Independent writer/director Tze Chun (childrenofinvention.com) gave an advising session for the Reach Film Fellows during the 2010 Reach Film Fellowship at Cinereach (cinereach.org). As the fellows prepared to go into production on their short films, Tze shared some useful tips based on his experience making a short film, Window Breaker, and a feature, Children of Invention, in which children were the main characters.
This video includes some excerpts of the session during which Tze touched on the casting process.
Here are some key points from the discussion:
- For a film that is highly improvisational and naturalistic, and in which a large emotional range is not required, prioritize looking for children who are outspoken and natural in front of the camera. Try asking children to play games with each other or adult actors during auditions, rather than reading from a script.
- For a more tightly scripted film, and/or one that calls for a large emotional range, actors who are old enough to read from the script should do so. Look for actors who are comfortable in front of the camera and can also emote and understand the character, rather than just being good at naturalistic reactions to real situations.
- Actors should audition with the most emotional scenes, to make sure the right notes can be hit. One of the largest challenges of working with children will be helping them dramatic emotions like crying or a tantrum believably.
- Make sure actors who will appear on screen together can give performances that match in style and tone, and can be cut together, so they seem to inhabit the same world. Actors should be similarly naturalistic or 'big' depending on the director's needs.
- In addition to auditioning acting ability, you are also looking for a child's stamina and concentration. If they get frustrated quickly, or can't put up with having to repeat something multiple times, they aren't cut out for your set.
- When you're casting a kid, you're also casting the parents. Look for parents who are going to be understanding about the process, willing to commit all the time and energy that is required, and who are on board with the project in general.
- It is also advisable to be very clear and direct with parents regarding expectations and what will happen, otherwise you may lose their cooperation.