Casting isn’t only about actors. (However, watch “Casting By” on HBO, a documentary about the subtle genius of Marion Dougherty, casting director extraordinaire who mined the New York theatre for acting talent and got indelible performances onto the screen.)
My wee little film (Slow Down to the Speed of Virginia) was a prime example of casting being everything. I was able to cast vibrant actors whose work I was familiar with from an improv school setting, and I wrote to their strengths. Getting the right actor for the role is crucial – most of a director’s heavy lifting is accomplished by that one, massive decision.
But I also got an incredible education just from interviewing crew members. I learned from every single person, whether I hired them or not – gleaned information about equipment, how to approach the shot design, everything- but most importantly, I needed to identify the right match and went on a gut instinct.
I listened closely for how patient they probably would or wouldn’t be with a first-time director, how cooperative or arrogant. It’s all tone. Well, I ended up with great people because I followed my instincts.
I talked to one cinematographer who, my intuition told me, thought I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. She took herself out of the running pretty fast. Months later, we discovered we were both part of the same professional services organization and she sent an email to acknowledge that and say hello. I sent her the film; she really liked it. I think she was surprised. I secretly wanted to know why she couldn’t initially recognize the potential in the project! But that’s impossible, un-ask-able, and it’s better to move on.
A young DP I met simply didn’t respond when I tried to follow up after our meeting. I’m astonished at how common no communication is, it strikes me as amateurish. “I don’t think the project is a good match for me, but it sounds cool and best of luck” is really all it takes.
The strange guy I interviewed thought my script might be communicating secret messages and, kudos to him, he asked me about that right up front. Nope, there’ll be no alien transmission stuffed into the sound edit – is that even possible? The core crew I ended up with was fantastic, and as my co-anchor, the DP’s level-headed demeanor, talent and personality helped me maintain a fun, civilized shoot.
Aside from looking for technical know-how and a compatible personality that you’d enjoy being around in case something goes terribly, ‘erribly wrong, I suggest casting for aligned values, such as respect, a sense of fun (or somber, plodding monosyllabic responses if you prefer!) I happen to like keeping a shoot pretty organized and also need the same from others.
On a side note, one listen to an interview with Mark Duplass of the Duplass brothers (feature film directors) will have you believing that their sets are a script-less chaotic circus. Now I haven’t worked on their sets, and Monsieur Duplass is a funny guy, so I’ve no idea how true that is, but as soon as the interview was over I made a few Excel spread sheets just to calm down.
Know thyself, know thy set, casting is all, to all a good night.
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