When a writer decides to pursue screenwriting as a career, she is making a specific choice about how she wants her final story presented – in this case, in moving pictures. That jump from page to screen is what distinguishes screenwriting from other forms of storytelling, and when we envision our “words coming to life,” much of what we picture is the work of talented actors breathing life into our characters.
Experienced directors know the power great casting has on the ultimate success of a production, and if you’re a beginner writer-director you’ll want to deeply invest your time and attention to matching the best actor for each role in your film.
To cast your film, you can work independently, set up auditions and book actors yourself. This is especially common for film school projects, first-time directors and low-budget films. There is no question you can find success casting a film yourself.
On my first two shorts though, I had the opportunity to work with Casting Director Brette Goldstein and the insight and experience she brought was priceless. I learned a ton from her about casting, and I’ve consistently received raves for the performances in my films.
At some point, you’ll most likely work with a Casting Director on your films, and if you have a chance to do so early in your career, I say jump on it. The access to talent a Casting Director can provide, plus guidance through auditions, offers and contracts, greatly increases your odds of finding that right match.
To help clarify what a Casting Director can do and how you can work with one on your own production, I interviewed Brette Goldstein about filmmakers’ most common questions and concerns when casting their own projects. I hope her insight can help your productions, too!
Kim Garland, Script magazine: What are the responsibilities of a Casting Director and what can a Casting Director bring to your production that’s difficult to obtain on your own?
Brette Goldstein, Casting Director: It is the Casting Director’s job to bring excellent talent to the creative team. My goal is to have 4-5 great actors to choose from for each role. We look at thousands of pictures, resumes and reels to narrow down options, get agency coverage at the big agencies that represent celebrities, prepare the auditions, assemble self-taped auditions, screen the actors, check avails, set up meetings, make offers, create deal memos…and much more. We direct actors in auditions to bring a director’s vision to life. Casting is 99% of a film’s success. Our job is to make a filmmaker’s life easy. It can be an overwhelming and exhausting process without a creative gatekeeper on the team. It’s our job to get it right so that your film will be truly incredible.
KG: Do Casting Directors work on smaller, low-budget projects?
BG: Absolutely! Especially when we love the director and producer(s) and the material!
KG: What advice would you give a writer-director if their project falls outside of the budget of working with a Casting Director?
BG: You often get what you pay for. Then again, you may find a younger, hungrier casting director that may be willing to cast a film with deferred payment. One of my favorite feature films was a deferred deal. It paid off. It was one of my favorite films I’ve ever worked on. The director and I became so close that he actually married my husband and I! We really are family. And he ended up becoming Executive Creative Director at a wonderful production company, and I went on to cast many commercials for them. Nowadays I am far more reluctant to work for a very low rate, but I consider projects on a case-by-case basis. I love building relationships with smart, fun, creative people.
KG: What should a Producer or Director look for when selecting a Casting Director for their project?
BG: I think a casting director should be someone who the producer and director trust and like working with. This isn’t rocket science or curing cancer…you should really like your casting director and love the process with them. A casting director should respond positively to the material so they can really pitch your script and realize your vision. A casting director should have great relationships with talent and agents, but a filmmaker needs to realize that it most often comes down to an actor’s response to material and the bottom line.
KG: From your vantage point, how can you attract experienced actors to a small, low-budget project? What about bringing “big-name actors” aboard – what’s the reality there?
BG: There is always a chance that name actors will accept a role in a low-budget project. That said, what I see more often than not is a mediocre script with a very low budget, accompanied by pie-in-the-sky expectations. Filmmakers may want to consider seeing things from the point of view of name actors and their reps. If an actor is getting cast in recurring or series regular roles and playing lead or supporting roles in studio features, what is the incentive for the actor to do a low or ultra-low budget film unless the script/role is really excellent? I am very honest with filmmakers. And I would never bring a script directly to a “more famous” friend unless I knew it was something they would respond to.
KG: Does your production have to be SAG-AFTRA to work with a Casting Director or will they work non-SAG too?
BG: They will work on a non-union film, but I would always recommend doing your film on a SAG-AFTRA contract. It attracts better talent.
KG: In general, how long should you give yourself to cast a film?
BG: You want to start about 2-3 months out if you’re making name offers to multiple people. Expect actors to pass. Other than that, six weeks out should probably be good. I’d try to lock in your casting director two months in advance. Again, more if your goal is to attach names.
KG: Understanding that every director has their own process, from your experience, what kind of prep work for casting can a director do to increase their chances of finding the right match for a role?
BG: Create a list of prototypes for each role. Pick great sides. Make sure the script is in great shape, free of typos and grammatical errors. Meet with your casting director and really hash everything out well in advance. Communication is key. Talk to your investors and find out which actors they’re really interested in so that the casting director can make an offer to a name actor knowing that the money will be there should the offer be accepted.
KG: This is all great information, Brette. Thanks for taking the time to give us the scoop on Casting Directors and I wish you much success with future projects!
Final Tip from KG: If you’re just getting started casting, I recommend reading, Casting Revealed: A Guide for Film Directors and Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film and Television. These books offer a great overview of both the casting process and working with actors and will help prep you for casting your film.
You can watch both of my short films that were cast by Brette Goldstein for free online.
Brette Goldstein has cast over 40 independent films, 100 commercials, 100 plays, and recently began her foray into television. She is passionate about great acting, phenomenal actors and building strong relationships with filmmakers. Brette also loves comedy. For information on current projects, go to http://www.brettegoldstein.com.
- More Write, Direct, Repeat articles by Kim Garland
- The Taming of the Shrew: Writing Female Characters & Archetypes
- Script Angel: Creating Memorable Characters
- Balls of Steel: Character Evolution Requires a Writer’s Evolution
- Specs & The City: Empathetic Heroes and ‘Cinderella Man’