THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNK MOVIE: Part 2, The Cast
Is it a great script? The film’s director? The type of camera and lenses you shoot with?
Or is casting the right actor most important?
Casting a film is much like cooking – you need the right ingredients in just the right amounts to create something that’s palatable and satisfying. Casting professionals are chefs. They take a director’s vision and a writer’s story, and concoct a ten-course meal that’s worthy of a five-star restaurant. If the recipe is off, however, even a potentially great film could easily turn out to be average.
Actors, especially A-list players, cost a lot of money. Money that – contrary to what you might believe – is well-deserved. I have acted in several movies and I can tell you, it is some of the most demanding work I have ever done. Imagine putting on sixty pounds of muscle to play a professional boxer, or learning to ride a horse and fire a longbow from horseback – all while looking good and making it look like you have been riding horses and firing arrows from their backs since you were knee-high to a grasshopper.
Lesser-known actors don’t have the same salary requirements, but they may lack exposure or experience.
Thus, the Casting Director walks a fine line between beauty, budget, and risk – carefully assessing each role and the type of actor you need to make that character successful.
The Casting Director, or CD, is the individual responsible for finding and auditioning actors for the roles in a movie. CDs work closely with the director and producer to find the talent they are searching for – the talent right for a specific role.
Casting directors are pros at matching the right actor to the right role. They are the matchmakers of the filmmaking industry, arranging auditions, casting calls, and callbacks and their help is indispensable.
In making their decisions, Casting Directors examine a number of factors, including an actor’s experience, “chops” (proficiency in acting), physical characteristics, and other special talents, such as martial arts training or stunt experience.
If you take on the responsibilities of Casting Director for a film, here are a few tips I would like to share. I learned these the hard way – through assisting directors in casting films, through auditioning for films and through making mistakes during production of my own films.
1. Avoid using one of your crew members as an actor in the film. You diminish the size –and therefore the efficiency – of your production team when you pull one of them out to act. A crew of four people that loses one to become a performer is diminished 25%. Usually this drastic trade-off becomes visible on screen in numerous ways.
“Spike Lee and Quinton Tarantino do it all the time,” you say? Yep. They are exceptions. Not the rule.
2. Try to work with those who have a reason to commit to the film. Actors and even acting students have a reason to participate in a film until the very end because it is important for them to have an acting reel, meaning samples of them performing. The better the project is, the better their reel, so they have a strong incentive to perform well. Not only do they get a credit on a film, but the reel can lead to other acting gigs.
However, a close friend who is a professor of English Literature might be excited about – and even agree to dust off those college acting skills and be in – your movie, but after the first ten-hour production day, they may start to lose interest. With mid-terms coming up, with an impatient wife to appease and teaching assistants to maintain, suddenly the thought of sticking around for three more shooting days isn’t so appealing to the good old professor. Frequently, good friends find the limits of their friendship on film productions.
3. Think twice about casting family members. Family relations are often complex; add to that the stress and arduousness of the filmmaking process, and you’re working with a volatile mixture – kind of like a gallon of nitroglycerin in the hands of your ninety-seven year old uncle after he has had a decanter of coffee, two Krispy Kreme donuts and thirteen cigarettes. Imagine asking your mother to redo her lines after she has flubbed them for the tenth time, but is convinced the last take was “a keeper”. “But you directed your wife in that action film, A Single Link and in Rite of Passage: Initiation,” you say? Again…exceptions to the rule.
4. Always remember that it takes a skilled director, and lots of patience, to get a great performance out of a non-actor. For most films, casting skilled actors is important in order to get what you need for your film. Even if your film has no dialogue, a good actor can bring a new interpretive energy, authenticity, and creative resources to the project.
Finally, I would like to share the current cast of Rite of Passage, the first Steamfunk film, with you. As we add more actors to the cast, I will edit this section, so please, check back often.
Oh, and if you happen to be an actor, a Steampunk maker or Steampunk fashion designer / costume maker and are interested in working on this awesome film, please join us Thursday, April 18, 2013 at GA-Tech in room 343 of the Skiles Building at 11:00 am for an Information Session.