Directing is 90% casting. I’ve heard this – can’t disagree. I’m casting now and it is tedious, dangerous, and vitally important to my film. And every actor who makes it this far is talented. Everyone has potential. And they come one after the other, day after day. They come so fast I barely have time to reset from one to the next, to remind myself what role the next audition is for.
After a few days, I realize that I can’t remember one from another, and if I had to rely solely on my memory or even my notes - I’d be lost. So, I film every audition. I film it myself. I move in, move away, stop the session and ask the talent to try something else. I try different angles and run different scenes.
I will turn anything I can find into a make-believe set piece. And later, I edit the auditions together on my preview timeline. I watch them again. I notice things I missed in real time. Begin to remember who is who, and what they could bring to the project. But while they are in the room with me, I try to have fun and see what they can do.
“Ok – let’s have you enter that door, step into the room, and address that plant in the window.”
“Pretend these production cases are a fence and you are mending it on a cold winter’s day.”
“Here are your props. This pen is your cigarette; this box of staples will be the glass of scotch in your hand.”
“You know, let’s take this outside. I just want to hear your voice over the roar of traffic.”
"It’s hard to get a role in a film, and I try and treat every actor, every audition, with respect and freshness. They’ve driven here, waited their turn, in some cases studied the character and memorized lines. And then through no fault of their own, they get rejected. It’s a brutal business."
It’s the actors who are willing to pretend, to step all in, to not think of the moment as silly, but instead to take the moment of auditioning with respect that make the strongest impression. I love the energy and life that actors bring to the lines, to the characters. I’m casting, but I’m also learning. Some actors read the lines much smaller than I had anticipated – and it works. Some actors take a bland scene and turn it into a big play – I’d never thought of that.
The auditioning process is inherently unfair to actors. I’m looking for sets of actors who will play well together, who don’t look too similar to one another, who can create distinct characters. Sometimes I’m looking for a particular height, nose, or body type. These things can’t be controlled by the actor, and it breaks my heart that I don’t have great roles for all of them. I’m glad it’s not my job to call them back with the bad news. And for 90% or more, it’s going to be bad news.
It’s hard to get a role in a film, and I try and treat every actor, every audition, with respect and freshness. They’ve driven here, waited their turn, in some cases studied the character and memorized lines. And then through no fault of their own, they get rejected. It’s a brutal business.
But then there is the joy of seeing the cast come together. I’m sitting in my office here on the second floor of a building we call, “The Flatiron Curtain.” The building is triangular in shape, and it’s located in Eastern Europe, in Bucharest. We’ve rented it for the duration of the project here, about a 5-month rental. On one wall, I’ve taped up nine styrofoam panels. As roles are confirmed, I pin photos of the actors who win the parts. I often gaze at it as the board fills up – partly to memorize names. It’s good to know the names of the actors in your movie. But I also take joy in gazing at the casting board because of the sense of progress. As the cast gets locked in, the movie gets closer to reality.
On this project, I am blessed to work with a hard-working casting director. Her name is Casandra. We began with a series of conversations about what I had in mind. Then, early in the process, she presented me with a well-organized slide deck with head shots of potential actors for each role. Then we had more discussions. Finally, she scheduled auditions. Casandra is also a fine actress, and she often reads opposite the auditioning actors. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and it makes the auditions fun. Together we are on a quest to assemble the perfect cast – great talent, even for the smallest roles. It’s a monumental job.
Remember – directing is 90% casting.