I am an actor. I also write when inspiration strikes and have started producing my own content (like all of the other actors you know). Recently, I needed to hold a casting call, as the characters I wrote could not be found among the actors I already knew. As this was my first time being on the other side of the casting table, the experience opened my eyes to the actions of many actors and talent representatives.
I released my casting call on Breakdown Services for two men to play a gay couple, where one was foreign with a distinct accent and the other was a non-white American. The character breakdowns were extremely specific: must be both gay and male. For one role, I also specified that he must be able to convincingly do an accent from another country that was not British (or American) and could preferably speak that language.
This short was an ultra low budget passion project, and while it was deferred payment, I was able to offer a small day rate to my actors. Very small. Still, the submissions started flying in. For these two roles, I amassed over 250 submissions. Surprisingly, about a third of them came from agents and managers, some who I even had previously met in showcases and classes. I was surprised that my project was attracting such interest. There was one manager who even tracked down my email address and directly asked that I consider his client. One found me on Facebook Messenger and asked there! I was taken aback by the commitment of some of these managers to this project. It felt very intrusive at times and as an actor, I could not decide if these were actions I would want my own representation to take.
Less surprisingly, many actors that applied did not fit the character descriptions in the slightest. About a quarter of these submissions… were female. In my breakdown, I asked that those applying for the foreigner list what accents they could do along with what languages they speak. Not only did few agents or managers submit any relevant notes along with their submission, most actors also did not write a note - leading me to have to watch their reels to see if they had an accent or spoke another language. Some actors stated they can do a great British accent (something I specifically wrote that I was not looking for).
Submitting to roles is a shit-show - I know. It’s hard to read everything. It’s hard to make sure you are 100% right for a role. Doing that small bit of extra work, however, will make it so much easier for a casting director to think of you as an option. Read the breakdown and write a thoughtful and relevant note. That’s all!
Out of the 250 actors that submitted, only 28 were genuinely appropriate for the two roles I listed. About a third of them had been submitted through agents, so when I sent a “CMail” to notify them of the auditions, I was relying on these reps to inform their clients of the opportunity. Some never responded to the message. I have no idea if they ever told their clients about the audition.
Out of these 28 actors who presumably read the sides and knew the plot of the short film, 18 of them confirmed to audition. The day of? 12 showed up. Of the six that did not audition, I genuinely thought they would be great for the roles. They had a very good chance of getting cast…but they didn’t show.
If you confirm that you will attend an audition, go. That role is yours to lose. You were one of hundreds to submit to a role and you got called in, which means you are probably right for the part. If you can’t make it at the last second, send an email. Ask to submit a video audition. Those in charge of casting will likely agree - they are working to make art, same as you.
It’s one thing to not pay attention to breakdowns when you’re submitting, but if you are called in to audition, read the sides! Read the damn breakdown! Of the people who showed up to audition for my “foreigner who was not from England or America”, two asked if they could do it in a British accent and one asked if he could do a New York accent.
The two we ended up casting were more than perfect! In the room they were practically off-book, knew the character and made it their own, took direction well, and were a joy to watch and interact with. They were prepared and they fit the breakdown! Easy as that.
Holding my own casting call has made me much more empathetic to the casting directors behind those big tables. It has made me a more conscious actor when I am submitting to roles. It reiterates the sentiment that not booking a role doesn’t mean I was a bad actor. The actors that showed up were great actors! I knew they would be because I read their resumes and watched their reels and even researched our mutual friends on Facebook. Some weren’t necessarily right for the part, and others were clearly unprepared.
If you fit the breakdown well, you’re going to get called in. If you’re just respectful and prepared, you’re going to do a great job auditioning. At the very least, you will be positively memorable to the casting director, and that’s a win regardless if you book the part.