13 Ways to Cast A-List Actors in Microbudget Films

Dan Mirvish explains how he casted  Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, Melissa George and David Harbour in a his microbudget film Between Us.

Julia Stiles

1. Choose Castable Material. One reason I chose to adapt an Off-Broadway play in the first place is I knew I’d find good, castable material that no one else was turning into a feature. I actually turned down Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, and George Clooney turned it into Ides of March and got a happy ending from my sloppy seconds. It was good, but I knew would be hard to adapt for a low budget, if need be. But with Between Us, I knew it was at its heart four people in two rooms — how hard could that be? More importantly, the four parts were incredibly well written, with great chew-the-scenery moments for each actor. They were also written for 30-ish-year-old actors, and the two female parts were especially rich. That’s key: There are far more working (and famous) actresses than actors, and there aren’t enough good parts for them. So if you can get a script with really great female roles, you’re golden.

2. Assemble a Team. Contrary to popular wisdom, you don’tneed an A-list casting director. What you need is someone who can sound like a credible casting director on the phone. I teamed up with Alison Buck, who’d been recommended by my pal, director Matthew Harrison. Alison had recently moved to L.A. from New Zealand and been working as a casting director in her spare time while also holding down a day job as a manager. Which meant that she had an office, a phone, knew the casting lingo and had the confidence to sound like the movie was happening. Yes, she had some contacts in the agenting world, but that’s not why we got her. She also had the stamina to stay committed to the film for what wound up being over four years.

But the casting director was only part of the team. I also needed to surround myself with a credible group of producers. To that end, I rounded up New Yorker Mike Ryan, who’d had seven films at Sundance. His claim to fame was helping discover Amy Adams in Junebug. I got Hans Ritter in L.A., who’d been instrumental in discovering Ellen Page in Hard Candy. Barry Hennessey was a four-time Emmy winning producer onAmazing Race… and had been my line producer on my previous film. And to top it off, we got Dana Altman, my producing partner on my first film, and Robert Altman’s grandson… not bad casting genes in his DNA! And of course, as the co-founder of Slamdance, and with some good casting under my belt for my previous film (Open House with Oscar-nominee Sally Kellerman, Anthony Rapp, Kellie Martin, et al), there was proof that I knew how to work with at least somewhat fancy actors.

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