Entries Tagged as 'Q&A'

Natural Light: Lighting “For Today”…

Everyone seems to have their own take on lighting, most studios/gaffers generally like to light the crap out of everything, while there’s nothing wrong with that (there are some times in larger productions when many lights are needed), most of the time (unless they’re going for some psychedelic party, sci-fi look, or artsy scene) all they are trying to do is “amplify” or “duplicate” what would be “natural light” in the scene itself (or fake it to “look natural” on their subject where there is no natural light – it’s all about “controlling” light)… they do this by using truck-loads of high-powered fixtures (traditionally what you’d recognize or  have seen in behind-the-scenes of films as “movie lights”) and they have full departments on sets known as the “G&E” or “Grip and Electric” departments (crews of dozens of people) dedicated just to this.

-Picture from the set of Warner Bros' 2007 release "I Am Legend" lighting a scene near the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC-

While there’s nothing wrong with that (it’s worked for decades), my view is much simpler (especially with indie productions) why use dozens of lights, generators, crew, etc to “amplify” natural light when you can just shoot USING natural light? My view is very simple indeed: only add lights when you absolutely need them.  Now—to be fair here, often the camera you shoot with dictates the amount of light needed in a shot for it to look right… until recently, most everything was still shot on 35mm film, which requires ridiculous amounts of light for things to read correctly on camera, but since new digital cinema cameras began to take over (especially in television) this is slowly changing, but still most “studio” shoots (digital or not) still bring in truckloads of lighting and grip equipment. I had the pleasure of working on an episode of HBO’s “True Blood” last year, that particular day we were shooting on location, and what stood out for me most was the sheer number of G&E trucks they had on location. Shooting in broad daylight, they still added nearly a dozen lights… now again, there’s no denying that in general, that show looks great, so it does seem to work for them, but it also begs the question, how much of that was really needed?

That said, personally, I absolutely love the look and feel of actual natural light especially for dramatic films; I use it as much as possible, whenever possible, and that was the entire concept in “For Today”. There was nothing fancy needed light wise, it’s a simple real-life drama and I wanted it to be as “natural” as possible. That said, one thing you should keep in mind is that this entire film was shot with only 3 lights.  I intentionally selected a digital cinema camera & lens system (not one of the cheapo ‘prosumer’ cameras with built-in lens) that responds insanely well to low-light (and yes, the camera you choose to shoot on is extremely important!).  Then the biggest trick is in the planning– specifically select locations that have a lot of natural light already. Then, picking and shooting at exactly the right times of day to get the best light coming in the right direction for each specific shot, often using large reflectors (‘bounce boards’) to reflect light where needed for the day-shoots (although since we were shooting in the winter with snow on the ground, we often didn’t even need the reflectors as the snow did most of the reflecting for us).  Similarly, selecting interior locations with big-windows (corner rooms with windows on more than one wall are best), and exteriors for after dark, picking a location with specific natural light so that all we needed to do was add ONE light here or there to get exactly what we needed light/color temperature wise.  The results are fantastic, here are some more stills from the film to show you what I mean:

-Still of Rebecca Richart from "For Today" - there was only one light used here, a single diffused light placed about six feet from her face mimicking a nearby street/flood light-

-Still of Charity Farrell from "For Today" - no lights were used here, just one bounce board reflecting light onto her face-

Hollywood Patience, My Friends…

There’s some very strong truths to the saying “Good things come to those who wait”.  As fast as things move and change in this industry, it’s funny sometimes how hard it can be to just sit back and be patient.  And in Hollywood, patience has a whole new meaning.

