Pre-Production: Organising Auditions; A Cautionary Tale

Operation: Playstation

This week has been entirely flat out for me. Not only did we lose a day to a three day weekend (trust me, I am not complaining about that in the slightest!), but my ‘normal’ nine-to-five job has kicked up a notch in the past two weeks and it’s all go go go at work as well as go go go with the film.

Mind you, that’s just how I like it.

As you know if you read my post earlier this week, we’ve started organising auditions for actors to find our perfect Abby, Max, Des and Lucy. Finding actors to work for free is a hard task but I completely love casting. I think it’s something about knowing that when someone walks into a room, they could be the person who is going to BE the Max I created in my head nearly a year ago. Or they could totally transform Lucy into someone who I hadn’t even thought that she was. Not to mention the kinds of people you meet in auditions – I don’t know if you know this, but people are fascinating. Especially actors. Actors have a kind of zing about them. They always seem to get along quite well with my imagination and I end up writing a film for them to be in.

Which is kind of exactly what happened on the last short film I wrote and directed. ‘Operation: Playstation’. I had met an actor through auditioning him for a role the year before. Dylan was amazing and I fought really hard to get him cast in the film, but in the end he looked too young for the part (casting is all about the right LOOK as well as good acting!). But the two of us stayed friends and one particular time, a year later, we met up for a hot chocolate and I asked him if he’d read a script I’d been working on. He read it right there in front of me (always a risky move for both parties) and I couldn’t stop smiling when he started laughing at different points – it was a comedy so that was the right reaction. He said he thought it was great and I told him that I wanted him to play the lead because I’d written the script with him in mind as the main role.

His eyes lit up and he immediately agreed. Thankfully.

With Dylan on board, I was confident that we’d be able to get the other roles fairly easily. After all, the main role of Jack was the character that the whole film hung on. As we moved forward in pre-production, I put the call out for actors. Admittedly, it was technically a ‘student’ film, but it was my graduate film and barely anyone else working in the crew was a student – I pulled favours with crew I’d professionally worked with to help me out. Deliberately downplaying the ‘student’ side of it (I was treating it as a professional short film, after all), the ad was up for ten minutes before I had my first application. Over the next 24 hours, I probably had around 50 actors apply for the various roles.

I sorted through the headshots, viewed showreels and read cover letters to see who I thought would be good to see. There were people with a lot of experience, people with not so much, but I wasn’t too bothered by the lack of experience – if they can do a good job then it doesn’t matter.

I replied to about 30 of those 50, asking them to come in for an audition.

Of those 30, 15 booked in times.

Of those 15, 4 showed up on the day.

Sobering, right? I don’t even remember anyone ringing to cancel their time – people just didn’t show up. I’d asked Dylan to come along to the auditions, so the majority of the day the two of us ended up watching videos on YouTube.

But of those 4, 2 were great.

So I offered them the roles.

After specifying the shooting dates on the casting call, on the audition information and confirming they were still available, one of them declined the role because she was in the middle of a three week holiday.

The other actor didn’t show up to rehearsals and never returned my calls or texts.

CRISIS. We have no cast, besides Dylan. I talk to Dylan about it, who is very aware of how close this is to turning into a car crash, when he says he can talk his mate into taking a role. He’s an actor too. Plus, Dyl’s girlfriend is an actress. Then I realised that I knew a group of people from high school who I’d done drama with who might be interested as well.

Between the two of us talking to people we knew, we found the cast we needed.

And you know what? The acting is the strongest part of the entire film. In every single role.

Before you ask, the film still needs to be graded (sorry guys!) and it’s currently at home in Australia feeling lonely and abandoned, so no, you can’t watch it online anywhere. But what this did do was LOWER MY EXPECTATIONS. Not in a bad way, in a realistic way.

‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ has had about 90 applications for cast. Amazing. Because we’re restricted by time in the space, I whittled that down to 18 (which was incredibly difficult because there were so many who were dancing on the maybe line). Of that 18, 16 have booked in for auditions and an extra 1 has apologised because the time clashes with another project she’s rehearsing for.

I’m really happy with that hit rate so far. But I’m being realistic.

I’ll post a blog on Monday and let you know how it goes. And I’ll break down how I went about organising the auditions. I just wanted to post about how catastrophically wrong they can go – and you guys can say that it happened to a friend of a friend of yours and mean it.

