Casting: notes

August 24th, 2007
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These are my notes from the SXSW 2007 mini meeting on Casting. [Personal comments and observations are in square brackets].

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Working with casting directors: First, you need to have a script. Then you need finances in place (sometimes a letter of intent is enough).

Casting directors work through word of mouth. Ten weeks notice is required at the very least to begin casting for a feature.

In casting a film, the casting director will have conversations with the director and will read the script. They will take pictures and resumes to the director. Also, it’s now usually the practice to upload auditions to the web.

Casting directors are there to direct the actors in the room and then the director has sessions with them. They are part of a collaboration between the director and the actors. They use standard and non-standard avenues, eg. agents and also schools, craigslist, etc. They are not the same as a casting facilitator.

A facilitator is an assistant who gets resumes, sets up auditions and the director makes decisions.

Great actors: come prepared, ready to work, are not too chatty but still very human. They make no excuses. They are people who really enjoy their work. They’re open, smart and can be given some direction.

Hire an LA casting director if you’re looking for name talent; it’s all about connections and relationships [note: this was from a professional casting director].

Jo [one of the panellists] almost always works with another casting director. They bring different things to the table.

Local. Local means no travel days, no per diem, hotel, etc. They have to have a local address and be able to show up on short notice.

Jo: “We do like smart actors.”
Lieblein: “Thinking actors are the coolest thing.”

Actors who haven’t watched the show are not wanted.

Kids: you’re also hiring the parent!

A good casting director should manage your expectations, which will depend on the quality of the script and the project.

You should have a plan, eg. five names and a set date for passes, then cast.

Directing Actors: notes

August 24th, 2007
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These are my notes from the SXSW 2007 Mini Meeting on Directing Actors. [My comments are in square brackets].

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Share your vision and ideas [this applies to crew too]. Make the actors feel comfortable; they must trust you and feel safe. Let them know you’re a team and they’re respected.

The lead principals should have some sort of rehearsal. Often, there’s also a dinner [where they get to meet each other and the director without the pressure of being on set].

Talk about the feeling of the role and the line. Be supportive and introduce ideas. Be willing to be wrong and open to new ideas.

Set emotional objectives and know the emotion of the scene. 80% [of film acting] is tone, 20% is content (lines, dialog). The film is not about the lines. It’s about the reaction to the lines. Watch out for actors coming out of character in reactions [eg. waiting for their next cue].

Don’t be afraid to challenge actors. Professional actors want to be directed. Also recognize when they give you something good.

With non-professional talent: communicate in terms the actor knows and can relate to. You can fake reactions from non-actors (eg. Spielberg using characters in costume to get kid reactions in Close Encounters). However, you have to do this kind of thing with respect for the person and the actor.

Workshopping: a day in which to explore some emotions, in an honest way, without faking out actors on set. [Faking out actors on set destroys trust and undermines the whole process].

Casting directors: to find a casting director, you can look up the CSA website.

Shooting the entire scene from every angle (including close ups) helps the arc and intensity of performance.

Less is more. Be honest. And remember that, if environment didn’t matter, we’d all shoot green screen [all the time].

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Recommended viewing: the two disc set of Dog Day Afternoon. Watch disc 2.

Advice from a DP

August 17th, 2007
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Here’s some tips I got from experienced feature Director of Photography, PJ Raval, earlier this year at SXSW.

PJ consistently recommended the P2 system, even if you buy one of Panasonic’s cameras that records on this system (eg. the HVX-200), it should hold much of its value for resale after the shoot. [This was certainly true earlier this year].

He said that 24P on the DVX (DVX-100) is better than 24f on the Sony Z1. To get even better results from the pro-sumer Panasonic camera, PJ suggested switching off the knee, setting the pedestal lower and setting the zebra at 90-95%. He also suggested shooting everything on the pre-sets, including white balance (daylight or tungsten).

The anamorphic lens is great, he said, but does have some drawbacks, for example no big close ups due to (spherical) aberration.

Them’s me notes. If that made sense to you (it does to me), then enjoy!

Quality Moving Wallpaper

April 22nd, 2007
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Last year, I wandered into the film festival office and they were watching Wedding Crashers. Apparently this is something they did every day, during the off-season–before the entries came in. I remembered Wedding Crashers. It had a funny premise and a ton of smart-ass one-liners. So, last week, I got it out from the A2 library and tonight, put it on.

Wedding Crashers. It really is a superbly written movie. Totally excellent dialog, tight editing and the performances from Vaughan and Wilson are truly outstanding. The cinematography is beautiful too, but if you really just want something on in the background while you’re working, then I highly recommend this film. And if you want to really watch it, I highly recommend that too.