Now, before I go on here, it’s important to understand something about me… I’m a “doer”, no matter how difficult the task or how unlikely the odds, I’m the kind of person that once I’m passionate about something, I’ll set my mind to it and drive full steam ahead until I accomplish my goal, no matter how hard the task or how long it takes.  That said, since my move to LA, this industry has been giving me an extended lesson in patience. With as much as has been going on in my life over the past year, and how busy I seem to always be (I pulled another 23 hour day yesterday, the second such back-to-back day this week, and won’t likely be the last) there are even more, bigger things on the horizon, some of which have been in the works for more than a year.  Now, I’d generally consider myself a pretty patient person, but even the most patient of people can get frustrated or even give up after months or even years of “imminent” possibilities, waiting for that phone call that you know is coming, but you don’t know when, could be tomorrow, could be three years from now.   I found that most people who are new to this industry just don’t seem to understand (as I didn’t prior to jumping head-long into this biz), its that in Hollywood patience has a whole new meaning… here, patience can often mean years of waiting, whether it be for a deal to make that next big project, or even simply waiting to hear word on whether or not that 15th draft you sent back to the studio for notes (after 8-months of back and forth) is finally the one they like.

Now, it would be unfair for me to write about “Hollywood Patience” without mentioning this: I’ve worked very hard and I’ve had the incredible support of many wonderful people which has made me EXTREMELY fortunate to be in a position which countless industry folk have told me is some 10+ years ahead of where I should be at my age, but even so, that doesn’t make the waiting any easier.  Sometimes you just have to tell yourself that whenever that call comes, it comes. Until then, keep busy and no matter what, never stop working toward your goal. When that call does eventually come, you need to be ready, but even more so, when the call comes, understand that no matter how long you’ve waited, the answer could still be “no”.  Deals fall through, people change their minds, life happens… and happens more frequently than anyone would like.  Don’t wait around hoping to get an answer on just one project, instead, get a dozen more out there in the meantime, you’ve got the time, there’s no reason not to.

All that just to say, if you’re reading this and are to take anything from it, I’d hope it would be this: First is that patience is a universal necessity, and a quality you MUST have to succeed in this business, and Second, patience is NOT the same a laziness… you’ll always be waiting for something, what you choose to do with the time while you’re waiting can and often will make the difference between getting that “Yes” or “No” answer when the call does finally come.  Last but not least, Third, never forget that there will be 1,000 “No’s” to every 1 “Yes”, so don’t be discouraged from getting “no” after “no”, it only takes one “yes” for everything to change.  In this industry, the people who persevere, prosper. Never forget it.

LA at the Speed of Lightning…

This post is intended for those non-Los Angelino, non-industry folk out there.  You may have heard that (compared to life in the Midwest) or really any non-major city, life in Los Angeles, and in the film and entertainment industries in general, move at the speed of lightning.  There’s something to be said about the need to live in a city like LA to actually truly get anywhere as an aspiring artist.  SO much can happen in a day, a week, in LA that it’s honestly just hard to even comprehend it if you’ve never lived here or actually worked daily in the biz.  I meet new crazy awesome people every day, work on different shows, develop new projects, new prospects with new and old friends and co-workers.  The crazy thing is that a great deal of amazing things happen here (seemingly) completely on a whim.  I get phone calls (or texts) every week from different people, writers, producers, whatever saying “lets meet up in 20min…” and we start a new project, or they bring me on for some new thing they’re already working on.  Deals are made here in minutes, not weeks, not years. Deals are measured in projects, not time-frames.  If I say no to a random spur of the moment meeting, I may never know what I missed out on (could be nothing, or could be a career-changing opportunity).  The fact is, as much as this industry likes to tout it’s “rules” and the “do’s and don’t” of what it takes to “climb” the so-called ladder to get where you want to be in the industry… the true fact is that (at least in my experience) the single most wonderful thing about this industry is that there really are NO rules.   Studios and agents and marketing companies want you to THINK there are rules, but when the rubber meets the road, anything is possible, it’s just a matter of who you know, and who you meet that can make it all possible.  Just about everyone who’s ever made it “big” in this industry (regardless of their profession or current title) has some crazy (or wildly simple) story to tell as to how they got there.  I can’t tell you how many times people told me that they “just met this one guy a few years ago and everything changed… that’s how I got to where I am now”.  Even people who started out in the mail-rooms at studios (and are now major executives) have similar stories, for at least one I’ve meet, it took less than 5 years to get there.  It’s always a struggle in the beginning, and its rarely “quick”… most if not all of the stories I hear (and am personally experiencing) are stories of broke, struggling artists who refuse to let go of their passions, through the years of living with little to nothing, and one day, everything just started to change.   To make this very clear, there may be the amazing “miracle” stories out there, but most of these “miracle” success stories in this biz (and most of the stories people won’t tell you) started out with years of long hard work… the fact is, just to say it bluntly… there are hundreds of thousands of people who want to “make it big” in this industry, and 98% of them never will.  As fast and as tough as this business can be, through it all it’s the people who are 100% passionate and 500% dedicated that succeed… and I don’t mean “Strike it rich”, or become famous… far from it, I mean those are the people who become  working members of this industry, the people everyone looks up to, the people everyone trusts, everyone first call’s when a new opportunity arises and in the end, some are the people you may eventually recognize in the credits of all those movies and shows you see every year.

