Having worked pre-production on several microbudget projects ranging from short film to full feature movies, I have seen the full spectrum as it relates to casting. I can honestly say casting can make or break your film. Here are a few commandments I think every micro budget filmmaker should include in their casting process.
Give yourself ample time to audition.
As a rule of thumb, you should start your casting three to four months from the start of principle photography. In theory if you follow this you have two to three months to cast and thirty days to allow the actors to study their script.
For example, if you give yourself 90 days then your first 30 days will consist of posting and reviewing several hundred: head shots, reels (if any), and resumes. The next 30 days will be auditioning the top 10 percent and converting the 10 percent into your top three actors. This process is duplicated for each role. You take the top three actors and discuss them with your production team. You weigh the pros, cons, and potential scheduling conflicts before making a decision. Never rush this step. If you need to push the film date back, then push the film back. This is the one step you must get correct.
Audition multiple actors for each role.
This sounds like a no brainer but trust me I have cast roles after auditioning just one actor. I did it for my last feature and it worked out fine. I wish, however, that I auditioned more, even if it’s just for the sake fortifying your bet/gamble on the actor you choose. Another reason why you should audition several actors is in case of a recast. You will have to recast at some point in your film career. I have recast on every single film project I have ever produced but if you have three actors who you have auditioned and vetted it’s easier to simply pick the next actor on your list.
Don’t cast the look. Cast for talent.
Film is such a visual medium that it’s easy for us to get caught up on how actors look. As a producer you get wrapped up with who you envision playing the role. I can’t tell you how many times I wrote a screenplay for Denzel Washington, Michael Ealy, or Idris Elba while knowing I couldn’t cast them. Or wrote screenplays with those actors in mind. When it is time to cast, I would look at every actor through my Denzel Washington casting glasses and be utterly surprised when none of these actors hit the unrealistic marks I had in my head.
You can also get caught up with how actors look on camera and forget about their acting abilities. Focus on whether or not the actor has range. Does the actor have craft? These are the important aspects every producer and director should pay attention to.
Make sure the Actor can take Direction.
Good actors want direction from directors. They crave this. They see this direction as a way to gauge performances and keep from over overacting. In casting it is slightly different. You want to know if the actor can give different performances when given notes (suggestions) or adjustments from the director. You also want to know if they are willing to take notes from the director on the set. You can see how this could be a huge problem and a guaranteed showstopper to your film. You would not hire someone if they could not perform work related task. Actors taking direction is a work-related function, so be certain.
As always be inspired be encouraged and be collaborative.