Call to Arms

So it begins.

The hunt for actors.

I’m holding auditions this Sunday up in High Barnet and my fingers are crossed that there will be a few people who actually show up. I know that it can be really hard to get actors to get excited about a film that they’re not being paid for, but I’m sure there are a lot out there. In my experience, the actors who are doing it for love are generally some of the best ones, just simmering and waiting to shove open the door that will catapult them forward. It also means that they’re passionate and I think that that is key to working on a low/no budget film. If everyone you surround yourself with on set is passionate about what they do (it may not always necessarily be passion for the project – I’ve worked on sets like that before), it means that there will always be someone who is removed from the issue you’re stressing about and can help pull you out of it.

The casting call is here for the moment – depending on the kind of response, I may put it up around a few more places. If you could share the link around and get the word out, that would be fantastic.

I do have a few actors I already know who I am going to get in touch with later today and hopefully they’ll be available to come in and say G’Day. The really great thing about this script is that I’m not totally locked in to what the characters should look or like. There is a look to each in my head – don’t get me wrong – but if someone comes in and blows my mind, then they’ll get the part, regardless of ethnicity, accent or anything like that. None of the characters are particularly specific (although, I’m toying with the idea of a Liverpudlian accent for at least one character to continue with the Beatles’ undertones) so I’m completely open to anyone who can simply come in and own the part.

I’m excited.

This is where it all starts to get real.

Links:

Check out the audition notice! (I deliberately put a bit of humour in it cause…well, the script’s a bit funny.)

Closer!

I am incredibly pleased to say that we are one step closer to making With A Little Help From Our Friends! I say one step, however, this week a couple of steps have gone forward and the film is looking like it is definitely going to happen which is exciting because for awhile there I didn’t think it was going to get off the ground.

Firstly, we have a Director of Photography – my friend Jamie has been foolish or brave enough to agree to shoot the film for me. I’ve actually blogged about him before (here and here) and I really love the style he shoots his work in. All the work I’ve seen of his has an almost dream-like quality to it but still manages to balance the real world within the frame as well. I’m looking forward to talking to him further about the kind of style I’d like for WALHFOF, but at the same time I trust his judgment as a cinematographer and a filmmaker and am confident that we’re going to get some absolutely gorgeous images come shoot days.

Secondly, it looks as though we’ve got our location. We’re still waiting on confirmation of dates, but it seems to be a goer. I mentioned here a few weeks ago about the issues we were having finding locations and then spoke in last week’s post about how we were going to tackle a workaround. Jack spoke to the drama school that he had access to and the two of us went on a recce to check the place out on Saturday evening. It’s a really great location and very filming friendly in that it’s quite big with lots of rooms for alternative locations if we need them. There were three rooms that I walked into and immediately knew I wanted to shoot there because it was so visually interesting. Jack is speaking to them to confirm their dates of availability and hopefully we’ll lock something in and away we’ll go!

The shift in location from university to drama school has meant that I’ve had to rewrite the script with the new locations in mind. This, to be honest (and to my relief), wasn’t that difficult. I’d expected it to be a lot harder but the new locations slipped into place really easily. I had to adjust some of the dialogue to fit, changed what the characters were doing in the scenes – from studying books to learning lines etc – and it still stands pretty strongly on its own two feet.

Craig, Jack and I got together on Sunday and had a meeting to touch base on where we are currently at. Craig is confident he can slash the estimated budget we’d been toying with in half, based on our contacts and skills at doing something for nothing. A massive coup came from the fact that we will not have to pay location fees! Because Jack knows the owners of the school quite well and has done a lot of filming in the past, they’re willing to give the location to us for free as long as we work around them with shoot dates. Seems more than reasonable to me. See, low-budget filmmaking is all about cashing in on favours and networking – they’re not lying! Jack is also looking for a space to hold auditions in the first week of September. I’m writing up monologues for the actors who audition to learn that have more of an idea of the character and the type of person that they’re playing and sussing out which other crew roles we might need moving forward.

All in all, a pretty productive week!

Stay tuned to see what chaos unfolds next – as it always does!