Passion, complete dedication, and personality are what set apart the “wannabe’s” from the success stories.  Don’t forget there’s always a thousand other people just waiting in line to take your place, so be yourself, go above and beyond the call on every job, and don’t ever give someone a reason to think twice about you or your work and you’ll always be the first one they call.

This city, this industry moves at the speed of light, if you blink you may miss your opportunity, if you’re not here, you may never get one, but most of all, if you half-ass anything, people will know it.  It’s 100% all the time or nothing. Take it or leave it.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear about would-be actors or directors, writers, musicians or whatnot, whomever, moving out here expecting to “make it big” or “be a star” only to move back home to the “comfortable” Midwest to live with their parents after just a few months or even a few years because they “ran out of money” or it was just simply “too hard”.  You can’t forget that working in entertainment is a JOB, it’s long, hard work, and rarely pays well (sometimes, not at all). This industry has a way of weeding people out, but it’s not through some secret program and it’s usually even less about talent… true passion,  honest personality, and complete perseverance is where it starts and the lack thereof is exactly where it ends.

I may not be an expert on the matter, I am still, and always will be learning… but if there’s one thing I’ve experienced and truly taken to heart over the past several years, it’s that.

Screenwriting and Music…

Question: Do you listen to music when you’re writing? Do you think it can help or hinder the creative process?

Ok, so I’m in the middle of writing this crazy SciFi feature which I was just notified of a few days ago, and started writing promptly thereafter (which I have about 9 days to finish) and I ran across this little gem of a question which I wanted to answer right away (which also gives me another excuse to procrastinate more). To put it simply, YES. I definitely listen to music both while I’m writing and while I’m conceptualizing a story. Music is a BIG part of my life, I listen to all kinds of music from rock to pop, classical, and TONS of movie soundtracks. To be honest, I’m a little bit of a sucker when it comes to quality film scores of all types.

When it comes to the relationship between music and writing, at least for me, I often find myself flipping through hundreds if not thousands of songs while conceptualizing a story and actually building a playlist of sorts of music which both moves and inspires me that I feel relates to the story I’m trying to tell. One thing I love about film scores is that the best of them are written for an emotional mood or specific character moment within a film, which, unlike classical music, or most music with lyrics (at least for me) truly speaks to me when I find just the right track for just the right moment in the story I’m trying to write. If you were to sit in the room with me while I’m writing (which would be terribly distracting by the way, and would never happen) you’d find that I’ll often put a specific track (or tracks) on repeat while working through and writing (or conceptualizing) a specific scene where I’m trying to portray a specific emotion or event. This would probably drive you nuts if you were sitting in the room with me since you’d have no clue what is going through my mind, but to me, when I hit just the right line of dialogue or just the right moment and read it back to myself with the music playing, I can tell it’s just right. I’ll admit, I’ve spent hours, even weeks compiling just the right set of songs to “write to” (and they are often a combination of genres that each speak to different characters, emotions, or moments in the story… rock for action moments, strings for heavy drama, or exact opposites when the scene calls for it) I try to mix it up as much as possible, depending on the film I’m trying to write. I often find I focus on one musical “sound” for each film.

