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40M: The Casting Sessions…

It’s kind of funny that the times people most want to keep up with me I’m the hardest to follow. My blog seems to be no exception to this, but I’m doing my best to keep current, so you’ll likely see many more frequent posts as we get closer to production on many of my on-going projects, including “40 Miles” (40M).

That said, so many AMAIZING things have happened in the past few weeks that it seems as though God is trying to tell me something.  After several delays in the pre-production process on my first (Directorial) feature “40 Miles” (which were somewhat expected), earlier this month I was finally able to make it out to Cincinnati (where we’ll be shooting the film this fall) for the “final” round of in-person casting/auditions. Since the film is already “sold” (we have distribution attached in all mediums) and the fact that the film is somewhat of a “genre” piece (which is nice as they tend to sell well on their own, without the need for known “stars”) I decided to cast the film with relative unknowns and in doing so we did an “open” call initially just in the greater Cincinnati region (with the intention of opening the call up nationally after the first few weeks). We had such an overwhelming response, with more than 2,200 submitting to the initial local call in less than 2 weeks, that we actually dumped the national call altogether… over the course of the next month we did a series of video-auditions long-distance to further cut the group down to fewer than 80, which were then brought in to audition in person (for me and my casting team) for the 14 available speaking rolls.

This is not the first time we’ve done this kind of audition (first round submitting only headshots/resumes, second round sending in video taped monologues, via online video services and third/final round being the in-person, pre-scheduled auditions) but I must admit I was thoroughly impressed at how efficient and effective this process ran.  I had a VERY limited time to get through so many people while I was in town, but managed to get through all 80, including call-backs in 27 solid hours of auditions (spread out over two and a half days).

As long and as hard as auditions can be on those running them, I have to say that they couldn’t have gone smoother, or honestly, better. I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to my Production Coordinator, Lindsay, and my entire casting team for pulling it off on their own time, in between other jobs. These guys are seriously awesome.

Now, I’ve written about my personal casting process before (LINK), but all that being said, as a Writer/Director, the audition process is honestly a really exciting time, it has a certain meaning, a significance to it. To me, as the Director and Writer of the project, it signifies that next step, that “proof” that the film is really happening, and that it all of the sudden has meaning, it’s now much more than just about “my project”.  Bringing in actors and seeing actors play and “become” those characters that I’ve written is a touching thing and when you see that person that you know is right, that IS the character you created and brings them to life. There’s a moment there when you know… you finally believe that this is truly happening.  Talented actors are much harder to find than one would believe. There are millions of “would be” actors out there, but few who truly have the talent and the passion to make a story real. Uncertainty or concern that you made the wrong choice is always a part of the game, especially when there are a number of highly talented actors involved (as was the case with these auditions, specifically with the lead), but when it comes down to it, when you find just that right person, you know it.

For me it was honestly a very tough choice, I knew what I wanted and I also knew that what I wanted was likely impossible to find. I have very high expectations of my actors and very specific, detailed mental images of what my characters look like and how they act, but even more than that, when an actor comes into the room I try to see not only the immediate performance, but look to see the potential of where that actor could go, what they can become. That said, I also always surround myself with a variety of people in the audition room and always listen to each of their opinions on each actor before I make up my mind. And while I rarely, if ever agree with everyone in the audition room (this time was no exception) I appreciate every comment given and take each seriously. In the case of casting my lead(s) in this film, I saw not only the performance, but also the potential beyond the first performance, which I’ll admit, is not always easy to see, and a big reason for call backs.

Once I had my lead, the rest of my key cast just seemed to fall into place in my mind, they’re all extremely talented in their own right, and when things “click” they just plain “click.” I may have, yet again, chosen the more difficult road with casting (I’ll have to explain this later), but the funny thing is, I know it’s the right one and my co-workers now know it too.  To be honest, it’s not the first time I’ve cast some amazing “unknown” talent out of the blue, to the point where I now have people asking me for advice on casting left and right… fact is, I’m no genius, I’m just a very opinionated person, and when it comes down to it, it really is just a matter of opinion, I am a Director… I just know what I’m looking for and I can generally recognize when I’ve found it. It’s that simple. Everything else is secondary, the potential complications, the plans, even the story. If other people happen to like my choices as well, (which they often seem too) then it just makes the film that much more likely to succeed.  As much as I’d love too, I can’t tell you who the cast is quite yet (we’re honestly still finalizing much of the supporting cast), but I can say that we will be “officially” announcing the project and the cast here in a few short weeks.

So, after all that’s said, if you’re looking for my advice on the matter, when it comes to casting a film, as a Writer/Director, don’t let anyone else make the decisions, make sure you’re very specific (to yourself) about what you’re looking for BEFORE going in and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Pick specific people that don’t just agree with you on everything, LISTEN to other’s opinions and take them seriously, their different outlooks on a character are just like that of your potential audience. In the end, it’s still your choice, you have to choose who is right for your character and for your film. When you find them, you’ll know it.