Episode 5: Casting Calls

Date published: 8/31/2019
Written by: Anne Baird, Wil Williams
Produced by: Wil Williams

When you make something with a cast, you have to . . . cast it. And when you cast something, you have to make a casting call. This week, hear about how Hug House went about its casting call–plus our usual updates and an exciting surprise.

Scoring Magic is presented by Hug House Productions. You can support us for behind-the-scenes details and early previews of upcoming projects on Patreon.

VALENCE IndieGogo Campaign

We’re crowdfunding our first season of VALENCE! You can find our campaign–which includes rewards like your own bespoke sound of magic–over on IndieGogo. For every 10% raised, we’ll announce a new cast member!

Transcript

ANNE

It’s been a long few weeks since you last heard from us, and as you might expect, a lot has happened in that time. This week on Scoring Magic, we’re going to be discussing our casting call, and everything that it entailed.

ANNE

To get us started, let’s do some housekeeping. Wil, Katie, and I had a great time at Podcast Movement in Orlando earlier this month and we learned a lot. If you want to hear more about our specific experiences and what we took away from it, we’ve released some special audio on our Patreon at Patreon.com/HugHousePods — there will be a link in the show notes so you can go look at that later.

ANNE

While we were all in one place in Orlando, we took a company field trip to the bank – I know, sounds fun, right? Bank! Woo! — to open a business bank account (and we also went to Wawa, because there aren’t Wawas in Arizona or Maryland, and I needed my Wawa fix as a Jersey person, so . . . we had to go.) We also have business cards on hand for Scoring Magic, VALENCE, and Hug House Productions, and as of this episode have written 8 scripts for VALENCE.

ANNE

One of the nights after Podcast Movement events ended, and I won’t tell you which night in case it reveals who we were with, we went out for dinner with our cast members that were also attending the conference. It was an absolute blast and we are so happy and honored to be working with so many wonderful people. We went to The Edison in Disney Springs, where we had expensive Steampunk cocktails and ridiculous cheese fries and told the cast a bunch of spoilers. Trust me: we needed those cocktails. And we also needed the cocktails we got afterwards at a different bar with everyone.

ANNE

Something that changed while we were casting for VALENCE is the names of several of our characters, due to there being . . . duplicates of names in the cast and the characters, and it was just difficult to have a discussion with each other without constantly specifying who exactly we were talking to or about. So starting from the top, if you look at our casting call:

  • Alex Velasco is now Flynn Velasco
  • Finn Salvai is now Nico Salvai
  • Annie Chen is now Grace Chen
  • And Kate is now Soledad, or Sol for short.

ANNE

I think that’s the most of it. We’ll have more to reveal during the course of the episode, so let’s get to it!

ANNE

Let’s start from the beginning. Well, not the beginning-beginning. You could just go back four episodes in Scoring Magic and listen to those if you want to know what happened before this, but let’s start in June. On June 21st we announced the casting call for season 1 of our upcoming urban fantasy audio drama, VALENCE. The casting call was open for one month and in it we were looking to cast 11 characters in our main and secondary cast.

ANNE

At pretty much every step in the process, we asked for feedback from people who had put up casting calls before . . . and at every step of the process, we either received conflicting advice or wound up, um, ignoring the consistent advice.

The duration of our casting call was the first time we didn’t listen to people. Usually, people said we should leave it up for about two weeks. We had a feeling, though, that we wouldn’t get many auditions for some of our more specific characters in that time–and we were right.

We found that for our nonwhite characters, it took much more searching and posting and reaching out to get auditions from people of those demographics. If we’d only had two weeks, we wouldn’t have found as many great fits for our roles.

ANNE

When it came to actually writing the casting call, we wanted to make sure it was as clear, accessible, and informative as possible without being too long. Because people won’t read things that are too long. I know, because I won’t, so it’s safe to say other people probably won’t either. So, to do this, we utilized the casting call format and accessibility information from the wonderful Lisette Alvarez of Stormfire Productions for VALENCE. You can find more information about Lisette in the show notes and on their website at StormfireProductions.com.

ANNE

And just to go through some basic points of the information we included on the casting call, we had: the episode length and approximate number of seasons, our website and email for contact information, the recording location (which is remote), details of compensation for primary and secondary roles, a brief description of the show, some key dates relevant to the actors, and accessibility information and content warnings. 

ANNE

Some advice or guidance we see pretty often in casting calls is giving as little information about the plot as possible. You don’t want to spoil your show before it’s even been cast. But for VALENCE, leaving those details out could mean luring our actors into situations that could be emotionally compromising–after having them sign a contract.

ANNE

VALENCE has a lot of intense themes around trauma, medical testing, PTSD, anxiety and panic attacks, and more. We wanted to make sure this was explicitly called out in the casting call itself so that any and all actors involved in the production knew what it entailed so that everyone can take care of themselves. Content warnings are so so so sososo so so important and should absolutely be included in the audio of your show before the episode starts (like we did with the previous episode of Scoring Magic) AND it should be called out in the transcripts so that anyone reading through them can be prepared for what’s coming up.

