Casting is all about finding the right actor for the right role at the right time. It is also the first area where newbie directors fail. This might be due to there being a plethora of documentation for the actor’s role in casting, but very little for the director. In fact, the few things that can be found are usually for the casting director, not the director.
On bigger pictures the director works with the casting director who manages the pre-selection process. They vet principal actors based on schedule, ballpark figures, look, desire to play the role, and their history of playing nice with others – No one wants an actor who is a nightmare waiting to happen on the set.
There are 3 things directors can do to simplify the casting directors job:
1. CREATE A CAST BREAKDOWN: This is a one-page document with thumbnail character descriptions. It is based not on the actor’s looks, but allows the casting director to infer the character’s physical appearance and level of attractiveness. Here are a couple examples from my latest list:
Eric: (26), confident, athletic, intelligent, playboy-esque, chivalric, passionate about truth and justice, explores ideas, fun-loving, yet classy.
Kathy: (25), high intellect, slender, beautiful, nice, gracious, firm, business-like, follows rules.
2. KNOW MIX & MATCH COMBINATIONS: When working with name talent, timing and money is key to a successful selection. Many times a director is forced to pick an actor who doesn’t quite fit the thumbnail, but can draw a larger audience to the box office. In those cases the director must understand the characters well enough to alter the thumbnails of contrasting or complimentary characters.
3. DEVELOP A HEADSHOT LIST: Collecting headshots of potential actors for each character will help give the casting director a visual understanding of the director’s vision, especially if the headshots clearly compliment the cast breakdown and look the age. I like using Pinterest boards to collect my ideas to share with casting.
The number of hours required to accomplish the above is dependent on the amount of detail and accuracy the director wants to capture for his casting director. The hardest task is determining the cast breakdown, which newbies tend to over write. Here is an example of an over written cast breakdown:
Eric: (26), 6’ tall, wavy brown hair with highlights, muscular athletic build, dimples, blue eyes, sexy smile, confident, womanizer with a look of innocence, chivalric, sharp dresser, intelligent, passionate about truth and justice, explores ideas through experimentation, fun-loving, comical at times, yet classy.
It’s important to give the casting director the right vision with plenty of room to accomplish her job without being tied to impossible requirements. Flexibility is key in searching for just the right combination of actors. The better the fit, the more realistic the drama.