Links
Follow Craig on Twitter

Follow Jack on Twitter

Follow Jamie on Twitter
Jamie’s Blog

Thinking Outside The Box

Hi everyone! Sorry the blog post is a little later than usual this week – it’s been a crazy few days in Londonia, as well as trying to figure out what we’re going to do about our location problems.

If you caught last week’s blog post, you’ll know that we’re having some issues trying to find a location that isn’t going to charge us an arm and a leg to shoot there. I’ve been chatting to heaps of people about alternative ideas – renting an empty space and buying bookshelves to make it look like a library set, shooting in a library and then creating the classrooms, reconsidering the locations to make it slightly more accessible… all sorts of solutions but none of them seemed much easier than any other.

Then Jack suggested that we look into drama schools. He had access to one and he thought that he might be able to swing it with the owners. And as he listed the rooms we could potentially have access to, my eyes lit up. It seems like a great alternative to a college and quite a vibrant alternative at that. Plus, as it’s a drama school, we can offer to audition their students and use them as extras as extra incentive. I told him to go for it. We’ve got nothing to lose by asking them, at any rate. He’s trying to organise a time when we can look at it that works for everyone (all our different working hours aren’t exactly syncing up perfectly) and we’ll do a recce for the location and see what we can work with.

Which brings me to my next point – actors.

It’s getting closer to one of my favourite parts of the film-making process. I absolutely adore casting. For me, it’s the part where the film starts to become real. Plus, I love watching people put their own spin on characters that I’ve created to see how differently they can come across.

I’m still working out when auditions are going to be held, but I know I’m going to have to write new monologues for the actors who are coming in. The script as it stands isn’t exactly conducive to auditioning solo  (it is very much focused on dynamics between people), so in the next week or so I’ll be writing four new scenarios – one for each character – to use as audition pieces. I’ve already got my eye on a few actors I’d like to ask to audition through Twitter, but I’ll definitely be exploring a few avenues to get the word out about it.

And as well as actors, I have to seriously start thinking about assembling crew. I have someone in mind to ask about being the Director of Photography but many of the other crew roles are still sadly empty.

I’m going to have to start hunting people out!

And so it goes!

Happy Tuesday everyone! I hope you’re all wonderfully well and being wonderfully creative and productive.

I’m very excited to announce the fact that ‘With A Little Help From Our Friends’ is 100% back on track, thanks to a couple of people I met at the Guerilla Filmmakers’ Masterclass at the start of June. Say G’Day to Craig and Jack!

 This is Craig.                                  This is Jack.

On Saturday, we had our first production meeting about how we were going to tackle the project. As it currently stands, we’ve set in a provisional shoot date (the end of September) and started talking about locations, cast and crew. We’re all going to chip in to cover the producer duties and on-set, Craig is going to be the First Assistant Director, Jack is in charge of sound and I’ll be directing.

We still have a fair few gaps to fill at this stage, but we do have a bit of time to work with at the moment. I’m going away for two weeks (so the blog will be quiet, methinks), but hopefully the boys have enough to keep moving forward whilst I’m away.

At the moment, we’re following up a few leads to lock in a location. The script is set at a university but we’ve also been considering schools that we might’ve been able to get access to as potential locations. Both Craig and Jack have been goldmines with this – as I didn’t grow up around or near to London, it makes it a little more difficult for me to know about potential locations to have a look at outside of the area I live in. A little insider knowledge never goes astray!

We’re also starting to think about cast. I imagine auditions will happen pretty quickly after I get back from my trip away (possibly the second weekend in August). This also means that I’m going to have to work on extra monologue-style pieces for the actors to read in the auditions, which I’m looking forward to writing. As well as cast, there’s obviously quite large gaps in crew which we’re going to have to start thinking about – at the moment, it is literally just the three of us running the show!

So now that we’re off and rolling, there’s more things to think about. I already know that pre-production is going to slip away disastrously quickly and I’m hoping that we’ll be able to work together well enough as a team to stop anything too chaotic from happening. To be honest, we all work pretty well together as it is.

I have a list of things I need to do that keeps getting longer (as is always the way) but it feels like we’re back on track and moving forward now, so I’ll be stressed, tearing my hair out and panicking but loving every minute of it!

That’s what it’s all about!

Links

Follow Craig on Twitter

Follow Jack on Twitter