One other note of interest here is that since I also direct most of the screenplays I write, so the music I listen to while writing then often becomes the “temp track” of the score for the film during post-production, since I know the music fits the mood of what I was aiming for precisely. Then the final original score of the film is written based off of the same temp music which I send to the composer with the cut of the film, so he can see (generally) what I’m looking for musically in each moment. Again, the music in the final film is NOT the music I listened to while writing, it is completely original, written for the film, but it is often based off of my initial tracks.

So, all that just to say, YES, music plays a huge role in the writing process for me, and often finding the right music can mean the difference between writing a crappy and/or bland moment or a truly moving one. It honestly has less to do with the specific music I choose and more to do with how the music affects me emotionally; it puts me in the mood to write what my characters are feeling.

A Little About Me…

Ok… so while I know many of you are really excited to find out what new craziness is happening next in my own little world, I thought I might take a little time and give you an idea of what it is that I do every day. Now, bear with me here as I’ll do my best to abbreviate so as not to make this a novel, but here’s just an example of what I did yesterday: I generally get up a bit later in the day, usually around 9am-10am(ish) (keeping in mind how late I work… read on), most days the first thing I do is sit-down at my computer in my home-office and spend the better part of 2 hours replying to just the most important of the e-mails I get, keeping in mind that much of the work I do is done long-distance, since I live in Ohio and work with industries based for the most part on the West Coast. Anyways… e-mails, I generally get anywhere between 40 and 70 “important” e-mails in a day (this does not include spam… these are e-mails that are from people I work with, or about projects/productions I’m actively working on… most need to be replied to immediately). So, I get through as many as I can each morning and forward the ones I’m able to on to other people who work with me (like my colleagues at my production company, my manager, producers of the various projects I’m working on, or other asst directors for the film festival) to take care of since I simply don’t have the time to respond to every one (that alone would easily take my whole day, every day, right there). After e-mails I generally focus on getting ready for the day, eat, shower and all that… so that by around 11:30am I’m set to role with whatever comes my way (I pretty much run on an LA schedule, which is 3-hours off from the eastern time-zone I’m in, in Ohio so that’s like Noon to 8pm EST) anyhow.. . what comes next varies literally by day… generally I have either conference calls or in-person meetings booked back to back every weekday (lately we’ve been double-booking meetings and events over a year in advance, simply out of need, that just to say that my life can get kind-of busy all the time), anyway, this particular day started with me driving to an event-site to help setup for a local performance gig for about an hour… right from there I went down the block for an extended lunch meeting with a producer/distributor friend of mine (former studio executive) who is now running his own US distribution house, is co-producing my feature and is also partnered with the film fest (we try to do lunch every couple weeks to catch up in person and go over lots and lots of new info). Anyhow, that meeting ran until 2:00pm. From there I went back to my home office for a conference call to LA, then a couple local follow-up calls for the film fest… replied to a few more e-mails that popped up during the day (and ignored a bunch more), then headed off to the Post Office to pickup/sign for about 80 more film festival entries that we received over the weekend, log them in, then pack them into the car to be dropped off with the festival programming director the next morning… which brings us to 3:30pm. I had a meeting with film festival Marketing staff scheduled to go over marketing strategies for 2009, which I arrived frustratingly 10minutes late too (any one of the above reasons should easily explain that). Because we were also officially bringing on a few new assistant directors, that meeting ran over until nearly 7:00pm before I got back to my office. Knowing I only had so much time left in the work day (again on an LA schedule here… so 8pm EST is 5pm PST) I ran back to my office and made a few