Part 3: Casting | So You Want to Make a Fiction (or Any) Podcast?



Photo courtesy of Levi Jones.

Note: Multitude is a podcast collective and production studio. This piece is part of a ten part series by them to help you create a fiction (or any) podcast. Did you see Part Two? Make sure you check that out and come back next Tuesday for Part Four.

You have the words, the team, and the wherewithal to get your fiction podcast off the ground. Now how do you find the right actors to bring your characters to life?

When it comes to finding actors, the production team owes it to the Writer and their script to find and cast the best people possible. That may mean casting people intimately involved in the project so everyone “gets” what’s going on. Or, it could mean casting from a pool of known regulars who are in the space, like pulling from a local theater, or hiring big-name actors that bring a fandom with them.

For our new audio sitcom, Next Stop, we wanted to focus on casting from the widest pool possible — but there was one caveat: they had to be within commuting distance of Multitude’s production studio, which is in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Since the plot of our sitcom revolves around a core set of roommates, we wanted the actors to be able to record in the same room, so they could react to, and improvise with, one another in real time. Because we were bound by the five boroughs, we opened up our search by considering people that hadn’t acted in podcasts before, which widened our total pool to a range of actors from different disciplines and formats.

One piece of advice: be sure to set your production up for success by budgeting enough time to search for the right actors. Casting is time-consuming! Setting up auditions, giving folks enough time to submit, going through submissions, scheduling and running callbacks, and making final decisions — all of these tasks take dozens of hours to complete. In fact, they are an entire job: Casting Director. These skilled individuals know how to create and run auditions, access a wide network of actors, plus they have a highly-tuned ear for what each role needs. Adding a Casting Director to your production roster is an essential part of building a solid foundation for a successful podcast.

With our limited budget, we decided to fold Casting Director under our Assistant Director’s responsibilities.

How We Casted NEXT STOP

We decided to cast on Backstage, a major website that hosts casting calls for TV, film, theater, commercials, and podcasts. There’s a reason why many use Backstage — it’s really, really easy to get your job post out there. After paying the 17 dollar submission fee, we posted seperate casting calls, one for each individual character in our script. When describing our characters, we made sure to talk about them both as real people and sitcom archetypes. For example: “Cam loves Survivor, works at a media job, and wants to be promoted so bad. He’s also the goofball who maps the closest to Marshall from How I Met Your Mother.” Since we were working within the sitcom genre, we wanted potential actors to be on the same page for the work we were doing.

We also did not specify gender, race, sexuality, or age for any role unless one of those elements was absolutely essential to the character as written. We wanted to get the best people possible for each role.

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Here’s a screenshot of one of the casting calls we posted on Backstage for our latest podcast, Next Stop.

Once our casting calls were live, it was time to wait. Surely, no one would submit to a small fiction podcast, right? We were so wrong.

Going Through the Reels

The reels hit us like a tidal wave. Fifty in the first few hours, then a hundred by the end of the day, and more and more and more. Who would have thought there were so many actors in New York City? (We’re joking, we promise we’re joking).

As our Casting Director listened to all of the reels, she prepped “sides” for each character. For those new to auditioning, a side is a short monologue for an actor to perform during an audition. Our Casting Director’s goal was to pick sides that showed the full range of each character. Very few characters are one-note, so it’s important to see how someone acts while both yelling and whispering. And once we sent the sides to the actors we were interested in, we would encourage them to send us up to three takes for each side. The actor may not be picturing the role the same way we were, so this would give them the opportunity to make different choices for the character they were auditioning for. Unsurprisingly, we ended up casting a lot of people who did three takes per side!

Once the sides were picked, we sent them out to the actors. They sent back their audio takes, and we sifted through the submissions for the final callback. This is where the Casting Director shines, building a profile of each actor with their reel and now the audio sides. Our Casting Director made her choices for callbacks, and ran them by the other three members of the production team for input. Ultimately, the Director would have final say, but as the one doing the legwork, the Casting Director has the most knowledge.

God, I Hope I Get It, I Hope I Get It

We never thought we’d be living the Broadway director life, but one cold day in January, that’s exactly how things shook out. We invited groups of actors to a theater-style audition. The actors were mixed and matched with actors from different groups to see how each person would work with others. We were looking for sparks of chemistry between actors, how well they knew the material, and whether they felt confident enough to improvise (and do it well) during the audition.

Logistically, we knew we had to keep these callbacks pretty tight. We’re a small outfit, so we couldn’t ask actors to sit around for hours because we’re not the only game in town. To minimize wait times and to accommodate any scheduling conflicts, we spread our callbacks over two days. Respecting the time of fellow creative professionals is the right thing to do anyway, but in doing so, we’re also building a positive association with Multitude. That way actors will want to come back to audition when we cast for our next production (or, at least, tell a friend about how neat our hallway was).

Decision Time

This is the final countdown. It’s game time. Let’s get some actors.

Some people might slot in perfectly to play a certain role. Other times, it may be difficult to pick an actor for a role, and that’s ok. If there are two actors up for the same role, it’s because each one brings different energy and choices to the character. Ultimately, it’s up to the production team to figure out which actor is the best fit for the production. Other things to consider: the auditioner’s chemistry with the other actors, their ability to improvise within the confines of the scene, and voice distinguishability. That last point is important; because it’s a podcast and you can’t see faces, the actors’ voices must stand out to the ears of the audience.

After our Director and Casting Director shared their thoughts with one another, the entire production team met for a rousing debate about who should be who. Here’s how that looked on for our team: the Director and the Writer discussed who the characters are according to our script, and how each prospective actor would embody that, or make different choices from what we’d envisioned so far. As for your casting process, it’s crucial to make space to hear the opinion of every relevant stakeholder — that way, your entire production team will feel motivated and bought into the gig. But ultimately, the director has to make the call.

You’ve picked the right actors, so now it’s time to make the thing right? We wish. Actually, now it’s time to dig into something that’s super important but often looked over — it’s time to get the paperwork ready for the actors. Exciting? Maybe not. Essential? Definitely, so more on that next week. In the meantime, be sure to read part two, “Assembling the Team.”