Get Pimped 2: Casting
Last time on Get Pimped I talked to actor Henry Maynard about how we as filmmakers could work better with actors. This week I continue by talking to casting director Leoni Kibbey about her role in production. I never used to bother with casting directors but these days I won’t contemplate a project without one. Just way too useful. There’s a maxim that directing is 80% casting, and it baffles me that it’s often so lightly treated. So here’s what Leoni had to say when I caught up with her.
1. What does a casting director actually do!?
Ah..the million dollar question that loads of people want to ask but no one ever does.. instead they ask.. so how many people do you have on your books? And then you instantly know they have no idea what your job is and you wished they had asked your question instead. An Agent has people on their books. A Casting Director is very different from an agent. Agents & CDs do work very closely in symbiosis… like a Shark and Pilot fish, both providing for each other.. though I won’t tell you who is the shark.. but let’s just say some bite my head off more than others!
A Casting Director is employed directly by a Producer or Production Company and works very closely with Producer & Director to source the best cast for the production in any media form. I cast for screen and radio so – TV, Film, Commercials, Stills & Radio. If it’s a new company we set up a meeting first. Then I get sent a script or treatment emailed through or simply just the character requirements. It’s my job to source the best talent from the entire world’s acting pool and to fulfil the brief to get the best cast possible.
I then hold auditions and invite talent. We have been known to bypass the auditions and the director will trust me. I issue contracts, help decide on actor fees and generally manage the talent until they are booked and finalised. My job entails a whole heap of admin, some glamorous events and lots of trips to theatre and films, keeping an eye out for new talent but it’s mostly admin. I think apart from my instinct for talent the part of my job that is mostly appreciated is the huge strain I can take off a production by allowing the actors (and there are soo many of them) to contact me instead of the producer/director.
2. It must be hard for directors to pin down exactly what they want, how do you get a clear idea from them?
I have never found this a problem. I think my ability to read people is key here. I get a good feel for the director and his work. I mix this in with my understanding of the industry and what is good for the production (whether it be a mainstream or commercial production or something a little more indie or abstract). I ask the right questions and either the director will send me a few references or I will start by sending some references and we go from there. As long as you communicate properly there is never a problem.
3. The importance of getting casting right is highly underestimated by new directors, how much input do you have in the selection process?
I agree that it’s highly underestimated and the amount of input I have varies. With commercials I have a lot of input into who I bring into the casting room but little input in the final selection – that goes several tiers up to the client. With TV & Film I have more input. It is definitely a creative collaborative process between CD & Director with the Producer sometimes overseeing.
Some Directors look to me for a lot of guidance both working with actors in the audition room and also with who to select. Others like to be leading the casting and have firmer ideas about who they want to work with. Its true that it is usually very obvious who is right for the job.. everything just seems to click in the audition room for them.
I cast all the time so I think it is short sighted of a director not to listen to their casting director and when this has happened in the past my instincts are screaming out and they haven’t let me down before so I have been known to defend my choices but ultimately it is the Producers final say. And then there is the casting of ‘names’ for film and again that is usually a collaborative process with the Producer and Investors getting more involved.
4. Casting sessions are notoriously difficult, what advice do you have for directors to make the most of their time with actors?
Hmm.. curious.. I thought they were the most fun part of the process. Maybe they can be a little time consuming but we always have a good time in mine.
Advice I guess I can give is hire a good casting director who can manage the time well so you can sit back and relax while working with the talent. It important for me to time-keep and gently nudge the Director if we need to move on. I always keep the energy up through the day and make the talent feel welcome and happy. Also – there is no point being too ‘nice’. If someone isn’t right for the part politely and swiftly move on. You may need the time to work with someone else for longer who does pique your interest/
I don’t want to give away all my casting secrets but a little improvising around the script I find works a treat!
5. What’s the best piece of advice you can give filmmakers about managing the casting process?
You can get a Casting Director on board right at the very start of the process. Recently I’ve been brought on board a feature film project even before the director was attached. If you know you have the money to make the film and also have a script.. or even just the inkling of a script you can start thinking cast. If you are working on a feature film that needs named talent be aware that a lot of talent are booked up on other projects months in advance so unless you are just squeezing them into a couple of days cameo they are unlikely to be available for a few months or more.
So my advice is.. It’s never too early to start thinking about getting the perfect cast for your production.