quick follow-up calls to agents regarding cast for my feature, then grabbed a quick bite to eat from my kitchen and proceeded to sit down to actually start getting some real work done… I had seven (3-10pg) contracts to read, revise, and sign (ranging from bands/special guests we’re working with to perform at the film fest, to new staff contracts, to legal agreements, letters of intent for film crew –for the feature- to registration forms for a new film festival membership program we’re developing). Which brings us to around 10:30pm. Now is when I start to freak, since I realize how much I haven’t accomplished in the day that needed to be done LAST week. So, I sit down and re-work my already triple-booked schedule by priority deadlines and send out e-mails to about a dozen different people on various different staff’s and boards to let them know where things stand as of that day. Ok… so now my day is half-done. Between the hours of 11pm and about 4am to 5am is when I actually end up working on some of our Star Com client-based materials (which range from new-media work to consulting to script supervision, live event management inquiries, etc). I’ll often take a few minutes break at some point in there, grab a snack and maybe watch a portion of one of the Late Night shows before getting back to work. Note that most of my script-writing and re-writing is done during the wee-hours as well as looking through audition tapes, online reels and such, since that’s often the time when I can be the most focused. Before I head off to bed around 5am, I’ll often check the morning industry publications to see what tomorrow will bring…. and that was (for the most part) my Monday. Tuesdays are much, much busier. Keeping in mind that I didn’t even have time to address most Miami Film Association programs or inquiries at all (Mondays and Fridays are supposed to be my “free days” to work on the MFA and film fest… which is somewhat of a joke). Anyway… I get a couple hours of sleep and get into a whole ‘nother arena the next day. Now, I should say that no day of mine is ever like the previous one… I’ll often be dealing with completely different issues for different events and productions each day, which I absolutely love. But it goes without saying that most weekends are just spent trying to catch up for things not finished during the week (that is, the few weekends I’m actually in town, and not traveling or speaking someplace, or actually on set or on-site at a production I’m producing, managing or working). Such is just a brief insight into my day-to-day life. I try to catch movies every chance I get… you’ll often find me sneak away once or twice a week to a movie theater (whenever I can manage)… I do all my shopping at 24hr stores because generally by the time I get around to making it to a store it’s often 4am. Another fun fact, since I live alone, I also actually have to schedule time every other week to do laundry… because if I don’t, it just doesn’t get done (I found that out the hard way). So… now you know (I just know you all were simply dying to know about my laundry) but hey… that’s life… at least for me :-). Now that you’ve read all that, hopefully you’ll at least get an idea of why it often takes me a few days to get back to people (even close friends) and especially how hard it is to schedule in-person meetings with new/young filmmakers (which I absolutely love to do and get requests for on a regular basis) but often simply just don’t have the time to do most weeks unless it was scheduled several months in advance. Anywho… it should also, hopefully, explain why I’m writing/posting this blog entry at 4am, and why I don’t post more often :-P. So there you have it. –Oh, and this is also why I have to schedule my film shoots at least a year in advance…

Just as a quick response to one of YOUR questions… “How do you juggle all the things you do?” The answer to that is quite simply careful planning, and minute by minute scheduling, every day of the week, every week. I use an electronic online schedule/calendar that can be/is constantly updated both by myself and by other people who schedule things for me (like my manager). That way I always know where I need to be and when. All my schedules also include reserved time to travel from one meeting/site to the next estimating possible traffic delays etc… and yes, I do often either schedule, or reply to phone calls while in the car driving from place to place… it’s the only way I can keep up with things (you should see my cell-phone bill :-). So… to answer your question… very careful and specific planning, organization, and scheduling… setting and keeping priorities is always key.

