leading the actors from the designated parking area to your audition place. Do not tape signs to the ground, as Oxy designates this as a “slip hazard" and your signs will be removed.

Have seating, extra sides, and water outside your audition room. Post a sign welcoming actors, providing any instructions, and listing the projected shooting dates. Ask them to check their schedules as they wait for any projected conflicts.

Make sure the camera and the room are all set up before actors begin to arrive. Have someone with you to read with the actor and assist you with the camera. Remember that you can’t accurately access an audition if you’re operating the camera and/or reading lines with the actors. Auditioning should be a three-person process: you, the reader, and the camera operator. The camera should frame the actor in a mid-shot, allowing for some movement while being close enough to see facial expressions.

Invite actors in one at a time. First, introduce yourself and your helpers. Briefly explain the project and character. Concisely set up the scene and ask if they have any questions.

Before they begin, ask the actor to slate for the camera. They should state their name and the character they are auditioning for. This will help you keep track of people when you are watching the tapes back later.

First, allow the actor to deliver the scene the way he/she has prepared it, and see what’s there. Have your reader simply read lines to your actor; don’t have them act in the scene or read too dramatically – this can throw an actor off.

Next, tell them you’re going to run the scene a couple more times and play around with some intentions. Have at least four playable intentions ready to offer. The goal is to see if the actor has a range and the ability to play and try new things with you.

After they’ve run one intention, offer one more that is very different, and have them run it again. See if they are able to make adjustments and changes. If they continue to deliver the same performance they came prepared with, warning bells should go off.

If an actor starts a performance that is far from what you’re looking for, let them finish the scene, then make an adjustment. You should avoid cutting an actor off in the middle of the scene, and make sure your feedback is constructive and positive.

After the you and the actor are finished running the scene, tell the actor the shooting dates you are planning. Ask if they have conflicts or anything other questions.

Thank them for their time, and tell them the time frame in which you will be making decisions.

After the Auditions

Put the room back in order. Clear the chairs from the hallway and remember to take your water home with you. Pick up all your signs around campus.

At home, look over your audition tapes with fresh eyes, and rank your choices. Performance is important, but you must also factor in personality and availability.

Arrange callbacks if necessary. If you have more than one lead, you might want to arrange callbacks so that you can see a pairing of actors you are seriously considering read off of one another.

Make your choices and contact the actors you intend to cast, having your second choices clear in your mind.  As these are unpaid projects, scheduling challenges and attrition are quite prevalent. Traditionally in the industry, one does not contact actors who are not cast; actors assume that no response means they did not get the part. If you choose to contact actors to thank them and let them know you've gone in another direction, this is admirable, but this can also backfire if you need to then replace a cast member. Make absolutely sure your chosen cast members are available and committed before formally turning down any second choice perfomers. Having to call back your second choice and offer them the role after formally turning them down lets them know they were not your first choice.