A guide to SAG for indie film producers

I’m writing a detailed guide for indie producers on how to navigate the SAG process from application to post-production. There’s going to be a lot of great educational content in it, gleaned from my own experience dealing with SAG contracts.

There’s a lot to learn but the process is actually pretty easy to navigate once you understand it and have gone through it once. The goal of the guide is to take away the anxiety and uncertainty for people new to the process so they don’t have to fear working with the union.

Actor reels, web series, and casting

I started some preliminary casting this week for the feature I’m putting together.

Which has led me to watch a lot of actor reels.

My thought is that actors don’t put enough thought into how they are presenting themselves online.

A lot of the reels have some bad clips in them. By bad I mean that they don’t show the actor acting well. And/or they have clips with very low production design, audio hum, poor lighting, etc.

I know that actors usually don’t have control over the final product and the production value, so I don’t hold this against them. I know they have to build up their chops and get in reps and take student films and gigs for practice and experience.

But you do have a choice in what you put into your reel and what you post on your website. Quality is much more important than quantity.

A better option, if possible, would be to show a single short film that you made, which really shows off your ability. I know, that’s hard, and if you aren’t going to produce it yourself then you have to wait until you get cast in something like that.

I really like the Cinema Lab shorts by Stephen Cone. The actors are all from a class he taught. It helps that he’s a great director, but these shorts really show off the actors in the best possible way.

I think I’d rather see no reel than a poor reel. With just photos and a resume, I can imagine what might be. When I see a weak reel, I’m forced to consider that maybe this is as good as it gets.

I’ve also seen some bad web series this week. There are a lot of reasons to make a web series, but if you’re an actor and you are making one to show off your talent — then you should really make sure that it shows off your talent.

If you’re an actor and you wrote and starred in the series, I’m going to assume that you made it to show off your talent. And if it looks bad, the writing is bad, or the acting is bad — then…

We’re all trying to get better and of course the first things we make are rarely the best. That’s certainly the case for me. But you have a choice in what you put forward and what you leave out.

The Eternal Casting of the Director’s Mind: Fishing, Hunting, and Foraging

There are three ways I think about casting: fishing, hunting, and foraging.

Fishing

With fishing, you hold an audition, post an audition notice around town and online and see what comes back to you. You throw out some lures and see who comes in.

Hunting

With hunting, you look for someone specific. Maybe a big name talent or a specific actor that you’ve seen somewhere. You know you want to work with them or they would be perfect for a role so find a way to connect with them and try to get them interested in the project.

You get an IMDbPro account and try to track down the contact info of an actor that you don’t have a relationship with and try to get them to read your script.

Foraging

With foraging, casting becomes an always process.

Every time you go to a play, you make a note of any actors you liked and jot their name down with some notes (“perfect for lead in ${filmName}” or “would make a great weird neighbor”).

This can happen when you see actors in shows, in local or even major films and TV, in classes, at meetups, through friends, whatever. I make a note of it in my phone or notebook and then when I get home I add it to a big Word doc I have with lists of actors that I liked or thought might be interesting to work with.

On The Deadline, we used a mix of foraging and hunting. There were a couple roles where I knew exactly who I wanted and made sure that they could come to the audition. Then we did a big audition and ended up with a mix of people that I had met before and those that were new to me, along with some real surprises.

For foraging to work, you have to get out a lot and see shows or watch a lot of short films.

But the truly awesome advantage of this is that you get to see actors working under good conditions — a role that that they’ve prepared for with a director.

To me, that’s much more informative than an audition — in an audition, there are nerves, they don’t know the material well, etc. Some actors are terrible at auditioning and some are great (and that doesn’t necessarily map to their actual acting ability).

 

So.

I like using a mix of all three.

When I started casting my last film, WHAM, I went through my lists of actors that I wanted to work with, cultivated over the past four years, and picked out names and put them in a spreadsheet next to the role. I made a column for first choice and backups.

Then I start reaching out to those actors and cross them off if they aren’t available, moving on to next choices.

My goal was to avoid holding an audition because auditions are a lot of work we and I only had about three weeks to cast it and I was working alone. Also, it was a 3-minute short — for a feature I would want to see them do a reading and meet them in person first.

That work got me about halfway there — out of six roles, one I knew professionally, one was a close personal friend, one I had seen at The Annoyance, and one I had seen in a Second City e.t.c. show.

 

Foraging online

For the last three roles, I did two things.

First, I contacted the agent of one of the actors that I knew I wanted to work with. Her agent asked me what else I was looking for and I sent her a breakdown of the available roles and she sent me about six headshots and resumes for the open roles.

I watched the reels of some of those actors and tried to find any short films that they had online.

I don’t really like reels because I’d rather see more than a clip. I’m usually looking for one solid performance where I can see that they can act well under good conditions.

If I don’t know them personally, I check Facebook to see if we have a mutual friend that could make an introduction. Or if they have an agent, I call the agent.

Pros, cons, etc

Sometimes an audition is necessary, but with foraging you get more control over who attends the audition and you get to write with certain people in mind.

If you don’t hold an audition, you cut yourself off to the upside of being truly surprised by someone.

An audition is also a great way to meet and see actors that might not work out for the current project but that would be great for something in the future.

If you want a ‘name’ actor, then you’re going to have to hunt.

 

 

 

 





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