Lessons from casting my new film "Sins of the Son"

Last week we finished casting my new film “Sins of the Son,” which I’m directing in a few weeks in Lake George, NY (yay!).   This is my fourth time directing a short film, and every time I do it I learn more about actors, and what they need to bring to the table, as well as what matters and doesn’t matter.  After going through the casting process, I asked my friend Nicholas Baroudi (who cast the film, and is producing and starring in it), to write a special blog post for actors.  Attached is the full post, with my thoughts added in bold.  Enjoy!   You can follow the making of our film on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/sins_of_the_son/ 

“WHAT I LEARNED AND WHY I'M SURE I CAN NEVER BE TOO SURE” by Nicholas Baroudi

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A mandatory disclaimer right from the beginning must be, I'm not pontificating. I'm not a Casting Director (we couldn’t afford one).I'm just a guy with a script and a finite budget, doing what needs to be done to make the best work I can. If any of this is useful to you, great. If not, I get that, too. 

What I in fact am, is an actor and the writer of this particular story. And I am also, an exceedingly fortunate first time filmmaker. Right out of the gate, I got to begin this journey by collaborating with my close friend and coach, Matt Newton, who's association and reputation, lent an aura of professionalism and industry excitement to the project. There's a good probability that you won't have that good fortune in your first creation, but what you can do is make sure you're joining forces with someone you respect, admire, and want to take this journey with. In that decision, you will find fulfillment in every day of your work. It is far and away the smartest thing I've done.

And then my fortune grew; because after only targeting Manhattan via Actors Access, I was besieged with nearly 1,500 submissions from the most talented actors in the world....for one role...in a SAG Ultra Low Budget Short...shooting 4 hours away. (If you're looking to feel flattery, humility, pride, vulnerability and knee buckling fear all in the same moment, good news, it happens in an instant when you send sides to these decorated talents.).  We also put the breakdown out to agents and managers, and received hundreds of submissions there, too.  Some agents don’t even bother submitting for a small project like this.  I understand the agents make like no money on this, but I know lots of actors at those agencies who would kill to do something like this.  

*Additionally, we received a few hundred submissions for the lone supporting role.  As some agents told me, “good male actors in their 60’s to 70’s are hard to find.”   Some self taped, and some were “offer only.”  Some couldn’t even figure out how to upload their video to Eco Cast.  Times have changed!

I then settled into the work and joy of reviewing headshots, resumes, and reels; and scout's honor, I reviewed every last submission I was sent. Why? Because you deserve that much from a peer. It's my blind hope that when I send my materials out into the casting abyss, that someone will take the time to truly consider me. Regardless of my name, or agent, or who I'm related to, or how many social media followers I have. (It's not many and I couldn't care less) I'm an actor, not a marketing tsar.

But this is all a long story for another time and venue. (If you think this is long winded, you should read my script.) Here are a few of the more stark observations and realizations I absorbed.

NOTES IN YOUR SUBMISSION

  • If you add a note that you know the casting director....best to actually know the casting director.
  • If there is something in the breakdown that is unclear or confusing to you; a glib comment addressing it is not the most advantageous tactic. (If you're snarky in your job application, what are you going to be like in your twelfth hour of shooting?)
  • If I'm casting a 30-40 year old female, I don't want to see a 40 year old man who's suggesting that I'd be better off casting him. (Yup, I remember your name, and it's not the way you want me to.)
  • I intentionally stayed out of this part of the process, as I wanted Nick to choose actors who he saw as fit for the story he created in his mind a long time ago.   I knew I would come in to the callback and really work with the actors in the room. 

HEADSHOTS/REELS

  • Again, only my personal opinion, but I have to say it was nice to realize that your headshot is not as critically vital as your skill set. I feel we've been made to feel that the key to success in this business is a majestic, all serving and astonishing headshot....It's not. Yes, it was important, but you are all professionals; your judgement won't betray you when contemplating if you need the $2,000 guy. You don't.
  • Make sure you actually look like your headshot. I know vanity can play tricks on us here, and we want the best looking shot we can get, but there were multiple instances where I didn't know which actor was the applicant in their own reel.
  • There were many headshots that were uploaded sideways, and we still received black and white headshots.  Um…  
  • I’m a big fan of the “Slate” shot now, as that is the easiest way to see if someone a) looks like their headshot, b)  does or doesn’t have an accent and c) is or is not crazy.  You can tell a lot by a two second clip of someone saying their name. 
  • Demo reels are interesting, because sometimes you can’t even tell which actor you are supposed to be looking at.  I personally would rather click on a quick clip of a self tape, where it’s well lit, sounds good, and is focused only on the actor I’m considering. 
  • All actors need to have video on their profile!!

SELF-TAPES

  • I know first hand how difficult it can be at times to get a fellow actor as your reader, or to secure a slot for an A+ tape at MN. No need to despair; if you're having a non actor read opposite you, my advice here is to direct them to read it as plainly/nonchalantly as possible. Many non actor readers were drawn into trying to "act" out the words. God bless them, they went full tilt, but it could be quite distracting from the actor auditioning. I want to focus 100% on you for those few minutes.  A simple lavalier mic is a good fix for this.
  • I'm about as technologically advanced as an abacus. I've often taped in insecurity, knowing my friends have home studios that rival a sound stage. But here it is: Make sure you're framed well, in HD, I can hear you, and just bring it. Everything else goes away when it's you and your take on the character.  If two actors are up for the same role and are equally good, the better quality self tape always wins.  It just shows me that this actor is more serious about their career, and that’s someone I want to work with.  

THE LIVE AUDITION

  • This seems so elementary and mind numbingly obvious, but I'll say it because multiple actors didn't do it. Be on time, take direction, enjoy it. It's your audition. It's your time; in the preparation and in the room. You are giving us just as much or more as we're giving you. You deserve to be there, we want you to be there. Let it rip.  We gave our actors free reign with the character in the callback.  We didn’t have a set idea in mind, and wanted the actors to “show us who the character is.”  I think that’s a general note for actors walking into any audition. Use it as a chance to “give,” not to “get.”  Play, play, play, and bring your personality to it.  When seeing a lot of actors reading the same lines, personality is what makes the tape stand out.  That’s your fingerprint on the scene.

THE MN EFFECT

  • I have to acknowledge something because you are either already an MN client or considering it. These actors were in large part, the standard bearer for the complete package, professional actor.  Yup.
  • Incredibly prepared with the material. Strong character choices. Great self tapes. Punctual. Spontaneous and free in the room.  Yup.
  • All of the things I would have to imagine that full time CD's and Producers and Directors are dreaming of.  Word.

Thank you to everyone who shared your time, work, and talent. I am immeasurably grateful to you for making this passion project a success through your participation alone.

Finally, and I'm sure most of you know this and operate with this understanding, but for those who may have forgotten, I'll conclude by sharing this: We witnessed dozens of stellar, impossibly great auditions. We would be beyond lucky to have any one of these elite artists on the team. So please remember to trust yourself, trust your work, trust in your talent. Not getting a job is not an indictment on your work. Keep showing up. Keep putting the bat on the ball. Your time is coming.

The hardest part was having 24 girls come into the callback for the lead role, all knock it out of the park, and we can only give it to one girl.  That means 23 girls who were amazing DIDN’T get it, which is heartbreaking. How is it not “enough” to be an amazing actor?   This is one of the things that I still think about on a daily basis.  But guess what?  Each of those 23 actors will always be in the back of my mind when I work on my next project (and I plan on doing many).   They will be the first ones I bring in.   

Now let’s go make a movie!

 

Matt Newton & Nick Baroudi