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Directors letters to actors

I'm just starting out as a writer/director. My second short is in the early stages of pre-production. I have a very clear idea of who - if magic existed or I had a Scrooge McDuck sized money pit - I would cast for certain roles. I'm talking A-List, superstars here. Actors that have either won - or been nominated for - every award that matters. Actors whose names might be an answer to a quiz show question. I'm talking quiz show question level famous!

The production team, who are all far more experienced than I am, have encouraged me to shoot for the stars and reach out to them. After all, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. One particular actor is a notorious and enthusiastic supporter of emerging talent who often stars in low budget projects, meaning there's at least a glimmer of hope.

So I'm going to write a letter, inviting each of them star in our tiny, low budget, independent short. Or rather, I've been writing letters all week and getting nowhere. Or to be more precise, I've been writing rambling, sycophantic, pompous nonsense. You can probably tell by the way I've written this post what sort of prosaic quagmire I've fallen into. I swear I don't talk like this in real life.

All of which leads me neatly onto my actual question: How should a director write a letter to an actor?

How long should it be? How formal or informal should it be? Should it be hand written and posted, or is an email more practical? Should I soften them up with compliments or get straight to the point? Should I be doing something I've not even thought about, or worse, NOT doing something I'll probably do without thinking?

I'm led to believe that directors writing to actors is a somewhat common occurrence. If anyone here has any advice on the matter, I - and I presume many others - would greatly appreciate it.

  • I dont know a jot about such things but best of luck to you.

    8 months ago
  • Tom, that's almost an existential conundrum. There's lots of behaviours and things held to be appropriate protocols with regard to 'pitching ideas and proposals to those of the great and the good.

    One thing that is certain is that those folk are constantly inundated with proposals for which they need to employ agents and other 'flack catchers' to filter for them. It's often a blunt process.

    Unless one has some existing links and networks it's usually an uphill task.

    It's a job of work but it's worth studying ones aspirational targets and discover any other appropriate overlaps of society and commerce that might provide a segway to a more direct connection. It ought not take a vast leap of imagination to consider what some of those segways might be. Everyone's different, and there's the rub. It only needs one of them to be on board or to even just take an interest to make gathering others a lot easier.

    Meeting people at festivals can be fruitful too.

    Wishing good fortune and success

    8 months ago
  • Tom
    Write an email, which you'll need to send via their agent. Keep it fairly brief. A bit about the project, a bit about you and crucially why they are right for the part you're offering. What have they done in particular that made you go, 'wow, that's what I see in this role'. Put the bit about you at the end, obviously. And, if there's anybody attached (ie an experienced producer/DoP) who will give them comfort you all know what you're doing - that helps.
    If you can work through a Casting Agent that's always a bonus. They'll carry a bit more weight with the agent and they're also really good at advising you on best ways to approach/who might consider your project/who definitely won't, etc.
    Bonne chance!

    8 months ago
  • Think about what makes your project special, unique, unlike the work they actually get paid for, and focus on that.

    What is it about your script that is going to make them say: "ah yes I know how hard working on underfunded projects is, and they are not paying me anything, but this script is so exciting that I am going to do it anyway, even though my agent is telling me not to bother!"

    I have cast established actors for low/no budget shorts, and it was solely the unique challenge my script offered them that got them excited.

    I would also offer a word of caution - in my experience, casting established actors on low/no paid projects, takes a long long time. It will most likely be a lot quicker to cast less established actors.

    So ask yourself if your film really needs that established actor to be successful, and if you are at a stage in your career where you can make best use of their participation. If the answer to either of those is no, and you do not already have a way in to any of the actors you are interested in, I would suggest you to save time and do a casting for a less established actor. As a relatively new director, I think there is a huge amount more to be learned from working with less established actors, who will typically give you more time, and trust you more to push them further.

    8 months ago
  • You have some good responses here, and I'll add my 2p from a slightly blunter angle. The agent is a gatekeeper. Obviously they want money, but they may have also been asked by their clients to look out for "something fun" too, so you never know.