ANNE

We really liked how cognizant Lisette Alvarez’s casting call format was of content warnings and accessibility needs. We care about the safety of our actors and making sure that everyone, no matter their access or perceived limitations, could audition for the show and felt safe doing so. 

ANNE

Anyway… after that we got into the specifics of the characters. Instead of just reading it out to you myself, I’m going to hand you over to our dear friend, Katie Chin, to talk about her experience reading the casting call.

KATIE CHIN

I’m wondering if the main hosts of Scoring Magic know what it’s like to look at a casting call from the other side. Allow me to fill you in. Well, there really wasn’t much to it from what I could see. I was, uh, twitterin’ around on the Twitter when I saw a casting call for “VALENCE Pod” and . . . I’ve never been on a podcast before, but it is fun to look at casting calls to see if something . . . is me. So, I went scrolling through, and it wasn’t until I got to the secondary characters where I saw Annie Chen, age – I’m sure I can read this because it was part of the casting call, this is common knowledge – age: 47; ethnicity: Chinese, but all East-Asian actors are welcome to audition; was written as a cis woman but trans women and nonbinary actors are more than welcome to audition, as long as they are comfortable with she/her pronouns; orientation: asexual, aromantic — or aro/ace as some would like to shorten it.

KATIE CHIN

Just from this description alone, I melted. I have never seen a character that was all of my being already and, even reading the description, I felt at home trying-just trying to be Annie Chen. Uh, I even consulted with some people on an ace space chat where, just a whole bunch of asexual folk hangin’ out, talkin’ about tabletop RPGs, and I said, “Hey. This role . . . is me. I have no experience. Dare I?” And many folk were like, “Yes! Do it! Do it, Katie!” And so I did.

ANNE

That kind of experience, seeing oneself in the character description, is what we were really aiming for when writing up the characters and sides for VALENCE. Sides, if you’re not familiar with the term, are the lines the actor reads in a casting call. Why are they called sides? I don’t know. We’ll have to look that up.

RECORDING ANNE

Ok, so. I looked up why they’re called sides. Apparently, it’s because it’s just the character-the one character, so it’s like that side of the scene? I dunno, that’s what the Google told me, and I’m gonna trust it, which is a mistake probably. But, y’know, whatever. Back to the show.

ANNE

When we wrote the sides for our casting call, we took it as another opportunity to set up expectations for the production and the characters, but also to hide some of the plot. Almost all of the sides we used in the casting call are fake. Nobody actually says those things in the podcast itself. This meant that we could have emotional lines without giving any of the actual plot details away.

ANNE

And for all of our sides, we asked for up to three takes–one of which should be improvised. VALENCE has scripts, and they’re important, but we care more about making the dialogue sound as natural as possible. This wound up being a key for us when we actually made our casting decisions–but we’ll tell you more about that in the next episode.

ANNE

Some of the advice we got for sides was to make sure that they had no direction written into them. We couldn’t say if we wanted the line to be read happily, or sadly, or yelled, or whispered, or anything else.

We took this piece of advice . . . and then wished we didn’t. We’ll talk about this more next episode too, but this was one of the biggest regrets we have about the casting call, and we wanted to tell you now that yours doesn’t have to follow that “rule.”

ANNE

So. All three of us knew going in that we were less likely to get auditions for characters with more specific descriptions, but it was important to us to have as much diverse representation in our production as possible, so we persevered. Again, those two extra weeks for casting? Absolutely vital.

ANNE

We shared the casting call among friends, on Twitter using various hashtags, in several Facebook groups for audio drama and voice acting, on CastingCall,Club… we had it what felt like everywhere. We reached out to GLAAD, who helps with casting calls for queer characters in TV and film, but they didn’t really know what to do with us, so no dice there. All of us are white, so we reached out to POC Voice Actors Facebook groups to see if they’d post the casting call, and they did!

ANNE

Wil also got into a few fights on Facebook where people yelled at them for saying we wanted actors of color to play characters of color. And if you want to argue this point with us, don’t. You’re wrong, and we’re not gonna do it.

ANNE

Not to call myself out or anything, but . . . there was one instance where I came across someone on social media who I thought we needed to hear an audition from, and so I reached out to them specifically and sent them a DM. Friends of ours in the community made it clear to us that, while people of certain demographics feel comfortable entering these spaces and throwing their names into the hat, that isn’t the case for everyone. There are times you will need to advertise to the exact demographics you want that, yes! We do want to hear from you! You could be exactly who we’re looking for! Submit an audition! Take a chance!

ANNE

Throughout all this, we wanted to keep the audition submissions blind and didn’t want our casting decisions to be biased based on who we knew or who we were friends with. We knew that to some extent, blind casting wasn’t going to be possible. Between the three of us, we kind of know . . . everyone in audio drama. But it wound up being more successful, and leading to more unbiased casting, than expected.

