Tips for Creating a Casting Call That Gets Results

A cursory glance through most photography forums and websites reveals that too many photographers exert minimal effort when it comes to crafting a casting call.  Often times casting calls are too vague, revealing little if any information to models, or other creatives for whom it is intended (and who might otherwise be interested in shooting) other than time and place, and some don’t even make that low bar.  A casting call that reads, “I got a new lens I want to try out and a free afternoon tomorrow, anyone interested in shooting?” isn’t really a casting call.  It’s a cry for help.

In a perfect world, a casting call is a crucial pre-production step in the performing arts world meant to find the perfect actor, dancer, or singer  for a specific role in a production that’s intended for an audience. For performers, an ideal casting call results in being called in for an audition, being perfect for the part, and then being cast in the role.  This step is so critical to the final results of a creative production that casting directors in the film and television have carved out and established a lucrative niche within the industry, and often form long-term relationships with directors and producers because of their ability to spot and track talent.  Whether it’s film or photography, casting the right “character” for your creative concept is a critical step to ensure success.

Casting calls are also an essential part of the modelling world.  Models hoping to find work in commercials, editorial/fashion shoots, and fashion shows will go to innumerable casting calls in the hopes of catching someone’s the eye.  And those eyes are searching for models with the right “look”, an ineffable, hard to explain in words, but they-know-it-when-they-see-it certain something.  Whether it’s film or photography, Hollywood or the catwalk, that “it” is best described as star quality.  Do they fit the part?  In the vast majority of cases, this is a world closed to models not represented by agencies. The internet is filled with advice and tips for models hoping to get noticed at a casting call.

For photographers creating a casting call, the single most important consideration should be, “What do I want from my images?”.  And then, “Who will best fit the role I want them to play in my image?”  Are you creating work for your portfolio?  For submission to a magazine? For a photography contest or a gallery exhibition? Or, are your goals less lofty, but certainly no less worthy and you want to learn to master a new lighting or camera technique?  if you need a subject to shoot, and no one within your circle of friends fits the bill, you need to create a casting call.

But before you make that leap, it’s a worthwhile step to create a design brief or mood board, not only for yourself, but for the rest of your creative team.  In this day and age it takes very little effort to pull together images that evoke the look and feel of what you are after.  And more importantly, it ensures that you and your creative team are all on the same page.  I resisted Pinterest for the longest time, because of copyright concerns, but it has become ubiquitous and there is no denying its ease of use.  A picture really is worth a thousand words when trying to explain to others what you are hoping to achieve.  “I’d like this make-up and this hair and this look, with this lighting, and these types of poses, at this kind of location…”  Voila, you have a recipe for a photo shoot.

The first thing you need to decide when creating a casting call is determining what your budget will be.  Is it a commercial or creative shoot?  If it’s a commercial shoot, you, or you and your client should have a budget already, as set out in your quote.   If your shoot is creative, for your personal growth as an image creator, start by making a list.  How critical is your on-camera talent to the success of your shoot?  Do you need a model with a lot of experience and a proven track record as a killer poser, or do you you just need a mysterious figure in the background who doesn’t move?  The first requires a model with chops, the second could be handled by a voice-activated mannequin.  Do you need a specific look? Or a secondary talent like the ability to dance?  Is the shoot going to be in studio, or on location?  If it’s on location, is it private or public?  Will you need a permit?  If your shoot is on location, will you need to organize transportation?  If the shoot is longer than a few hours, are you going to feed your cast and crew?  Do you need an assistant?  Do you need to rent gear? Do you need an agency model (or not)?  Do you need a stylist?  Hair?  Make-up?  Remember this is a budget, so the more things you add to a shoot, the bigger your budget is going to be.  What’s that you say?  You have no budget?  You were going to shoot TFP?

At this point you should stop and consider this for a moment; are your images really adequate compensation for collaborators with significant out of pocket expenses?  If the images you and your collaborators create together enhance everyone’s portfolio, or result in publication, perhaps. And I say perhaps guardedly.  There is no better feeling in the world than working with a creative team that pulls together and creates stunning work that none of you could have accomplished on your own.  But you should really cover the out of pocket expenses for transportation, parking, etc, and pay a reasonable kit fee for the hair and make-up people, and the other members of your creative team.  Treat others how you would like to be treated.

If your photo shoot requires a stylist, or hair and make-up, you might want to seriously consider approaching those creative collaborators first, before you post a casting call, because if you are relatively inexperienced, they can be a Godsend in ensuring that you are successful in your efforts.  They can help you save time and money by sharing their experience and offering their unique insight.  Often times they will also be able to assist in attracting other people to the project.  Attaching a great creative team to your project will demonstrate to potential models that you’re serious about your art and craft.  And it can markedly increase a model’s willingness to work with someone with whom they are not familiar.

At this point your Casting Call should actually be pretty easy to write, because it’s all there on your list.  You know what you want to shoot and how you’re going to shoot it.  You have a time to shoot and a location. You may already have attached other creative collaborators to your project. When making a casting call for a model that you’d like to be the subject of your shoot, you should have a pretty good idea of the kind of model you want, so don’t be afraid to spell it out.  But don’t be the photographer who says they’re looking for a model with big boobs.  And think in terms of the kind of character you want to star in your photograph.  Who is he or she?  And for interested models, who may have questions they would like you to answer, you have a design brief already in place that you can show them.

In terms of remuneration you should state right up front in your casting call what the compensation is going to be.  And if it’s TFP, spell out very clearly what the participants are going to be getting in the way of images, both in terms of quantity, but also your timeline for delivery.  You should have a sample of your Model Release that you can forward to interested models.

You should ask potential participants in your project to send you Links to their portfolios. A portfolio will often give you an idea of a model’s range of looks, and for other creative professionals, show you what their strengths and weaknesses might be.  It never hurts to be open-minded when considering participants for your project. Sometimes if you cast against type, you can introduce a new creative element to your concept.  Or, a model may even inspire you to go in a new creative direction.

As a photographer who shoots fine art nudes, I often use a casting call as a vehicle to arrange to meet models in person.  For some types of shoots, it may be important for the participants to meet face to face, to chat further about the concept and to ensure that all parties feel that the photo shoot is something that they’re comfortable with.  And at these meeting, I usually bring a portfolio of prints, and work that has been published and exhibited to show potential collaborators.  Personal chemistry can be an important consideration when assembling your creative team.

Generally speaking I almost always like to send a short note to those people who respond to a casting call, thanking them for their interest and letting them know that if they are chosen they will be notified by a specific date.  You don’t need to call people to tell them that they didn’t get picked! Often someone will express interest in a casting call that might not be exactly right for your current project, but might well be perfect for another idea that you have on the back burner.  Don’t hesitate to tell that person that you’d be interested in working together in the future.

Good luck with your next casting call!

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