Authentic CastingIf you’ve ever seen an Italian neorealist movie from the post-World-War-II era, you may have been amazed at how impactful the actors were, and came to the conclusion that the leading man is famous for his genuine performances and his appearance happens to be the perfect fit for the character. How else could the director make the acting so life-like? The reality is that these directors cast authentic men with little to no acting experience; just talent and the right look.

By Hollywood’s standards, the “right look” generally refers to the actor’s signature style and mannerisms, which is considered “signature” when a director has acknowledged a certain characteristic of an actor that fits brilliantly into a role, and other directors see the movie and want that brilliant trait in their own movies, until the said actor becomes famous for the said trait, and drives box office success through the roof.

This is why we see the same actor in a lot of certain types of American movies, and even in seemingly random ones, because he or she becomes so desirable that they will make any movie a huge hit. In Italy, however, the right look is not necessarily the most popular one. The directors seek a special face for a special occasion. They know what they want, find people off the streets who’ve got what they need, and let them do their thing. In the end they’ve made an unforgettable production.

If you would like to adopt this authentic method of casting to direct your own movies, you will need to envision your character, recruit people who match that character, then watch and learn.

Envision

In your script, who is the main character? What important characteristics does he or she have? Visualize him or her in detail. Incorporate the more subtle aspects of this character into your imagination, such as the timbre of voice and nervous habits if there are any. Avoid generally comparing your ideal role to the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio or any other famous actor, as this will defeat the purpose of discovering raw talent for an authentic performance.  When you read a book, do you not envision the characters possessing the unique traits described in the story? Treat your script like a storybook, and search for individuals who already portray the unique archetype.

Recruit

It is indeed unreasonable to find someone who has every trait you imagined for your character. That is why you must prioritize before you begin to recruit. Which features are most significant- freckles and blonde hair? Short with a thick moustache? When you narrow down what you are looking for most, then you can find a multitude of those kind of people from a plethora of sources. Maybe you saw someone in a recent indie movie who fits the mould, or remembered the distinct voice of someone in a play. There is always a local group or organization you could visit that is meant for specific types of people, and general places that targets a type of audience. It may be overwhelming to even know where to start looking. Hence you might narrow things down by asking yourself, “If I were this character in real life, where would I be?” If it still seems tedious to constantly watch movies and visit different places until you find the right person, you could always do what many directors have already done: read the Book.

  1. The Book is actually two sets of books in one: the Academy Directory and the Players’ Guide. They are further divided into sections called “Ingénue”, “Leading Man”, “Character Actor”, “Children”, and “Specialties”. In these sections you will find small pictures of actors and descriptions, including their agent’s phone number. It may seem convenient, but there are thousands of actors listed, and they may all begin to look like they could fit your image, or none of them look like a match, and the actor who probably does is not mentioned in the Book because they couldn’t afford the fee to be included. Besides, you most likely haven’t witnessed any of these actors performing in person! You might find then, that actively recruiting actors isn’t such an arduous task after all.
  2. Acting schools are the perfect place to begin your search. Many acting/theatre students have raw talent just waiting to be discovered, and they also have the willingness to participate in your movie for little to no profit if it means getting their foot in the door and their face in the limelight. You need not travel to a prestigious school, either; there is potential talent in any acting class! You simply need to observe and take notes. They may be just beginning to learn professionally, but there is little to teach regarding the character image you want them to fulfill because based on the skills they already use, they could effortlessly fulfill that role. Better yet, if the way they naturally act seems to shine through or even overpower their performance, their true personality could be exactly what you’re looking for, but because it dominates over the character they were trying to portray when you observed them, you will already have a clear picture of what behavior is suitable and not suitable for this actor so that they will be more natural when it’s time to act for you. You will also gain more of a realistic perspective of your character by imagining the student (or whoever the person is that you observe) as him or her. You are essentially bringing reality to your imagined idea. What is your character like as a real person? Could he or she do what this acting student is doing? Could the way this student acts enhance my character? Because students know about acting yet make mistakes periodically, they may be just the right kind of people to give your ideal character practical faults. They are not completely lacking in experience, so they might have just the right amount of newness to elicit unrehearsed sincerity when they perform for you!
  3. While it is beneficial to reach out to potential candidates, the best way bring them to you is by having a casting call. Your producer will use the Hollywood Reporter or Backstage and announce an open casting call. If you do not want thousands of people trying to audition, the producer will instead announce a limited casting call, in which you describe what specific traits you require the candidates to have. In the meantime, other people in the industry will know an actor who might fit your description, and tell you to watch certain movies or plays. You will need to do this frequently and take notes to increase the chances of finding your match and ultimately ensure the success of your authentically-casted movie!
  4. You can find casting directors in the Business Yellow Pages, the Television Academy, the DGA, and many other places. They have already searched high and low for aspiring actors and people new to the industry, and are eager to review your script and take on the task of actively recruiting so that you don’t have to. In addition to suggesting actors, they contact their agents, order their pictures, and set up and appointment for them to meet with you and read your script. They charge $500 to $2000 per day for the convenience, but it is well worth paying if you are inexperienced and want to make sure the details are taken care of promptly and accurately. If this is too pricey, though, there are still plenty of casting consultants who are lesser known, more personal, and are willing to do half of the work for half of the price. You may need to contact each actor’s agent and discuss comprehensive financial plans yourself, but what they contribute will still be worth the quality.
  5. If you still do not have the financial resources to hire a casting director, you can always host your own casting call! Simply place an advertisement in the Hollywood Reporter or Variety, and describe your criteria. For example, it is a good idea to mention that they need to contact you and send in professional photos before coming in for an audition. If your movie is very low budget, make sure to say so up front, and many will still be eager to get their faces out there. When they do meet with you in person, make each appointments a half hour apart, so that you (and two other people for critiques) have time to analyze the audition and take a break. Let them know that you will call them if you want them to return for a second appointment officially reciting your script.
  6. You can choose any two people to help you critique the auditions and script performance, but it is a great idea to have one of them be the producer him/herself, especially if you have hired one who knows how to do his or her obligations efficiently and cooperatively. He might be in charge of recruiting the rest of the crew and negotiating contracts. He might also be called to help arrange the shoot, and manage the post-production process as well as the pre-production. Specific obligations depend on the standards you set for him in his services agreement, but the more he can do, the more expensive he may be! Producers are generally entitled to two percent of the film company’s budget, which can be anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 depending on the type of film production, how well known the producer is, and whether or not the film is low-budget. If you hire an inexperienced, or lesser known producer, though, he will still be able to help you analyze the actors and provide insightful feedback that goes beyond your own knowledge.
  7.  Watch and Learn.

