Pre-Production: Auditions – Part 01

I am delighted to report that regardless of any qualms or nerves expressed in previous posts, the auditions for With A Little Help From Our Friends went mind-blowingly well.

I’ll break down the process during the week, but in summary (at the beginning, I know, it’s a bit weird) we had:

– Roughly 100 applications for roles
– I asked 20 people to audition
– 18 booked spots on the day
– 14 of those 18 showed up.

Of the four who didn’t show up, every single one of them sent apologetic text messages or emails.

The auditions themselves went great. I always get a little nervous that someone will come in and be a terrible actor and I’ll have to bluff my way through five minutes of awkwardly playing around with the material so that they don’t feel too shafted, but every single actor who came to meet Jack and I was really really great.

Which, of course, has made my job a lot harder to try and choose who my Max, Des, Abby and Lucy are.

It’s frustrating when auditions go well. I now wish I could write extra parts for other actors I saw so that they’re still included in the film, but with a short, that’s nearly impossible. It’s tough because each actor brings something different to the character and it’s all about figuring out if that dynamic will work with another actor’s dynamic and really bring out the best in the script and look arresting on screen.

The one thing I am pretty terrible at during auditions is my poker face. I remember having discussions about this at university when we would hold auditions for our student films. If you’re auditioning someone, should you give them the satisfaction of reacting favourably to their performance? I’m not sure, to be honest. I’ve never been ‘taught’ the ‘right’ way to hold auditions, so I just hold them how I think they should be done. A director I worked with once wouldn’t let me be the reader (read the cue lines of dialogue in a script for an audition) because I was ‘acting’ them too much. He was of the opinion that you should read them as flat as possible to test the actor’s ability. I tend to disagree with that – surely you want to get the best out of your actor so you give them the safest and most comfortable space to perform in?

With that mindset, I’m fairly positive that I had very little poker face-ing skills on Sunday. For one, actors were genuinely enjoying performing my dialogue which is more than enough to bring a smile to my face. But when the acting is spot on in a comedy, when the timing is right, keeping a straight face and resisting the urge to laugh is slightly tougher than you’d think.

Right, enough procrastination. I’m off to giggle at my dialogue and deliberate over my cast once again. Her and him? Do they make a believeable couple? Do those two look like best friends? Or maybe them. But he was a stronger actor.

Gah. Wish me luck!

Sharing the Love

Two friends of mine and I are trying something new and different. Just for fun.

Jamie has popped up on this blog before (and he also has his own blog). Leilani hasn’t (but she, too, has her own blog).

One thing we all have in common (other than how awesome we are) is that we combine roles on our films.

This is a side effect of low/no budget filmmaking. Because you generally can’t book in a crew of twenty to thirty odd people, roles are combined so that you can still make something great with seven or eight people. Jamie and I write, direct and edit. Leilani writes, directs and acts. This isn’t always a bad thing; however, I don’t like to write, direct AND edit because I feel as though it brings me too close to the project and I often find that other people can see things I miss because I’m locked onto one way of thinking. Jamie sees it differently – but what’s life without a little conflict?

At a scriptchat session many moons ago when the three of us were chipping in our opinions on working with directors as editors and working with editors as writers etc etc, we decided that we would challenge ourselves to fall away from the habits we’d gotten into – writing and directing; writing, directing and editing; in other words, combining our roles. One of us would write, one of us would direct and one of us would edit whatever film it ended up being.

Jamie chose to edit, I chose to direct and Leilani chose to write.

At the moment, Leilani and I are moulding the script into shape. To be honest, it doesn’t need a lot of work. What does need a bit of work is my temptation to stick my nose in to Leilani’s re-writing process way too much. I’m trying to give feedback as a combination of script editor and director (although, I’m of half a mind to keep my director-y-ness out of it entirely for the moment as I feel as though that should come in to play a little later down the line). I’m trying to make it constructive to push it toward where I think the story is strongest without totally smothering Leilani’s voice and vision for the piece herself.

It’s an interesting exercise to test how well I communicate as a director with a writer. I’ve always directed my own scripts, so it’s strange to try to articulate my ideas to someone else to have them go away and work them onto the page instead of simply doing it myself. It’s also a new experience to work with someone I don’t know particularly well but whose vision and talent I trust. I imagine it will be the same working with Jamie in the edit – but I’ll let you know when I get there. I think it’s very useful to have an understanding of what the other departments on a film have to go through because it gives you a wider view of reality. Don’t expect fifteen minutes in make-up to be enough for a zombie western film set in the middle of World War Two. Don’t expect the edit of a twenty minute film to be turned around in a day. Don’t expect a lighting set-up to take three minutes if you’re shooting in a cave using generators to power the lights.

I’d recommend trying it. At this stage anyway. Leilani might totally disagree with me! But I think this will work because we all respect each other as creatives and filmmakers to make it work – which is very definitely at the core of filmmaking and having a cohesive crew environment.

What do you reckon? Do you share your heads of department roles around or do you prefer to do the bulk of the work yourself? I’m interested to know what you think!

Links

Follow Jamie on Twitter
Jamie’s Blog

Follow Leilani on Twitter
Leilani’s Blog