Now we’re watching Blackadder. The second season. “Two beans plus two beans… What does that make?” “A very small casserole.” Honestly, when you’ve watched all these things dozens of times, it doesn’t hurt to watch them again. I’m rendering more squirrel pictures and the first images of spring, meanwhile.

Great Birthdays

March 7th, 2007
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Great birthdays have strawberry cake. Strawberry cake with butter icing. Beloved Laura asked me what I wanted and that was it, so she made it for me. I’m just smiling thinking of that. My wife made me cake. Strawberry cake. With butter icing. This makes me happy. Even having the wrong age; I like being the wrong age. That makes me happy too!

Great birthdays also have presents. My family got me the latest season of 24 on DVD and “Hunters of Dune” in hardback. This might mean I’m low maintenance but it also makes me happy. It’s not the stuff so much; it’s the being given the stuff and, more, that it’s stuff I wanted.

So, thank you, dear Laura. I had a lovely birthday and it was good right through to that last piece of strawberry birthday cake which Sam and I shared last night (with a glass of milk)!

One Ann Arbor Morning…

March 6th, 2007
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This morning, I needed–as in “I need to breef froo my mouf”–to go and buy a Mega Millions ticket. Me and 300 million other mouf breevers. Still, the odds are much better if you have a ticket than if you don’t have a ticket. And the jackpot is $355m.

Mmmmm… millions…

Of course, if I won all that money, I’d have a ginormous tax bill. However, I think I could afford to pay wads of tax if I had wads of money. I could also drive preposterous cars, fund a feature film, buy ridiculous amounts of electronic gizmos and gadgets and I’d also like to patronize the arts. In fact, I think I’ll start that last right now by saying that L.S. Lowry’s works weren’t bad for an eight year old with really bad astigmatism.

So, I picked up a load of beer bottles and went over the road to the party store (off-licence in Britain). I drove there, naturally, because I live in America and want to fit in. I parked between the Hostess Twinkies delivery van and someone’s rusty muscle car which was sprawled across two spaces. Getting ten cents back on each bottle gave me enough money to buy five picks on the Mega Millions (which gives you a clue how many beer bottles there were, but there are actually still more in the kitchen).

Next, I drove to Stadium Hardware (which really is the best hardware store ever, bar none) and asked for wall plugs. The nice man showed me over to where they have a selection of light switches. Apparently the things I wanted aren’t called wall plugs here. After a brief game of charades, where he looked at me blankly while I mimed what I wanted to do, we eventually figured out that I wanted “wall anchors”. Three anchors for $1.20, bargain.

Next stop, the Post Office. For some reason, Ann Arbor has nice people working in the hardware store and a selection of complete tools outside its Post Office. Today (and every day apparently), the douchebagginess consists of parking in the fire lane up by the post office doors, despite the many empty spaces not three yards away. I would like to see all these people ticketed and towed away. My tolerance level went down accordingly.

Inside, I attempted to use the automatic machine to avoid the queue, or line as vernacular has it. The line, of course, was immortalized in that Johnny Cash classic, “I walk the line”. He was clearly singing about how he wanted to go postal on all the people who park their pick-ups and minivans in the fire lane.

Attempting to use the machine that dispenses stamps based on the weight of your envelope turned out to be a futile exercise in blood pressure raising. Sending a DVD to New York first class is a mere 87 cents. However, the minimum transaction limit for the machine is a dollar. I also wanted to send a letter to Britain (84 cents), but I couldn’t add that to the transaction because it’s a second transaction and each one has to be more than a dollar. The machine kindly offered to generate an extra 39cent stamp for me to up the ante. I folded and joined the line inside to save a few cents (but not sense).

Finally, I dropped off a cheque (spelled “check”) to my lawyer (because I are in America and therefore must have one, or two, or maybe even three). This was for services rendered in setting up a new film company for me last year. I am currently director of two companies, which is nice and capitalist of me. I have no shame. I actually like this whole “let’s do business and make some money” attitude. It’s the minivans in the fire lane which drive me crazy. If I win the lottery, I think I’ll consider buying a towing company and wreaking my wrewengie on douchebags parking where they shouldn’t, particularly outside schools, childcare facilities and post offices.

That gives me an idea for a new reality TV series which I shall call, “You’ve been towed!” or maybe “Towed an A-hole!” which is somewhat punnier. And clearly the A refers to Ann Arbor, although maybe it would be A2, which is odd really because there’s a saying that “Opinions are like A-holes; everyone has one” except in Ann Arbor, that goes double.

