When making a web series, it is very important, the most important, to get your main characters right! Casting your web series with an actor to embody that character is one of the most important decision as a director or producer and can make the rest of the job easier or harder.
There are different shows that need be casted differently: Variety shows with hosts, reality shows with participants, and fiction web series with actors. In this post we will be focusing the the fictional web series, because I consider it to be the most complex and important. Will touch on the other kind of shows in a later post.
Remember that this actor you are casting will be the face of your story. He or she will be bringing this character to life. Performing the actions in this fictional universe. He or she most become someone else!
How do you cast this person?
Sometimes the actor is actually the creator of the project, in that case there is little to be done for the main part, because the lead role is already assigned. That is great! Assuming the person assigned is a great actor that fits the part.
Most of the time the creator is not the actor, but they might have written the story with someone in mind. The first thing to do is to actually rich out to that person, whether they are a friend or a big star. Yes, a big star. Rich out to them too. But only if you believe your script is AMAZING! (And you should! if not, maybe you should consider rewriting or starting over with something that you think is amazing).
If you get Natalie Portman (nice!) to act in your web series, that will certainly help you with the rest of the process. But if your Hollywood start doesn’t care for you web series, don’t feel bad. They don’t care about many huge feature films either. It’s not personal.
Now, let’s go, and get a more reachable actor for our series.
Before doing anything we need to have a character breakdown.
This is a brief description of the character you are casting, how he looks and what he or she does. It can be a one line description, a little like this: “Mel: Female accountant in her mid 30s, ethnicity Native America.” These are fine. But not enough in my opinion.
I think that the best way to get anyone involved in any project is to get them excited before they are even part of it, to the point they want to become part of it so badly that they pour themselves into the project! And the character breakdown can help you do that with the actors.
Let’s take that same character above (This character I am just making up, so feel free to take it if it fits your story). Let’s write a character breakdown that will make any actress that reads it want to do the part:
“Melissa: a native america descendant woman, in her mid 30s. She works as an accountant in a tax office in NYC’s midtown during the day, and at night she is training and plotting to pursue vendetta against a rich retail mogul who she believes killed her father. She goes through a wide spectrum of emotions through out the story, as a she has to deal with a terminal disease that stands in her way of reaching her goal.”
Go back to read the one-liner and then read the paragraph above! What a difference!
I find that actors get involved immediately when they read something they will like to play. And actors dont’ want to play “Latino, 20 something guy that rocks with girls” They want to play real three dimensional character.
Post the casting call
Once you have broaken down your main characters (only the main characters at this point) you will need to put the word out that you are looking for people to play these parts. There are three key resources that I use for this, almost always when casting comes around.
Depending on your geographical location it might be more or less difficult to find actors. If you are in Los angeles, New York, Miami, and Chicago, you will be fine. Almost any big city has great performers. If you are in a small town, try to tap into the talent of the closest cities.
Here are the websites to use to make casting calls.
1. Craigslist. Very straight forward and free. They have a Gigs > Talent section. I post there. Now, here is the situation: you will get a lot of terrible submissions from this post, but you will also get some good stuff. The talent gets better the more money it’s offered for the part, just like in any other position/job/craft. Ask them to send you a headshot, a resume and a reel (some of them will not have reel – bummer!) Actors should all have a reel!!! It makes the process so much easier for them and us! Also hide your email account because you are really going to get 100s of emails in the next few days (If you are in a big city that is). I would advise you to create a filter in your email account to send this emails to another folder and then sort them all at once when you have a few minutes. Some people open a separate email account just for the casting. It’s your choice.
2. Mandy.com – Also great and tends to have better quality submissions. Ask for the same thing, and make it so they have to submit through the mandy.com form. Mandy will then email that to your inbox and no one needs to see your email.
3. Backstage – Every actor reads backstage. This one is not free. But will bring the most quality of all three. The cost varies from on state to another, and you have to create an account with them. But once you are past those 5-10 minutes of confusion, you will be getting emails and headshots with the best talent you can find!
(Update) @MissBehaveTV was kind enough today to point out that I missed BreakdownServices.com – Thanks @MissBehaveTV for pointing it out. I didn’t include it when I wrote the post, because I have never used it. Although they told me today on the #webserieschat that is the standard to contact talent agents! So it most be great! Go, try it out! I will as soon as I am ready to cast my next project.
What to include on the casting notice?
Make sure to mention that is a web series. Make sure to mention how much will you be paying. Tentative dates of production. Whether it’s union or not. (for more information of working with unions you can visit AFTRA and SAG to learn more from each)
Make it exciting. Really!
Do not disclose the location where you will be holding the auditions, or you will get slammed with people that want to audition.
The next step now is to check your email twice a day. You will go through the resumes/headshots/reels of the submissions and choose around 10 to 15 of them.
Give yourself a week or two. And then we will hold the auditions, which I will cover in the next post of the Web Series Development Series.
If case you have not read them here is Web Series Development Part 1 about putting your idea into script and Web Series Development Part 2, about building your team of collaborators to make your web series.