In my first blog on the casting process for Chaldea, I explained how we organized our Chaldea cast into two groups of characters: VO (Voice Over) and VOLO (Voice Over with Likeness [R]ights and Option to [F]ilm). In my second blog in this series, I explained why we hired a casting director and what it’s like to work with one. In this blog, I’ll discuss an important tool we use in the audition process that we call audition briefs.
An audition brief is a short document that is sent to an actor who wants an audition. Each role being cast has an audition brief unique to that character. It contains two sections: a one-page character background and several pages of script featuring that character (the industry term for these script pages is sides).
The character background is something I take some pride in. I understand that many directors don’t bother including much information for the background, but I like to make a pretty big deal about it. I love these characters, and I can’t help but want to share that love with the actors. I like to believe this helps get the actors excited to do their best.
This is probably better explained with an example. So, let’s take Rubati.
Our character backgrounds follow a template that includes the character’s name (along with pronunciation notes), the type of role, the character’s gender, and his or her ethnicity. The type of role more or less follows industry standards. A lead character is one of a handful of characters that a story arc is built around. (Other characters might have arcs to varying degrees but only to the extent the story can squeeze that in.) Supporting characters are those who play an important role related to a lead character, often as a romantic interest, antagonist, friend, or mentor. Recurring characters won’t usually have the close connection to a lead character a supporting character has, but recurring characters will likely return from time to time. Principal cast characters are any character who has at least one line of dialog.
For ethnicity, we fudge a bit because we don’t want to confuse actors with Chaldea information, so we rely on real-world descriptors to outline what we’re after. Rubati isn’t technically an Arab. Of course, there are no Arabs in Chaldea—nor are there Germans or Americans or any other real-world nationality or ethnicity. Rubati is an Akkadian, a people inspired by real-world Babylonians. Well, rather than try and explain that in a casting call, we just adjust and say that Rubati is Arab.
Next, we describe Rubati’s distinctive characteristics, age, and accent. Here we are focused on the stuff that an actor can’t really fix even with good acting. Either actors who want to audition have the right build, presence, and age (or close enough), or they don’t. An accent can be acquired through training, but I’ve learned it’s best to be clear about this in the brief, as some actors won’t be comfortable trying to learn a new accent.
Finally, we get to the part that actors really love: backstory and motivation. Based on this, plus sides from script itself, the actors can start to explore the character and make it their own.
We also cover some other details like whether there are adult content requirements, plans to film the character, and approximately how many lines the character will have.
Everything in the character background section fits on one page.
The sides are several pages of script featuring this character in dialog with one or more other characters. Ideally, the sides are taken directly from the script. But it’s also important that the sides show a variety of dramatic requirements, such as sadness, anger, charm, seductiveness, or intimidation, depending on what’s important for this character. So, sometimes there isn’t a specific section in the script that works perfectly. When that happens, we might actually write a scene we only use for the audition. I like to include two or three separate scenes that are each 1–3 pages in length.
Finally, have a look at one of the sample sides for Rubati…
Peter D. Adkison
May 1, 2016