3 Tips on How You Can Encourage Diversity on a Low-Budget Set

Statistics on the homogeneity of many Hollywood films continue to be lousy. 

Filmmaker J. Rick Castañeda creates worlds on screen that accurately represent historically underrepresented people, while still keeping features to a finite budget. One big piece of that puzzle for him? Casting, casting, casting!

This USC Annenberg study points out that out of 900 popular films in 2016, just 3.1% of characters with lines were Hispanic. Ouch! Castañeda decided that on his second feature film, a surreal office workplace born out of his experience temping in Hollywood, he would continue a few tricks he learned on his first feature and would represent more people from more places (and more countries). On some sets, getting out of your comfort zone to create diversity can be a challenge. But other times, it's as easy as keeping the camera populated by actual members of your community.

Castañeda offered a few tips on how he works for more accurate representation on screen, sometimes saving money in the process! Check out the video below that Castañeda and his production company Pyschic Bunny created about the diversified cast and crew, and what it means to them to be working on this latest film, All Sorts, together.

When it comes to casting, here is the approach that Rick takes to not only encourage better representation on film, but as a way to also save money.

1.Cast from diverse areas

“This helps especially with background actors. Invite the local community to be a part of the film, and your film will reflect the community,” said Castaneda, continuing “It saves on housing and travel, and on a no-budget film, locals will be less concerned with paychecks and more concerned with seeing movie magic firsthand. With my first film, I was often praised for having diversity in my winery scenes, when that wasn’t something I set out to do at all. It just happened to be who showed up.”

2. Write it into the script

“If you really want diversity in your lead characters,” explained Castaneda, "write it into the script. I’ve found that if you don’t, then 80% of the actors who show up to audition will be white. We often had trouble finding actresses to audition for our lead Asian-American role, whereas our Caucasian supporting roles were busting with applications. The script is always the cheapest place to make casting decisions.”

"I’m always worried about saying the wrong thing and offending somebody. But I’m starting to grow out of that, thankfully. I’d rather just cast who I want to cast.”

3. Know that it’s hard to talk about race and ethnicity

“I used to think it was much easier to cast all white people than it was to deal with any racial themes that come up if you have a diverse cast,” said Castaneda. “It took me a long time to get out of that mindset. I’m always worried about saying the wrong thing and offending somebody. But I’m starting to grow out of that, thankfully. I’d rather just cast who I want to cast.”

If you’d like to check out more of Castañeda’s work, there’s a little time left on the Kickstarter campaign for All Sorts, and after that, follow @RickCastaneda for updates.     

Featured header image of cast in Rick Castaneda's new film, courtesy the 'All Sorts' Kickstarter Campaign page.

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


4. Be a decent human being and both care about and get connected and involved with the communities around you that look different than yourself. A: it makes you a more empathetic well rounded person, and B: your films will have a much richer depth and greater impact on the world.

It’s one thing to diversity your films with the talent you choose and “check all the boxes”, it’s an entirely different thing to actually be connected and caring about communities that are different than your own.

July 21, 2018 at 3:43PM

You voted '+1'.
John Haas

Hear, hear!

August 2, 2018 at 11:59AM

Liz Nord
Documentary Filmmaker/Multi-platform Producer

It's not just connecting with people who look different than you (though that's part of it for sure). It's connecting with people who hold different beliefs and values. Otherwise you're left with a façade of diversity, but the interior of the community will be just as closed off as any other group that excludes people for arbitrary reasons.

August 20, 2018 at 7:50PM

Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom

And most importantly add diversity to the personalities and minds of the characters. If you have 19 different pigeonholed characters who think and behave the same... ehh actually just make something entertaining

July 21, 2018 at 5:41PM

Aaron Harper
Rental House Manager

Why does 'diversity' always mean race/ethnicity?
Just be broad in casting criteria and then hire the most talented people, regardless of race and ethnicity (or sex) or any other of the hundreds of categories in which people can vary.
Positive discrimination based on arbitrary human characteristics helps no one, least of all your film, especially if you pass on better talent to satisfy 'social justice'...

August 21, 2018 at 2:10AM

Matt Carter
VFX Artist / Director / DP / Writer / Composer / Alexa Owner

If it is right for the story, then it is right.

August 21, 2018 at 11:30AM