Cast your friend into your new microbudget film if you think they would do a good job. But don’t ask other actors to go through the audition process first.
Why You Might Cast Your Friend
The world of microbudget films is a small and interwoven one. People help each other out. Whether it’s a small pledge to the crowdfunding page, the loan of a camera, standing in the background being an extra, or making a few calls to find that essential but obscure costume needed for the final scene, it all helps. And, as usual, all provided without any payment offered or requested.
In this world, many of the people in a network will become your firm friends. They’ll keep up to date with your latest project better than any of your family will.
One of the trickier aspects of managing the friend/colleague relationship occurs when a good friend wants to be a lead actor in the next project. Not because they can’t act, but because this is where so many filmmakers let a lot of other people down.
The director has decided which roles are available – all good. The friend jumps in and says they’d LOVE to perform that role of the lead actor. It has been their long life dream to try their hand and they love the script. The director knows their friend is a competent performer, will be reliable and will do a decent job. So what happens next?
They advertise the role.
Even Unpaid Actors Work Hard To Get A Role
Cue dozens of aspiring actors willing to work unpaid on a local microbudget film all sitting down to assemble their Headshots, CVs and Showreel. They email these off to the director. Along with a great covering letter which has taken half an hour to carefully word in the hope it will create a great impression. Then they wait, and keep checking those emails again and again…
Eventually, they get to hear they have an audition. They arrange time off work, possibly buy a new outfit, and rearrange leisure plans so they can learn pages and pages of script. Carefully, they work out the location and timing for the audition day. They also fork out for travelling expenses or parking charges. In the audition room, the actor will give the best performance they can. Maybe they have a great rapport with the director and feel everything went well. They then spend the next few days replaying the audition in their head. They try to work out their performance was really up to scratch. Every spare moment is used to check emails in the hope they have been picked.
And then they read on Facebook that the role went to the director’s friend.
This Is Not Just a Problem For Micro-budget Film
Unless you have asked someone completely independently to run your auditions without you there, it is not a totally unbiased process. Very few people have access to quality casting personnel who will work for free. So did the person you auditioned receive a fair crack at the whip? Or did they go through all that pain so you could make the casting seem fair?
This isn’t something restricted to the microbudget film world. There are dozens of stories circulating, rarely surfacing into public view. These are about feature films undertaking mammoth casting processes to the financial and emotional cost of those being auditioned before everyone discovers that the role went to a friend or relative of the main actor or director. Stories involving child actor auditions surface more freely. This is because there are a lot of disgruntled families left behind who felt they were used and are happy to say so. Adult actors are far more reluctant to call the practice out because they know it will end their career.
And unfortunately, it works like that even for unpaid work that few people will see.
Cast Your Friends Without Creating A Bad Reputation
By all means, audition your friend for the unpaid role. But then make a clear yes or no decision about them before you involve anyone else. To start involving others and then announce on Facebook that your friends (the ones everyone else can see having banter with you in comments boxes going back 18 months) have got the role won’t incur much open comment. But a large number of people will see this and remember it, even if they didn’t audition themselves. Why would you work so hard to buy yourself a negative reputation?!
So if you are about to make your next film on a shoestring budget don’t do a round of auditions just to ‘check’ your friend is the best actor for the job. Please save everyone the heartache and just cast your friend in the role to begin with.
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