ANNE

To make this happen, we had all of our submissions come in to us through a Google Form. Google Forms, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is part of Google’s platform of programs like Docs, Sheets, and Presentation, that allows you to make, well…forms. I’ve had some professors in my grad school classes use them for exams? It’s just a really versatile program with tons of options.

ANNE

But what makes Google Forms such a great platform is that it allows you to view a spreadsheet of all the submissions, which can then be sorted based on different criteria. Each question or box on the form ends up as its own column, and then each submission is in its own row, meaning we could sort the sheet by date, or by character and see all the Sarahs together, or the Liams, or the Nicos, and so on.

ANNE

Before we shared the link to the form with anyone, we made sure to hide the columns with personally identifying information like name, email address, and which other shows people had been in if any, etc. before any submissions even came in. This is what helped us to keep the process as blind as we could throughout.

ANNE

Another huge perk of Google Forms is that we were able to make sure we had all the information we needed from each person who submitted. We asked for gender identity and pronouns so we could accurately speak about each person submitting. We asked for them to confirm they meet the demographics of the character or characters they auditioned for, and whether they would consent to signing an NDA if cast.

ANNE

This also means we have it on record that everyone who submitted a form agreed that they understood we’d only be casting people of color for characters of color, trans people for trans characters, nonbinary people for nonbinary characters . . . you get the gist, right? With that being said, we’d like to give a very sarcastic shoutout to all of the white men who still auditioned for our trans Latino.

ANNE

The form mentioned the content warnings again, confirmed scheduling time, and collected any other pertinent accessibility information that might be needed. It’s a lot of information, yes, but it was important to us that we weren’t trying to track it down from people after the fact and ultimately made casting a thousand times easier than we were expecting.

ANNE

And making things easier on ourselves was great, because we got over 300 submissions across the 11 characters. 

ANNE

We were lucky enough to get amazing submissions for every character and we found our cast within a week of the casting call closing. Our cast is so good. We’ve had just over a month now to get to know them and every day we’re finding out just how closely they all fit their characters. It’s honestly a little creepy sometimes just how many parallels there are–but it’s also amazing how quickly they’ve all come to really understand the character they’re playing.

ANNE

This was our first casting call, and even though it wasn’t perfect, we’re really proud of how we did it and how it went. Not only did it help us find our perfect cast, it also helped us to remember one of the most important lessons in creative endeavors like these:

Sometimes, the right way to do something just means the way that you think will be right for you.

VALENCE is gonna be weird. It’s gonna be an emotional, intense urban fantasy that’s going to ask a lot of our actors, not just emotionally but practically. They’re going to have to be okay doing table reads and improvising and yelling at each other and acting out panic attacks. It just wouldn’t be right to launch actors into all of that without some warning. We care more about that than some minor spoilers.

ANNE

We got the advice to keep our casting call to just a week or two, but keeping it open for a month meant we could have a bigger, more diverse pool of auditions. Yeah, this meant we got, um, a ton of auditions. But now we have a rolodex full of amazing actors. So–win/win for us.

And we also got the advice to keep all direction out of our sides, to let the actors just read them how they interpreted them. This might work for some other productions, but it really didn’t work for VALENCE. It’s another reminder that just because something is standard doesn’t mean it’s the right advice for your production.

ANNE

Even with all of this, though–deviating from advice, taking advice we shouldn’t, and stressing out as we got more and more and more and more and more auditions–we still found our dream cast. A cast of people we couldn’t be more excited to work with.

ANNE

And now I have some very good news . . . you’ll soon get to find out who they all are! Our Indiegogo to fund Season 1 of VALENCE is now live! [airhorn noises] We have a goal of $4,000 so we can pay our sound designer and our cast, with the campaign running through September 30th.

ANNE

As motivation to hit our goal, we’re going to be announcing our cast members as percentage goals along the way. Every 10 percent, we’ll tell you a new member of our cast. The link to the campaign is in our show notes (and sorry Wil for having you put so much in there this episode) and you can go now and check out the perks we have planned, as well as other fun information about the show and what we have in store for you all.

ANNE

Our next episode, coming out two weeks from now, will touch on our casting process, including how we listened to all 300+ submissions and actually decided on who would be in the show.

ANNE

But before you leave us, I have one more surprise for you… remember Katie Chin from earlier? 

KATIE CHIN

Hi, I’m Katie, and I have the pleasure of playing Grace Chen for you for VALENCE podcast. Can’t wait for it to start, and I also can’t wait for you to find out who the other crew members are! Until then, ta ta for now!

KATIE YOUMANS

Scoring Magic is a Hug House Production. The music this week was by Broke for Free. You can find more on Hug House Productions at HugHouse.Productions.


Credits

Music by Broke for Free Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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