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Short Circuit: Talent - Tall Order for a Short Film

A buddy of mine, journalist and screenwriter Jeremy Burgess, recently co-wrote his first short film for production, Dead Saturday. He already had a director involved, they'd scouted out shooting locations, and they were looking to yell, "Action!" as soon as possible.


Of course, there were some things they still needed...

Uh, where's our lead???

Uh, where's our lead???

Like a lead actor...

Generally, this would be where you go to your friends and social networks, or perhaps a local acting group... Unless you're writer/producer Jeremy Burgess, writer/director Benjamin Stark and casting director Ayoka Billions. They set their sights a little wider and a good bit higher - and landed an Academy Award nominee for their lead. Before trying to cast their film, Jeremy and Ben consulted their friend Kenton Bartlett, who had directed “Missing Pieces” starring Mark Boone Junior (Batman BeginsMemento) and Melora Walters (Magnolia, Short Term 12). For that film, Ken had created a lengthy list, then cold-called agents until he found his leads.

So, Jeremy and Ben tried something similar: 25 names for the adult male lead. They mailed pitch materials through snail mail, then started emailing folks. They got a grand total of one response from the mailed letters, but his schedule got in the way. All of their other email leads fell through as well, even though they received some kind/encouraging rejections from the agents of some really high-profile actors.

 Ayoka Billions

Ayoka Billions

They turned to Ayoka and Bill Billions, who run the Hollywood Huntsville acting school/casting service in Huntsville, Alabama. Ayoka became their casting director. Over the years, she has established relationships with more than 50 top agencies in the industry. Using experience from her time in L.A., she created and posted a breakdown online that ended up attracting hundreds of applicants: "When Ben and Jeremy hired me as the casting director for Dead Saturday, I was excited about the opportunity to attract name talent to work on a short film in Huntsville, AL. Anyone (even big, big names) will come here, if we provide the right environment, which includes a script worth making and financial incentives that make it worth their time and expertise."

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Above: Advertised breakdown for Dead Saturday

Eric Roberts

Academy Award Nominee Eric Roberts

One of the respondents just happened to be Academy Award nominee (Runaway Train) Eric Roberts. His recent visibility in films (The Dark KnightTheExpendables) and the fact that he was a native Southerner made him their first choice. Ayoka said, "It has been a pleasure to be able to negotiate for an Academy-award nominee for this worthy short film project. After securing Eric Roberts, we recently finalized the rest of the actors after receiving hundreds of submissions from throughout the Southeast, and I am confident that filming will go well with this talented cast."

So, what's the takeaway from this? 

The old "Who, what, when, where and why": To get Who you want, you gotta know What to say, When to say, and importantly... Where to say it.

But perhaps the most important of all is Why...

Because there may be an Academy Award nominated actor or actress out there just looking for your short film to star in.

Benjamin Stark

Benjamin Stark

Jeremy Burgess

Jeremy Burgess

Follow Writer/Director Benjamin Stark on

Benjamin's facebook page

Follow Writer/Producer Jeremy Burgess on

Jeremy's facebook page

More articles by Dan Goforth
Notes from the Margins: Cold Call Tips – The Secret Words to Getting Read and Representation
Write, Direct, Repeat: Working with a Casting Director

Casting Revealed: A Guide to Filmmakers by Hester Schell


For invaluable advice on short film ideas, download the 1st chapter of Roberta Marie Monroe’s book How Not to Make a Short Film! and create inspiring short films today.

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