CASTING: A NEW WAY TO AUDITION

Traditionally, when casting a movie, there are a few standard approaches to how to do it.  One is to have a cattle call, where actors come in, perform a monologue, give you their headshot and resume, and leave.  Another is a process where actors come in and read pages of the script (called “sides”), by themselves, or maybe with a second actor also reading sides.

For me, the traditional casting process is useless.

I don’t have actors audition in the traditional sense.  When I do a cattle call, I simply visit with people and take a look at their reels, or resumes, and that’s about it.  If I decide to have them audition, I will have them put themselves on tape later on.  But there is no reason to make actors do random monologues that have nothing to do with your movie.  Unless your character is exactly like Hamlet, do you really care if Actor Carl the best Hamlet in the world?

Doing cold readings from “sides” are totally unfair to the actor and also to the director.  I can’t expect an actor to walk in off the street without any previous discussion with me and nail it.  Sure, sometimes magic happens.  But, it’s unfair to ask the actor to do that.  It would be most beneficial to everyone involved if the actor and the director could speak about the character in question.  Actors act.  That’s what they do.  Most of the good ones can play any part you throw at them.

If an actor does a reading that isn’t a match with the director’s idea of the role, it is totally unfair for the director to judge that actor.  How could that actor know what the director is thinking unless the director says so?  Actors can be talented, but most are not psychic.  They need some “direction” which—oh wait—that’s why they call it a Director.

Yet, most often, bad directors hold cold reads and casting calls and will judge an actor based on their ability to perform without any direction.  Those are the directors who want actors who can direct themselves so he/she doesn’t have to do any work.

When I’m casting a movie, I like to meet performers and match their personalities with their co-stars.  If I think someone has the right energy for the part, I ask them to do a private video audition.  We visit a bit about the character, and then they record a short video in character introducing themselves to me.

They don’t work off the script, they just work off the energy inside the character and it’s totally improvisational.  I explain to each performer that there is no right or wrong way to interpret the character.  Part of the exercise is just so I can see how they look and move on screen.  Videos also convey if the actor has a deeper understanding of the character in question, or if they’ll need some additional guidance.

Sometimes I’ll ask an actor to do two videos, each with a different character.  This is a great idea if you’ve never worked with the individual before.  Because, they will show you what kind of an actor they are and you won’t have to guess.  If the actor shows you two totally different performances, it is clear they have a range and can do a variety of roles.  But, sometimes, if they perform both parts with pretty much the same style, it sends the signal they deliver one type of performance.  Which isn’t bad.

One time I had a gal do two video auditions for two roles, and she was pretty much the same in both.  Even though they were vastly different characters.  But, she was great at doing the thing she did.  So I cast her in a part totally suited for that kind of performance.  And, she nailed it.

Doing video auditions is also very valuable when you’re shooting a film across the globe.  When I shot my film CULTURE SHOCK in London and Paris, the only way for me to audition people was via Skype and video.  There was no money to fly me overseas to do the traditional casting process.

Traditionalists scoff at my concepts, but I think they work wonders and save lots of time and money.  So next time you prepare a casting or audition, think about what it is you want to achieve from it.  And do whatever you can to reach the goal.

MAKE IT REWARDING

There are only two reasons an actor will want to work for deferred pay.  One is about whom they’re working with—who are their co-stars, who is directing, or maybe who is creating the costumes or effects make-up.  The second reason is the type of role—is it a character that would showcase their talent or range, or is it a challenging type of role they’ve never tried before.

When I’m asking someone to work for deferred, I know what I’m asking.  I put myself in their shoes and ask, “Would I want to do this project under these circumstances?”  I have to be able to answer YES to that question, and if I can’t, I won’t ask it of someone else.

For $1,000 a day I can tolerate crappy food, miserable conditions, so I know most everyone else can, too.  But, what if there isn’t any money?  If we can’t afford to pay people, how else can we shape the experience to be worth it?  What kinds of things would I need in exchange for money?  How can I make it enjoyable, with good food, and a good working environment?  These are the kinds of special cares I think about when putting a movie together.

So, in addition to making sure my cast connects, and giving each juicy roles to showcase their talent, I make the entire experience a cross between a vacation and summer camp.  If you can make it so they never want to leave, it’s possible that when the opportunity comes up again, they’d pay you for the privilege to experience it all over again.

It doesn’t have to be the ideal vacation spot like Hawaii.  It could be an adventure in other ways.  My film CULTURE SHOCK, which was shot in London, had a day-trip to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower.  Filming a movie in London was more than enough, but that added day trip to Paris for a scene that only took an hour to film, was the cherry on top.

You don’t have to take your cast and crew to Hong Kong (like I did), or Italy (I’m working on that one), or Hawaii (wouldn’t that be lovely?), but please take the time to think about what kinds of things can be added to boost the whole experience during working hours—and after.

