Auditions are key to a film's success, since the actors you choose will carry the emotional and narrative weight of the film. The audience will identify with (or scorn) them and that's the most powerful part of the filmmaking experience.
As the famous movie saying goes: 90% of directing is casting.
Auditions is where you get it right (or very wrong).
During the original casting phase of our DIY sci-fi feature, In-World War, I wrote about auditions in my posts Working with actors and Working with non-actors, particularly kids. These are definitely worth checking out (if only for the monkeys). But I also use a fairly standard audition process with each actor that might be helpful for first-time and even more seasoned directors and casting directors.
We're in the midst of 2nd unit pick-ups on the film now and so once again doing some auditions. I wrote up our process for our NYC casting person and wanted to share it all here.
Here's what we do for each actor's audition:
- First thing: they sign in, get assigned a number and sign an appearance release form, since we film the audition. Whenever you record someone, you should have them sign a release.
- Write their number on the release form in large black sharpie (the same number marked on the audition sign-in, so you can quickly reference their name afterward).
- Have them hold up their release form with the number fully legible and take their photo like that. I usually have an intern do all that in the waiting area of the audition.
- Once it's time for the formal audition, the actor comes into the room, introduce yourself and then have them state their full name for the video camera, holding up the appearance release with their number on it again (very important, to allow you to match name to number to face -- it quickly gets confusing when auditioning many people).
- Reiterate that this is an unpaid role (or whatever the compensation is: deferment, etc.) and the dates they need to be available for the rehearsals and shoot. They might not be needed for all these days, but if they aren't available for any of them, you need to know. You don't want to waste their time or yours. So if that's not something they can do, then no need to have the full audition. Life's too short.
- Then, ask some brief intro questions to help them get comfortable (no more than three or so of these -- again, keep it brief):
- How did you hear about this casting?
- Have you done much film acting? Why do you like it?
- What's your favorite movie and why?
- Then have them do their monologue (you should ask everyone to bring a monologue of their choosing).
- Then have them read a scene a couple times for the role they're playing. Ideally you have sent them the sides previous to the actual audition to get familiar with, so some might even be off-book (not required but great to see). Have extra copies on hand, in case they didn't or forgot theirs.
- Each time you have them read, after the first one, offer an adjustment. You don't want to merely give an emotion (i.e. don''t say "do it more happy this time"), but a motivation (something like "this time, you want the other character to be humiliated").
That's called "playable direction" -- always give them an ulterior motive through the adjustment. They will figure out the right emotions to use to do so. I would suggest at least one adjustment per actor if not two or three if you have time, to see how they take direction and how they work with it. (There's more about playable direction in my previous post Directing actors and great performances.)
This process will show you a ton. You'll probably know within about 15 seconds if they are any good, even before the adjustments (and also adjustments like that are what I like to use on set and in rehearsals to get different performances from an actor). You also get a chance to get a feel for them as a person, helping with those key questions: do I like them? would I want to work with them on a chaotic, stressful shoot?
Nearly every role was cast this way on In-World War (and we have over 70 speaking parts in the film!), and we ended up with some amazing performances.
You can even do all this remotely.
For instance, I'm based in Oakland, California and we're shooting these pick-ups for In-World War in New York City. We have an amazing local team (mostly Columbia film students) who are doing the casting and locations in NYC during pre-production. They will be doing auditions and following this process. And then sending me the video of the best performances via password-protected Vimeo (an online video website).
A number of key roles were originally auditioned remotely like this, and we ended up with wonderful, powerful actors to play these important characters.
One last bon mot: The audition process isn't about auditions, it's about creating a believable story through choosing people that can carry the film's emotional journey. So when you cast, don't fall in love with "a look" -- fall in love with the feeling they give.