With the two people you’ve chosen to help judge- maybe the producer and associate producer- observe the actors and take detailed notes about how they act out your script. How deeply do their emotions seem to run? How natural are their movements?

Though it is not necessary for them to have experience, you may want to take a couple of acting classes yourself. This way, you will be able to familiarize yourself with basic performing arts terms, and identify with common mistakes in script reading. You will then be able to use what you’ve learned to guide your actors better. For instance, you will know how to prevent an actress from becoming desensitized to the fear-inducing line that used to make her voice quiver. You’ll also learn not to direct the actors to speak louder or talk faster, because you will realize that this advice is counterproductive. It does not give the actors insight about your perception of their character, neither does it give them motivation or a reason to compromise their interpretation of the line they are reading in order to better understand their character.

The actors will want to know their character’s background story, and might ask questions that seem more elaborate than what you thoroughly envisioned in step one. This is your chance to conjure up answers and contribute to giving even more dimension to the character. Your actor my want to know the character’s favorite music artist, or religious preference, or even his or her zodiac sign. If you have not thought about such things, do not push them aside as irrelevant. When you help the actors embellish the story for their character, their role will begin to feel less played, and more artistically real, until the hard line between acting and being looks smudged to perfection. You as the director will also need to render or erase many parts of the original script to be molded into the actors’ insightful portrayals of the characters.

Be productive by communicating authentically. Ask your actors what their goal is in performing the line the way they do. Ask them what they need in order to act as organically as possible. Some might need similes and scenarios (“Look down the hall as if there is a ghost”). Others may need a prompt from their past (“Recall a time when you felt lonely”). You don’t need to become their psychiatrist, but it is certainly helpful to know the actors’ needs, and to learn their art. An unsuccessful film is often the result of the director enforcing his vision without yielding to suggestions from the actors (or the producer, or any other members of the crew).

He will have a healthy, vivid image that, when not adapted to the needs and desires of the actors, has a sick, dull conveyance upon the final production. He either ignores the chemistry between two actors in favor of getting the right shot with the camera, or becomes impatient with the lack of chemistry between them, and tries to coerce them into being compelled to each other. If any of the actors’ real emotions conflict with the script, the director discourages the actors from expressing them, without first inquiring why the actors feel how they feel and gently explaining why their feelings may not compliment the scene or character. These are the quickest ways to producing a film that looks thrown together with terrible actors and no effort; a story that’s fake.

Now you now know the secret to European film masterpieces made from scratch. You know that in order to bring an original idea to fruition, you must imagine it from practically thin air. You know that your characters will be hand crafted with the help of actors who are already installed with the material you need. You know that you will then have to nurture these actors, so that they can grow into your characters, and you can grow your characters into them. Your authentic casting method will result in an entertainment phenomenon that is authentically and organically produced!