Let’s start at the beginning. There are twenty-four thousand scripts a year registered at the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) in Los Angeles. (That’s just on the west coast. There’s a Writers Guild East as well.) And there are countless others that don’t even get registered, and of all these, very few are chosen, so be glad you’re an actor and not a script. But here’s how a movie usually gets made: Someone comes up with an idea. They pay to have a script written or they write it themselves “on spec,” short for “on speculation,” or you hope you get paid. This script goes to a literary agent. The agent sends it out to production companies, studios, and television networks. They decide if they want buy and “develop” it (pay for rewrites) and ultimately if they want to risk a whole lot of money and make it into a movie. (Most of the scripts that are bought and paid for never go into production.) But through personal contacts and relationships, industry politics, good writing, good selling and sometimes blind luck, a script finally gets chosen, and a movie goes into production.
A studio has “green lighted” a “project,” which means they’re going to make the script into a movie. They bring on a director. They cast “A list” or well-known money making stars, in the main rolls. These are the people who can “get a movie made”. Then they hire a casting director for the remaining rolls. The casting director reads through the script and “breaks it down,” identifying and describing the roles — who the character is, their age and ethnicity and how big a part they have. These are considered supporting roles.
The Internet plays a major role in the casting of film and television. For example, there are two main websites used specifically by agents and casting directors to make this process quick and efficient; http://www.lacasting.com for LA, and http://www.actorsaccess.com for NY, Chicago, Texas, Florida, Hawaii, CO, and UT. Casting directors will post their breakdowns on these websites; agents will receive this information and submit pictures with resumes of their clients on line. The casting director then deciphers through hundreds of jpeg headshots, chooses the actors they want to audition, then sends confirmation to the agent via email.
Breakdowns of Castings are available to legitimate casting directors and Agents on a continuous daily basis and for a substantially large monthly fee. These types of roles are categorized as follows: Day Player – Television term for someone that would only work for 1 day of shooting. Under five – Someone that has less than 5 lines of dialog in a script. Co-Star- Television term for someone that has dialog and at least 2 days of work on the same episode, this term is mainly used for sitcoms or evening shows, Guest Star-Television term similar to Co-Star only it requires at least 8 days of work on the same episode, Supporting Roles – Film term for someone that is below a “Star level” with at least one line of dialog, Unless you’re in NY or LA, these websites may not be helpful to you.
All too often, people will find out too late that a project has already been shot. Make sure you visit these sites on a regular basis. It’s a good idea to ask if they could tell you who is casting the project. Submit a hardcopy headshot and resume to the casting director. If you have an agent, you may want to touch base and mention that you would really like to be submitted for a part on this project. Breakdowns come out five days a week, Monday through Friday, and they have every production that’s being cast at that time, so they’re pretty thick.
Once the agents get the breakdowns, they have a meeting in the morning. They sit down around the table and go through each production — television or motion picture — and they see if they have actors who might be right for the roles. Then they submit their actors’ headshots and resumes to the casting directors. Keep in mind, in Los Angeles there are hundreds of agents with thousands of actors, and they submit hundreds and thousands of pictures a day. Once the casting directors get the submissions, they go through them. If they have a personal relationship with a particular agent, they probably give more consideration to that agent’s clients. I was told of a casting director involved with a movie that got a big, thick envelope of pictures and resumes from an agent. The casting director looked at the name of the agency and dropped the package it in the trashcan.
She knew that agency did not handle very good actors. So it is not an easy task to be seen. The agent is all-important here in L.A., and yours is to you.
The casting director then goes blind studying hundreds of headshots. She may receive fifty or sixty for each role. Of these, she may bring in only five to ten actors, because audition time is naturally limited. The casting director then calls the agents, they set up appointments, and the actors come in and read for the part. The director and the producer decide which actor they want for the role and tell the casting director. The casting director tells the agent that her client has the job. The agent gets a “quote” — or how much money the actor will be paid. The going rate for established actors is generally well known in the industry, though it can be flexible. For less experienced actors, the quote will probably start at Screen Actors Guild “scale” or minimum, which isn’t bad.
Let’s say you’ve gone through the audition, you got callbacks– one, two, three, however many it took — your agent has called you, you got the job. The movie company comes to town and they’re shooting. They have a “character breakdown,” which tells them when you work or at least when you’re scheduled. Because of rain, natural disaster, a temperamental actress or a director who takes too long to set up shots, they may get behind. They may tell you you’re going to work on the twelfth — you work on the sixteenth. That’s okay. You’re working. You’re lucky. You got the part. At the beginning and at the end of each workday, they put out a “call sheet,” which gives the times, the characters, the scenes, and location of the next day’s shooting. On the back of the sheet there’s a list of the call times for the actors, crew, props, stunts, extras — everything the production manager and his team need to know to make sure everything and everyone is in place for the next day’s work.
Well, you’re going to work. Your name is on the call sheet. The 2nd A.D., the Second Assistant Director, who makes out the sheet, or her assistant, the Third A.D. or a P.A. will get a hold of your agent or reach you at home to tell you what your call time is. That’s when they want you there. I recommend that you plan on being early your first day of work. You may have trouble finding the location. Once you’re there, it may take you a few minutes to find out where you should be. Be there early. It’s always better than late.
When you get to the set, find someone who’s got a walkie talkie. This will be an A.D. or a production assistant. Tell them what you’re there for. You’re an actor. You’re playing this part. They will then escort you to your dressing room, which you’re probably sharing with another actor with a small part.