Monday, October 25, 2010

Casting Actors Pt2

We had a good start on Friday casting two roles for Casualties of Love. The two roles were "Andrea", described as someone who "carries an on/off confidence"  and "Kenny" described as a person who "admits to an ordinary life".

There are five roles in the entire screenplay, my Irish/British friend Chris will play the "aging rock and roller", and we have another actor who will play another role.

So I used the role of Kenny to audition seven actors who would become either Kenny, Michael or Lou. This was a quicker way to do it for our low budget purposes; all we need are 2 really good actors for the other male roles and, with seven reading, we were sure we'd find them.

We rented a small theater just off Sunset for $25/hr. It's a small complex of 3 theaters adapted from storefronts that were vacant. I rented the biggest one as it had a lobby attached and could serve as a waiting area for actors, large enough that they wouldn't be crowded.

Chris did the most work, he had posted a notice of our needs (October 7, 2010 blog) on and had about 35 actors respond. We could see their headshots and even some video clips on the website. It's quite helpful and saves having to deal with agents and managers who might make demands like money.

I know they have to make a living, but my budget simply doesn't have that much money. There were only two of us - Chris and me, to handle casting chores. I typed up a notice to put on the door and some "sides" (2-4 pages of dialog from the script) in the lobby and then set up my own digital video camera on a tripod.

I've written about casting and how it seems intimidating both for the actors and me, but I seemed to slip into it easily, since the actors are all friendly, whether this is real or not doesn't really matter, and Chris and I are relatively easy to deal with.

We had four younger girls who  would play a 17-year old tall girl, I wanted someone tall so that she could appear to handle herself in the company of four men, not only in the role but also off-camera. We decided to get a production assistant who would be a woman also to make our "Andrea" more comfortable.

As they began to read their parts, with Chris reading his part, I began to see holes in the screenplay as well as watching the performances. That's why a reading is so good for anything, series or movies. There is one piece of dialog for Andrea to say dealing with recording equipment and when the first girl read it, it sounded way too complicated for the audience to understand. I made a note of that; SIMPLIFY.

Each of the girls handled the role in a different way, some used a lot of physical expressions while others sat quietly with subtle looks. Subtle works best for my script. I also began to realize that the role was "too young", that it should be someone older, maybe 20.

I firmly believe that casting is subjective, I might think someone is good, Chris might think they're average and unless it's Meryl Streep I don't think any director is really sure if they've made the right choice.

Our group of actors were pretty much an eclectic group; some memorized the 2-4 pages of dialog, some didn't. Some needed to do 2 takes, others nailed it the first time. There's no real rules to this either, actors can be as different as possible from each other.

All of the actors we looked at were unrecognizable faces, they had roles in TV series, some movies I never heard of, and maybe a few supporting roles in features that were released. The girls were young, maybe 18 to 24, I'm guessing, and the men were close to 40 which was the age group I was looking for.

What was lacking was a diversity, they were all like me, except for a few Hispanics and one thick-accented Italian Swiss actor whom I couldn't really use as someone who grew up in Los Angeles. I never put specific ethnic groups in the casting list and don't know why I didn't get more ethnic groups.

This subject often comes up and hits a bit of a wall with writers; do we write characters based on ourselves or diversity. I grew up with little diversity, my home town's only diversity was my own ethnic group; Ukrainians, who often experienced subtle but mean-spirited discrimination up until the early 1960's.

A prime-minister of Canada once said that the country should return the vomit to the country that threw it up. Nice words for a leader of the country, eh? And Ukrainians were often forced to change their recognizable last names if they wanted work in the cities.

Later, growing up a teen in Windsor, Ontario, I knew only French-Canadians and Italians. The only other ethnic groups I ever saw were in movies. That would change when I began to work in TV in Detroit.

Thus the idea of casting with different ethnic groups can become a confllict between art and political correctedness. In Emperor of Mars, I originally had one character an African American which actually would be valid.

I based it on the fact that there were many African American communities on the prairies of the midwest. My character was also not a supporting one, but a lead opposite the other lead.

The irony was that there were no African Americans in my little town in western Canada, nor within a few hundred miles as far as I knew. So historically, my character of Nicodemus would not have existed in my community. Same went for Hispanics. But the character of Nicodemus was an enigma of sorts, an "everyman" and he would stand out in that community because, at the end of the movie, you understand why.

However, there were many Chinese who worked the railroads in Canada and a lot settled in small towns opening "Chinese-Canadian" cafes as well as the stereotypical laundries. I did include them in Emperor, as well as a Jewish family.

And there is a strong undercurrent of discrimination throughout Emperor of Mars, it was what I remembered and what  still is part of me after all these years. You never forget others making you feel less than them.

But discrimination isn't an issue in Casualties of Love, and as I watched each actor do their thing, I noticed that, while they looked similar, each had a different take to the material.

The thing you want, I think, is to believe the actor reading your dialog in front of you. It doesn't matter who they are, what color they are or anything else; you need to believe that they are that person for 2 minutes.

Some use body motion, others sit still, some lean forward and some walk around the stage but ultimately the question is do I believe them. And when I realize I'm not being critical of the actor in front of me, when I suddenly realize I'm listening to the character I created on paper come to life... I know something is there.

And if they take my words and make them even better in tone or attitude, that's what you look for in casting. With stars, it's mostly the look and the name and whether or not they are available. You're buying a franchise, not an actor.

But with these actors reading for me, I focus more on the acting and the ability they have to take me into a world that I created and that doesn't really become alive until the actors reach the emotional level that makes them real.

No matter who or what they are.

(Thurs: Picking Actors)

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