How to Cast a Film with Little to No Dialogue

I am going to write a series of posts documenting my experience directing and producing my latest short film Seven. The first short film I’ve produced in Chicago since film school. I’ll start with the casting process.

It starts way back in January when I decided I was finally going to shoot a short film that I had wrote a couple of years ago. I put a couple of posts on Facebook looking for cast and crew. I got lots of bites for crew, but not much for cast. When out of the blue on Linked In, where I had not posted, I had received a message from an old college friend, Donna Watts, a casting director who was looking to reconnect. I told her, her message was right on time. We arranged to meet the following Monday for breakfast. We had an eventful meeting, catching up and going over the projects she’s worked on in the years since we’ve last seen each other. She also gave me helpful advice on how to get back into the Chicago Film Scene. We set a date for the casting and planned to reconnect when I had a location.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances out of her control, she was unable to make the actual casting call. But the actors she sent me were all spot on. Everyone who came in completely embodied the characters of my script. I believe I cast everyone who read for me except one. And that was mainly because I ran out of roles.

There were a few bumps in the road because I was trying to accommodate for my script which had little to no dialogue, so I created sides for the actors to study that would incorporate acting without dialogue so they wouldn’t have an awkward one line audition. With the sides I sent character descriptions that would instruct the actor on how they were to act when they weren’t speaking.

But most of them ignored the sides and just read the script. Note for the future, Do Not Send the Script! It just confused things. They didn’t need to read it. But I gave them time to prepare and let them audition for me in pairs rather than read with a non-actor. I wanted to see them play off each other and see their chemistry. It made for better clips.

I still had a few characters I needed to cast after the casting call, but I had a cousin that I knew would be perfect for the role. And a couple of nephews that I knew that I could use to fill the roles of fight scene thugs.

My Casting Director had arranged for someone to video the rehearsal, so I sent her the clips along with my picks and asked for her opinion of my choices. She agreed with all of them and she took care of notifying the actors that they had been cast. Donna also was the liaison between the cast and I throughout the production and really took a lot of pressure off of me through this process (more on that in future posts). All in all, this was one of my best casting experiences, even with the bumps. And the proof is in the pudding. The performances I received on set were above and beyond what I knew they could bring based on their auditions.