You might copy this and send it ahead to the local casting service. Be humble and blame me if they are offended.

The director on location usually has more to do than just cast or select callbacks. Here are some suggestions to make it more efficient and easier on the director.

Ask the director how much time he wants between groups, how many in a group and the mix of the groups. Try to remember how long it took before for similar casting sessions. Dialogue and special skills takes longer.

Avoid mixing people trying out for same part in same group or explain that there are more than one parts.

Have appropriate hand props, hats, stools, sports equipment, or tools for actors.

Give actors time to work on a script.

Have someone check out the video system in time for repairs, replacement, or finding all the pieces before the session starts.

"Zero" the VCR counter. Keep accurate counts on the log.

Light balance or white card balance the video camera.

Color balance the monitor against a color-balanced camera or commercial reference tape.

Recheck for good sound and picture before the first group of people leaves.

Confirm with director that you can let people go.

Give the director and group a little time to discuss the last actors before letting the next group in.

Have enough people to do the job right.

Make sure the sound is intelligible. Especially names. It's better to see the mike on camera than to not hear well.

Have enough mike cable or an extension. It must be a shielded mike cable to prevent hum.

Make sure that the log of actors given to the director is in the same order that they appear on the tape. Don't use the "call sheet".

Include VCR footage counts of people on the tape on the casting log.

Shoot close-ups and profiles. Ask the director if he needs anything unusual, such as hand close-ups, swim suits, or extreme close-ups.

Shots with and without glasses or a hat are helpful.

A woman's hair up or down can provide a much different look.

Check for good sound and picture often.

Talent should wear the same outfit for callbacks unless a change is requested.

Have cue cards and enough scripts for the talent if there is dialogue. Invite them to read the script on camera for a better performance. They will have time to learn the script before the shoot.

Make sure that the same script is given the actors, director and agency that is on the cue cards.

Have an adjustable, movable support for the cue cards.

Prepare scripts with only necessary lines and add lead-in lines if necessary to help set up a very short bit. Have the director do this. Space out the lines on the page.

Make sure that the tape is rolling and stabilized before asking names.

Get the director to check what the VTR operator is shooting if he is not watching a monitor.

Position the monitor so that the actors can't see it, especially kids.

Camera gimmicks, such as long fade-outs and titles do little to save time. Good logs are more important.

Keep the logs with the correct tapes.

Make enough logs for everyone.

Put new labels on the tapes.

Make sure that there are no duplicate tape numbers even on different days. Mark a dupe tape as a "dupe tape". Call a select tape a "select tape from tape # xxx". Call back tapes; "call back tapes".

Be prepared to make a duplicate or edited tape if needed.

Two machines can make the extra tape while casting if necessary. The right cables and a more experienced operator may be needed.

Do not leave a VCR on PAUSE for long times, it wears out the heads faster.

Provide a place to park for the director and others. Tell them where, before they arrive.

Avoid long personal chatter with actors that contributes little to the director trying to learn about the actor himself. It only reveals that he is a friend of the casting service. It may not be to the actor's advantage to appear to be a friend. Any comments about his ability may be taken as biased because he or she appears to be a friend. Let everyone on the tape seem to the director to have an equal chance. I am particularly skeptical about people that are new to me that an unknown casting director is pushing as "Just Right" for the part.

Record video against a neutral back ground, not too bright or too dark. Try different backgrounds for the best picture.

Don't shoot against windows. People will be silhouette.

Don't show tapes in over lit rooms or with other distractions going on.

Have spare globes for lights.

Have extension cables to use different outlets so that fuses are not blown.

Know where the fuse box is.

Try different lighting to choose what it best. Don't worry about shadows on the background.

Have adjustable lighting to make changes during casting.

Avoid older playback machines with no search feature. A newer VHS 1/2" machine is less "Professional" but less maddening.

Don't bring in models looking like models when "Real People" are requested.

Request talent to not over-dress and use much make- up when "Real People" are asked for. They might be just fine if they come in as themselves. It's hard to imagine what people look like behind all the make-up and designer clothes.

When groups are shown, the log should have them in order. If you can understand the names, not so bad, but often the sound is so bad for wide shots that sorting out who is who is a challenge.

Wardrobe on the tape should match what's on the Polaroids.

Names used on head sheets should match names used on tape and call sheets, whether stage names, initials, married names and/or nicknames.

Demand accurate, legible and complete information sheets.

Polaroids should be well stapled to the information sheet.

Avoid Polaroids shot against too light or too dark backgrounds.

Avoid Polaroids too wide. Knees to hair are enough usually. Most people have feet. Most Polaroid cameras shoot wider than what is shown in the viewfinder. Compensate for this.

Demand that people include phone numbers that will have someone at them. I have not been able to find for a shoot some terrific people seen in casting because the phone numbers were wrong.

Make duplicate logs by hand if necessary. "The copy machine is broken" does not go over well.

"If you had only given us enough time ......" Refuse to do a job if there isn't enough time..... or explain up front that you will do your best under the time constraints. In short be pessimistic and surprise the director with all that you do get done rather than disappoint him.

Make a duplicate tape if one has to be shipped. Ask if it is needed and be prepared to make one.

The numbers on the playback machine may not be the same as on the record machine. But if both are started as Zero, there is a numerical relationship. A small calculator helps. If 120 on machine #1 equals 180 on machine #2 then multiplying the count from machine #1 by 1.5 will yield count for machine #2.

I understand that casting is a challenge under time pressures, but there are things that can be done at the same time and thus save time for the director; the video operator can make a new log with names and numbers in the correct order while he is taping or waiting. If there are some errors they will be easier to sort out. Trying to find random numbers and names on a "sign in" sheet or call sheet is very maddening.

Thanks to Kelly of Kelly Casting, Studio City, for many of these hints and for providing me with great casts for over 20 years.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.