Ellen Chenoweth Shares Tips on How to Be an Efficient Casting Director

It’s true, casting directors are the unsung heroes of every production. They’re the backbone of every production. While the job is oftentimes rewarding, the casting process can be a challenge. From understanding the script to get to know the characters to finding the right actor for the role, it takes more than just basic knowledge about the industry to be a good casting director.

Lucky for you, the industry is now home to casting directors who have polished their skills and are ready to guide the newer ones to be better at what they do. One of them is Ellen Chenoweth.

Casting Tips from Ellen Chenoweth

Gathering the best actors to take on the roles in a film is no easy task, take it from Ellen Chenoweth herself, the award-winning casting director behind No Country for Old Men (2007) and True Grit (2010). An entire day of interviews isn’t even enough to fill the spots. Don’t be dismayed, though! The hurdles in the industry are necessary to help you blossom into a world-renowned casting director.

To guide you, Ellen has shared her secrets on how to be an efficient casting director. Here’s what she has to say.

Ellen Chenoweth at the Spirit Awards

1. Scout for your candidates yourself.

Don’t sit idly in your office waiting for the candidate with the most amazing credentials to walk in. Instead, go out there and look for people with potential yourself, even if you’re not hiring at the moment.

It pays to have a lot of options so when casting season starts, you have a list of talents to choose from. Call your acting teacher friends, visit their plays, and watch out for the brilliant performers. Better yet, hold online auditions so you can save time and cut costs.

2. Make room for innovative performance.

In the film industry, there are different lists you can pick actors from. Most of the time, casting directors do that; however, this sometimes leads to poor, dull, and habitual performance. As much as possible, consider those candidates who seem “unfit” for the part then mold them into the perfect person for the role.

Do it like Ellen, she skipped the list of notable comedians and chose a less visible actor—Brad Pitt—to play a stupid health buff. As a result, the movie Burn After Reading became one of the goofiest plays in Hollywood and Chad Feldheimer remains the goofiest role Brad Pitt has ever done.

Innovative Performance

3. Bad interviews don’t mean bad talents.

Don’t let a brilliant talent slip away just because of a failed interview. More than a one-off interview, an impressive résumé should speak for their acting abilities.

Ellen Chenoweth once said, “I know they can do better. I know that they’re right for this in a way that they didn’t show us.” If you sense candidates are off their game during the first try, don’t hesitate to give them a second chance.

4. Stick with your first pick.

You might find yourself in the middle of sparring with other casting directors because of your choice, and that’s okay! Ellen suggests that you never concede without putting up a fight to defend your first talent pick.

Casting directors may not see the same potentials you saw. But if you try hard enough, you might rally them on your side to take your advice.

First Pick

5. Avoid rush decisions.

“There are some directors who just want to get it done and make decisions,” Ellen shared. “Sometimes you have to try to slow it down and say I have a few more people I really want you to see before you decide.”

If you still have time to spare, use it to your advantage to scout for the best talents. In the end, you’ll realize that fine-tuning all the characters really pays off.

6. Learn to look past the candidates’ known strengths.

There are candidates who possess great strengths without even knowing they have them, and one thing you must master to be an efficient casting director is to learn to look for them. Once you spot their unknown forte, you can decide how the candidate will best suit the film’s needs.

Oftentimes, you’ll put talents on uneasy, uncomfortable, unfamiliar roles and they might not realize you’re helping them. Nonetheless, the experience will challenge their acting and creative abilities.

These tips from Ellen Chenoweth will advance your career as a casting director if you use them right. Besides these, you must also take notes during auditions, make talents feel comfortable, and compliment candidates if necessary.

Always have the right attitude and skills for the job, and you’ll surely cast the best ones!

As most work goes paperless and digital, so does a casting director’s job. “The biggest change in the business is taped versus in-person auditions,” says Rhavynn Drummer, casting director at Tyler Perry Studios. She says out of every 30 or so people she auditions, at least half are on tape. Previously, we discussed how holding online auditions can help in the casting process. This time, we’ll tell you how it also can actually reduce casting expenses.

Why Holding Online Auditions Is Actually Cheaper

Holding Online Auditions

No need to secure an audition space

Finding the perfect face and personality for each role can take so much time. Imagine the long lines and the possible whole-day process of waiting for more actors to come after only a few did. If you actually rented out the venue, this is bad news. If you didn’t, you’ll have to keep coming back to the venue until all the roles are filled. Instead of having to go through the ordeal that securing an audition space entails, you can now watch auditionees’ demo reels and audition tapes from the comfort of your own office or home.

No more papers

From copies of particular pages of the script to printouts of probably over a hundred information sheets, organizing online auditions now relieves you from the hassle of printing and photocopying. Holding online auditions means online forms, which are now available to help you out. Send the excerpts to them online, and they’ll have enough time to internalize their approach before going on tape. Organizing the actors by name, role, experience, or probability of being cast also won’t be as difficult as manually doing that to hard copies.

No more posters and permissions

Having to travel to key locations where actors may (or may not) take notice of your audition posters can now be skipped. Take advantage of the wonders of social media to promote and spread the word about your upcoming project. You’ll be surprised by the number of people who will actually take interest in it, share your post to their walls, and tag their friends. This means more prospects!

