Casting a Wide Net with the BFI Flare and Spotlight

A discussion on casting for the world we'd like to see with casting directors Nancy Bishop, Andy Brierley and Victor Jenkins

Spotlight were proud to be involved in the BFI Flare’s Casting a Wide Net panel yesterday. In this session, Andy Brierley, Nancy Bishop and Victor Jenkins joined Spotlight to talk about the importance of the casting process in creating successful screen work, as well as engaging in an open discussion of the opportunities and challenges of inclusivity in casting today.

All three casting directors started by emphasising the importance of a great story before anything else - before deciding what sort of person is required to fulfil a part:

“It comes down to these fundamentals: do you have a good script? Do you have a realistic schedule?”
Andy Brierley

By focusing on great storytelling, opportunities to explore new kinds of stories, showcase new voices and talent, increases. Getting organised is therefore a great bonus, especially early in your filmmaking career. Establishing yourself as a creative who keeps to their word on time, budget and quality is vital. By cementing your reliability in this manner, more interesting, daring and different casting choices can be made will increasingly find support with funding.

When questioned on inclusivity, and in particular, consideration of LGBTQ+ actors having as much opportunity in the audition room, Nancy reaffirmed, “Inclusivity is all of what we’re about now.” Enabling individuals from across our diverse community to appear in a variety of roles (not merely as side characters or in ‘coming out’ stories) forms an essential part of the contemporary casting process; representation is increasing slowly, and all three of our casting directors remain hopeful of positive change;

“It’s aspirational casting… it doesn’t necessarily represent the world we live in, but the one we want to live in.”
Nancy Bishop
“As soon as you have [diverse] characters represented, you’ll have more actors wanting to participate - it all builds.”
Victor Jenkins
“If we can work from a place of positivity… we start working from a position of power.”
Andy Brierley

The importance of finding the right person for the part is always going to be the priority of the casting director, and this should include individuals from across the spectrum of sexuality and gender. Andy emphasised that ultimately, the role is about talent: “If [someone is] not very good at acting, they shouldn’t be playing any roles.” Though financing and other factors can play a huge part in who is cast in title roles, “If you need a police commissioner, there’s no reason why that person couldn’t be trans or from the LGBTQ+ community,” he added.

At the same time, Victor encouraged budding filmmakers:

“Give opportunities to cast actors where their sexuality isn’t the defining point [of their character].”
Victor Jenkins

Other advice to writers and filmmakers was to engage in a proof of concept whenever you’ve got a new and unusual idea for a story - demonstrating proof that the idea works can be essential for securing financing for your project, and helps push the needle towards better representation on screen. The importance of transparency in the audition room was also a key point raised;

“Always be upfront about what [an actor is] going to get into - be upfront about what the role really requires.”
Victor Jenkins

Finally, our casting directors emphasised the importance of making your own work to help push for progress in representation:

“If you want to be in front of the camera, get behind the camera.”
Nancy Bishop
“Let’s be the people making the projects that show everyone what could be.”
Andy Brierley

Click here for more information about the BFI Flare LGBTQ+ Film festival

Image credit: BFI Flare website