10 Questions to Ask Before Submitting to an Indie Project
Updated: May 21, 2020
Between the major casting sites and Facebook, we might encounter dozens of potential auditions per day. Logic tells us there’s just no way we can submit to all of them (and let’s be honest, we don’t necessarily want to do all of those projects anyhow). So how do we cull through the casting calls and choose the right ones to submit to? What information do we need to know to make our decision? What auditions do we submit to and how do we spot red flags?
Here’s what you should ask before submitting to a casting call:
1. What type of project is it?
First, consider the format. Is it a student film? A Short? A Feature? Documentary? Industrial? Commercial? Webseries? The value of this footage for you as an actor (as well as your rates as a performer) are directly influenced by the media’s format. For instance, don’t let someone wrangle you to do a commercial for free, or do an industrial and think it's gonna make great footage for your reel.
Also, consider your commitment level. The size and scope of the project will affect the time commitment required of you as a performer. Taking on a lead in a feature or web series means a longer time commitment-- and might not be something you can financially swing for 2+ months, if it’s a low-or-non-paying project. So you've got to make certain you know what type of project it is and decide if it’s a worthwhile investment of your time.
Red Flags to look out for: In the world of non-union submitting, there are lots of amateur filmmakers who accidentally leave out information but there are also some filmmakers who bend the rules to their advantage. For example, if the breakdown says the project is a narrative film but it also mentions usage, in perpetuity, or internal use, those are all red flags that they might have plans to release it as a commercial or industrial. Without the union double checking their paperwork, it’s up to you to seek out those inconsistencies.
2. Who is involved?
Who are the folks making this film? Go to IMDb.com and check out the writer, producer(s), and director. Check out samples of their work, their trailers, posters, and credits. Get to know what it is these folks have done, and what they do. Make sure they are legitimate filmmakers with a pre-existing body of work that you’d feel safe getting involved with. Unless they are student filmmakers, they should have more credits than you do. If you have friends who’ve worked with them before, reach out and ask them what their experience was like on set.
3. What is this project about?
A strong film will include a clear and specific casting breakdown. This should include:
A synopsis of the story
Credit for your role (Lead, Supporting, or if its a Background Role)
An in-depth character breakdown* including age range, ethnicities, and gender, and a non-physical description including adjectives that drive each character as humans
If any of this is missing, feel free to ask for more clarification. You can ask when submitting and strive to be 100% familiar and confident in the content before accepting any role.
Red Flags to look out for: Be weary of any vague character descriptions (missing relevant information like whether or not the roles are speaking roles or their ages.). The writers should have fully fleshed out characters and plot. If not, their casting call is premature, and too early in development for you as an actor to bother getting involved. Also avoid any casting call that requires nudity in the audition, or expects a performer to perform nudity, without a day rate and an intimacy director. Avoid auditions that require you to sign a release with your audition footage (they are not entitled to use your audition material to market, or include in their film). They should book you before asking you to sign anything release forms (outside of an NDA). Avoid casting calls that claim to have distribution on Netflix/ Hulu with out the data/ press release to back it up. (Generally speaking films with distribution deals won't be conducting principal casting on Facebook, and will only accept submissions through SAG Franchised agencies)
*NDA scripts won’t give you as much information, but those are no longer considered Indie films, but are Studio productions (which you’ll only be able to submit through an agent, so while much of the content will be vague, it will be more well-vetted).
4. What’s the compensation?
Regardless of your tier as an actor you should expect some basic compensation. Namely: copy of completed footage, IMDb credit, and meals on set.
If you are in the union, the film needs to offer you a union contract with a day rate (or deferred pay). If you are no longer working unpaid projects, confirm the day rate before going through the work of auditioning.
If you are newer in the industry, you may feel up for working unpaid— but be sure to do your research. If you look up the filmmakers on IMDb, and you can’t find them, they may not be able to offer you one of those basic levels of compensation (IMDb credit). And if you can’t track down footage of their work, that is an indicator that you might not ever receive that footage for your reel.
If the casting call is written so haphazardly that they aren’t 100% transparent about all of this, they’ve given you an indication of how that production and on-set experience will be, which you can consider to be a red flag.
5. What is the why?
Check out why these filmmakers are choosing to create this film, today here in 2020. Depending on your current tier as an actor their ‘why’ may or may not align with your own trajectory as storyteller. You should check in with yourself on what your why is and what the why is for this particular film.
See if they can co-exist or if it’s going to be a battle to collaborate. Do some investigating: is this propaganda? Is this just for fun? For festivals? To spread awareness of a topical issue? If you read the casting call and the language is sexist, racist, covered in grammatical errors, or otherwise feels off to you, that can be a red flag that these filmmakers are in the business for the wrong reasons— and you should decline that audition.
