You might already know that we have an extensive audition process for our movies at Big Biting Pig Productions, because we take casting seriously. As actors ourselves, both Steve and I know how important it is to have the right person in the right role. But what exactly goes into making that choice? (I’ll be talking about primary roles here; smaller roles and extras casting require a different set of criteria).
The first and most obvious feature we look at when considering someone for a role is whether they fit the physical description. Does the actor match the age range of the character? The build? And beyond that, do they have to match, physically, with any of the other characters?
There can often be some leeway in the age range that will allow us to go beyond what we originally expected, but once you cast one part, the others often need to fall in line. If you put a 25-year-old in your main role, for example (as in The Creepy Doll), the husband will have to be within a believable age range, and his parents and her parents must also. If, on the other hand, your lead is 40ish (as in Widow), then her sister will need to be a similar age.
We can tell which parts an actor is eligible for by looking at their headshots. But we can’t tell how well they will perform it. That’s where the next element comes in.
Some information about ability can be gleaned from an actor’s resume. If they’ve been on set before, they know a few things about the process. That helps. It allows them to be more relaxed in the audition and to understand the vocabulary of the set. Steve and I recommend actors go to as many auditions as possible — not because they should expect to be cast, but because it gives them this kind of hands-on experience.
But newbies should not be discouraged by their lack of experience. Some things can’t be taught. Some people read for a part and even though they have never had a lesson in their lives, they get cast. There is an unquantifiable element at work here — something that allows the actor to embody the character and bring him or her to life.
What some would call “acting ability” for us means authenticity, or presence. It has nothing to do with learning lines and everything to do with being “in the moment.” While it helps to understand a scene and be able to get inside the mind of the character, being able to show presence in emotions and interaction with other characters will often get our attention regardless of the other factors. Authenticity shows on camera. It weighs heavily in our decision-making.
Willingness to Take Direction
After authenticity, we need actors who can take direction. We often run our potentials through a variety of acting exercises, alone and with others, to see if they can adapt. This one’s hard to measure, but it matters a lot on set. Film-making is a team effort. We have a lot to cover in a short amount of time, and knowing someone can go with the flow or change direction when asked to is a huge asset.
This brings us to another point — whether the actor is willing to do all the things necessary of the character. Nudity, sex scenes, graphic violence, scenes with animals or children — these should all be cleared with an actor before he or she is cast.
If we know a person is dependable, available, and committed, that can factor into a decision. Dependability also has to do with how demanding the part is in relation to the person’s work schedule and location. Some of it isn’t personal, but rather logistics. You can’t film with someone who just can’t be there.
In the end . . .
You can’t worry over why you didn’t get cast in a part. You just give the best audition you can and the rest is out of your hands. The truth is, you might be perfect for a part, and give the best audition of your life, and still not get the role. There are just too many other factors that have to be considered. Or, you might be outside the age range of the character as written, but we think you embody the character so well that we cast you anyway. You just never know.
Give it a shot. Auditions for our next movie will be sometime late spring of this year!
PJ Woodside is the writer and director of Lucid, which features Bill Johnson and will be released in 2013. She is co-producer of Spirit Stalkers and six other movies with Steve Hudgins of Big Biting Pig Productions, and owner of PJ’s Productions. More about PJ here.