Some Favorite Quotes…

Ok, so on a bit of a lighter note, several of you have also asked me what some of my favorite film-related quotes are and why. Alright, so first off, it’s important to note that most of my favorite quotes don’t actually come from films, rather from the filmmakers themselves (though I do have many favorite lines from movies). This is by no means a comprehensive list, as I hear so many wonderful remarks on a daily basis from people I work with, but here are a few I’ve really appreciated, and connect with:

“I dream for a living” – Steven Spielberg

…I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s both sad and amazing how true this statement is:

“In Hollywood, it ain’t real until the check clears the bank” – Laurence Andries

Simply well said:

“Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks” – Forest Gump

One of the best directing notes I’ve ever heard:

“Do it again, but this time… better.” – Chris Chulack directing “ER”

…you just had to be there – oh, and I don’t recommend using that one on your own set unless you know your actors as well as he does ;-).

Ok, this isn’t from a filmmaker, but it’s certainly one of many excellent quotes to live by:

“There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened. To be successful, you need to be a person that makes things happen.” – James Lovell

And a popular one in my own little world that I’ve thought through way too much:

“Filmmaking is kinda like squirrels, they look all cool, cute and fun on the outside, but when you really get to know them, you find out how evil and frustrating they all really are. But hey, that doesn’t mean you stop loving ‘em, it just gives you a valid reason to throw more rocks.”
– JC’s deep thoughts.

There are so many both wonderful, and simply hilarious statements I’ve heard in this industry, some I can repeat, others I can’t (but really, really wish I could). I’ll try to post more at some point down the line.

The SAG Question…

Ok… so if you all haven’t realized it yet, I try to do my best to stray away from somewhat potentially “unpopular” issues on my blog… but there is a point where I start to wonder what’s going through people’s heads, and I was just asked recently by a several people what my views on the potential SAG strike are. So here are my thoughts on the topic, as irrelevant as they may be. As I’m sure you all know, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is on the verge of a strike this coming January, which I honestly have no problem with as an independent filmmaker, but the whole concept to me at this point seems simply ridiculous. After the lengthy WGA strike last year (and it having been resolved), and with nearly all other major industry unions, including the DGA, agreeing to similar deals earlier this year, I just don’t see how SAG can hold out for something just “slightly” better than what everyone else has already agreed to, nor do I see how the industry can possibly take another lengthy walk-out after last year’s WGA strike and now the current down-turn in the national economy. Now, I’m not a member of SAG, WGA or have any relation to the AMPTP (and I’m certainly not prevy to all the gritty details), but from my point of view, the fact that SAG’s own regional board/s (such as that of SAG’s own NY office) are not supporting them in this matter simply begs the question… what exactly are they trying to achieve with another strike? I know it may be an issue of principle as much as anything, but I’m just not terribly convinced that now is the right time to argue that. There’s simply so much talk about many productions going AFTRA if SAG chooses to strike anyway, that it makes me wonder how many (if any) other industry unions will follow suit and support SAG should they choose to strike (especially considering that many of them have already signed new deals separately) and what real affect it will have other then on SAG members themselves. Again, I’m no expert here, nor am I a guild member, but as a festival director and an independent filmmaker, I’ve been recently forced to address how their choice will affect what I do in a number of ways, so I do hope that all of SAG’s voting members think it through thoroughly before casting their ballots in January. I have a great respect for SAG and its members, and I truly hope they make the right decision, whatever that may be. Again, these are just my thoughts, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on the matter (as I’m aware that many of you may have strong feelings on this issue), so feel free to post comments or shoot me some feedback and let’s see where it takes us…

When Should I Move to L.A.?

Reader Question:

Q: I keep hearing that if I want to get anywhere in the film business I need to move to LA or NY, what is your take on this? –Greg

