The Auditioning Process

From FilmmakerIQ post


Pitch Black calls for a total of 5 actors, four of which I have already cast from projects I’ve previously worked.

If “My Emily” [my previous large scale short] was a stretch in terms of me finding new people and putting together a team, “Pitch Black” is a stretch in terms of technical production. With such a compressed time frame, it was easier to go with people I knew and worked with before.

But I didn’t have anyone in mind that would fit the bill of Haley – the lead. We need someone who has the acting chops to carry a horror film AND look petite and vulnerable.

So on to the internet I went in search of an actress. This will make it into a longer and detailed article on Casting in general ‘m sure, but for now I’ll just give you bare details. Through and I was able to contact over 900 potential actresses (my test footage video did help get a few interested parties). Of those 900 I may have gotten around 100 responses. I can’t really give a final number because frankly I’ve lost track of them all.

It doesn’t matter until they show up and fill out a form anyways.

I scheduled them in blocks of 2 hours each. My experience in the past seems to indicate that actors and rigid audition scheduling do not mix so I give them a set time while leaving it relatively open (like a cattle call).

Today was the first day and we ran from 12pm to about 8pm. All total I had 15 actresses show up – a good mix of NowCasting and ExploreTalent people.

I had them run through this monologue scene which I wrote specifically for the audition – this scene does not take place as written in the final script:

HALEY GRANT is seated in front of Detective DAN BRADY. She is distraught.

I know this is must be hard – but it’s important Haley.

I’ll try.

It was a late night at the school. It had just rained. I was on my way home when the accident happened. A black vehicle. The trunk popped open – an arm – someone was in that trunk, he must have been still alive.

I saw another man, tall, get out of the car. I couldn’t make out his face. He walked so casually. In his hand a shinny hammer.

He walked to the man in the trunk and he beat him again and again. I don’t remember hearing any screams just the thud of the hammer against flesh. Again and again. And then, he just stopped. He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped the blood from the hammer.

Then I knew he was coming for me.

He walked to my window and started to bash the glass. I screamed. He is going to kill me.

I tried to crawl into the passenger seat but I couldn’t get my seat belt off. Then I felt something sharp on the console – a knife.
A knife. My only chance.

Then I heard sirens from far away. And suddenly he just stopped and was gone.

We would read through the script twice. The first time with some instructions from me about the character and some a woman’s perspective from my friend Sue, and the second time with some additional direction.

Of the 15 that showed up, they were all pretty good.

The pivotal difference that separated the good from the great was one bit of information that I give in the briefing. How they reacted to this character trait said everything:

Haley, at this point of the film, is legally blind. A concussion has made her extremely sensitive to light and everything she sees is blurry. This means that as she describes this horrific event, her mind’s eye, without the distraction of sight, is even more vivid than usual.

Late in the afternoon, we had a block of three actresses come in and try for the part. Each was excellent and delivered with considerable passion.

Then the last of the three came in. At first I didn’t think she looked the part. Then she opened her mouth. Wow… The scene was intense. I’m watching it again now – it’s there. I’ve sat through a lot of intense auditions today, but she had timing.

And now as I watch it again, she may just have the look…

The was about an hour of free time after that audition, and I spent most of it in a state of nervousness. With her performance, everything quickly became all too real. A swarm of butterflies have found a home in my stomach – at least for the next week.

Or perhaps it has just been a brutal day watching 15 women break down and cry in front of me. It’s a hard scene to watch over and over again…

Anyhow tomorrow is another day of auditions. More people will come. Perhaps we’ll find some one that will be even better but right now I’m comfortable in the talent I’ve seen already.

So I leave you tonight with this world of wisdom from the casting couch.

Headshots LIE.

I’m going to introduce the butterflies to some white wine and work on storyboards…

Part II

Second day of auditions – saw a couple more today and now there’s a lull between people so I wanted to jot this down before I forget:

The higher you go in the acting world – the less it becomes about acting and the more it becomes having the right “look”.

That’s not to say that acting ability doesn’t matter. It’s saying that everybody at that level has the acting ability… the difference is the look.

And that’s meant to comfort actors… if you don’t get a part it’s not about what you did. It’s that maybe you don’t have the look they want.

As far as looks go – it’s not all blonde beautiful bombshell. Otherwise, Peter Lorre would have never had a career.

An extreme example of what I mean: If Meryl Streep walked in and auditioned – she would move me to tears but she wouldn’t be right.

If Amy Adams walked in…

Or one of the Deschenel Sisters…


And as I look back on those words, I have to eat them. And eat them I will. With a little bit of mustard please.

I thought it was going to come down looks. That we had a lot of great talent and it was going to be a matter of picking the one that looked most like that part.

Then a woman walked in that didn’t look the part but gave a performance that had me shaking and reaching for a glass of wine. In the middle of the day.

She has me rewriting the script just so I can have her do that in the film. The scene…

I ended up having two glasses of wine that day during auditions.

I took the night off after the auditions. The day after (today) – I ran through the videos from the actresses from the audition sessions. She was clearly the best. She didn’t have the ingenue look I thought I wanted, but she’s just so right for the part.

There is so much to do between now and shoot that I can’t go into too much more on this. I’ll leave this thought as I finish up this entry:

Every serious filmmaker should hold an audition for their film. It’s not good enough to just cast your friends.

When you sit through an audition you have to explore and really think about your characters. You have to field lots of questions and you’ll have the opportunity to direct with a lot of actors. You learn so much about acting, character, directing, timing – everything.


Next: The Shooting Schedule/Production