THE SPACESHIP | Production Diary 4: February is Casting Month
In the casting process of THE SPACESHIP, currently happening this month, I have been reflecting back to my previous experience casting a feature – and the one before that. I always forget how difficult it can be to get people excited about a project and how devastating it is when a single person backs out because your vision is either too weird or too big for a person to comprehend. Seems to be the story of my career. With THE LONG ISLAND PROJECT, my attempt at creating a politically epic romp about a group of industrialists who, with the help of a media mogul, begin a movement to secede Long Island from New York to form their own state (the State of Long Island). More than quite a few people turned the project down under the impression that I was biting off more than I could chew. In a lot of ways I was, but I think, had some of the folks I wanted actually stuck with the project, it would have panned out better than it had. The biggest contribution to the failing of a film production is a cast and crew who does not believe in the project. Moral support and belief in success is absolutely vital to any project.
While most of the feedback I’m getting from sending the script for THE SPACESHIP out to various talent is positive (and some feedback is outright exciting), there are some who find the content so uncomfortable that they inform me that they’re leaving the country around the time of production (which is obvious bullshit). Others don’t show up to their first meetings, not because they’ve read the script but because science-fiction isn’t a priority for them. In my experience, this mainly happens with male actors. On my last casting experience I had the same problem (it too was a sci-fi movie, only it was set in Boston in 1998 and dealt with alternate realities and time travel). With that project I did auditions first, then invited actors to play the roles. After receiving the script (post-audition), most of the male actors backed out, several claiming they got “called out of the country”. One funny rejection came from someone who said that his girlfriend read the script and informed him that he wasn’t allowed any kissing scenes unless he was receiving a substantial paycheck. I found that hysterical. One of the actors I caught in a lie when a short film he starred in came out a few months later – and after making some inquiries it turns out he shot the movie in Queens, at the time he was supposed to have been gone. I would have never had seen this film had a friend of mine not been his co-star. This was when I first discovered the out-of-the-country bit. The third problem that came up in my previous casting experience was that a lot of actors audition for the sake of practicing their audition and to learn the process, without ever having the intention of committing to a role. I’m not sure if their acting schools tell them that this is okay, but I assure you it’s not. It’s wasting the time of a lot of people. They want to read for me so that when it comes time to read for someone like NBC or Disney, they’ll be on their game. This is also related to a practice where actors will show up to an audition, just in case this quaint little indie film is a cover for a much bigger, more notable project. Should the reality of the audition turn out to be what it is advertised as, the actor will often pass on the project without having read the script. Due to these unexpected twists and one other factor, I had no choice but to put the production of THE HARBINGER (working title) on hiatus. After this experience, I wrote all of my projects to feature females aged 20-35. This demographic almost always showed up and accepted roles if offered. Caroline of Virginia and Lipstick Lies, most notably, had strong female leads for no other reason than that I knew I could depend on the actresses. It was clear to me that if I wanted to keep talented actors on board my projects, I would have to write for the ones willing and able. This cultural phenomenon hasn’t changed. With THE SPACESHIP, I received 350 submissions in the first 24 hours of the casting notice going live. Over 200 of them were females in the 20-35 range.
Like all of my projects, you live you learn. In an effort to keep the production of THE SPACESHIP on track and consistently moving forward, I’ve taken a different approach in casting. I can no longer waste time on people who are not 100% serious. While I’ll probably make a few errors here and there, I feel my new system is working out so far. For one, I’m meeting with most of the actors first. I’m not conducting reads or anything like that, it’s a simple chat – for one to see if they truly are interested in this project, to discuss what my goal is with the film and what their ultimate business plans are as actors. The main thing though is to see if they can keep a date. All of their resumes kick ass. They’re theater trained and have extensive film and TV experience so clearly they know their stuff. But there’s more to casting than that. This “filtration system” of casting seems to work. Many would-be flakes are pulling the same old “out of the country” gag long before I waste my time auditioning them and others aren’t bothering to show up, are cancelling and so forth. One woman in the 40-50 range even informed me: “I don’t want to schedule a meeting because I might get a real audition”. I responded with “but lady, this is your audition! I’m auditioning your work ethics!” Regardless of the fact that this is a paying gig, it doesn’t matter. Indie film is still the bottom of the barrel for some talent and those are the people I’m trying to weed out.
With all that said, we have a lot of amazing prospects and a lot of talent I’ve met with and will continue to meet with this month. My new system of pre-audition interviewing seems to work. We’ve even got several key roles cast, filled by some extremely talented actors (announcement to come later this month). I’m very much looking forward to March – when I will have my cast in place and rehearsals for a spring shoot will be under way. Until then, the mission to fill in the 10+ open roles continues!