Ever fancied being a casting director? Here’s 8 tips on making it work (courtesy of Get On Up)

November 21, 2014 admin No comments


‘You can help people realise their dreams’: Chadwick Boseman’s turn in Get On Up has launched his career (Picture: Universal Pictures)

Paul Schnee and Kerry Barden, casting directors on the upcoming James Brown biopic Get On Up, have given the lowdown what it takes to get into casting.

Paul and Kerry have worked together not only on the James Brown film, but also on the Oscar-nominated The Help and drama Winter’s Bone, the breakout role for Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence.

With Get On Up star Chadwick Boseman recently being cast as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, it’s fair to say his star is on the rise.

It’s amazing what the right part can do for an actor. It takes time, patience and a little of bit of luck; but when you get it right – magic happens.

Paul and Kerry – who have seriously struck gold with Chadwick – give metro.co.uk 8 tips on how to get to get the Hollywood casting business right.

1. Be prepared to work your way up

Paul: Casting wasn’t what I always wanted to do. I worked in a talent agency right after college and worked as an assistant to Mike Nichols for about three years. After that I left film and working in book publishing for about 12 years. After a series of not very interesting lay-offs I was jobless in my mid 30s and wanted to do something completely new. Luckily I still knew a lot of people from my old jobs who got me in touch with Kerry. Kerry was my boss for about four years before he and I partnered up and formed our own company.

It’s not something you can train for other than by doing it. Try and get an internship or a job assisting in a casting office. Familiarise yourself with the process and with a pool of actors based on where you’re located in the world. The currency you have as a casting director is a deep knowledge of actors, who they are, where they live, what they can do, things like that.

2. You need to have a love of actors

Kerry: Most of the people in my office started from acting so we have a good idea of what actors are going through. Part of it is loving actors and part of it is loving reading. We do a lot of reading. We get five or six scripts a week – on a slow week! That’s a lot of reading over the year. Also loving theatre, I go to a lot of theatres, watching short films and foreign films. It’s the love of the discovery of actors. That’s the initial thing you really have to like.

Paul: I really enjoy working with actors in the audition room. We do a lot of auditions without the director for initial readings and it’s really fun discovering things about a script and a character, and then perhaps pointing out to the director things the actor may have discovered about a character. It’s an interesting process.


(Picture: Universal Pictures)

3. Get involved at universities

Kerry: A lot of colleges have a film department that is looking for someone to help with student films. A lot of the time these students films become short films, festival films, and then a trailer for a feature. It’s where a lot of new filmmakers are coming from too – getting a job as an assistant or in a casting office is also a good way to get started.

There are so many ways, but you need to have a love of actors and the world of storytelling to make it work for yourself – I think!

4. Don’t always go with your first choice

Kerry:  We had a James Brown search for a couple of months before we started casting for the other roles. It was a long process. Part of the process was finding someone who could move like James.

Chadwick was a choice because I thought he was a incredible actor but I didn’t know his body of work at the time. I didn’t know if that was the right person or not, but the more we worked with him the clearer it became. We really did strike gold. He was one actor that could cover the 20-year age span that we cover in the film. We got really really lucky.

Paul: We read a fair number of guys before casting an unknown, but for me it only takes one key audition. It was really about capturing James Brown as a person. When you’re casting for something so iconic you don’t want to necessarily go on physical resemblance.

5. It’s worth taking a risk on an unknown actor

Kerry: It’s a case by case basis on each film. It’s definitely fun to find someone, like the next person – and it’s certainly a big part of my job to find the right actor for every role, sometimes not even a speaking part. It’s like putting a puzzle together. If you put one piece of the puzzle in place and then start putting the surrounding pieces together, you don’t want to have to file off the edges to make it fit. If I get it right, it works. Hopefully that character will stick out, even if it’s subconsciously.

You have to hope that someone can carry the main story of the film. Like with Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence had only done a few things but I knew she could carry the weight of the world on her shoulders and ultimately carry the story.


‘You need someone that can carry the story’ says casting director Kerry Barden (Picture: Universal Pictures)

Paul: It depends on the actor. It is a leap of faith. When you have unknown actor reading it’s tough, but not impossible, to envision what that character you’re working on is going to sound like and feel like and look like. It’s difficult.

Obviously we’re always respectful of actors of a certain age or experience or stature in the film industry who won’t or don’t want to audition. But more actors are keen about reading than you might think.

6. It takes instinct

Kerry: It’s that instinct that you have to have with actors where there’s something special about them. It’s there with a lot of actors I know who are just living in a space of honesty. It’s something Meryl Streep does very well. It’s not that they disappear into the character but they make the character live. It’s honest and authentic and compelling.

7. You could find the next big thing

Kerry: You can help people realise their dreams. Every actor is looking for a job when they come into my office. It can be a springboard to a bigger career. That part of it is very satisfying. The best collaborations I do are with the filmmakers and directors and producers. It’s also a lot of fun to be able to work with actors and help somebody get a job. It’s part of what makes me enjoy coming to work every day. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and I still love it. It’s a joy to do.

Paul: Kerry and I did have a hand in discovering Jennifer Lawrence with Winter’s Bone, so yes. When she read in L.A. I had a very sixth sense feeling that this might be our girl. There was something about her first audition that really stuck out. It’s very exciting. Putting someone who isn’t on the radar out into the public is a great feeling.


Thanks in part to Paul and Kerry, Chadwick’s star is on the rise (Picture: Universal Pictures)

8. Don’t rush into it- it’s better to start late than early!

Paul: Mike Nichols said that to me when I was working as his assistant, although I don’t remember the context. I now understand what he means because I came into this in the second act, in my mid-30s. I’m not sure if I’d been as good as it if I’d started in my 20s. I’ve always liked that piece of advice because it keeps me sane.

Get On Up: The James Brown Story is out now

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