Film for most people begins as a hobby, and rarely ever becomes a paying gig, so if you plan to move out there out of the blue and get a big-time job (or a job at all) think again. I’ve said this countless times before, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually posted it, so here it is… a career in film is not for the faint of heart (this applies to music as well), if you’re going to go into film (as a filmmaker, actor, whatever), you had better KNOW that it’s the ONLY thing you can ever see yourself doing, you have to be 100% passionate, love it, and be completely dedicated to it, or you’ll spend months, years or even a lifetime of getting nowhere. You have to be able to get trampled on time and time again and keep going, and you have to poor your heart, mind and soul into it or no-one will care that you even exist. Also keep in mind that just like with everything else in life, you also have to be smart about the choices you make, plan years in advance and know exactly what your goals are BEFORE you take the big leap, or you’ll end up back home living with your parents after 6-months soul-searching living in Los Angeles or New York. If you don’t have a plan, or a full-time job BEFORE you go, then don’t bother. There’s nothing wrong with following your dream, but if you’re stupid about it, following your dream will land you working at the local McDonald’s along-side all the other “would-be” dreamers. I’ve seen and known so many people that have failed in this industry because all they wanted to do was be famous and get rich, it wasn’t really their passion, and they didn’t bother to look at things realistically before they took the leap. From my own perspective as an independent filmmaker, I don’t live in LA, nor do I need to, I fly out to the west-coast several times a year, but I personally have no reason to move there – I produce films right where I’m at for cheaper, easier, and (in my opinion) often better than I could in Los Angeles (as an indie filmmaker) and work with people who I know and love – that’s not so say that I wouldn’t work on a big studio picture if asked but, as an indie filmmaker & event producer that deals with it on a daily basis, I’ll be straight-foreward in saying that I’m not the biggest fan of the Hollywood system. Now, keep in mind, I am by no means saying that you shouldn’t move to LA or NY, as that’s where most of the opportunities are for new people (especially if you need to build connections), or that there aren’t a ton of great people out west (there definately are), just be smart about it, do your research, know what you’re getting yourself into and be prepared before you take that leap.

(As with all my Q&A posts – please keep in mind that I am by no means an “authority” on the subjects, these posts are just my own opinions based on my own experiences, I just hope you can get something useful out of it)

The Joys of Casting

For all those of you who are directors, you’ll know what I mean when I say the “casting headache”. I just recently finished casting my upcoming film The End of All Things, and I have to say “Ouch, my head hurts!” Let me explain, this film has 9-lead roles, 6 supporting roles, and the need for about 60 extras. Yes, you read that right. So what kind of insane stupid person would write nine leads into his film? Ok, well, it felt like a good idea at the time… just kidding (but there are actually 9-leads). Those of you in the world of Television will probably understand this better than most since you guys deal with larger compilation-casts than most films, but that just to say, it was a wild ride! I was lucky enough to pre-cast a few people that I’ve worked with before and I wanted in the film ahead of time, but the rest of the cast came from two open casting sessions which were, as they always are, long, tedious, and slightly crazy. Let me explain in a little more detail here. This film requires a large cast of young, unknowns to play the entire range of acting scale (no stock, or character actors here) from comedy to dark, emotional drama. This is not the easiest thing to find in actors out here in Podunk Ohio (though, we did still have several fly-in from Los Angeles and Chicago to audition). Now, this doesn’t always happen, but to be honest with you, in the end I have to say I am very pleased with the cast we’ve chosen for the film, and I’m not just tooting my own horn here, we’ve got some incredible new people that are going to go far, and I have to say that I’m truly excited to work with each and every one of them – there’s just something about the freshness and excitement about working with new talent that is just hard to find in established actors these days – it’s not about the money or the trailers or even the exposure, they’re just excited to be a part of it and ready to give it their all, and that is something you just can’t fake.

Reader Question: I’ve had a few people ask me what it is that I look for when casting for film, and if I have any tips for new actors or directors.