Remember: in film, your name and face are forever attached to this production. It’s okay to decline an audition if you feel like it doesn’t respect your boundaries or align with you as a storyteller. Conversely, even if you normally feel like you won’t do unpaid projects — if the message speaks to you or supports a good cause or demographic — that might be enough to nudge you into participating in something powerful.
6. What are the demands of the role?
Be sure you’ve got the age range, skill set, genetic makeup, and willingness to perform the required content of the role.*
If the role requires nudity and you aren't comfortable with that, or if the role requires an actor in a certain height or race or age range and those don’t describe you, you should pass on submitting. This includes union status. Even in a right-to-work state, the union rules apply: if you are SAG-AFTRA, you cannot work on a non-union set. So if you are in the union, find out if the film is going SAG-AFTRA ULB or New Media. Otherwise, don’t submit. (Reminder: its a waste of the CDs time by offering your submission if you don’t fit the requirements)
*Sometimes smaller/ newer filmmakers are open to receiving submissions different than their character descriptions. Use your best judgement. But know it's a risk. If you can nail the role but are one inch off from the character height in the description, feel free to go for it. If you are the wrong race, and don't remotely have the vibe of the character in your wheelhouse, you risk looking like you can’t follow directions; or worse, like you are trying to ‘pass’ as something you know you are not and wasting the director's time.
7. When & where is the project filming?
You have to sort out if you are available on the filming dates, or willing to work local hire in the films location, before you submit. As someone who's worked in casting, it’s a real pet peeve to find an actor you adore and have to recast because they just aren’t available for the shoot. Confirm your calendar (or be willing to change it at a moment's notice), or don’t submit.
Also remember, if you book it, you’ve got to be prepared to book out with your agent.
If you know you can’t work as a local hire, and they've stated local hires only, again you are wasting their time. Don’t submit.
8. What are the instructions?
This seems obvious, but if the casting call wasn’t on Backstage or Actors Access or some other casting platform, you might be finding it on social media. Be sure you are clear on what the production wants you to send, where to send it, and by when.
Once you trust this production is legit, include everything they ask for in your submission package.* If they require a reel, be sure you have one to include. (If it’s a lower budget project that’s unpaid, they might be willing to accept self tape footage but don’t assume that. Ask.)
If there's no email address for the casting, we strongly recommend not submitting. By not including an email address, they are indicating all of your call times and scripts will be delivered via social media. How casting calls are written are an indication of how film productions will be run. And not including a dedicated email is, frankly, quite sloppy and amateur.
*The quickest way to be cut from a casting submission is to send an incomplete one.
9. Will there be an intimacy/ fight director?
Ok, so this only really matters in action/ horror/ romantically-charged films-- but it's still worth mentioning. Regardless of union status, all actors deserve to be safe and protected on set. If it looks like a role might require nudity, or sexual encounters --or the film includes stunts, violence, or weaponry of any kind: ask for a Fight Choreographer/ Intimacy Director. You deserve to know the film isn’t throwing you to the wolves to fend for yourself. Even stunt performers with decades of experience still have fight choreographers.
Planning, creating and staging stunts or love scenes is an entirely different job than performing them as an actor. Be clear in your physical boundaries as an actor. Decide if you are willing to shoot a film based off of that information.
10. Does this sound fun?
This may seem silly, but we sometimes in the thick of 'actor business' we forget the reason we are all here. We want to have a blast getting to play make-believe. Maybe it’s a cool director you’ve always wanted to work with; maybe this films on-location in Switzerland; maybe this role is just screaming your name and you're itching to play her. Whatever the reason, you should feel excited about the film. (It’s why knowing YOUR why is so important before ever submitting to a film).
Only you know yourself. Maybe what sounds fun to you is getting that first film credit. Maybe what sounds fun to you is acting for no money because you haven't performed in 20 years. Maybe what’s fun is getting some great footage for your reel. But it should be fun. You should feel excited to bite into this world and prepare this audition. (Don’t get us wrong, acting is hard work, but if you aren’t getting some excited butterflies about the project, you might need to check your barometer of interest in submitting to this specific project at all).
If you're self-submitting without a trusted agent to help you vet the project, it's up to you to trust your gut and ask yourself these questions. Once you've gone through this list on a few different projects, your instinct will be prepped to guide you. Any red flags? Keep scrolling. Does it sound fun? Rock. On.
Clare Lopez is an Actress and Director of Education and Outreach at Book From Tape Acting Studios in Orlando, FL. She is deeply passionate about supporting fellow actors in their craft, and loves using storytelling to educate, elevate, and empower others. Email Clare