The casting breakdown should begin with general information about the production:
- Title and show number
- The name of the director and producer
- Shooting date(s) and time(s)
- Brief description or logline that includes the genre
It should then continue with character breakdowns for all lead and supporting roles:
- CHARACTER NAME (in all-caps)
- Gender (if it matters)
- Size of the role (Lead or Supporting)
- Age range. It is how old someone looks on camera that counts, not how old they really are. Give a range. However, the younger the person needs to be, the smaller the range should be.
- Ethnicity (if it matters)
- Sexuality (if it matters)
- Pertinent facts about the character: What are the given circumstances that shape this character? This can also include physical qualities that are necessary for the part but cannot be fudged on camera, like height for a basketball player. Remember, beards, tattoos, and hair color can all be grown in, glued on, or changed.
- Distinguishing characteristics: What makes the character special or different. What drives them as a character? Never use the words ordinary or generic!
- Special requirements of the role: If there will be any kind of nudity or sexual intimacy, it must be stated and described. If the actor must work with pets, babies, children, potential allergens, or adverse conditions, they must be described. Also, if the actor must perform any physical feat that is “out of the norm,” it must be described.
At the end of the casting breakdown, list any smaller roles and extras. You do not need a full breakdown for bit parts or extras, and in most instances a simple list will suffice. Only include additional breakdown information when appropriate.
Sample Casting Breakdown
THE WIZARD OF OZ (18F1)
Victor Fleming, dir. and Mervyn LeRoy, prod.
Shoots Friday November 18th from 8AM to 9PM.
The Wizard of Oz is a musical based on the book by L. Frank Baum that follows the journey of a Kansas farm girl as she and her dog Toto are swept up by a tornado to the magical Land of Oz. There she makes unlikely friends to battle the Wicked Witch of the West, expose the great Wizard, and find her way back to Kansas. There’s no place like home.
- DOROTHY GALE: Female lead, early teens. Dorothy is a well-scrubbed, polite farm girl from Kansas with an active imagination. She must balance a sweetness of temperament with a sense of justice strong enough to propel her into potentially dangerous situations. Must be comfortable working with small dogs.
- PROFESSOR MARVEL: Male supporting, 50-70. Professor Marvel is a traveling carnival magician with a dubious past. He tries hard to mask his insecurities with bravado in the hopes he will not be discovered. He is nevertheless a kind-hearted, teddy bear of a man and means no real harm.
Smaller roles and extras:
- MAYOR OF MUNCHKINLAND
- FLYING MONKEYS
Below is a sample email to send to potential actors during the casting process. Be sure to also attach a character breakdown and a copy of the script (or sides). Also be sure to copy the show’s Producer, so that they have the email for their records.
Dear (actor’s name),
My name is (your name) and I am a film student at the FSU College of Motion Picture Arts. I am casting a short film entitled (film’s title) that shoots on (shooting date). It is the story of (describe the film).
I saw your audition on our casting website and I would love it if you would consider auditioning for the role of (character name). I have attached a casting breakdown and a working copy of the script, along with the pages I would like you to prepare for the audition.
I am hoping to hold auditions on (audition date). If you are unavailable at this time, we can schedule another time that works for you. Please call me at (your cell phone number), or reply to this email if you are interested in auditioning for the role.
Thanks so much for your interest in working with the film school.
Your full name
Your crew position
Your cell phone number
Below is a sample email to send to send to actors who you auditioned but did not cast in the film. Do not send regret emails until you are sure that the actor you have cast is 100% locked for the role. Make sure you also copy the Producer of the show, so that they have the email for their records.
Dear (actor’s name),
Thank you so much for coming to audition for the FSU film, (title of film). We appreciate the time and effort given for this project. Unfortunately, we will not be able to use you at this time, but we hope to see you again soon as we enjoyed meeting you and seeing your work.
Your full name
Your crew position
Your cell phone number
To set up an audition, actors should be contacted by email (see sample email) and sent a copy of the script along with the role you would like them to read for. Five-to-seven actors per role. You should then follow-up with a phone call to make a personal connection and make sure there is no confusion about your expectations. Let them know what pages of the script you would like them to prepare for the audition.
How to Choose Sides for Auditions
- Sides should ideally have two characters, but no more than three.
- The best sides give the actor a chance to act and react. Therefore, exposition is not a good choice.
- Do not choose scenes that are primarily action. If you must see an actor move, give them an improv that is directed (called out).
- Sides should be no more than two minutes, preferably closer to one minute.
- Sides may be from a script that is not your own if it contains similar characters and situations.
- Sides may be specifically written for audition purposes to satisfy the recommendations above. For example, if your character does not speak, you could write an interview of that character for sides. This is a good way to verbalize how a character is feeling. Or, think about if you were making your film into a longer form piece. What scenes do you wish you could write? Write them for sides!
