As a courtesy to clients, we provide some of the answers to the most commonly asked questions below. But Stephen is more than happy to step clients and those considering becoming one through any questions they may have over the phone. As a veteran casting director and industry leader, he’s an authority on casting strategies, procedures, union requirements and just about anything you may want to know about how your project can proceed more efficiently regarding casting. So feel free to give him a call at 206.903.6500.
Q. I’ve not hired a casting director before. What does a casting director do, anyway?
A. Unfortunately, casting seems to be a very mysterious business. In fact, I was giving a talk on casting at a production seminar and one of my clients for whom I’d worked for about 15 years was in the audience. Afterward he said, “I had no idea what you got through on every job!” The truth is, the answer to this question is actually pretty involved depending on the job. But a trained casting director is as much a specialist about talent as the director of photography is about lenses and exposures. They’re extremely attuned to the subtleties of performance that separate the perfect actor from the part from a really good one and why. They also have to know how to give the least amount of effective direction to foster and bring forth the actor’s own creative vision for the character. They understand about the financial aspect of what the market bears for certain actors and how to fashion a proper offer package and the right timing to offer it. Feel free to give me a call and I’ll be glad to step through the process for you and answer any questions you may have about your project. You can also find some of this answered in an article I wrote several years back for the Media Inc. trade paper, here. In addition, I absolutely recommend seeing the excellent HBO documentary, “Casting By” which is the best source for information about professional casting and how it’s supposed to be done!
Q. Why should I hire a casting director when I can find the actors myself? Doesn’t a casting director just say, “Let’s see…I’ll pick this actor and this one and so on…” and then just hand me a bill?
A. This is the common misconception about casting. And some untrained people who claim to be casting directors are most guilty of perpetuating it. Producers who have hired these people who haven’t been properly trained as casting directors are left mostly with problems and no real experience of what a trained professional can bring to their productions. Naive casting mistakes can create huge artistic, financial and logistical liabilities for producers. An aspiring casting director should definitely apprentice to gain their experience rather than trying to do so by making costly mistakes on their client’s time and at their expense. I cover this subject in more detail in a short article I wrote for MEDIA, INC. trade magazine about casting as a time-honored profession. You can read it by clicking here.
Q. Why shouldn’t I just post an ad on Craigslist and get actors to submit themselves?
A. That is definitely a route many take who don’t know any better about the pitfalls to that strategy. But if you’ve ever been on a dating site and seen the way people describe themselves, you’ve realized that people are not objective about themselves ion terms of their appearance or their skill level. So when you get submissions from actors, you’re way more likely to get people who are completely wrong for the parts you’re casting. When you hire a trained professional who’s job it is to stay up on the abilities of actors because they’re regularly auditioning them, you’re seeing the maximum number of actors who are serious contenders for the parts and not those that aren’t. A trained professional looks at casting “by volume numbers” as a waste of the client’s time so they’re invested in doing the job as efficiently as possible, which conserves both production time and budget.
Q. Do you have a resume and references?
A. I do, but after accumulating 31 years of casting credentials on close to 5000 projects in Los Angeles and the Northwest, most clients find Stephen’s Bio under the About Us section more useful than a resume’. For obvious reasons, I don’t post contact information for our references online, but feel free to call and I’ll be glad to provide them. Or you can review the Client Comments to read the rave reviews our clients are giving us!
Q. What are your fees for casting?
A. We have standard rates for commercials, industrials, print and voice-overs, which we will gladly provide upon client request. Typically, we charge a “Prep” charge for setting up the casting session(s) and casting “Days” for each session. We also charge for the posting of the session to the clients which requires the use of proprietary software and maintenance and logging of the session posting. For feature film and television work, every job is different and requires a different fee schedule based upon the production budget, the number of talent needed, the challenges each production presents etc. Feel free to call us and we’ll be glad to give you an estimate tailored for your project. Also, most clients call before they bid a job so that they’ll be able to factor my fees into their bid and for expert consultation on what the going rates are for paying talent. We’re happy to help quote a market rate whether we handle the job or not…
Q. I’m a little confused by your commercial and industrial Prep charges. Why do you charge your Prep by number of characters rather than by number of days like some other casting directors?
A. It’s actually more economical for the client and more efficient for us. We may take several days to Prep a project that requires two characters which is far more effective in determining the best candidates from which to choose, who are available at the time and we can still keep the cost down to one prep charge. Or we may get a last-minute “cry for help” from a client that requires a far larger cast list. If we charge a Prep “per day” with only one day to prep, then we end up on the short end and are not paid in proportion to the actual work we’ll cram into that day should we take the project on. We charge one prep rate for every seven characters that are specifically different. Example: If the cast requires ten moms that are all Caucasian and between 25 and 35 years old, that equals one specific character even though we’re beyond seven roles. If one of those moms has to be Asian, that equals two specific characters and so on.
Q. What if I don’t have the budget to hire you to do the prep and the casting session but I still want to utilize your expertise about access to the best actors for my project. Can I hire you to do the prep and I’ll do the auditions at my office or studio?
