I must cast this cast

Unpaid talent is still talent.
So I needed a cast of 12 for my film and I had no funds to pay them. Dude, that’s no problem! New York City contains the largest pool of actors outside of L.A. I’m not sure if the majority of them are struggling, but I do know that many will work for free in return for a great experience. Working for free is the only way out of the cyclical career dilemma of not being able to find work without experience and not being able to find experience without any work. If you’re open to working for free, then you’ll definitely broaden your horizons. And to hear it from some of the people I’ve talked to, even when you are open to working for free, it can get pretty competitive! So I had no choice anyway look for free work. I ended up being extremely fortunate because I loved the cast I ended up with. They are great people, enthusiastic, professional and talented.

Online vs Offline. Backstage is a beast.
Casting for the film took place in the summer of 2006 in New York City. My approach was to basically solicit resumes & headshots from people first, sort through and select the ones I was interested in, and then contact the actors to schedule an audition. Being a micro-budgeted, do-it-all-myself filmmaker, I had to make best use of my time and resources. I decided to advertise the roles and solicit headshots/resumes online rather than post in a newspaper like Backstage. You’ll get by far the largest response from Backstage for sure as I believe it’s still the most popular publication for actors, but sorting through all the submissions can be really tiring. Once, for a non-paying, spec commercial project I directed, I received over 300 headshots in the mail after advertising with Backstage! This is great if your project has a dedicated casting director, but for a one man show "too many choices" can be overwhelming. Not everyone would agree on this, but this is how I saw it. Plus if I wasn’t happy with my pool of applicants, I could always solicit again.

Online Casting Call.
After hopping onto Google and doing some searches I found a lot of websites that purported to advertise projects and list headshots, and it was a bit overwhelming at first to find the appropriate ones. Many of them seemed targeted to aspiring actors and featured galleries of headshots you could sort through. On some, even though they claimed to post casting calls, I couldn’t find a page where I could create a listing. Others wanted money in return for posting an audition. This isn’t necessarily bad. Backstage.com for example charges, but you knew people would see it. With some of the other sites it was difficult to confirm that your paid posting would be seen by actors. I ended up posting on a couple of websites including NYCastings.com and ExploreTalent.com. These sites advertised my production for free so I decided to give these a shot before considering advertising with Backstage.com. If the response wasn’t adequate, I reasoned, I’d then go with Backstage.com.

Technology helps me.
Advertising on those sites turned out to be a really positive experience! You basically go to their site to create a profile for yourself and your production. I was able to post a project synopsis, the name of each character, and their personality and physical traits. An administrator from NYCastings called me a couple of hours after I posted with them (wow) to confirm all of my information. Their site had a really great application that helped you organize and sort through your responses. You log on and can view a listing of all the actors that responded to your post. The page listed actors and displayed a small thumbnail of their headshot, a summary of their info, and even a personalized message if the actor chose to write you an online cover letter! If interested, you could click to read their full resume and view their enlarge headshot and even any additional photos the actor had on file. I really like seeing additional photos because it’s sometimes difficult to imagine an actor as a gritty, bad-ass soldier from their glossy portrait of them smiling! So the site also let you discard the submissions you deemed as unfit for your project and save the ones you were interested in. It was great for my project which had roughly 12 roles because I could create a folder for each role and, while sorting through submissions, make sure that each role had a couple of potentials.

Shetler Studios

Ok, so the next step was to contact everyone I was interested in and bring them in to audition. After another Google search I found Shetler Studios. No, not shelter as in homeless shelter, Shetler. (www.shetlerstudios.com) That’s what I had to keep telling people when I spoke to them on the phone. Many of the actors knew of the place already though which I took as a good sign. So Shetler, as most studios, allows you to rent rehearsal/audition space by the hour. I liked them because they had a great website with tons of photos and a blue print of their place so you could review the site and location of your room before booking. I found their hourly rates of $12 to be extremely reasonable (depends on size of room), and they had this great promotion of a 50% off the cost if you book the room on the day you need it! I was so happy with the place that I also used them for all of our rehearsals. So I had narrowed down my pool of actors to 2 -3 actors per role. I think this may be low by most standards, but here’s what I reasoned - my cast size was 12 roles. With 3 actors per role, I’d be seeing 36 actors. If I spent 15 minutes on each actor back-to-back, then it would total 9 hours! Some of you more experienced in auditions are thinking that 15 minutes is way too long to spend on single audition, and you’re probably right, but 1) I didn’t factor in that I’d have to eat at some point during the day and 2) I do tend to spend longer with each actor because I want to get to know them a bit better and work through some directing exercises. So I booked a studio for a full day on a Saturday.

Scheduled Auditions
I emailed all the actors and sent each of them a scene with lines I wanted them to memorize. Some of the roles had very few lines. The role of the sexbot didn’t have any lines! For those parts I put together some type of directing exercise. For the one of the woman soldier characters, I had very little dialogue to work with, so I structured some directing exercises to see how bad-ass the actresses could be. I made up a scenario where I played a petty thief and had the auditioning actress act as the cop that was busting me. We’d then tweak the scenario in subtle ways to see how the actress took direction. We had some no shows which is to expected but since I had booked so few actors per role there were some roles that no one auditioning for them!! Luckily I had some talented people who were versatile whom I asked to stick around and audition for another role. Nathan was one of guys who came in to audition for the role of Warnock. PHOTO: JOE He was great, but another actor, Joe, was Warnock. He just...was him. It was amazing! But Nathan was obviously great and so I made a split decision to have him audition for Major Hiroshi- an old Japanese guy that I had no one show up for!! I was like, alright, this 30 year old guy’s going to be Hiroshi!! It all turned out for the best as Major Hiroshi had a lot of seemingly dry technical jargon to plow through and Nathan made it accessible and entertaining to hear. So the old veteran Major Hiroshi became the sharp Major Huron!

We have our cast...but I need a cyborg
At the end of the long day I turned to Jen (the wife and producer!!) and we both grinned. "I think we have our cast!" The only role we didn’t fill was for the combat mech- a huge android in the likeness of the Terminator. The only prospect I had was a stunt man who called me in the middle of the day apologizing that he was stuck on the set of Law & Order doing stunt work. That was cool and all, but I was still unhappy about not having a mech! What I ended up doing was approaching the strongest guy in my gym and asking him if he’d be interested in the role. He was obviously very dedicated to weight lifting (look at his photos- you’ll see what I mean!). PHOTO: ROB So I walked up to this totally jacked guy who was in the middle of his rep session of benching a gazillion pounds and introduced myself, the project, and I actually said, "I have a role that I think you’d be perfect for." It was the most cliché thing in the world and I was half afraid he’d laugh at me with his other he-man friends and then punch my head off. Instead he was extremely polite and asked me to come back when he was done with his training regimen. I spent the next 30 minutes on the treadmill thinking he’d come over and punch my head off then, but no, again he was extremely polite and we exchanged contact information and agreed to meet again after he got a chance to read the script. [dude this post is way too long so I’m wrapping it up!!] So everything worked out nice and smoothly. We had about a half dozen rehearsals which was a bit tricky to get all the actors together at the same time. More than once I had to sit in and play the role of one or two people. I had separate rehearsals with Rob, the mech, and Marleah, the sexbot to work on fight scenes and choreography. Take a look at the sample videos and the video blog for footage!

Are you an actor? Please tell me about your experiences!

Who Am I and why in the world...
...am i doing this?? I ask myself this all the freaking time but the conclusion is always the same- I don't know why, all I know is that I just must, must, must make this film...

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