Fund-raising campaigns

If you’re a beginner filmmaker or a film student, you’re in for a treat. LA-based casting director Marci Liroff started a fund-raising campaign for a low-budget indie film on Kickstarter, allowing actors to connect with the project by contributing money. Actor Erin Cronican has used Kickstarter and the similar site IndieGoGo to fund her own projects, and by showing interest in other people’s projects, she has landed auditions and booked roles, she says.

As the internet is taking over today’s world to make our lives easier, performers are now using it to their advantage in auditioning and looking for work. Casting directors should too.

The job of a casting director requires more than just having the patience to sit through a number of auditions. Before you can even organize an acting audition, you need to read the script and analyze it. Then you have to meet with the director of the film, the screenwriter, and the producer to know the type of actors the film needs.

Although the role the casting director plays in the whole filmmaking process remains unknown to some, they hold a position just as important as everyone in the crew.

Trying to determine whether an actor is the perfect guy for the role can be a challenge. To guide you, we gathered a few tips for casting directors from the experts in the field.

Helpful Tips for Casting Directors

If you are working on a new project, here are a few tips for casting directors you will definitely find helpful.

Filmmaking Process

1. Have an eye for talent

This is the skill every casting director must have. The whole production team relies on your ability to choose the best of the bunch. You can’t present a talent who can’t read a line properly before the movie director.

Hone your skills. Study the previous works of more experienced casting directors or do more castings until you’re good enough yourself to tell right away whether or not a talent is the best person for the role.

2. Make the talent feel comfortable

One of the best tips for casting directors is to avoid being too intimidating. Maybe it helps in some ways, but appearing scary will only give talents the nerves. As much as possible, try to look friendly. A simple act of hospitality like offering them a cup of coffee or a glass of water will do the trick. Or start a small talk before getting to a more serious discussion.

Acting Audition

3. Take notes

It pays to take notes. It’s up to you what you want to pen down, maybe the talent’s strengths and weaknesses? Not only will this help you when time comes you have to give them the results, it will also give the actor a clearer picture of what they have to work on.

4. Give praise where it’s due

Everybody deserves to hear compliments, so do not hesitate to give praise where praise is due. Highlight their strong points, but do not exaggerate. This is a good way of encouraging them to work harder and achieve even bigger goals as an artist.

5. Don’t make promises

As a casting director, you will meet one talented actor after another, which is a really good thing because that means you’re getting closer and closer to meeting the best person for the job. But one of the things a casting director must remember is that it would do everyone good if no promises were made.

You may be facing a really promising talent right now, but it’s possible that the next one you meet is better at unleashing emotions. Promises will only result in disappointments, so you might want to save everyone from that.

Casting can be harder than what it looks, but if you have the right attitude and skills for the job, you will surely produce a work that exceeds expectations.

There’s a reason we call directors filmmakers. It’s inside their minds that the film is first created before it hits our screen. But of course, we should not throw away the fact that they are not the only ones that make the film. There’s the screenwriter, the lighting director, the cinematographer, and of course, the actors.

Filmmaking

Finding the actor perfect for a particular role is a crucial part of filmmaking. And you as the casting director are the one tasked to gather the best talents that will make the movie the wonder that it should be. It’s not as easy as it seems, though, considering the acting industry is like a whole sky of stars deserving to be seen and marveled at.

So how does a casting director choose the one? To help you out, here are some tips for finding the right actor for your film.

Casting 101: Tips for Finding the Right Actor for Your Film

Selecting a few out of a bunch is never an easy task, even in movie casting. Here are some must-remember pieces of advice to guide you.

1. Choose an actor that has a wide emotional range

A film needs more than just one emotion. No matter its length, may it be as short as the Oscar-nominated hundred-second-long film Fresh Guacamole (2012) or as long as the 857-hour film Logistics, every movie is expected to show more than just one type of emotion. So it is important that you hire an actor that is able to show a wide range of feelings and emotion and is effective enough in doing so that they are able to make the audience feel the same. Moreover, see if the actor can improvise.

Actor Leonardo De Caprio

2. Find an actor whose acting exudes authenticity

True enough, acting is all pretense, but the character an actor plays is someone that might have existed in the past, currently alive and breathing, or is someone the world is yet to know. Nevertheless, they are portraying a figure that isn’t entirely fictional and has experiences real people can relate to. So when looking for the perfect actor for a role, make it a point to look for someone who can breathe life into a character as realistically as possible. Is their acting convincing enough? Does the way they speak move you? Do their actions and gestures place you in the same “situation” their character is in?

Directing

3. Make sure the actor can take directions well

It isn’t all about talent. One of the most important tips for finding the right actor for your film is to make sure you look into their personality too. Hire someone whom you believe will listen to the director and can take directions properly. Look for an actor that can take on board constructive feedback and is willing to work on what they’re told they lack. This is to make sure their relationship with the filmmaker and everybody on the set remains harmonious.

Most importantly, cast someone who can give the performance people crave for. Not everybody knows the job description of a casting director, but what you do is just as important as everyone’s in the production team. Do not hesitate to give new talent equal opportunity to show what they’ve got, just like how you take the time to watch a seasoned actor act. Do your job like the whole movie depends on it.