Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Casting High or Low

I am working on a film for which we have our lead actor but I'm trying to figure out if I should cast a big name in the costarring role or go for someone with real acting chops and no name value to the box office. Most people would say, go for the big name. The problem with that approach is access and time. Unless you have a big budget to pay your actors and the money is in the bank, it is very difficult to get a big name actor to consider your tiny film. If they do consider it without a monetary offer, it will most certainly take months for your script to work its way to the top of the pile of offers that have "real" monetary offers attached to them. So be prepared to wait a long time for an answer that may never come.

It's frustrating but it just makes sense that the big name actors are hard to get. They mean something to the box office so every producer in town is bringing them their projects. So how do you get yours to stand out? First off, you need to have an amazing script with an incredible role for the actor to consider. The studios have a lot of product that have strong pay days attached, but over time, an actor may want to carve out time in his or her schedule to take on a passion project. So you may find a bigger actor taking interest in your project if the role is something they feel they really must do. 

You will also need to be able to provide some assurances to the actor's agent and manager that you will make this film and pay their actor. Often it's a strong reputation for making good projects and treating the actors appropriately. However, many independent producers do not have a strong track record yet. What kind of assurances can you provide? The best assurance is a pay or play offer in which you agree to either pay the actor or play the actor by a certain date. This makes the reps feel very comfortable that their client will get something from this project should it never garner the financing. 

But you may not want to be on the hook for a large amount of cash because you aren't certain you can get the money in time. So you need to rely on your relationships with the agents and managers. With a good relationship, you may get them to read it and feel it is strong enough to give to their client without an offer. If you don't have the relationships yet, you can also hire a casting director to make offers on your behalf. Some may even cast on a deferred basis in order to secure an executive producer credit. Remember our discussion on leverage? You should be leveraging any of your relationships that can help you to get the script in front of the actor you want. 

In the end, however, you may be stonewalled and never get your project in front of the actor you feel is perfect for the role. This can happen if the agent or manager doesn't feel the project is right for their client. Or perhaps they don't have faith in you because you have no resume for getting films made. It's important to know and understand that it can make the agent or manager look bad if they are submitting projects to their clients that never get set up. 

So now you may understand why a producer may decide to forego the challenges of securing a big name actor. He or she may decide it's better to cast someone who can make the role really stand out for their acting and not their name. More often than not this decision will affect securing the financing for the film so you will want to make sure you can get the film made on a small budget. And honestly, some films are best made small. Can you imagine what Napoleon Dynamite would have looked like with a $20 million budget and big name actors? Much of its charm was due to its low budget pedigree and no name, excellent cast. And who wouldn't want a Napoleon Dynamite on their resume?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Go for the unknown. It sucks waiting for stars.

It used to be the gold standard of artistic integrity for a director to demand to do a film with no stars. What ever happened to that idea?