A producer has the chops, a director has the vision, and a DP gives us something to see. But when it comes down to it, your cast makes or breaks your movie. Securing just the right actors with just the right chemistry can be one of the greatest challenges for new directors, particularly if on a tight budget. Fortunately, there are casting directors out there willing to make lower budgets work for directors who they believe in, and who generously share their experiences for the betterment of the entire industry.

One such casting director is Vicky Boone. She has worked with acclaimed indie filmmakers, such Terrence Malick and Richard Linklater, but she has also worked on very tight budgets and timeframes: she cast Kat Candler’s Hellion (starring Aaron Paul) in only two days.

"Casting is about what people bring out of each other."

In a panel discussion between several casting directors, producers, and talent agents at SXSW 2017, Boone stood out as a seasoned voice with lots of advice for filmmakers on a budget. Below are some of her best words of wisdom for casting your indie film.

Tree-of-life-1_0"Tree of Life" Credit: Fox Searchlight

1. Be specific about what you want

Boone stressed the importance of knowing what qualities you want in your actors—but perhaps even more importantly, prioritizing your casting needs for the film. She said that she can design a casting process for almost any budget, but only if you know what you want. Experienced casting directors work with actors all the time and have big pools of talent to reach out to, so the more specific you are in your requests, the more strategic they can be in their process. 

Even if you are casting your own film, having a clear picture of your needs and priorities will save time, and let you put more resources toward other parts of the production.

2. In auditions, have actors do more than just read the lines

For emerging directors, the temptation in auditions may be to have lead roles perform lines from key emotional scenes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Boone thinks that it’s also important for larger roles (anything more than one scene) to pick a side that gives the actor something to do. 

“Show them making active choices,” Boone suggested, “so you can evaluate how different people handled that choice.”

In terms of how much audition time to give potential cast, she said, “I think you can see if someone is right for the role in a page and a half. Two pages is perfect if it has the opportunity for the actor to put some sort of stamp on it.”

For day players who won’t have a lot of actual lines, Boone said that you might want to write a side just for that audition.

Ews_ext_og_0"Everybody Wants Some!!" Credit: Paramount

3. Don’t wear out your material in the auditions

Boone warned against over-using your script during the audition process.

"If you hear 50 people read it," she said, "you can come to hate a scene that’s lovely. Write something else. It keeps the material fresh for your actual callbacks with people you’re serious about"

As with the day players, you can always write a scene strictly for first-round auditions that has a similar feel to the film, but won’t actually be in it.

4. It’s all about chemistry 

Boone noted the callbacks as one of her favorite parts of the process, as it’s frequently the first time directors are directing their own material. That’s when she really gets a feel for what the eventual film will be like, as well as the chemistry between the director and their potential cast.

And of course, there’s also chemistry between actors to consider—which is arguably the key to a successful cast.

Boone said, "In my opinion, casting is about what people bring out of each other. It’s about how two people create chemistry and that’s what makes things interesting."

5. Use a SAG contract

Many directors see the SAG contract as some sort of unnecessary burden, but Boone was emphatic about the fact that this is a misperception: "The process is not really an obstacle in any way and it expands your talent pool in a way that you want your pool expanded, especially in NY and LA." She added, "You want the very best people you can possibly convince to be in your movie. Just do [the contract]."

You should include the type of SAG contract, along with the other "hardcore business stuff," as Boone calls it, in your character breakdown on Breakdown Express, the main online casting tool for narrative films that Boone and her colleagues use. 

Have any other pointers to add about casting your indie film? Share them the comments below.

For more, see our complete coverage of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.

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No Film School's coverage of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Vimeo.