Prepare to work with your actors by clarifying your choices and jotting down possible objectives and strategies (active verbs) in your script. Actors want to respect their director. After all, they must put a lot of faith and trust in them. The director is the eyes and ears of the actor. This is true much more in film than it is in theater. The easiest way to lose their respect is to be unprepared and not know what the film is about or what you want from the actors. So do your homework!
The Rehearsal Process
Step 1: Table Read (Intellectual Preparation)
- This is the time to share your directorial vision (and those of your creatives) and the only time you should speak intellectually about the script.
- Make sure the actors know what your vision is and how the other creative elements will be handled as well as how you see them fitting in to the overall theme (spine).
- Discuss backstory, motivations, objectives, obstacles, etc. with the actors and listen carefully and respectfully to their input. It is their job to contribute creatively. Ask the actors to work on preparing their roles based on this information.
Step 2: Second Rehearsal (Emotional Preparation)
- This is the time for experimentation. Try different approaches with your actors and ask them to take risks. This is a time to try improvisation and trust exercises to build up the relationship between and with your actors. Keep an open mind. You may be surprised.
- Don’t ask for film worthy performances. This will make your actors stale when they get to set and not allow them to make discoveries.
- This is the time for emotional exploration and connections (relationships). It is also a time to get to know your actors and their process so that you can determine what directions and approach will work best for them. You can also identify any quirks they have that will need to be addressed on set.
Step 3: On-set Rehearsals
- Forget it all and make sure your actors are listening and making connections.
- During the shoot it is very important to make sure your actors feel safe and supported. They must feel that you are in control and since they put their trust in you, they rely on you to be their eyes and ears.
- Actors need feedback! And they don’t want you to accept less than quality work. It is their face up on the screen and they want you to help them be great. You should speak with them before every take to remind them of their scene objectives and what happened the moment before. This is especially important when you shoot out of sequence. You should also give them feedback after every take even if just to say, we messed up sound so we need to do it again. Otherwise, they will think they did something wrong and spend the whole next take worrying about it. Also, let them know what the next shot is so they can relax.
- The most important thing for the actor on set is for them to really listen to their partner and respond in the moment. Your job is to make sure they do that, and that they do it within the technical considerations of the shot.
An action verb is transitive and requires an object. It is something you do to someone else. The following list is a starting off point for you to develop your own list of active verbs. “To be” is NEVER an action verb.
to brush off
to buddy up
to butter up
to check out
to put down
to reach out
to reason with
to show off
to toss off
to ward off
Refer to Marina Calderone’s Actions: The Actor’s Thesaurus (book/app) for more examples.
Other Directing Strategies
Acceptable directions for actors that are not clarifying a beat objective through the use of an active verb include:
- Do this scene AS IF you are __________ (e.g., in a funeral procession, on the floor of the stock market, at a prayer meeting, in a bread line, in front of a firing squad, etc.) Events are dynamic and spur the imagination, and actors’ imaginations are the best tools they have. Ask an actor to use “the magic if” and to find an event or relationship from their own lives they can connect to the character or situation imaginatively and emotionally. It is not necessary that you know it or that they share it with you.
- Asking the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHY, HOW, and WHEN questions. These questions clarify the circumstances, the super-, scene- and beat-objectives, the motivations, and the strategies of the character in an easy-to-understand format.
- Directing the actor to “Keep it simple,” “Think it, don’t show it,” or “Listen to them. Really listen.”
- Use FACTS. Facts are objective and help to clarify circumstances.
- Use SENSORY IMAGES (sight, sound, feel, taste, smell). Images allow the actor to use recall to make a situation real to them.
- Use PHYSICAL TASKS. Physical tasks are kinetic (energy in motion) and allow the actor to create a multi-layered approach as well as provide focus.
- THE MOMENT BEFORE. What just happened before this scene takes place? How does that impact what is about to take place?
- Ask for moods or results from an actor. Instead, clarify objectives and give active verbs to work with.
- Ask an actor to “bring it up.” Instead examine whether the stakes are high enough to motivate the behavior, and if not, raise them or use the “as if” scenario.
- Ask an actor to “bring it down.” Instead ask them to listen to their partner and not anticipate what is coming next or to keep it simple and respond truthfully.
- Give line readings to an actor. Remember, the line is unimportant. The motivation for the line is important. Make sure the actor is clear on what the motivation and objective is for the line and ask them to only think of that.
- Tell an actor how their character should be feeling or give character judgments. Remember, all characters’ actions are justified to them, even and especially, “villains”!
- Use adjectives or adverbs when giving directions. Always use VERBS!