If you think having a name actor will make financing and distributing your film a sure thing, you could be dead wrong. In the film world, you’ll hear that getting a famous cast is what you need not only to get money from financiers and to get your film into a film festival, but a SXSW panel of casting experts says that doesn’t have to be case. Monika Mikkelsen (Paramount Studios), Matthew Lessall (Lessall Casting), Danielle Aufiero and Amber Horn (Aufiero/Horn Casting) suggested that not only do you not need a famous actor, but getting one could be the wrong choice for your film. “You don’t need names in your film, only studios need names in the film,” said Mikkelsen. “Indie filmmakers need to tell a story in a visual way, and properly cast actors to tell the story. You are making yourself a name; famous people take you out of the film. But a beautiful cast launches careers.”

Getting the right cast, according to the panel, should be about picking the right talent and the right look. (The Martin Scorsese quote, “More than 90% of directing a picture is the right casting,” was the concept for this panel.) If you are thinking about casting your next film, we compiled some helpful information from the panel on how to get it right and launch your career.

“We are your biggest advocate and cheerleader, and we make the introductions to agents and managers for you.”

Why hire a casting director?

If you have zero budget, or if you just really have the perfect part for someone you know, great. But consider what a casting director can get you. “If you’re going to cast your friends, they might not pop as much as the best actors for the part, for the budget,” said Aufiero. “We are your biggest advocate and cheerleader, and we make the introductions to agents and managers for you,” added Horn. According to Mikkelsen, as a director, you need this champion so you can focus on everything else. “Hire a casting director so you have someone who is very focused on the casting for you, so you can focus on the visual storytelling plan. You need someone who will obsess over that department, and who brings training and experience.”

How casting worked on festival hit The Greasy Strangler

Aufiero and Horn were the casting directors on the SXSW 2016 film The Greasy Strangler by emerging director Jim Hosking. They helped Hosking find the perfect cast for his film. He had a strong visual perspective and a clear voice, and after playing Sundance and SXSW, the film traveled the world on the festival circuit before its day-and-date theatrical/streaming release in the U.S. Now, having just premiered his second film An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, the success of Hosking's strong visual style translated into getting name actors the second time around. As Horn mentioned, “After [The Greasy Strangler], actors wanted to work with Jim Hosking, they jumped at the chance to work with him,” including Aubrey Plaza, Jemaine Clement, Emile Hirsch and Craig Robinson.

An-evening-with-beverly-luff-linn-movieA still from Jim Hosking's second feature, "An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn" starring Aubrey Plaza, Jemaine Clement, Emile Hirsch and Craig Robinson.Credit: An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn

How to prepare yourself to meet with a casting director

According to the panel, everything is built on personal relationships, so letting a casting director know everything you can that could get them some mileage with your casting will help a lot. You’ll want to answer these questions, as this is what they will be asking you to help them understand what you are looking for:

  • What is the film's title?
  • What is the film's budget?
  • If you are not the director, is a director attached and if so, when does the director come to the project?
  • Is the film fully financed or is financing cast contingent? And who is funding? (Friends and family versus an established production company)
  • Do you currently have the funds to hire a casting director? If so, what is your budget for the casting director fee?
  • Does the film have a distribution company and a sales company?
  • When are you looking for a casting director to start working?
  • Do you want a casting director to cast the total film?
  • What are the total number of speaking roles?
  • What is the start date?
  • Where are you planning to shoot?
  • How many days is the shoot?
  • Is the script out to any actors or talent or any agencies?
  • Do you have offers out to any actors?
  • Which, if any, actors do you currently have attached?
  • Any other heads of department attached?

What a casting director does

Obviously, a casting director casts your film, but how exactly do they do it? Starting with a breakdown and a look book from the director (this is something all panelists strongly recommended), these are several parts of the process the casting director will handle after getting that information:

  • Creates lists and ideas
  • Holds sessions with actors
  • Searches for actors
  • Comes up with ideas for actors
  • Offers constructive feedback to director & producer about casting prospects & ideas
  • Brings knowledge of the craft of acting & the psychology of actors
  • Navigates agents, managers, attorneys, publicists

How long does it take to cast a feature film?

The panel concurred that while there are always exceptions for shorter and longer time periods, the standard for casting is 10 weeks. Want to find the right casting director for your next film? Get started at Casting Society of America.

See all of our coverage of SXSW 2018.

Featured image: 'The Greasy Strangler', directed by Jim Hosking, cast by Danielle Aufiero and Amber Horn of Aufiero/Horn Casting.