Bringing Characters to Life

Written by Jolene Carter, (American University) Student Correspondent CET Film in Prague, Spring 2017

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Probably the first time you start to realize that your story is coming to life. You finally have the chance to put a real face to the characters you have gotten to know so intimately over the past several weeks. It’s time to cast some actors.

I had never done casting before. Most of my short films in the past have been starring willing friends with free schedules to shoot in the two weeks I had to complete the assignment. So I was a little unsure of how to handle a casting session.

My production manager handled all the logistics for the casting sessions. All I had to do was show up prepared. The challenge was figuring what to prepare. My first thought was to have the actors perform a pivotal scene from the script. Only one problem: our script hadn’t been translated to Czech yet. There is the possibility of putting out a casting call for only English-speaking actors, but then you shrink your pool of possible actors.

So instead I decided to have the actors improv. I would give them the scenario for the scene and tell them to act it out. I think this ended up working better than having them read off the script. It allowed me to see each actor’s personality and natural instincts. You don’t want an actor who can only do what is explicitly written on the page. You want someone who can understand a situation and act accordingly.

The other important thing is to ask questions. My film is about a family so we asked each actor about their definition of family and important things that have happened in their lives. It’s a great opportunity to see who the actor is personally, how they speak, and what they’ll be like to work with. Furthermore, it lets you see if they understand the message behind your film.

Casting was new territory for me. I was so concerned about doing it wrong and having to do it through a translator didn’t make it any easier. But I learned that there’s really no wrong way of doing a casting session. As the filmmaker, you know what you want for your film. So have your actors do whatever you think is best to determine if they have what you need. I had my actors respond to improv scenarios. I heard of other groups that had actors do specific actions like choking and dying. While other groups simply talked to each actor and shared life stories.

There’s been a lot of firsts for me these past four months and casting is just another one of them. And just like all the other firsts, I’ve realized the best thing to do is just go for it.