Both artistically and commercially, attracting the right talent to your project can make all the difference. Actors Rebecca Root, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Casting Director Manuel Puro sat down with Screenwriter Tom Kerevan about the process of attaching actors to a project and what people look for when seeking out screenplays.
Before a script lands with actors it usually goes to a casting director who works with a director/producer group to find the right actors for a project. Financiers will often want to know ‘names’ have been attached to a project to try to give some investment security. The casting director will therefore look through the script initially to assess whether it will attract named actors.
Well known actors can have up to fifty scripts a week or more coming in for consideration so a lot of the initial reading work is farmed out to the agents office assistants and it’s not unheard of for work experience temps to be given the parameters by which to first judge if a script is going to be suitable for a known actor. These are eyes that the screenplay and project needs to be attractive enough to get past before it reaches any actors.
From a casting director’s point of view, Manuel Puro looks at any given project to see how attractive it will be to talent, whether characters are leads or involved with the leads in the piece, what their lines are like and he usually tries to pull out interesting scenes that could be used in an audition. If he can’t pull out a meaty audition scene then he knows it’s a part he will struggle to cast a name in. Scripts with lots of great scenes and a good overall story are the desirable ones. Part of his job is questioning the desires of producers and directors as not all wishes come true and he tries not to waste too much time in pursuit of unlikely options. As a casting director he doesn’t get involved in script development but any references to other talent in a scripts character descriptors he always asks to be removed. Nobody wants to think of themselves as a budget George Clooney.
We’re always told to write great roles to attract an established actor but what a great role looks like can differ. Sanjeev Bhaskar acted in three scenes for a Woody Allen film, it was a director he really wanted to work with and it was an enjoyable experience so even though his work ended up being edited down to just one line in the final movie he didn’t care because he benefited from the process of filming. A location or production company can be a great draw too, two months in Trinidad on a Merchant Ivory production had those two draws to it aside from the benefits of the screenplay.
Of the things sent especially for Rebecca Root, the projects that have appealed to her have been work that is sensitively written, not auditioned and not a lot of time to commit to or is going be a good film to have been part of. So a lovely little short can be great to do if it’s nice and good for your work, and payment is desirable too if you’re going to cross time off your calendar.
There’s a symbiotic benefit to named actors and directors working together. Talented people like to work with other talented people. For unknown people to attract talent, business and payment reasons to take on work can really matter. Films that will have great artistic merits aside from the role you take on can have a wonderful draw to them.
Finding the Actor
The process of hiring the actor is quite functional, sending the details of the project and then waiting for the yes or the no. Manuel is careful with things like how the character ages and casting descriptions are presented so as not to prejudice an actor at the outset. Agents will vet scripts to varying levels, share details of the project with an actor and voice an opinion on whether it’s going to be good for them to take on. Acting in a cameo can be fun for most actors but nobody wants to be a glorified extra. Most actors will imagine how they will look in those scenes, whether the film is going to be an overall aesthetically pleasing or cinematic piece and whether that role or connection to it will be a good addition to their ongoing body of acting work.
Boy Meets Girl was Rebecca’s first pivotal role but she doesn’t always get roles sent specifically for her. At this point in her work she will often get sides or a script depending on what the project is willing to share and she will have to audition. When there’s limited sides and no breakdowns it’s harder but with more information it’s easier to prepare.
Why Projects Get A Pass
Sanjeev says the main reason he turns down a project is if the script doesn’t know what it is, if the tone changes suddenly. Sometimes that can be solved other times not. If an actor wants to talk about issues with the script or story and a production team is not open to their concerns it’s likely they won’t take the job. The script though is only one aspect of the film, the other actors, the director and having enough money to do justice to a project matters a lot. Actors want a good end product. The real magic is finding a project with a team that can create something that the writer couldn’t create alone. Projects not tapping into their full potential can be disheartening.
For Rebecca, lazy stereotypes are off-putting. Actors have wish lists too for the kind of work they want to do. For herself she’d love to be in a Ken Loach film so doing work that has social issues and great cinematic direction is going to be appealing to her. Also she’s open to work that may lead to more work down the line, if a part is gorgeous enough she’s happy to work through a development phase if the terms of her involvement are enough for her to be able to commit to that. Even recognisable actors aren’t always cash rich and sometimes if there’s money and you need that money then you’ll consider a role you might have discarded otherwise and try and make something good of it, but the ideal is for projects to have artistic merit, be the right fit for you and have adequate payment.
Manuel, would love for the ideal of being able to cast the right actor for a role without the star system interfering but prediction and tracking numbers in the industry make that hard. Work needs to have a chance of paying off to get funded, so actors and other known names attached to a project still have a lot of clout. It’s the sales agent you’re selling a project to, not direct to an audience so it’s what and who they think will make them money that matters. If the sales agents don’t find an audience it’s their loss so they will know what names sell for in which territories and while star names don’t guarantee an audience now as much as they used to, even a crappy film will sell on some level if it has well known names attached. Without the right package, and the right amount of thought involved in presenting it, you likely won’t get a project made or seen at all.
For those who do manage to attach great talent to their scripts it’s because they were willing to make their work appeal on multiple levels and be something that people with other choices still want to be part of. It’s those very things that attract an actor that will attract the audiences that love those actors to the work itself. Thank you to the wonderful talents in the room for sharing their insights and a little about their own work and projects in the session with us.