Ok, let’s talk about how to cast actors for a short film. Even for small projects, this is no easy task. At the same time, your cast is absolutely core to the success of your short film.
We’ve had quite a bit of experience working on short films, especially back in school, and we’ve learned a few things about the low-budget casting project along the way.
So here’s how this is gonna work: we’re going to lay out a basic process that you can use as a guideline for your own short film casting efforts.
As is the case with plenty of filmmaking processes, there’s always going to be room for variation, and depending on the specifics of your own short film, the process might look quite different to ours. Just try to take these tips into consideration when you’re looking for your actors.
Let’s get started.
1. Decide what you want.
This step probably sounds pretty self-explanatory. In fact, we think it should actually be step zero.
But you might be surprised to hear that plenty of beginner filmmakers either don’t have a clear idea of what they want their cast to be like or they have unrealistic expectations for their cast.
That’s why it’s so important to set aside some time to really consider what you’ll be able to accomplish with your casting.
If nothing else, the actor you cast for the lead role needs to be solid. They don’t need to be Meryl Streep, but they need to have great screen presence and be completely comfortable memorizing lines and maybe even improvising on the set, depending on your preferences.
If some of your supporting cast isn’t quite as strong, that’s ok. But your lead needs to shine through.
This is also the stage where you should have a clear idea of what you’ll be paying your actors. If this is a student film and you’re planning to cast fellow students, then it might be acceptable not to pay your actors or your crew, but if this is any kind of professional production, even an independent production, expect to pay everyone involved.
Paying actors also has the effect of making everyone more enthusiastic about the project. Money is funny that way.
2. Spread the word.
Now it’s time to actually try to find some eligible actors who’d be willing to act in your short film. Again, don’t expect to attract the best around, especially if you’re not offering much in the way of payment.
Even if you’re the most social person in your community, you still shouldn’t rely on your own social circle when you’re casting your short film.
Sure, if you have some talented actor friends, it makes sense to consider them for roles. But unless you have no time at all to cast and shoot your film, you should try to ‘cast’ a much wider net.
So how can you do that? Well, look for various types of public forums, whether they’re in-person or online.
If you’re currently in school, post to public notice boards or social media groups associated with the school. Aspiring actors need credits and they need footage to put on their reels, so it makes a lot of sense to reach out to these actors any way you can.
If you already have some actor friends, ask them to ask their friends. You can also try posting on your own social media profiles.
If you really don’t have any other options, print out some flyers and staple them to telephone poles around town. The audition process is when you can be more selective, but at this stage, you really just want to attract as many people as possible.
Also, as a safety measure, when you list contact info on any of these postings, make sure it’s an email and not a personal phone number. In fact, you can even create a new email address just for this project so that you don’t have to jeopardize your personal account.
And of course, on these listings, be clear and concise about what you’re looking for. Don’t overload the reader with too much information.
3. Time to audition.
Alright, you’ve made a lot of progress so far. You’ve cut out a clear idea of the cast you want, and you’ve made it known that you’re looking for actors.
Hopefully by now you’ve received at least a handful of inquiries about the various roles. It’s common to get more responses related to the lead role than any of the supporting roles.
Even if someone messages you and you can’t set up an audition right away, make sure to respond to them as soon as you can to let them know you’ve received their message. This can help keep people from jumping ship before they’ve even done a reading.
Back in the day, every audition had to be conducted in person, but that’s no longer the case. Especially during the height of the pandemic, many auditions were held over video calls, and that’s still a great option for many auditions for smaller short film projects.
Don’t get us wrong: you can learn a lot more about an actor from an in-person audition. You can pay attention to their body language, how they present themselves, and how easily they’re able to slip into the role.
But especially when scheduling is a challenge, video call auditions are more than ok to get a sense for what an actor is capable of.
Keep detailed notes of your thoughts on each audition, and when you’re all done, it’s up to you to make the tough decisions of who to cast as who. We don’t have too much to say on the point except to listen to your gut and record auditions when possible, with the actors’ consent of course.
And don’t forget to confirm shooting dates with every single actor!
But of course the work isn’t done once you’ve nailed down your cast list. This part depends heavily on the pre-production and shooting schedules of your short, but you should definitely try to carve out at least one rehearsal before the first day of shooting, where all your actors can get a sense for your directing style and the approaches of their castmates.
In an ideal world, you’d hold multiple rehearsals, and maybe even special rehearsals for your lead character and maybe one or two other key actors to work out small details. But in a lot of cases, short film productions don’t have that kind of luxury.
Learn as much as you can about your cast, and if you have any major concerns, try to address them before shooting starts.
The End Part
Casting a short film is a lot of work, and it probably won’t go exactly as you expect, but if you stay committed to the project and cast carefully, you’ll end with actors who are eager to show what they can do.