Now I have to go a make holes in the wall and install these new W-anchors in preparation for some screwing. The puns, the patterns; the simple joy of a morning in A2.

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Addendum: I just drove up to town (1pm) for a meeting at the Michigan and every single parking structure is FULL! There are cars lining up to get into the Maynard Street structure. I drove down as far as Ashley and Ann but even that’s FULL. Where are the muppets who run this city thinking people are going to park when Google takes away 200 public parking spaces? And, no, this isn’t a one-off. It’s now every weekday lunchtime in A2; no parking. Nice. And the police were out in force; several patrol cars with officers writing tickets. Still, there’s plenty of parking outside the Post Office up on Stadium and no one seems to be getting towed…

A Different Country

January 1st, 2007
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The past is a different country. They do things differently there.

I was thinking about this yesterday after I’d phoned a couple of friends in the UK. I grow nostalgic for things like going down to the pub on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve with Mike or Pete. I have happy memories of making movies with lots of people. There were good times running a TV station, starting with nothing but hope and charm (more of one than the other). And there was much fun to be had on various skiing holidays with Lucy.

However, those times have gone. Paul Jarrett commented when I graduated from Manchester, you can’t be a student forever. Can you imagine? No clubbing every night of the week? No Hacienda? No nights drinking beer with your mates. Not studying fascinating new subjects and developing new ideas in that setting. You can do them, of course, but not in those places. You can go back. You can go forwards. You can have different times. You can have more fun. But you can’t live in the past.

Deb’s mum was telling me that the neighbours around them now seem to find some reason to let off fireworks every weekend. That’s a recent phenomena. Fireworks used to be for November 5th. It reminds me of other things. London has changed since my grandma used to take us to Kilburn or over to Golders Green to watch a film. Most of the cinemas have gone and Britain has embraced a club culture that was barely on the horizon when my parents first took us to Spain in the seventies.

A place is temporal as much as it’s physical. There’s a tag-line for a Calvin Klein advert on TV at the moment. It goes, “Make a wish. Or make it happen.” That’s the now. Make it happen.

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Last year at around this time, I made three resolutions. Avoid GM food, work on Pilot Fish–possibly buying a high definition camcorder along the way, and cook. Well, I think the cupboard is fairly Kellogg’s free, so we’ll call that a win. Cook? I cooked maybe three times (not counting beans on toast, which would make it five). Hey, that’s three more times than in 2005, so I think I’ll call that a win too. (Although I should point out that Laura cooked the rest of the time, so I’m not sure she’d call it a win).

Pilot Fish? Awesome. I spent four weekends learning more about the production and distribution side of independent filmmaking at the IFP Production Workshops in Chicago, which were great. Also meant I got to see Chicago more. Great city.

Norm Roth (writer) and I registered a company, PF Productions LLC, and went out to the American Film Market in Santa Monica towards the end of the year. Definitely worth the effort. We made loads of contacts once we figured out the process of going into hotel rooms that had been converted into offices, asking if anyone from development and acquisitions was available, and then pitching them. An incredible learning experience. Norm is now working on a re-write and we’re planning on moving forwards more in the new year.

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The high definition camera didn’t appear in the form I expected. I made several really interesting contacts in 2006. One of these was Thad Johnson from Streetlamp Studios. Thad was sponsoring an audience award at the Ann Arbor Film Festival and is this guy with an incredible entrepreneurial spirit. I helped him finish some trailers for the festival and he helped me record a big dance event at the Michigan Theater. The short story is, Thad has cameras, is learning to use steadicam, now has a studio and, most important of all, has offered to help with the production of Pilot Fish. The short story is, we love Thad.

Another interesting contact was through Derek Blair, a guy I met while visiting Grace & Wild studios in Farmington Hills. Derek went freelance at the end of 2005 and I helped him out with some editing. Over the summer, Derek got me to volunteer for an event called PhotoshopSoup2Nuts at Washtenaw Community College. This resulted in meeting Ruth Knoll, the event organizer and wife of Thomas Knoll, the creator of Photoshop. It also resulted in me borrowing her HDV camera for a weekend, which impressed me so much that I bought one. So, in the end, I did end up with a camera. Hoorah!

Third in the list of amazing contacts has to be the whole Thought Collide production crew. This is a Detroit-based outfit who are making a sci fi series called In Zer0. I wanted to meet them for a while because I thought it would be cool to show a sci fi serial at Cinema Slam. In the end, I wound up on their crew because I thought it would be even cooler to work on a sci fi show. So, from episode 7, I’ve been helping with lighting and they asked me to direct episode 10. Screening at Royal Oak’s Main Art Theater in February.

