Sunday, May 28, 2006

Casting: A Guide - Updated!


I have been occupied with casting people in the production house that I am freelancing. Casting (similar to auditioning in the drama word) is a tedious process. It was elusive and no one wanted to set aside a few minutes to explain either. I guess disclosing this information would threaten their own job security.

Hence today, I have outlined a step by step process that any beginner could use. It has nothing to do with psychology. But, I guess when a psychology student works in an area that he’s not familiar, he starts documenting and writing papers about everything.

i am submitting this work process paper to the company that I work with so that they can give it to new recruits who unlike me would not have to struggle to learn unexplained facets of production! But keep in mind that this process is what typically happens when people are auditioned.

The process typically starts when the director (sometimes a producer) requests for casting and briefs you on the job

1. Brief from director:
a. Budget
i. Budget for talents
ii. Budget for advertising
iii. Budget for casting agencies (typically 20% of talent budget)

b. Scripts and story board

c. Special instructions: things that you need to look out for and stuff that you need to avoid.

d. Deadlines

e. Your fees

2. Plan documentation and casting sequence
a. Casting registration
i. Forms: amend and create casting registration forms to capture important information about the talent.

b. Serial number: serial number each talent to keep track forms

c. Equipment: Photo camera, video camera, computer, dv tapes, large hard drive: determine if the production house provides this equipment of if personal equipment needs to be used

d. Photo and video archival strategy: determine how photographs and video recordings are named, and stored. This should include a strategy to name dv taps in a logical manner.

e. Working hours: determine a work schedule. Typically casting starts at 11AM and ends at 7PM. This schedule should be adjusted to suit talent needs.

f. Contact email and phone number: determine how talents can contact you when necessary.

g. Work space:
i. Determine where will you be working
ii. Determine where will you cast the talents? Will it be outdoors or in a dedicated casting room?iii. Determine if the casting area will be shared with other members of the staff.
iv. Determine obtain props that will be required for castingv. Find a comfortable waiting area for talents to wait their turn

h. Casting assistant:
i. What role does s/he play
ii. Determine how could s/he enhance the talents casting experience and to the overall success of the process

3. Talent recruitment
a. Direct talent recruitment strategy:
i. Advertising budgets: Determine how much it would cost to advertise on leading local news papers. Advertising is done though media agencies. Scout for a media agency that provides maximum coverage for minimum cost.

ii. Posters to be designed: design and print posters that you may place at strategic locations. iii. Payments must be tracked: Both media agencies and community notice boards charge a fee for their service. Provide sufficient information to accounts department to prepare necessary checks

b. Agency:
i. Casting brief: email or fax a brief to the agency requesting for talents. This brief also acts as an informal agreement to do business, and hence will need to be signed by you.
1. Name of commercial
2. Roles: brief description of the type of talent required (age, sex, skin color, height, etc etc)3. Budgets (additional 20%?)
4. Caution: dealing with agencies need care. Casting agents have been known to bargain for more fees for the talents they introduce. Make sure you establish a rapport with the agency before working with them.

c. Word of mouth: inform other producers, friends, workmates, about your requirements.

d. Ex-talents: look out for talents who may have already worked with you. Look for prior records or speak to other producers in the organization.

4. Casting sequence
a. Plan: what you will be doing during casting. How will you photograph, and video the talents.

b. Plan: what you will make your talents do

c. Decide: what expressions you will look out for

d. Plan: what dramatic routines will the talents have to do

e. Decide: how best you could communicate your requirement to the talent.

f. Determine: if you are required to keep the original storyboard confidential. If so, determine an alternate storyboard for your talents

5. Petty cash:
a. Get: petty cash from the producer.

b. Maintain: records of all money transactions. Hence you will need to retain all bills and invoices for accounting purposes.

6. Start casting
a. Introduce yourself: “hi hows it going? My name is X, and I will be casting you” works!

b. Explain budgets and shoot dates. Proceed ONLY if the talent consents (* agency clients are NOT advised of budgets)

c. Provide brief information about the TVC, shoot dates, and evaluation process.

d. Registration and waiting period: make sure that talents who are waiting their turn are comfortable. Ask the receptionist or casting assistant (if theres one) to help them with filling up forms.

