Next week, I’ll release a breakdown of some of the characters from “Inside-Out, Outside-In” as I cast our December reading for invited guests and potential investors. I’ll be putting the breakdown right here on the blog, as well as on our Facebook fan page a few days before sending it out over traditional avenues like Breakdown Services to give our motivated collaborators and fans a chance to get the one-up on submitting for parts.
What is a breakdown exactly? Well, it’s a summary of short descriptions of characters and their essential qualities for the purposes of casting, along with some contact information. Filmmakers send them into the world with the hopes that agents, managers and quality actors will submit candidates (or themselves) to play a part that matches what we’re seeking. Here’s an example of a breakdown from the web series “Dumbass Filmmakers!” – Fatelink’s last project.
There are a few questions that naturally come up when writing these breakdowns. First of all, how much information do you reveal about the character? How much plot? I generally think fears of other people stealing your ideas are a bit paranoid. Let me clarify. I do think people might try to steal your ideas and characters, but the chance for them to pull it all off before your film is finished is not too high. And good luck to them! But still, as an artist, one of your assets is knowing what you’re trying to build, while others do not. So while I don’t like to fall into the trap of being paranoid to reveal any information, I don’t want to reveal too much. And plus, at this level, you need people to get excited about the project and become a little curious about it, so giving out a little information works in your favor. If you’re already Woody Allen, well then, you probably think I’m a dumb shit and aren’t reading this blog anyways, but if you are in that position, I don’t blame you for keeping everything about your story an absolute secret.
In terms of actors submitting to breakdowns, here are my pet peeves as a director. So I offer them with the hopes that they might help somebody more effectively respond to a breakdown, mine or anyone else’s.
Top Five Director’s Pet Peeves at Dealing with Breakdowns (and how to successfully navigate them):
1. Receiving submissions that are “way off” in terms of the character description. Trust me, I’ve given a lot of thought to why a character is a certain gender, age, nationality, temperament, etc. So please don’t completely disregard the breakdown and submit yourself if you’re clearly wrong for the part. And if you are going to gamble and submit against the character type, take the time to explain to me why you believe you’re right for it even if it goes against some major part of the description. (In my life, I have changed a character from male to female once based on an actress’ audition, but this is rare and she was right for the part in all the other aspects). If you at least offer an explanation, I know that you have something in mind, rather than just rudely disregarding what I said that I needed.
2. Receiving high-resolution photos that mess up my email account. Please be kind. I’m dealing with an email account that has a limited capacity for space. So if you send me your headshot as a 24 GB file, I’m going to hate you for a minute and may not even wait the requisite time for it to download. And here’s a hint – if you send in a hard copy of your headshot/resume and I like it, I will file it and keep it. And I do go over those files every now and then. Maybe it’s retro, but if hard copy is available as a submission option, I believe it’s worth it. If you don’t know how to size down your headshot to a jpeg of reasonable email size, please teleport back to the late 1990s.
3. Feeling “guilt-tripped” by friends trying to get a part. If you’re my friend, I already think you’re talented and amazing, so don’t ask me to prove it by giving you a part out of guilt. “Hey! You’ve NEVER cast me in anything,” complain some people. Or others, “I came to see both your plays! Isn’t it time we worked together?” I value my friends. I value people who support my work and take time to see it. And I want to work with my friends, all things being equal. But hey! I don’t owe anyone a part. And it’s not fair to guilt me into casting you. If you’ve supported my work in the past only to get a role in the future, well at least be savvy about that and don’t tell me. Know that if there’s ever a part that’s on-the-money for a friend that I know can hit it out of the park, you will likely get the part, all things being equal. If I’m not sure you’re on-the-money for it, it’s just business and we have to see if it will work out or not.
4. Liking an actor for the part, only to later discover he’s unavailable for the dates required. Listen, I know these sound like basic things. But believe me, actors disregard them all the time (or the agents do by not knowing the schedules of their own actors). Our reading is going to take place in December. So if you’re going home to Nebraska for the entire month, please do not submit! We’ll catch up on the next project, the next breakdown and c’ la vie! I really do understand the desire to expand your network or take an audition just for experience, but when you do so knowing that you are ultimately unavailable to work, you are in bad faith with the casting director/producer/director calling you in and this is a reflection on your character. And to an indie film director, character counts because we often don’t even carry insurance on the actors, so we are relying on you to be truthful and forthright about your schedule. So I say, “Don’t submit unless you are available for the dates required!”
5. Having actors flake because they are uncomfortable with the material. Listen, I have produced a number of projects and films with an LGBT element. I’m also from Texas and a family filled with “red state” Christian conservatives. So I really do understand if an actor isn’t comfortable with material I write. If you see in the breakdowns that it’s a gay character, then it’s a gay character. I’m not going to change it. And if you don’t want to play that character, don’t submit for it in the first place. Or, if you do submit, then read the sides and decide you’re not comfortable, simply call and cancel or email and cancel with enough notice for us to fill your slot. What is not cool is being so uncomfortable that you can’t man up (or woman up) and let us know you’re not coming to the audition. It’s also very rude to your fellow actors. That slot could’ve been filled. There are plenty of amazing actors – gay, straight, bi or questioning – that have no issues playing gay roles. And one of them could’ve auditioned for us in your place. A no-show/no-call is almost a 100% guarantee that you won’t be called in for anything in the future. Again, as indies, we don’t always carry insurance on the actors and I simply can’t risk someone flaking and not showing up on set. If you’re uncomfortable with the character, but cancel your audition respectfully, I might get a better sense of you and might bring you in for something different the next time around, no hard feelings. That’s how we do it in Texas.
Ok, so that’s my advice for submitting for roles and avoiding running into a director’s pet peeves (at least this director’s pet peeves). Now, look out for the breakdown next week, which will be released to this blog and to our Facebook fan page. And hope you all keep making movies.
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink, an open source production company. Our filmmaking blog charts the progress of each of our projects. If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).