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Casting Basics: The Benefits of Closed Auditions

Updated on November 11, 2014

What is a Closed Audition?

In contrast to open auditions, where anyone can show up, closed auditions are by invite only. The process includes selecting actors you'd like to see read your film's script, scheduling them for specific times, and confirming any details before filming. Below are six advantages of hosting closed auditions.

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Befriend Casting Agencies

When hosting a closed audition, the process usually begins with scouring through actor profiles on local agencies' websites. It may seem tedious, but you have the chance to review actor reels, resumes, and other video clips before auditions ever begin. Regardless of whether or not you compile a complete list of actors you'd like to invite, you can always choose to employ the expertise of the casting agents. Because they work with these actors to build their online profiles, agents often have suggestions for who else might fit the role.

When contacting the agent, include a brief synopsis of your script (a logline works fine), a short character description of the role you are casting for, the list you've compiled of the actors you'd like to see, and then a request for an agent's list of suggested actors. If you leave it to the agent to decide and contact any actors you don't approve first, you may end up wasting time auditioning someone you knew the director has no interest in. Allowing the agent to create a secondary list, however, involves them in the process without giving them authority over actor invitations.

Emailing the agent with a request to invite actors also allows the agent to act as a buffer. If for any reason the actor doesn't want to audition, then you never have to hear about it. That conversation is left between the actor and his/her agent. Ultimately, this introductory email is the best opportunity to set the tone for your relationship, both with the actor, but also with the agency for future casting sessions. Being as courteous, appreciative, and forthright as possible is advisable since you'll want to work with them again.

Love Thy Casting Agency

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Lee Daniels Talks "Shaping" Actors Through Body Mechanics, Not Rehearsing Lines

It's Worth Every Heartbreaking Moment to See the ENDING

Precious [DVD]
Precious [DVD]

Buy it on DVD so you can watch the film with commentary.

 

Make It Personal

After sending your request to the agent, the actor will contact you directly to schedule an audition time. This is the point at which you can direct any information directly at the actor, specifying what you liked about their reel and/or expanding on your sincere interest for them to audition. If you’re more comfortable expressing your interest in person, you may also save such compliments until after the audition as a getting-to-know-you talking point. It’s worth your time to be as inviting and accommodating as possible, even in email form. Especially true in independent filmmaking, where budgets can be minimal and situations are often fluid, making every encounter as professional and agreeable as possible is ideal. Surprisingly, quite a few actors are willing to work with difficult situations if they know they are being treated like royalty from day one.

This initial contact can also be the beginning of a very important relationship with actors. For example, Lee Daniels, when directing Precious, understood the delicacy of the subject matter and the importance of raw responses from his actors. So, he did not rehearse with them. Instead, his time spent with actors was more about developing their ability to communicate as Director to Actor. Building trust with your actors starts early and must be practiced often when asking for vigorous and emotionally draining performances.

As part of building trust, your initial email should also disclose any extenuating circumstances (non-union shoot, student shoot, low-budget, etc.). Being forthright might cost you the opportunity to work with certain actors. Hiring union actors, for example, can get tricky on a non-union set. Being upfront about the situation they would be auditioning for, however, is the most respectful approach, and will endear actors to you for future projects.

Harrison Ford Was a Pilot Before He Played a Space Pilot

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Look For Actors With Specific Skills

The benefit of searching through a database of represented talent is that you can also see their skill set. This can include, but is certainly not limited to: accents, fighting and weapons experience, dancing, singing, and any skills that would add to the role you have in mind for them. While it is not always paramount that you find someone who is an expert horse rider for your Western, knowing what else an actor adds to your storytelling can tip the scales when casting.

This additional information also helps prompt conversations in auditions that aren’t just about the film. Initiating conversations, even if brief, can also help to create a safe environment for your actor.

Know Who to Expect

By far, the most comforting aspect of hosting closed auditions is knowing who to expect and when they should arrive. By inviting actors and scheduling them for a specific time slot, you give yourself a great advantage of foresight. You will know going into the casting process who to expect, how many actors you will see, at what times, and what time buffer you have for anyone who might be running late. This is particularly helpful for low-budget productions. Time is money, and if you only have four actors auditioning in one day, there’s no need to schedule

For those directors/producers who may not be so comfortable with uncomfortable situations, please know that hosting auditions in a place with other actors might invite random actors to stop in and want to audition.

Scheduled times also make actors less anxious, as it mirrors their requirement for scheduled performance when on set. Waiting hours in line for Open Auditions is far more stressful for most actors.

Sample Casting Spreadsheet

TIMES
Actor
Role
Phone #
Resume/Headshot
Actor Info Sheet
NDA
6pm
(The Actor's Name)
(The Role Auditioning For)
(Cell # Just In Case)
(OPTIONAL - A Physical Copy for the Notebook)
(REQUIRED - Signed and Filled Out @ Auditions)
(REQUIRED - Signed)
6:30pm
John Doe
Oliver
555-555-5555
NO
YES
YES
7pm
Jane Smith
Nancy
555-555-5555
YES
YES
YES
7:30pm
 
 
 
 
 
 
8pm
Joe Schmoe
Fagin
555-555-5555
NO
YES
YES
You'll notice how not every time is utilized, but it's still more efficient than an eight-hour day of Open Auditions and only having three people show up.

Introduce and Sell Your Film

In your initial email to invite actors to audition, best to keep it simple and straightforward. Reiterate your logline (one-sentence synopsis of the film), a basic character profile of the part you want the actor to read for, and any selling points for your film (i.e. all female crew, all local crew, award-winning screenplay, etc.). The duplication of information is just in case the agent didn’t forward your email to the actor. Better to be thorough than negligent.

At this point in pre-production, it is possible that you will not have secured investors. In fact, it might be more advantageous to not pursue investors until you have talent attached to help sell your film. However, as part of your pitch to investors, you should have certain aspects fleshed out. For auditions, you’ll need at least sides, if not a fully finished script. If you have storyboards for the scenes you’re auditioning for, all to the better. The same storyboards that can get your investors excited about your film can also be used to energize your actors. If your actors get jazzed from your prep work, it can also give you the confidence you need to face investors; a win-win use of closed auditions.

Ease Into Directing

It has been said that inexperienced Directors should not work with seasoned actors. The idea is that experienced actors can grow impatient with novice Directors, even subvert a Director's authority on set. However, sometimes green Directors have to work with actors to challenge themselves, and closed auditions can help.

With fewer actors in closed auditions, you can focus on increasing the quality of each casting session. Also, if you schedule yourself enough time between actors, you'll afford yourself extra time to try different directing techniques. By all means, do your due diligence before auditions; develop your directorial skills, perfect the language to elicit a performance, learn how to listen and respond to your actors efficiently. I often recommend to my student directors that they come up with three variations of each character; a classic interpretation, a reversed interpretation, and a wild card, where you ask the actor to try something new. Closed auditions will give you more concentrated time with your actors, allowing to adjust your strategy, if need be.

This extra quality time with your actors will also give you an insight into any challenges you may face on set, whether by experience, personality, or work ethic. Closed auditions will give you a much clearer idea of how you will work with your actors on set.

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