To all film students casting actors on

In an effort to beef up my film demo reel, I’ve been submitting to lots of film projects casting on, a web site where indie filmmakers post casting breakdowns and crew opportunities. A lot of student filmmakers use the site to cast their film projects. While a lot of student film is bad, a good project can be a great showcase of your abilities.

Since indie creators rarely hire actual casting directors, they often write their own casting breakdowns, and they’re often poorly written. Spelling mistakes, unclear project description, unclear character breakdown. I’ve been collecting some of my favourite bad casting calls on Twitter with the hashtag #MandyAuditions. Like:

“Must be nondescript ethnicity. Preferably South Asian or Mediterranean.” (uh, what?)

“There may not be pay, but there are food scenes included, I will cover expenses.” (I’d bloody hope you’re not expecting me to pay for your props!)

Sometimes the stupidity doesn’t come up until you get the confirmation e-mail from the director offering you an audition:

“Your audition’s tomorrow. BTW, we forget to mention in the casting notice that this is a musical. Bring a song.” (Wait, why would you not mention in the casting breakdown that you’re looking for musical performers?)

Normally, when this happens, I just ignore the offer and move on. But yesterday, I got an e-mail from a director that needed a response.


thank you for applying, just a heads up, the role has no lines, so all we need is a head shot, or some kind of picture with you in a tank top. We’re going for more sex appeal than acting performance for this character.
PS. please bring a head shot.
That was the entirety of the e-mail. I haven’t just deleted the details so as not to embarrass the director. There was no project name, no director. But don’t worry, there was a follow up a minute later with the date and location, but still no project name. It turned out that this was a Centennial College production — had this been mentioned in the breakdown, I wouldn’t have bothered because past experience has shown me that Centennial College’s film program is essentially a high-school level class with students that lack basic competences in anything involving film, and instructors that are more or less absent from the process (this could be the subject of a much longer story, but it involves a director telling me to run around a park in East York waving a gun around with no permit or police presence). A minute after that came a second followup asking me to contact her if I had any concerns.
Did I have concerns? You bet I did. I also had another writing project I was working on, so I was eager for the distraction. This is what I sent her back:

Sorry, but I won’t be coming to your audition. I’ve had some bad experiences with Centennial Films, and no longer work with students from there. But good luck with your production.
So that this isn’t completely fruitless, please accept the following advice in the spirit of good will in which it’s given:
– In future, when responding to a casting submission, make it clear what project you’re working on. Actors might submit to 5-10 productions daily on and might not remember what project you’re offering an audition to. I can’t find your project there right now.
– It’s also best to offer as many salient details as you can on your casting call, if only to get the best submissions. Had I known this was a silent role with no lines, and that it was at Centennial, I probably wouldn’t have wasted both our time with my submission. The only reason actors do student films is to get decent material to throw on a reel. A silent role doesn’t help me with that, but you may have gotten the aspiring model you were looking for, since that plays to their strengths and needs.
– Telling an actor that, “We’re going for more sex appeal than acting performance for this character,” is actually kind of rude. “None of your skills and training matter as long as you can hold up this tank top!” If you want a model, say that on your casting call, and you’ll get those submissions. Moreover, it makes you sound like you don’t care about your own production, since you don’t care about performance (yes, I know film schools generally suck at teaching how to get good performances from actors — I went to film school too — so take this as a teachable moment). And if you don’t care about the quality of the finished product, then you’re leading me to believe that the finished film isn’t going to be good enough to want to put on a reel. Since the finished video is my only payment for doing a student film, why would I work for someone who doesn’t want to make a good one?
I assume you want the people coming in to audition for you to be excited about working with you. Trust me, take these steps in the future and you’ll get much higher quality submissions.

The director eventually sent an apology and clarified that the project is not affiliated with Centennial, only doing its casting there (why, because Pape and Mortimer is so convenient?).

Casting breakdowns aren’t difficult to write, especially if you’ve got a decent product. Actors want to work on great films. They want every casting breakdown they read to be an exciting project that would be perfect for them. You’re shooting fish in a barrel. So just tell actors what’s great about your project and what’s great about each role.

Tell actors what exactly you’re looking for in each role — even if you’re not entirely sure! The character’s age, gender, and race may not be salient. But there’s got to be something else important when you see the character. Maybe they’re the sensitive type. Or the artsy snarker. Or they need to be able to communicate to the lead that they’re in love with him with a single nonsequitor line. Give actors an idea if the character plays to their strengths or gives them a challenge.

Here’s a pro-tip: Film schools are notoriously bad at training directors to think about anything other than the technical and compositional aspects of filmmaking. But your biggest responsibility as a director is to get great performances out of your actors. In order to do that, you should work to understand the craft of acting. It’s actually worth taking an acting course or two to round out your knowledge, but if you don’t have the cash, pick up any of the many books on acting you can find at TheatreBooks. You’ll get a good sense of how actors think and you’ll get better at communicating your choices to them. And ultimately, you’ll make better films.

Finally, if we’re working for you for free, be grateful and treat us with respect. You’re getting your final grade on this project and making your calling card movie. We’re being asked to give you several days work, plus audition time, headshots, travel costs, etc. Don’t waste our time. Know what you’re looking for, understand the craft of acting, and give actors their due. (Oh, and remember to send your actors a copy of the finished film when it’s done. This is our payment for our work and a part of your contract with us.)

POSTSCRIPT: Not all student filmmakers or film schools are bad, by the way. I had a great experience at Sheridan a few years back. And Ryerson typically impresses me with the scripts I read. But yeah, definitely stay away from Centennial.


2 thoughts on “To all film students casting actors on

  1. Rob, sorry you feel that way about Centennial. I am an instructor there and can say I put a tremendous amount of effort into ensuring they understand the protocols involved in film-making. From pre to pro to post. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch. There have been some incredibly talented students come through the program there. Give them another shot.

  2. Hi Mr. Instructor. Thanks for your note. It’s been years since I’ve done a Centennial project, but I appreciate if you’re putting in the effort to teach your students proper protocol. It’s possible that I had just a host of bad experiences there, and I’m glad if things are getting better. I guess going forward, the best advice for actors is not to rule out any school in particular, but to judge based on the casting breakdowns and initial communications how professionally the students are treating the project, and decide if it’s going to be worth their time.
    (Not to be self-important, but feel free to pass on my advice about how to write a casting breakdown to your students.)

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