Even if I’m shooting in my backyard in Kansas (which is exotic for people on the coasts who don’t know what it’s like being in full-on, down-home “Americana”), the experience must be rewarding.  I must create something special.

The days must be light and enjoyable.  People must be allowed to get plenty of sleep.  There cannot be anyone negative on the set.  All actors and crew people are carefully hand picked based on more than their abilities (their personality and behavior is also considered).  The meals must be delicious, activities enjoyable and camaraderie wonderful.

If you can deliver these kinds of things, and make your film shoots a totally rewarding experience for everyone involved, you’ll have no problems finding people to work for next to nothing.  And you’ll probably have them coming back for more.

ERIC SHERMAN

Eric Sherman is my mentor and consultant and guru and… well, he’s just like Yoda.  Only real.  I first met Eric when I was a student at CalArts in the mid 90s.  Eric taught Film Directing and on the first day of class, as he arrived, I handed him my business card.  My attendance was spotty, but I thoroughly enjoyed learning what he had to share.

At the end of the semester, I left CalArts for a few weeks to direct a feature version of Anne Rice’s novel THE VAMPIRE LESTAT.  See, for another class, we were given an assignment to direct something with texture (or something about composition in general).  The assignment was supposed to be a short film, but I never thought in short-storytelling format, so I instantly thought I’d adapt and direct LESTAT since I’d just finished reading the book and was really inspired.  Anyway, I had to leave CalArts in order to get back to Kansas to make the movie.

When I returned, most of my instructors asked where in the world had I been and I replied, “I was doing the assignment!”  Then I handed them a double VHS set of the finished and edited movie.  (Yes, this was before DVDs were invented and the movie was longer than 2 hours, so I had to use a second VHS tape to hold the last part).

Eric gave me an INCOMPLETE on my report card.  I didn’t know what that meant, so I went to see him.  Evidently if a student doesn’t attend the class, there’s no way for him or her to learn what is being taught in the class.  Of course he was right.  But, no matter my plea, I still received an incomplete, and was forced to re-take the class in order to pass it.  So I did.

In my memory, it’s hard to tell exactly how many times I re-took Eric’s FILM DIRECTING class.  I’m pretty sure I only repeated it once, but it might have been three times.  After my stint at CalArts, I set off to direct my debut feature film.  To understand filmmaking as both a business and creative endeavor, I hired Eric as a film consultant to help me with my business plan and pre-production management.  He taught me how important it is to be ultra-prepared.

Eric’s father was Vincent Sherman, the last of the great Golden Age Hollywood directors.  Eric himself worked with everybody, including Orson Welles.  I knew he had the knowledge I needed to learn.  I was right.  Later on, as my first film became a real project, I asked him to come on board as a co-producer.  That film is PEP SQUAD.  It would be the first film to predict the soon-to-be onslaught of American School Violence.  Furthermore, it’s is a dark comedy and a subversive satire—an entertaining combination.

At one point, I decided against casting the actor I’d auditioned to play the sleazy principal who gets killed.  Instantly I turned to Eric to see if he’d consider it.  He eventually agreed to do it, and he’s just great portraying the wonderfully demented and evil character.  On the day we were to kill off the character, I recalled getting an INCOMPLETE in his class, and I couldn’t recall if I ever did, in fact, pass it.  Clearly, at this point, I didn’t need to worry about it.

Eric and I continue to work together and today I consider him more than a mentor and friend.  He’s family.  If any of you are in need of hiring someone with Yoda-like know-how on filmmaking, or in need of a mentor, or consultant, I’d be happy to put you in touch with Eric.  He’s the best!

CONTINUITY

Face it.  The only people who care about continuity are people who care about continuity.  The majority of people watching a movie don’t think about it at all.  Instead, they’re watching the movie.  People who care about continuity aren’t watching the movie—they’re watching props and costumes.

It’s okay to encourage people making the movie to be aware of continuity, but there’s no reason to be obsessive over it.  Your actors usually look the same in the morning as they do a couple hours later, do they not?  Unless you’re shooting a scene that will take three days to film, it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

In ancient times, it did take the studios three full days to shoot a single scene.  So it was important to make sure the costumes and hairdos looked the same, since in the final movie the scene might only be 90 seconds long.  And if there were drastic changes in such short timeframe, it would be visually jarring to the audience.  But those days are long gone.  Now it just takes a few hours to shoot a scene.

But there are still people who obsess over continuity.  I’m here to tell you that unless it’s a really stupid mistake, it doesn’t matter.  The viewer will still watch, and continue watching, until they have to get up and go to the loo.

Imagine a scene where a woman is wearing red as she climbs into a car.  The car speeds away.  In the next shot, the car stops, she gets out, and is wearing blue.