e. Dealing with nerves: even experienced and professional talents may feel nervous or awkward. Some strategies to put your talents at ease include:
i. Small talk, chat
ii. Smile
iii. Tell them what they will be doing and where they are going
iv. Ask them if they feel nervous, and help them deal with it.
v. Assure them that they are doing a great job (even if they are not) while casting.
vi. Be honest if they are mucking up.
vii. Use humor. Jokes about mistakes in casting helps (e.g. Yesterday, I accidentally casted a guy waiting to collect a check)
viii. Tell them that you will be photographing them, and ask if its ok.
ix. Make sure they are completely relaxed before you proceed. Don’t rush them even if you have a busy day.

f. Photographs
i. Close-up portraits
ii. Medium shots with and without pose
iii. Long shots

g. Introductory video
i. Close up introduction of name, age, and height
ii. Close up profile: turn to left and right. Ask the talent to turn left, and then turn right.
iii. Long shot

h. Video of scenes
i. Explain scene and do a practice round
ii. Remind yourself of the casting sequence
iii. Perform at least 2 takes per scene.
iv. Repeat for each scene.
v. It will be useful if you act out the scene. It helps when they know that you are willing to work with them.

7. Before ending the casting session
a. Thank them for taking the time to come.

b. Show them the way out

c. Remind them of important deadlines (e.g. Selection announcement, shoot, etc)

8. Evaluation of talent
a. Dramatic quality: Ability to easily act out the scenes required

b. Emotional expression: Ability to act out variable emotions.

c. Aesthetic quality: Does s/he look attractive for the casted role.

d. Cooperation: If the talent is cooperative with the casting executive.

e. Comments: additional comments that may be useful in selecting or rejecting a talent for a particular scene.

9. Presentation to dop/director/producer
a. Select the top 50% of talents based on a systematic evaluation (refer to evaluation forms)

b. Print out the best portrait-shot, on non-photographic paper with low quality printer setting, of the talent.

c. Prepare short video of the talents
i. Name and height
ii. Introduction sequence
iii. Scenes casted

d. Explain the talents strengths and weaknesses (as per your evaluation) to the dop/producer/directore. Record comments made by the audience as appropriate.

10. Recast:
a. Call short listed talents in for recasting if necessary

b. Explain why you want them in, and what it means to you.

11. Presentation to agency
a. Prepare high quality portrait prints of talents short listed by dop/director/producer

b. Mount pictures on a black presentation board.

c. Categorize the pictures as necessary (e.g. By scene, by role, by age, by gender. This depends on the story board)

d. Prepare video to accompany the pictures on either dvd or dv tape.

e. After the meeting, record details of short listed talents

12. Tentative confirmations:
a. Inform direct and agency talents about the tentative selection.

b. Advice talents and agency to keep shoot dates free.

c. Gather additional information from talents (e.g. Shirt size, shoe size, etc)

13. Presentation to client/agency
a. Repeat step 9, but this time publish the photographs to a book. You will have to work closely with the producer as the photographs will be a small part of a larger project.

b. After the meeting, record the details of short listed talents

14. Confirmation
a. Inform direct and agency talents about their selection.

b. Following information must be made clear to both agency and talent
i. Wardrobe fitting dates and times (obtain from producer)
ii. Shoot dates and times (obtain from producer)
iii. Shoot location and time (obtain from producer)
iv. Directions to shoot location if no transport provided (obtain from producer)
v. Information about shoot (e.g. Food, first aid, nearest doctor, duration, toilets)
vi. Pickup time (and drop time) if transport is provided (obtain from producer)
vii. If visitors are allowed or not (seek advice from the producer or director)
viii. If personal photographs/cameras are allowed on set.
ix. Your contact number

15. Wardrobe fitting:
a. Liaise with producer.

b. Organize food for agency, client, staff, and talents. Plan the menu ahead of time.

c. Organize talents for the fitting

d. Photograph them in their costumes. This photograph will be used by the producers to reconfirm the wardrobe with the clients. It would be useful to preplan a well light area for this purpose.

e. Print photographs on the same day and submit to the producer. This will be used on shoot day.

16. Pre-shoot
a. Provide information about the shoot as needed. Eg. Maps, addresses, call times, etc.

b. Liaise and organize transport for the talents

c. Arrange for any kind of comfort items that’s necessary for the talents.

17. On shoot day
a. Arrive early and set up a place for the talents to gather

b. Greet talents and agency on arrival and escort them to a waiting area and keep them comfortable.

c. Provide information about the shoot as needed.

d. Explain food, drinks, and toilet arrangements as needed

e. Make sure talents and agency are comfortable and are taken care of.