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There’s a whole bunch of other cool developments and fun things I could mention here. Visiting the UK thanks to Pete and Kerrie early in 2006 was excellent, as was Lucy’s visit in Detroit for the SuperBowl. Various trips to LA and seeing the surprising festival success of The Adventure Golf Guy (which now has a feature length script thanks to John). Developing some Hollywood buzz for Pilot Fish, In Zer0 and Jason Attar’s One Night In Powder series are all excellent things. I met some great people thanks to volunteering to be a screener for the Ann Arbor Film Festival both in 2005 and 2006. I finished a lot of projects and still have projects to finish.

And that’s about where I’m at. Make a wish, or make it happen. Richard Bach wrote in Illusions “You’re never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true.” Apparently, David Lynch has been using TM to come up with ways to realize his dreams. I just keep pushing.

Christmas 2006

December 26th, 2006
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There was no snow in south east Michigan this Christmas. We had an artificial tree, we hung up stockings and we put sparkly lights around the room. We dragged the boys to the church service on Christmas Eve, with a fair bit of protesting. Jack drew a picture of himself trapped on a desert island as a form of protest against being away from a TV/video game for more than an hour. That was all still magical, though, because they sing carols, they ring bells and they had a really cool part where everyone got a candle and they dimmed the lights. Still no snow, but nice.

Laura pulled out all the stops to make a huge Christmas Dinner for all of us on Christmas Day and we got lots of cool presents from Skinny Santa (who is the guy who comes to our house on our tight budget). We even had a friend over for Christmas Day and it was a good family, friendly occasion.

But the best thing about Christmas, the very best thing, which made it really Christmassy, was home made mince pies. My Laura made pastry, rolled it out and made very British-style mince pies. They were excellent. Laura’s never made mince pies before. She’s put some pictures up on Flickr, so you can check them out. She is excellent. Just thinking about those mince pies makes me smile.

I hope you all had a magical Christmas. Thanks to my Laura, Christmas was special.

Bedjump

October 11th, 2006
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I had all this intellectual drivel ready to spout forth but then this other thing came up. Part of the drivel was a whole thing about going to a talk by Peter Chung, the creator of animated series Aeon Flux and one of the Matrix episodes, Matriculated. Actually, I may as well drivel a bit since I seem to have started.

Peter talked about filmmaking and how important it is to plan and direct, how important it is to have action. He mentioned Waking Life and an argument he once had with his flatmate about how Waking Life has some great things, but it isn’t really a film. It’s just a recording of events.

This reminded me of a conversation Laura and I have had a few times about filming versus directing. A lot of modern films are simply filmed and not directed. The filmmaker points the camera towards the subject, presses the record button and hopes. This is not filmmaking in the sense of artistic creation, and it’s certainly not directing. It’s more electronic visual note taking. Not good enough.

That was some of my drivel. I’d remember more but then there was this thing came up and I know you’re dying to know. Bedjump. Yes, there’s a website for people who like to bounce on hotel beds: bedjump.com and you know you want to visit it. Check out October 9th…

P’naus! Mapyew?

September 15th, 2006
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It’s all about the rhythm and cadence, dear reader. And today we explore the rococo intracacies of modern English as spoke in an American accent by a native Cantonese speaker. What does the phrase “P’naus! Mapyew?” really mean? Answers on a postcard. Or you can comment, I guess.

In other displays of wrongdoing this week, I have cut up no less than two cars by overtaking from a turn lane. Of course, I had an excuse: they were clearly being driven by stupid people who wanted to block the road by not moving at a green light. This act of bad karma hasn’t gone unpunished, however, since I also had to pay a parking ticket. Did the parking ticket make me bad? Or was it the badness that got me the parking ticket? I’d like to explore that by refering you to the opening lines of High Fidelity.

“What came first? The music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns and watching violent videos, we’re scared that some sort of culture of violence is taking them over… But nobody worries about kids listening to thousands — literally thousands — of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

Okay, I don’t want to explore it. I just love that line and wanted to hear it again, even if I only hear John Cusack saying it in my head.

Today, in no homage whatsoever to John Cusack, I was out filming in Grosse Point. In the grounds of the home of Edsel and Eleanor Ford. It was luscious. All of Grosse Point is luscious. Lusciously expensive, that is. Edsel had a beautiful swimming pool which fed into the lake via a series of ponds fed by trickling waterfalls. Also a private lagoon for bringing in private boats. That’s nice. The mosquitos certainly think so. They breed in the ponds and the lagoon. They bit me. They drank my blood. A metaphor for the corporatocracy. Luscious.