A. Absolutely. We can set up, organize, schedule and maintain the entire casting session along with negotiation and booking services for just our prep charge while you run the session at your facility.
Q. Why can’t you start your prep even though our client hasn’t gotten us all the specs yet? Can’t we get you what we’ve got and add to it as our client gets it to us?
A. Well, we can but for every distinct change to the characters, it’s like re-starting the job for us so we have to generate a new prep charge because the old specs have become outdated. Even worse, with so much information being given piecemeal, the possibility of miscommunication increases exponentially between you, use, the agents we contact, the actors, all of which can cause many production problems. For these reasons, we prefer to start when all the specs are in and up to date.
Q. Why are your payment terms, ‘Due immediately upon receipt of invoice’ instead of ‘net 30’ like everyone else?
A. Because we are outstanding longer than everyone else on the crew. Casting is the first production activity undertaken after the job awards and most producers pay the checks at the end of the shoot even though half of the production budget’s money is usually deposited up-front to start the job. So our expenses start sooner than the rest of the crew. Even still, most times we’re paid within about two weeks of billing which usually puts us even with everyone else. We also offer a two week grace period for payment.
Q. Do you cast non-union projects too?
A. Yes, we do and we are industry specialists in negotiating a fair agreement with actors within your budget given the scope of the work and its usage. However, we prefer to work under the union codes because we have access to more and generally better talent to cast your production. We can also advise you on the possibilities for being able to cast your job union even if you are not signatory to the applicable union code. Frequently, it’s easier than you may think depending on the project and we’re experts on knowing when and how it can be done. We also make sure that all negotiations are handled up front with talent and their representatives so you don’t get any “surprises” after you’ve gone through the casting process which would be extremely problematic and a huge waste of your production time just when you need it most!
Q. Do you cast extras?
A. No, we handle principal talent only. Since extras are generally paid the lowest possible rates, they tend to fall in and out of production and require far more maintenance than would be financially feasible for us to take on if we were to charge a rate for our time that would be competitive with the principal casting we do. So it’s far cheaper for production to ask a P.A. to handle it as it requires no special training and essentially constitutes “personnel wrangling.” However, when we do principal casting for you, you may chose extras yourself from among the talent we auditioned for the principal parts who didn’t get booked for those roles. You can easily offer them extras roles provided you contact them through their agents or directly if talent is freelance as we provide contact information for everyone.
Q. How do I view the talent and their auditions?
A. We use the FastCast capture and delivery system from LA Casting. This state-of-the-art, data-based, proprietary software is the most efficient, user-friendly presentation system ever devised for viewing casting sessions. Clients get their own links on which they can make casting notes attributed specifically to them for others on the production team to read who can also make their own individual picks and comments. Talent are shown in thumbnails and you can access their video audition by clicking on their thumbnail and the video can be either streamed or downloaded in either Windows Media or Quicktime files. Talent’s headshots and resume’s are also immediately accessible by clicking on them. For callbacks, we always advise live attendance by clients to insure the director gets a chance to “try out” their potential relationship with the actors they intend to cast before making their final decision.
Q. I have a really great script and I want you to get George Clooney and/or Tom Hanks to commit to it and then I can get the funding. Will you do it?
A. Unless you actually know George or Tom personally and can get them to sign on to your film without their agent’s oversight on a formal offer, then the answer is “sorry but No.” Strangely, many aspiring filmmakers approach me like this thinking this is the way to get their film funded. Name actors are always being offered projects and if they aren’t funded, agents will quickly inform you that they don’t consider an offer on an unfunded project- a serious offer unless it comes from an equally big-named director like Spielberg or Scorsese. I recommend first getting several coverage reports done on your script by qualified coverage readers. This will help you to approach investors to get your production funded. If you have a good script, then you have a great start because a good, funded script will usually generate interest with an agent and their client. I do read and consult on unfunded scripts for a fee, which can be applied to my salary to cast the film if I decide to take the project once it’s funded. I can advise on feasible, market rates for offers, available talent and possible casting strategies, challenges and options as well as potential plot and story arch concerns. I only take on projects I truly love because it’s too hard to entice agents and actors with a script that doesn’t first grab me.
Q. What is the CSA?
A. The Casting Society of America® is an association of professional casting directors who come together to establish guidelines and bylaws, to address mutual concerns and share ideas. To be granted membership, a casting director has to have three current members who can attest to that fellow casting director’s significant body of professional work and ethics and then be voted in by the membership. It is requested by the CSA that members use the CSA suffix after their professional credits and titles.
Q. What is the Artios Award® ?
A. The Artios Award® is given for outstanding achievement in casting and is the equivalent of an Academy Award for casting directors. It’s given once a year in all casting categories and nominees and winners are chosen by ballots voted on by other casting directors who make up the membership of the Casting Society of America®. Winners can either be the lead casting director of the project or part of that principal’s team. I’m proud to be the only winner ever to receive an Artios Award® outside of New York or Los Angeles as a principal casting director and have received three nominations as a principal CD as well.