Right now, we’re starting casting for Ops, the Fox pilot we’ll hopefully shoot after the holidays. Since most readers out there have never been through network casting — or any casting — I thought I’d talk you through the process. Or at least, the start of the process.
The first thing we had to do was hire a casting director. That was easy; I picked Robert Ulrich, who did the casting for my last pilot. He put together a master list of every name-brand actor to consider for the two lead roles.
Last week, we had a “casting concept” meeting with the network and the studio (both Fox, but different divisions), and talked through the list. I’m always amazed at (a) how many of the names I recognize, and (b) how few of the shows I’ve even heard of.
- Tom Cavanagh is unavailable. He’s a series regular on Love Monkey.
- What the hell is ‘Love Monkey?’
- It’s on CBS.
- Is it on now?
The two lead roles in the show are Joe McGinty and Theo Vanowen. Ideally, one or both roles would go to bigger name actors who are “offer only.” That means that they don’t audition. You call their agents and ask, “Hey, does [fill in the name] want to be in the show?” If they say yes, boom, you’re done.
At the casting concept meeting, we decided to go after one actor who was offer-only. We also talked through all of the actors with which Fox has special holding deals. That’s the dream: you have the guys you want, and you haven’t gone through a lot of auditions/meetings/aggravation to get there.
But in case it doesn’t happen so easily, we decided to begin auditions.
The first step is sending out the breakdown, which describes the roles that are up for audition. The form itself is copyrighted; a company called Breakdown Services handles the process, and given how often they mark “CONFIDENTIAL” on everything, I won’t include the real form so as to avoid pissing them off.
But here’s what we wrote about the characters in the script:
- The driver is an American: THEO VANOWEN (mid-30’s to 40’s). Effortlessly intimidating, he’s fought on four continents and killed many men — but not one more than he had to. He keeps both eyes scanning the road.
- His business partner, JOE MCGINTY (late 20’s to 30’s), is more MBA than Marine. Much better with words than weapons, he’s an expert negotiator who could talk his way past St. Peter. Both men wear body armor.
Both roles are marked “PLEASE SUBMIT ALL ETHNICITIES.” From experience, I can tell you that if you don’t do that, you only end up with white people.
Once a part hits Breakdown, every talent agent in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere has access to the information. A related service called Screenplay Online lets actors, agents and managers download .pdf versions of the script, along with the sides.
Ah, the sides.
First, a definition: “Sides” are the scenes from the script that actors read for their auditions. It’s up to the showrunners (me and Jordan) to pick which scenes we want to hear read. For Ops, we’re focussing on casting the two lead roles, so we picked scenes that have both guys in them, and showed a range of emotions, from jovial to pissed off. (That’s pretty much the full range of emotion for this particular show.)
When picking the sides, you want to pick your best scenes, since these are the moments that the studio, the network, and everyone else will see when they watch casting tapes. Every time they hear your clever dialogue, you want them to fall more and more in love with your show, so they’ll give it a plum spot on the fall schedule.
But in many ways, you really don’t want to use your best scenes in the sides, because of one horrible truth: you will hear the exact same scene 5,000 times. You will hear it read by great actors, decent actors, and people you can’t believe have the nerve to call themselves actors. The words will blur together into a meaningless mush.
You will hate these scenes so much that you will rewrite them before you shoot the actual show, just so you can stand to hear them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first casting session is tomorrow. The actors will be talented. The words will be fresh. And casting will proceed apace.