    What will make ALL the difference is commitment to dates and how much travel is expected plus hotel/travel arrangements etc. Even a "mates rates" deal with top talent will attract a LOT of extra costs. If they're busy filming a series for TV then are not likely to do your gig, if they are in between jobs and it's local and they get to stay at a nice golfing hotel, well maybe...

    But agents aren't ones to take risks on their own reputations by recommending a possibly bad experience to their client, so all those peripheral things will be meaningful. Will they have a private dressing room? Private driver? Decent hotel? Shooting length? Meal allowances? Per diems for hotel laundry? Just might be worth mentioning all of this kind of thing so the agent might consider passing it along that you're "showing willing". But a big name star with a rep for "helping out" is going to be getting 10 letters a week asking for them to do a cameo, so stand out a little.

    8 months ago
  • I would be succinct, sell it in 11 lines if you can. Why particularly them in this role, what about your project is it you think they will like (the role). If you have something you particularly admire them for and honestly yearn to say it, then do, but sycophancy for it's own sake stinks a mile off :-).

    8 months ago
  • Hi Tom, I agree with Jackie, the best way is to get a casting director onboard. I'm casting my first feature at the moment, so I'm a newbie but with a seasoned production team around me.
    The sales agent wants named talent of course.
    Having a casting director gives us the key to the kingdom with agents. It's been a game changer.
    We say who we'd like to approach, are CD checks the actor's availability. Then we send a covering letter from the director, where he admires their work, chats them up a bit and describes the role we want them for. And the script and marketing pack - which is needed for a feature.
    Then they get back to us or we chase them up!
    It's a challenge but worth a go. If it doesn't bear fruit then agree with Nadaav and get some less well known talent on board.
    Hope that's helpful.
    All the best with your film.

    8 months ago
  • I second Paddy. Many moons ago I found out that a household name comedy actor wanted to take on some serious acting roles. After meeting the actor agreed to a two days for their normal daily rate.
    A personal driver was requested to pick-up and drop back the actor on filming days, this was agreed and paid for. What I didn't account for was that since we were filming in a central London location, a recording studio, on the recce we allocated the actor a green room only on the day for me to be told that they were most upset that they hadn't been allocated their own private bathroom. Not wanting to have an annoyed star, after talking to the studio manager the only solution turned out to be having to rent out another full studio for the day, which had its own private bathroom. Even though heavily discounted as we weren't using it for its intended use, it still cost 1.5K a day extra expense. Ironically their performance was exceptional and I was really pleased, only later to get negative reviews left on the imdb for casting the actor to play a part that they weren't playing comically. You just can't win sometimes. So beware of both extra unforeseen costs and for getting an actor to play against type, might work for them but not your film.

    8 months ago
  • The one thing you haven't mentioned is the script. That should be the door opener.

    If the script is ready why are you not submitting that with the role you have that actor in mind for?

    Doing this will remove too much of the platitudes that are nice but are not the substance of what you require. You want the actor to commit to your project. If the role is good and the script is good that's what's attractive to any actor.

    As an actor, I am sent scripts to consider. The first thing I do is read the whole script and then look at the character suggested and how it speaks to me. If I feel it would be a good opportunity (i.e. a challenge or casting against expected type) then I will consider it. I would then want to speak to the director about their vision. If, however, you are writing it with that particular actor in mind, then don't be afraid to say that.If the role being offered is still in development perhaps ask how they would enhance the character development of it.

    The worst thing you can do is to play to ego. Because by doing that you are immediately creating a scenerio where some profile actors will want to feel they have greater artistic say in the process and start making demands that are way beyond acceptable on a short film with little or no budget.

    That is also a crucial thing to say form the outset that expenses will be covered.What you are asking is that the actor is committing because of the opportunity/role and not for any other reason. Knowing the lay of the land from the beginning is extremely helpful for all concerned.

    Equally if it has a great production/technical team supporting it, a mention of their previous work credits that highlights the professional quality of the team is also a useful thing.

    For me the clicher would be simply put; It's a great role in a short film that was written with you in mind. We are fotunate to have an outstanding production team committed to making this film. I would welcome you reading the script and in particular the role of xxxxxx and appreciate your feedback as to whether it's a role you would be interested in exploring further.

    Good luck.

    8 months ago