18. Payments
a. Agency client
i. Obtain invoice before making payment
ii. Pay the agent
iii. Obtain signature and company seal acknowledging payment

b. Direct client
i. Make cash or check payment
ii. Obtain signature acknowledging payment

19. Close job
a. Provide accounts department with all invoices and bills.
b. Collect your fees!


20. Go party with the rest of the crew!


Note that this sequence was intended to be a guide and is by no means a bible of sorts. Items within this document is meant to be adopted and used diligently, as seen best.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Learning curves

New learning experiences have always intrigued me. Be it in IT, management, advertising, public relations, psychology research, human services, movie making, partying, or my latest stint in a production company. Learning experiences in each case have been varied.

In IT, it started out as fun, excitement, and eventually the excitement died down. I later found my self working under the management side of things. Then again, there was the excitement, and sense of newness. Psychology was a little different. It started out as exciting, became extremely difficult, and then evened out and stayed exciting. I still find it exciting. And now, there’s the movie making experience!

Right now, the experience is an uphill struggle. I have been going home exhausted and utterly wasted. But, the work has so far been rewarding. I have been learning what to pay attention to while casting people for a shoot. The company that I have been working with, does tons and tons of TV commercials. The current project is for a particular brand of diapers, and as you can imagine, I am working with children!

Now, here’s when all that experience and knowledge in Psychology comes into play (or should I say, work). I am learning from experience that working with children is NO child’s play! Though I have been casting about 20 babies (between 1 ½ to 3 years of age) in their diapers I can tell you that its not easy. We (my self and the casting manager) get first brief the parents on what the shoot is about and then let the baby just play in the special “casting set” that’s set up for the kids! We then try to get them to do specific actions, such as getting the babies to look at the diapers, getting them to spin around, and to run around. All normal child like activities don’t you think?
I remember the theories of development that I learnt during the 2nd year of my psych program. Hats of to Ainsworth for the patience in observing the kids and then arriving at patterns of attachment style. This particular cast requires that parents keep quite during most parts of the shoot, while the Casting manager and I, do our little special sequence of shot. The bright florescent lights, on the play mat however does not help and leaves some children running to their parents. This is however not the case with a some other kids. And they are completely comfortable with the fact that they are doing strange things with two strangers!

I have met all kinds of attachment styles in the past 3 days. The secure babies, the preoccupied babies, the dismissing babies, and fearful babies, and I should add, the EXTREMLY fearful babies. Some of them get so frightened, that they literally freeze. They just stand there and stare at you. They neither cry, nor move, nor blink an eye. They just stare!

Though casting setups are typically strange for children, the experience is strange for me too. But interestingly, i have appreciated dealing with strange situations. I am not sure what kind of attachment style I have would fall under, but I cant help ponder how my own attachment style influences they way I deal with ambiguous situations today. I cant help wonder in what ways is my need to explore, my desire for varies experiences, and my need to seek out novel stimuli related to my childhood experiences. No doubt, the children who I am casting may have stories of their own. But, more importantly, I wonder what they will turn into in the next 20 years. Will their attachment styles stay? Or would varied life experiences change the way they encounter learning experiences?

My own learning experience at this production company has been challenging. I could not think about putting my thoughts together until today. Life was a hectic rush, with every stimuli novel and difficult to process. As I slowly learn the culture in the company, I am now taking time out to process those thoughts! I should say that its really difficult, but its happening slowly but surely.

I shall leave you with more photographs at my recent hiking trip to the southern part of Malaysia (Johor). Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

up the hills: putri gunang ledang

I am jus back after a 2 day jungle excursion at the Johor national park. Johor national park (on the south of Malaysia, near Singapore and about 4 hours from KL) is home to the mountain called “putri gunung ledang” (this leterlly translates to “princess on mountain 'ledang')

The event was organized by the Nanyang press, as a occasion to celebrate the successful fund raising campaign. ACTS (A call to serve; and NGO that works with refugees in Malaysia sponsored me), and is probably the only NGO in Malaysia that works to support refugees in the country. Many thanks to all the people who donated to this cause.

The mountain climb was super exciting. About 40 of us stayed at the Johor national park. The day climb can best be described in pictures and a short movie. I am in the process of editing a short clip of the two days, but will leave you with sights at the top!
water fall at the bottom

View at the top
amoung the clouds

Among the hills

The fake psychologist is currently working as a production assistant in an advertising company. Am currently working with the casting manager, selecting babies for a commercial that’s being produced! Why am I doing this? Well.. I need the money to put me though 2 more years of grad school. I should add that the experience, is *wonderful*. What’s so cool about these shoots is that they film on 35mm. To movie makers, this is means that its created on the real thing.. the tape and gives perhaps the best known quality after recording.