7 Ways Covid Has Changed Casting

By Aislinn Ní Uallacháin
Head of Casting @ www.extrasireland.com

It’s been a tough couple of months. Our team and The Production People have been working remotely and haven’t been Back to the Office since March. Thankfully, most of my own work is done via email and over the phone so I’m lucky I’ve been able to continue to help productions cast their projects despite an unsettling time. Whether getting a head start on a project shooting a few months down the road or filming in innovative ways, the kinds of Talent requests coming my way have certainly changed.

Specifically, new factors have come into play when searching for the perfect Extra, Actor or Model for a job that wouldn’t necessarily have been considered before.

Some of these factors have included:
– sourcing Actors / Models in extremely specific locations due to travel restrictions
– sourcing Voiceover Artists with a professional home studio for remote recording
– sourcing Talent capable of filming themselves (perhaps living with a filmmaker)
– sourcing Extras who are happy to have their own home used as a shoot location

It’s certainly been a challenge but I’ve tried to take it all in my stride. Yesterday, as Phase 3 of re-opening commenced, Screen Producers Ireland released an updated set of Production Guidelines to help Production Companies, Agencies and Artists to stay safe and navigate their way through a new world of work. Of course, because Production has to change, Pre-Production has to change – and that’s where Casting fits in. Below are some of SPI’s guidelines in relation to Casting and how we can uphold them.

1 Cast members and their agents should be informed and in agreement on working protocols at the earliest opportunity.
Absolutely. For any request that has come my way since restrictions were announced on Thursday 12th March, I’ve been sure to find out what safety measures will be in place on set. The safety of Cast and Crew is paramount to me and I’ll always provide clear instruction on this to our Talent.

2 Casting will require physical distancing and limiting numbers at casting sessions.
Traditional in-person Casting Sessions will take a little while to return I think. Over the past few weeks, I’ve submitted a huge amount of self-tapes for projects and have organised various virtual meetings between Talent and Production in place of them. In terms of Meetings, I know that both Productions and Actors have actually quite enjoyed these – a very different experience to a panel of people sitting behind a table and an Actor walking into the room. A virtual meeting can feel much more balanced and like you’re on equal footing.

3 Casting tapes should be viewed remotely.
Over the past few years, with the development of incredible camera-phones and online platforms such as Youtube and Vimeo, self-tapes have become a normal part of the casting process, allowing Actors in far-flung locations to be considered for top roles. Self-tapes have never been so important as they are now so Actors really need to make sure they know how to submit a good tape. Top tip – we need to be able to see you and hear you clearly!

4 Working with minors, or those in vulnerable groups should be considered on a case by case basis and limited or curtailed where possible.
I’ve seen a definite drop in requests for children and older people, understandably. Saying that, I do have two babies out on a photoshoot today, incidentally, with very strict measures and staggered call times in place. Only the client, photographer, baby and parent will attend and only the parent will have contact with the baby.

5 Extras and background artists should be limited in numbers to allow for social distancing. Where possible block booking a small group of returning extras may be useful (i.e. a returning ensemble), or booking family units.
As productions try to reduce their numbers on set, Extras are the logical way to bring numbers down. Booking family units for Acting / Extras work is absolutely a trend I’ve seen develop over the last few weeks so if you’re an Acting couple or a family of Extras, you may have a bit of an edge. I’ve been working on various shoots that call for performers from the same household – because we’re not automated and I really do know the Talent on our books, it’s not so difficult for me to co-ordinate, thankfully.

6 Looks and number of costume changes may need to be reduced/ simplified to accommodate the schedule, shoot day requirements and minimise interaction with Cast and Extras.
Over the past few weeks, Casting has sometimes revolved around wardrobe and who out of our pool of Talent has the kind of natural style that the shoot requires. It’s not unusual for Talent to be asked to bring their own wardrobe options to a shoot, but in terms of deciding who will be cast, it has definitely been an unusual part of the criteria of late.

7 If possible, all cast and crew should avoid public transport to get to work or to return home after work.
As well as specific locations, this has been a big change that I’ve seen over the last while. I’ve had a lot of requests in specifically for Talent who can drive themselves to and from shoots. Thankfully I have a huge amount of people on the books who can drive and don’t rely on trains and buses so it hasn’t been an issue.

These are just some of the ways that the Casting work I do has been affected by Covid-19 so far. It’s certainly meant additional time and research on my part into the lives of our Talent to make sure they fit new criteria for a shoot. This is never a chore, however – I adore talking to Extras, Actors and Models and finding out more about them! Extras Ireland is all about PEOPLE and I’ll always do my absolute best to help both Productions and Cast to get through this period of adjustment in any way I can. For now, we’ll all endeavour to uphold the guidelines set out by SPI to keep everyone safe on set and will hopefully be able to move forward into larger scale projects as the months go on.

If you’re in need of Cast for your next Production, get in touch. We’d love to help. Simply email [email protected] or call us on (01) 634 3112 and let’s see how we can collaborate.