5 tips for casting on a budget

Actress Katlyn Wong won our 2016 StarNow Best Actor Award for her “perfectly pitched” performance in ‘Wait.’ (Pictured with StarNow’s Kelvin Taylor)


Casting is where you start to see your short film come to life. There’s more to it than you might think though, especially if you are on a tight (or non-existent) budget. If you’re not yet at the stage where you can afford to pay a Casting Director, the following tips will help you find the right talent to realize your dream.

1. Create a great casting call

To attract the right person you need a succinct brief that communicates the key information about the role. You can send this brief to agents, or place it online for talent to submit to.

Be specific with your role description. If you are casting a mother for example, be descriptive: Is she a young glamorous mum or an exhausted and weathered type? Include specifics like age, height and hair colour if it matters.

Include the dates. Actors need to know the audition date, recall date, and if you have them, shoot dates and weather cover dates. If you know the days of the week (i.e. all weekends) or times (i.e. all night shoots) include this too. It’s OK to say “shooting mid May” if you don’t have exact dates. This information helps to stop people who are unavailable applying for the role, saving you precious time.

Tell them a little about you and your project. If you are a film student making this film on the weekends telling the story of your kid brother’s first day of school, tell them why you’re so committed to this project. Mention the school you’re at. Have you made any previous films? Tell them that too. At a minimum you should let actors know the genre of your film, and a short synopsis.

Be upfront about what you can offer. If you’re not paying cash, is travel covered? As a minimum you will be expected to feed them during the shoot. You should also offer to provide a copy of the film for their show reel.

Do not include a really long synopsis of your story. A couple of sentences is perfect. A novel will turn people off.

2. Fish for talent in the right spots

Great news: there are lots of actors. There is a whole world out there of people who can look and sound like the characters you have in mind for your film. Better yet, if you have a great script most actors would love to work on your short film. Experienced actors are always looking for more interesting and diverse roles, and beginner actors need great show-reel material.

There are two main ways of connecting with actors without the benefit of a casting agent:

1) Acting Agents – Most experienced actors will have an agent that represents them. Agents make commission from the paid work they secure for their talent, so be aware that they will prioritize booking properly paid work above your short film. This doesn’t mean you can’t send your brief to an agent for suggestions, just be aware of their priorities. There’s a list of actors agents in New Zealand here.

2) Online profiles – StarNow has 4 million members worldwide looking for jobs and auditions. There are a mixture of signed and unsigned talent with a wide variety of experience levels. You can use this service to place a free casting call or search the talent directory.

'Wait' won the NZFC Special Jury Prize and actress Katlyn Wong won the StarNow Best Actor Award

Actress Katlyn Wong in ‘Wait’ by Jamin Tun

3. Prepare for auditions thoroughly

Always hold auditions rather than casting from a head-shot alone. You’ll find out more than just whether they can play the part. It’s important to know if your actors will show up on time, take direction and be pleasant to deal with.

Keep your shortlist shot. If you can, try to audition just 4-6 actors for each character. Include a few different looks for each one.

Book audition dates well in advance. Give your talent as much notice as possible about when and where they’ll take place. Be prepared to juggle times around as not everyone may be able to make the first time you offer them. Leave yourself a bit of admin time to set these auditions up so you don’t get too stressed out by the process too!

Your venue doesn’t need to be fancy. What space can you get for free? Pub rooms, a church? You just need a room with two separate spaces for performing and waiting (even a hallway with couple of chairs is fine).

Help the talent prepare for what is expected on the day. This can include providing sides (excerpts from your script with some lines you’d like to hear them read), letting them know if an accent is required and what to wear.

Capture their details. Have printed information forms (and pens) available so actors can fill out their details. Make sure you include everything you will need to know – like their mobile number, availability and measurements (bring a measuring tape). Have each actor hold up a ‘slate card’ with their name and contact details on it and take a photo to staple to their form. A white board is handy for this, then you can easily refer back to that face when deciding on the successful candidates.

4. Keep auditions brief

Keep to your schedule. Allow a maximum of 15-20 minutes per person and stick to your scheduled times. This should allow approximately two takes.

Give direction confidently yet sensitively. If you were visualizing it another way, don’t hesitate to ask for another take. This is great practice for articulating your vision, allows you to see how the actor responds to direction, and how you work together.

Have a reader. It’s best practice to have a dedicated person to read the lines of other characters in the scene. Have a reader stand just beside/behind the camera to give your actor an eye line and someone they can react to in the moment. Ideally a reader is someone who can act or read with a bit of expression, that will help get a great performance during the audition.

TIP: actors often like being invited to be readers, as its great practice for them – and they’re usually really good at it!

Film your auditions. What someone looks like through a lens can be surprisingly different to how you perceive them in person or how you remember them later. It is important to have a camera available on audition day to capture their performance for yourself and to show others in your team that are involved in helping you make your casting decisions.

5. Follow up swiftly

It is polite and professional to get back to everyone who auditioned for you as promptly as you can. They might be waiting anxiously to hear from you or holding off getting their beard trimmed until they know if they got the part in your film. Even if you are struggling to make a decision, you need to ensure you manage the expectations of your talent and keep in touch with them.

Trust your instincts. Your gut feeling about someone usually holds true.


Happy casting!


Place a free casting call with StarNow.


StarNow is a free online casting and audition service, designed to help you to find the perfect person for your next film.

You can use StarNow to:

  • Place and promote casting calls for your next project – no matter how big or small
  • View online CVs, headshots, showreels & mp3s of talent who match your criteria
  • Shortlist and organise applicants with our online system
    Contact candidates with private messages, audition details and scripts
  • And most importantly, cast the perfect person for your production.