Never give a friend or family member a speaking role in your film. Every line is important. And the wrong reading of even one line can take the viewer out of the film. Actors are everywhere, especially if you’re within a hundred miles of near New York or Los Angeles. Find them by place a casting notice in Back Stage, or any one of the many online casting services, such as The Casting Network.
But if you’re doing a micro budget film, stay away from SAG-indie. They are hands-down the most difficult union to deal with. Their paperwork is suffocating. You’ll have to give a deposit assuring you’ll pay your SAG actors what you agreed to pay them, and it’ll take months to get that deposit back after they’ve been paid. They do not bend the rules whatsoever. Really, unless you have a name actor who will make it easier to get distribution for your film, and who is willing to work under the SAG low-budget agreement (i.e. for $100 per day), or if you have an actor whom you know is the only person on the planet perfect for the role (that’s how I learned about SAG-indie), stay far far away. There are many good actors out there who are not SAG members.
Have time and patience when casting. You might not find your dream cast the first time out. But they are out there. And once you have them locked down, rehearse. Remember your script is about real characters in real situations. Allow your actors to work on their part. Together. With you in the room. Bring pizza and beer. Take notes, give notes. Now is the time to get the nuances down.
I’ve easily spent six months rehearsing a film. Perhaps more than that with Jessica Bohl, the star of YOU ARE ALONE. Jessica was a professional model who had never acted before. I allowed her to bring much of her personality and back story to the script, so much so that she was given an “additional dialog by” credit. But all of that work made her performance vital and honest. Jessica went on to win numerous best actress awards at film festivals where YOU ARE ALONE screened.
Remember, it’s about the story you’re telling. And sometimes the greatest line of dialog in a script can sound false when read out loud. Or your actor just has a problem with a certain word. Change it. Find something with the same meaning. You want your actor to inherit the role, for them to believe that they are this character. If they’re uncomfortable with a line, it will show. But work all of this out in rehearsals. One of the things that has made me angriest on set was when an actress decided she didn’t understand a certain line. We had been rehearsing for months. So she had months to question the line. That was the appropriate time to do so. Not when cameras are rolling, and you’re on a very tight schedule. This goes for director, writer, and cast: work it ALL out in rehearsals.
That also means trying to get as much of the blocking down as possible. And blocking can be a complete bitch when working in a confined space. Look at YOU ARE ALONE, two people in a room for about 60 minutes of the film’s 84 minute running time. Trying to keep it interesting, and real, and also something they could repeat again and again on subsequent takes. An actor who can remember his/her blocking is a life saver in the editing room. Someone who changes it up, even a little, every time, will drive your editor crazy because the close up will never correctly match the wide shot. (One example, an actor picks up a bottle of beer during a conversation. He needs to pick it up with the same hand, in the same way, on the same word. An actor who can do that is like a gift from above.)
And sure a lot of this blocking will change on set, but at least you’ll have a notion of what you want, the actor will know on what line he needs to pick up the beer bottle, and you’ll all be able to adapt quickly to the nuances of the set.
Next up: Paying Backend