How to get the perfect cast
Getting a great cast together for a project is not necessarily an easy thing as with every casting choice you make you are effectively taking a risk, but there are a few things you can do in my experience to safeguard yourself against any unnecessary risks.
Well the only things you really need are a great script, a reputable director, a good venue, and to pay the actors. In that case you’ll have people falling over themselves to be in your work. If some of these are not available though (although there’s no excuse for not having a good script), I believe the most important part of getting a good cast together from the posting to the last night/final shot would be openness.
When publishing your breakdown, make sure all information that can be provided to an actor is provided. This should included any payment - and if so how much, and if not what the actors will get out of it. This should include any expenses, any footage that may be provided (this can be theatre too if you are going to film a performance), or just experience, exposure, or potential for further opportunities. Be specific about expenses as well, mention if it includes travel and what meals are provided – lunch is not cheap, especially for actors!
If you know the venue the play is on at mention this too, as this is important to an actor. You should give them a short synopsis about the project including any themes or ‘what it says’ (again very important and often left out), details about character specifics, and what kind of length it is (short play, full length, cut, etc. This is especially important for Shakespeare or classical plays which are often adapted). Also mention the author and director and any previous work they’ve done. As a rule, be as open as possible, as professional actors what to work with a professional creative department; nobody wants to work with people who don’t treat them respectfully and professionally. Sell it to us, but Do Not make false promises you don’t intend to keep. Also mentioning any ‘hopes’ can also deter. ‘We hope to sell out every night,’ or ‘we expect our film to be viewed at many international film festivals’ are hopes we all share don’t we; stating this just makes us suspicious. Saying you expect a project to be a huge success without providing adequate information as to how that will happen will roughly translate to us that the project is rubbish and not worth seeing.
In auditions, again run them professionally and efficiently and you will be fine. Be relaxed, friendly, and try to create an environment where an people can do their best work. Give people full details, addresses and directions and phone numbers in case actors are running late, and adequate time for you to get an impression about them and vice-versa. Show enthusiasm for the project; remember more experienced actors with other work options available to them will also be auditioning you. The auditions are the first impressions stage, and we all know that first impressions are very important. I once had an audition first thing on a Saturday morning; instead of going out on Friday night which I could have done I went home, read all the details again and went over the script until late. I showed up early (as did the other actor auditioning), and we sat talking until about 10 minutes after our audition call time. The people auditioning then showed up. One person apologised for running late because of travel (fair enough I suppose but you are running the show, is this a sign of things to come?), and the other apologised for running late because he was hung over and pissed the night before. I went through the motions of the audition, and it was offered to me straight away, but no thanks mate.
Cast as you need to fit the character requirements, and if in doubt lean on the experienced actors with reputable credits. But if you do want to give less experienced actors a chance if they seem professional and want to work, do. Pick up on what they do in an audition that surprises you. Consider interesting casting or casting against type, but only if it works for or illuminates the play. Think about any skills actors have that could be used, but again not so they can be crow-bared in. Always try to remember you are casting the play for the audience that is going to watch it. Remember previous actors you’ve worked with before and consider them as well; you might know that they worked well and offered good work, and this is a big unknown put to rest. Trust your instincts.
When it comes to letting people know, tell everyone the result of their audition. You don’t need to call everyone, but a call to the ones who are cast is a great surprise and is fun, and an email or message on casting call pro is sufficient if not. Again be kind and respectful; someone you didn’t choose may have got a good vibe from you and want to work with you, and may have a much higher profile when you come to work on your next project (which you’ll also want the perfect casting for).
Throughout production again be open and professional, and if an actor is really not pulling their weight and is not invested in the project, let them know. If nothing changes, consider letting them go and recasting. Screw politeness for politeness sake, this is your project and supposedly is very important you, so you should not tolerate someone not giving it there all, as long as you do too.