"Just remember we WANT you to get the job" with Casting Director and BFI panelist Heather Basten

Mandy News talks to the casting director Heather Basten who worked on the film Pin Cushion, Netflix series The End Of The F*****g World and assisted on BAFTA-winning TV Feature Ellen. Heather will be a panelist for young emerging actors called “Getting Into Acting” at the BFI Future Film Festival 2019. Heather shares with us how she started her career at BFI and how it kicked started her career, what makes a great casting director and what she enjoys most within the role. 

15th February 2019
/ By Petra Mandova

Heather Basten BFI

Heather Basten began in the industry at the BFI. Since moving into casting swiftly after this, she has cast for notable directors such as Rob Savage, Joan Fuentelsaz and Charlotte Regan. Past clients include Fox TV, Delaval Films, Sky Arts and DMC Films, as well as having films screened at Sundance and the BFI London Film Festival.It was at the BFI she met casting director, Jeremy Zimmermann, and went to be a casting assistant on NBC’s ‘A.D’.

Heather you will join BFI FFF and The Mandy Network for a panel for young actors on the 21st of Feb. BFI FFF played a big role in your career. Could you tell us a little bit more?

My first job in the film industry was in the BFI offices under Noel Goodwin. This really was the kick start to my career in film. While at the BFI I had a strong interest in casting, and created a casting webpage for the BFI Future Film groups. 

It was at a casting masterclass when I was introduced by Noel to casting director, Jeremy Zimmermann (Moon, Hellboy). I went to shadow him for one week, and by the end of the week we had confirmation to begin casting ‘AD’ for the NBC network. I then became a Casting Assistant to Jeremy.

***** Take a look at our interview with the Director of BFI Future Film Festival Noel Goodwin*****

Did you know that you want to become a casting director when you were starting in the industry or it came to you by chance?

I was always intrigued by casting, but like most people, did not know the nitty gritty details. I had known that I wanted to work within film, so when I got the chance to meet casting directors at the BFI it all came together.

The panel session is for starting actors. How would you describe them your profession? And what they should know about casting directors?

Casting is using your taste to find actors to fulfil the director's vision. A casting director may be hired because of their personal taste, knowledge or for many other reasons such as recommendations.

I facilitate the entire process of the deep search to find the right actor, to running the auditions, to fleshing out the contracts (that is the non-glamourous part that no one knows about!). I cast in many ways, from traditional to street casting.

When you cast a film what are the different phases of your work you need to go through until the film is finished?

I always begin by reading the script a few times. Then I create a script breakdown to separate the roles so that it becomes more focused. I begin casting either the leads, or perhaps a tricky role that will take more time. 

The character descriptions normally go out on casting sites like The Mandy Network, and then agents will submit actors who they think fits. We run auditions, and this can be seeing up to hundreds of actors for one role at a time. 

If the role requires street casting, then at this point we would target specific areas of the UK / abroad, and be out on the streets meeting non-actors, trying to get them to come and tape for us. The tapes of both actor and non-actor are viewed and discussed by the production team, and then it's really my time to help guide any decisions.

You were mentored by the casting director Jeremy Zimmermann in the beginning of your career. What was the most important thing you’ve learned from him?

I learnt that you must never assume! Always check, double check and triple check. A slip up in this industry can cause a major domino effect in the casting process, so it is always worth having super attention to detail.

"Just remember we WANT you to get the job. Often that is forgotten. We really want you to do well in the casting room. Learn your lines...and you’ll be fine" - Heather Basten

You have worked with one of the most successful casting directors as Dixie Chassay and Des Hamilton. How did you get involved with them? What surprised you about them?

I have been fortunate to have worked with them, and learnt so much. It was both intense, and thrilling to work on studio pictures. The film industry often requires long hours, and that level of work can only come if you have a passion. Working on their big projects really fuelled my passion for casting.

What characteristic should a successful casting director have?

That is tricky! I could tell you some traits you may need to help you do a good job. Attention to detail, a genuine love of actors, a positive attitude and an ability to strategise.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The film industry is changing in that often you will need an actor on board to get a project green light. We are seeing this more and more, but for an actor sometimes they want stability of a project being green light before attaching themselves. It can be a catch 22!

What makes you happy about your job?

When I meet an unexpected actor. I like to be surprised.

Actors can feel intimidated by casting directors. What would you advise them on how to overcome that fear?

Just remember we WANT you to get the job. Often that is forgotten. We really want you to do well in the casting room. Learn your lines...and you’ll be fine. Ask questions, don’t leave the casting kicking yourself.

What is the working relationship between talent agents and casting directors? Do you prioritise some agencies for their reputation or are you open to anyone? What is your approach?

The relationship really is that; a relationship. 

We must strive to keep a positive relationship with all agents because we are all trying to achieve the same goal. It is great in the UK as we have a real drive for going to the theatre together, and meeting in person.

Most projects can be open to any agency, unless there is a specific reason. I like to be surprised as I am sure other casting directors would. You can only do that by doing a big search, and by casting the hell out of a project.

If you want to find out more about the BFI Future Film Festival then head on over to the BFI website.