I don't only work on showreels. When I have the time (and energy) I enjoy producing my own work. I've made over 18 short films to date, and here are some things I've learned about casting
I've got to turn down 99.99% of you
The cold hard reality is that if 200 people apply for one role, I have to 'turn down' 199 of you. It sounds simple in writing, but the reality may result in you feeling let down or a failure. I can almost guarantee that this is not the case. Casting is a numbers game, and I think if more actors realised this then it would be both good for them and their mental health. We 'crew' also go through a similar pattern of hit and miss, but I think it's less personal as our work is somewhat separate from ourselves and self-image, so it is slightly more detached. I get a sense when an actor gets turned down for a role, they typically take it much more personally and to heart as though it's a slight on them. My advice is to see the casting as a missed opportunity rather than a sign of failure. Keep going, keep applying, and eventually something will stick. You will then have the energy to succeed in that role and to build on it with confidence - we want actors who are committed after all, and it can be a turn off when an actor is downtrodden from the struggle of working the industry. If you can understand that it's a numbers game, you won't take casting so personally.
Make it easy for me to cast you (not harder)
You wouldn't believe how many people I would have to follow up on if I had the time to do so. I sent out 500 or so confirmation emails recently, and over 60 came back as 'sender unavailable' as I assume their emails were spelt incorrectly. I mean... really?! How do you expect to get a job if I can't contact you? Also, typically, people will ask me to download something, or follow a link somewhere, or search for their links, this is a big no-no. You must make it easy for your potential employer to hire you. If you ask me to do something additional to the application, then the overwhelming probability is that I won't and you will be thrown onto the no-pile. Sorry to say, but I just have too many applicants to sift through. You really, really need to make it easy for the person casting. Make it difficult, even by just 1%, and it will work against you. Have all your links sorted and viewable online, send url's not downloads, be clear and precise, and you stand a good chance that someone will actually take notice of you.
Present yourself well
I do judge actors based on their cover letters. How the text is written, use of spelling and errors, slang, and professionalism - I want to see that you're taking the application seriously, and it not just some throwaway thing you did between other more important things. Whilst I understand that you can't write individual mini-essays for each job you apply for, a little bit of personality goes a long way. I also want to know that you've actually read the breakdown and possibly even glanced at the script. If you only say something to the affect of "hire me", I probably won't. Recently I was casting for something, and I had to check with almost half the applicants whether they had actually read what they were applying for because it wasn't clear from their cover letter. It's another one of those things that just blows my mind. There is an opportunity to do something, you've got to present your best self. If you don't, it will only work against you. You will be judged on how you present yourself.
Have a showreel
If you don't, why not? Yes, they can be costly, but without a showreel I'm not sure how you can expect to be cast. Even with student films, they will likely ask for something. Obviously I'm in the game of providing footage, but even if you don't film with me, you must, must have something to send. A lot more castings (especially for film) are happening online, so if you don't have anything to send, you're going to struggle. The next step after that is to have something you are proud of and is going to stand you out from the crowd. You want your reel to show you, clearly and precisely, whilst demonstrating your ability and range. I want to see you act naturally, as well as something more rememberable so I know you can take direction. I've got plenty more detailed posts on this subject, so feel free to snoop. But I must say, the overwhelming probability if you don't have a showreel, is that you won't get cast.
One thing I admire and take note of is how quickly someone replies. Often a project can be quite stressful, and if you take a few days to reply, it can sow doubt in my mind. Are you committed? Too busy? Forgetful? Or just plain lazy? All things you should try and avoid. If you see an email, you should reply ASAP. It will go a long way, and will probably help your chances of building a lasting relationship ten-fold.
Lastly, be professional
Keeping professional is difficult to do, I know. Especially as conversation tends to end up 'matey'. But you should remember that in all correspondence with a production person or team, you are presenting yourself as both a business and employee. You want to be hired, so we don't need to know how stressful things have been for you recently. Present a professional front, and you will be treated as such - and if you're not, you will be able to jump ship with your head held high. There is an online culture within social media that has broken-through this aspect to what we do, not completely, but largely we can see what each other are doing day to day. I would advise that if you want to take your career seriously, you should remain professional at all times.
Thank you for reading 'What I've Learned From Casting My Own Films'
I've been making films for over ten years now, so my thoughts and opinions have formed from that practical experience. Therefore my biggest piece of advice is to go out there and try it for yourself - it's the best way to learn. If you agree or disagree with any of my points, I'd love to hear from you. Tweet @DHshowreels with your suggestions!