Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Spelling the Cast

Even though we wrapped a portion of The Hunter’s Anthology a couple months ago, I’m going to go back and write about my experience of directing what is so far the equivalent of a short film (and a half.)  After the crowdfunding campaign we had some of our budget and some of our cast, but for me, there was still work to be done.  There was also much more for Nicky, my producer, to do.  From a writer/director’s perspective, there’s certain things I had to do in a very short period of time.  This is my first entry about “prep,” starting with casting:

For those of you who have not been following The Road to Wrap, I had to cast two more roles before shooting.  For “The Fortune Maker,” about a woman having her fortune read, we had already cast Marilyn Oran as Madame Renee but I still had to find Tabitha, the protagonist.  She is not only the protagonist of this story, but she’s also one of the passengers on the subway with Mac, the demon hunter.

The search was on for Tabitha, and it wasn’t easy.  After all, this is a story about two characters sitting in a room for 20 minutes.  They have to be able keep the audience interested.  I had only three weeks to get it done, and after watching several video auditions, I was lucky enough to receive one from Janna Bossier.  She made all the right choices and understood the role.  Without giving too much of the story away, I needed to find a balance between a woman who is not only desperate, but also mysterious.

I called Janna the day I got the video and offered her the part right on the spot.  I was that sure because she was that good.  Next thing I knew, Janna was coming to NYC in two weeks.  It can happen that fast.

The other part that needed to be cast was in the other story, “Lust Potion Number Who Cares.”  I had already cast Eric Colton as Rod, a man in search of a love potion.  But, I didn’t yet have my magic potion shop owner, Mooni. Mooni is not an easy role: she’s a bit of a cougar, and she provides some much needed comic relief in what becomes a pretty dark, 5th tale in The Hunter’s Anthology.  Another last minute search was on, and I finally came across Yoko Hyun’s info.  When an audition makes you laugh out loud, you know you’re in great shape.  I was all set!

Anyway, how do I approach casting?  There are many different ways a director can, but I’ll tell you what works best for me.  I like to start by sending a one paragraph character description of the part to give some exposition and basic emotional descriptions of the character for the actor.  They need some idea of who this character is.  I do not, however, send any direction.  This way, the actor is free to make their own choice.  I want to see where they go on their own.  It also provides an opportunity later to see how they take direction.

I also send 3-4 pages of sides from the script, separated into two different scenes.  This provides opportunities for two different key emotions or mindsets.  Maybe I’ll have a scene of Tabitha desperately wanting her fortune read.  What choices will the actor make for setting up the story?  Then there’s a real turn in the plot I won’t give away.  What’s her reaction to that?  It’s a totally different place for her emotionally.  Then, thanks to modern technology, the requested auditions are emailed to me as videos.  It’s so much easier now: rather than taking a whole day to rent a place to squeeze in 100 auditions in a row, I can click on it whenever I feel like it.

I know a lot of people will say good actors can make wrong choices during an audition, especially with minimal information.  I understand that, and it’s my job as a director to know if it’s a result of the actor’s skill or if it’s another good choice I just wasn’t looking for.  I have always thought the closer the actor is to what you were thinking, the less work needs to be done on set, or in general.  It’s usually true.  But sometimes if I really like the audition and I feel a little direction can help, I’ll ask for another audition with direction.  It has worked with some and hasn’t with others.  You just never know.

Don’t get me wrong, I love working with actors and spending time with them on their performance.  It’s a team effort, and it’s actually my favorite thing to do on set.  But if they are too far away from what I want, it can cause production issues, and you never know if they’ll ever get there in the short period of time you have.  That’s when it shows on-screen later and the project suffers.
That said, I’m really big on rehearsing with the cast before shooting.  It’s so important.  Here I gather the cast and leave the floor open to questions about the script.  Then we read through to iron out everything and make sure we’re all on the same page so we’re all set for the shoot.

These are just a few things that work for me, but it may not work for you.  Casting is only a part of prep… next up: gathering your crew!