Laura Conway on Web Series: Casting The Performers

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here it is. The fourth chapter in Laura’s series on the making of her very, very, very popular – over 3 million views – interweb series hit The Vamps Next Door.

Uh-oh, We’re ThisClose to Showtime!
by Laura Conway

After finding a director, it’s time to cast performers. I’m in the LA area and for posting a casting call I like to use either Breakdown Express or LA Casting. I don’t post the same casting on both. I did that once and it was a nightmare to organize.

I rent a theater with a stage to conduct auditions. This gives my low budget project a sense of professionalism. Phil and I once did a Vamps Next Door audition in a park and we looked like pervy stalkers. More him than me, but still… I hire an actor to be at the auditions to read lines with the performers. Some producers film auditions, but I only do that if a decision maker can’t attend. Otherwise, it’s just extra work.

Hard Way Lesson #4: Whatever you do, don’t cast your sister-in-law’s neighbor’s best friend’s cousin unless her name is Meryl Fucking Streep. Having said that, let’s revisit “don’t be an asshole.” There’s a black void in between words where you can say both yes and no at the same time. It goes something like this: She sounds amazing. Auditions are next week. I’ll move her to the front of the line.

But don’t let yourself be bullied or guilted or coerced by someone with leverage into casting an actor who’s not right for the part. When you don’t cast her, blame it on the director. OR offer her a role that’s just one line and write that line to her strengths. Remember, you’re the producer, the decision maker. Don’t be an insecure, people pleasing dumb ass who can’t standup for yourself (yes, talking about myself here) Do what’s best for the show in the nicest way you can.. or not. It’s up to you.

I always offer the performers some pay. I budget at least $100/day out of respect and also because pay attracts way more performers. I always go through Screen Actors Guild. They offer a New Media contract to producers of low budget web series. It’s extra time to fill out the paperwork, but I’ve found SAG actors to be more experienced. Be sure to post the casting call as “SAG New Media.” And be sure to have all the SAG paperwork submitted and approved before you post the casting, or your post could be delayed.

NOTE: If you go with the SAG New Media contract, I recommend not casting Non SAG performers because you could get fined down the line because of various arcane rules.

Another reason the SAG New Media thing is a good way to go. It has an option to “defer payment” to actors, which means that if the web series makes money later, then that’s when the actors get paid. Web series don’t usually make a net profit so if you choose deferred payment, the actors are basically working for free.

I used to stress over whether the director and I would agree on casting choices. But what usually happens is that one performer will show up and kill it, and I mean KILL IT. Someone who is SO PERFECT for the character that it’s obvious to everyone. And if there’s a character for whom this magic doesn’t happen, schedule one more audition day and bring in more actors or schedule call backs.

After writing and obsessing over the script, I always have a very clear and specific image in my mind of what the characters look like, physically. Sometimes a performer who looks totally different from that image will show up to audition and be really good and I might not even know it. But the director will know it. If the performance is good, be open to a different look. I’ve done that a few times now and have not regretted it.

Lest I forget: I now always do a table read before shooting so that I can catch the lines that don’t work and re-write them before it’s too late. I didn’t do a table read for Vamps Season 3 and at the end of the last scene of IRS PARTY 3, with the cameras rolling, my last line of dialogue died and then there was this black hole of dead air. (This was before I learned how to write scene endings.)

Actress Rae Latt, who plays Nancy the next door neighbor, improv’d the line “she didn’t like my outift” and it was funny and perfect. Take a look at the episode at the top of this article and see if you agree. Actors are truly amazing.

Read Chapter 1 HERE

Read Chapter 2 HERE

Read Chapter 3 HERE

Laura Conway is the writer and producer of The Vamps Next Door web series, directed by Phil Ramuno. Subscribe to the Vamps’ YouTube channel to get notifications about new episodes.

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