We’ll, first off, keep in mind that I am by no means an authority on casting here, but when it comes to my own tips, here are a few—

For ACTORS: First and foremost, COME PREPARED! I don’t know how many times I’ve had people come to an open audition without actually reading the details about what to prepare before-hand. If you’re supposed to have a monologue, you better have it! I don’t care what kind of car accident you were in or where you came from, you’re basically applying for a job, if you come without a ‘resume’ what are you really giving me to work with? Also, most of you have done this a billion times, the least you can do is fake something to make us happy, but you have no excuse to not read-up on the specifics of the audition before arriving. I’ve had people fly 1000 miles just to audition and still come un-prepared! All of my projects that have public auditions generally have the complete details posted on the website about 2-weeks prior to the audition, with the link in all cast-call announcements. That is my single biggest pet peeve when it comes to actors and casting. Secondly, I’ve had a lot of actors mention that they really don’t understand what a director is looking for when it comes to an audition, or what goes on after they leave the room (as if this is some kind of huge secret). First off, a casting team/director is looking at EVERYTHING from your physical appearance, build, eye color, to your tone of voice, speech patterns and accent, and all that on top of your actual acting talent. Directors are looking for people that fit their mental picture of who they want for a specific role. Keep in mind that just because you’re not cast doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve got no talent, or that you’re ugly. In most cases it just means that there was someone who fit the specific role better than you did; but also keep in mind, if you blow the socks off a Director during casting, you’ll most likely be cast somewhere. As a writer/director I have actually gone back and completely re-written scripts to adapt to actors who blew me away and I really wanted in the film (this is rare, but it does happen). Ok, next thing here, how important is the resume? We’ll to be honest, I try not to look at the resume until after the person has had a chance to audition. I think their ability should speak for itself since that’s what really matters to me for my film. Now, keep in mind though, not all casting teams do this, quite often people are cast with little or no talent (or even without an audition) just because they’ve got a great resume that will help sell the film. I don’t do this, but don’t be surprised when you see that happen. Also, note that often if I’m looking at two different people for the same role who have very similar acting talents, I will often look at the résumé’s to see who will bring the most clout to the production, and that’s who gets it. You still have to be able to sell the thing. Last, but not least, what happens after the actor leaves the audition room? What is discussed? We’ll that really varies based on what kind of production it is and whose doing the casting, but generally I write myself notes about each person, and get everyone’s opinions about the person. I then rate them on my own little scale to help remind myself what I liked and didn’t like about the performance and go from there. Though some people just stand out at the audition as incredible, usually the final choices are made after the auditions when I’m alone and can take the time to think about each detail clearly. I’ll often review the audition tapes and resumes and make my final choices (this is where the tough decisions are made).

For DIRECTORS: Ok, a couple things here, and this first one won’t be news to you seasoned people, but I’m going to say this anyways for the first-timers out there who might stumble on this site by accident. Directors, CAST YOUR OWN FILM. I can’t tell you how many first-timers I’ve run into that are under the impression that the casting director or producer is the one that picks the cast. It’s your film, it’s your vision, if you let someone else cast it, you might as well call it a day right off the bat. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have people help you with the details, but at the end of the day, one of the single most important elements of directing is CHOOSING YOU CAST! Ok, secondly, and this is for everyone now, surround yourself with people you trust, and people who know the characters and material to help you cast the film. I generally have at least two or three other people in the room with me during auditions. These tend to be people who I know are knowledgeable when it comes to production, but are also people who have very out-spoken opinions (it’s no help to anyone if they are wishy-washy about everyone). Generally the people I have in the room with me are the Writer, the Casting Director, Producer, and often another director friend of mine whose opinions I respect. Now, when it comes to casting, in the end the choice is completely up to me, but I love getting immediate feedback from other people who have different viewpoints, as it helps me to better decide if there is something that I may not have seen or considered in a performance. Ironically, I’d have to say that some of the best comments I’ve had during an audition came from the camera operator who was filming them for me – he had a different perspective, and that made all the difference. I’ve also been asked to sit-in on a number of auditions with other director/producer friends of mine for their films, because I’m a very opinionated individual, and I find it beneficial to myself, as a director, to see how others run things, and meet some great new talent in the process. Most people don’t know this, but I actually cast my entire film Freedomland, from sitting in on another colleague’s auditions. Anyhow, I hope that helps.The Full Cast for my next film is posted online at:
Web Link: www.starcomproductions.net/theendmovie