People obsessed over continuity will go on and on about that being a horrible mistake.  Whereas any normal person can see she’s obviously changed clothes, so it must be a different time or different day.  Often times in movies directors, or costumers, will use a change of clothes as an unconscious suggestion that time has passed.  So there is no continuity error there.  Just an error in the eyes of the person obsessed with continuity.

Now, of course, if the scene that follows is a luncheon, and the woman wearing blue sits down and miraculously, without getting up, she’s suddenly wearing purple, well, that would be a stupid continuity mistake.

Sometimes I like to dress my actors in the same costume throughout the entire movie.  Have a look at CULTURE SHOCK.  With the exception of a few scenes, all the actors are wearing the same things throughout.  I used the children’s cartoon SCOOBY DOO as the aesthetic template.  Daphne, for example, always wears that purple dress and lime-green scarf.  Velma is always in that hideous Orange sweater.  Shaggy is always in that green shirt.  Yet, has any person watching the show ever stopped and said, “Wait a minute.  She was wearing that yesterday.  Obviously must have been out all night.  What a slut.”  No.  No one says that.

Aside from being a fun artistic choice to dress your actors in the same costume for the entire film, it eliminates the need for a costume person.  The actors can just take care of their clothes themselves!  If you decide to do that, be sure to bring enough Fabreeze, or buy two identical outfits, because you will stink after five days wearing the same clothes on a movie set.

IT’S ALL WHO YOU KNOW

Everybody knows show business has less to do with talent and more to do with the connections you make and the ones you can use to your advantage.  However, when I suggest that it’s all about who you know, I mean—when it comes to life in general.  Who you know, and who you surround yourself with, will effect the quality of your life and your work.

If you surround yourself with people who are chaotic, angry, shallow and unpleasant, you will live a life that is chaotic, angry, shallow and unpleasant.  If you surround yourself with people who are centered, mature, and full of inspiration, you will live a life that is centered, mature, and full of inspiration.

After leaving CalArts, I surrounded myself with people who were very dramatic, very catty, and sometimes incredibly bitchy and shallow.  I also had friends who were centered, calm, and interested in visiting about the bigger picture.  I didn’t know it at the time, but what was happening was this: when I was around those creative artists, I too felt inspired to create.  And when I went out to dinner with the shallow and superficial person, I experienced the world as she saw it.  It was a miserable friendship and I didn’t even know it!

The great actor Michael Caine once said, when asked about the secret of his success and long career, he answered: “I have a policy.  I never listen to anyone explain why they can’t do something.  I don’t want to be convinced by them.”

It is true that other people’s beliefs and behaviors impact each of us.  How many people are in your life that drive you crazy?  Do you have people in your life that inspire you?  Who are they?  How often do you seek to be around people who enrich your life, instead of take away from it?

Sure, some troubled people might be “going through a phase.”  That’s fine.  But ask yourself: how does their “phase” influence you?  Is it better to remove yourself from their sphere, so you can live your life on YOUR terms, or is it better to live your life in theirs?  Sure, some troubled people are good people deep down, and with the help of therapy and deep introspection on their part, they might be able to grow out of it.  But, ask yourself: how many days and years of your life will you waste being swallowed up by their troubles?

It’s taken me years to figure this out, but now I have a great group of friends.  We support each other emotionally and inspire each other creatively.  There is no room in my life for the shallow, the superficial, or the melodrama created by people who are insecure, catty or generally troubled.  So when I come into contact with those types of people, I remember to get them out before it’s too late.

Why am I successful?  Why am I inspired to create?  Why am I stress free?  Why are my movie sets organized and calm?  Why is life and work full of joy and freedom?  Do you want the same kind of life?  If so, the secret is out: it’s all who you know.

DIRECTING SEX SCENES

Some people say there’s nothing sexy about doing a sex scene.  I’d like to say that’s true, but the truth is, sometimes they can be incredibly sexy.  Perhaps they aren’t doing it right.  Anyway, one of the tricks to filming a sex scene is almost exactly the same trick as filming a scene with gruesome violence.  Basically, anything that is supposed to be graphic should always follow this rule: less is more.

Give the audience something to feel and they will feel it.  If you show it to them, they will not feel it.  Instead, they will look at it.  The more they see, the less they feel.  Whereas, if you limit the graphic shots, you will give the audience a visceral reaction to what you’re showing them.

In my film WATCH OUT there’s a scene in the end where the actor playing Jonathan Barrows cuts the toes off a Britney Spears type popstar played brilliantly by Jillian Lauren.  The only reason this scene works is because the graphic visuals are kept to a strict minimum.  I think there are three times we see something graphic in that scene, and each shot is less than a second.  The narration and sound effects create something so gross and violent that the audience doesn’t really know that they are, in fact, not really seeing anything.

The best sex scenes are done in the same way.  The more you hear breathing, see shots of skin in the shadows, and careful camera angles to avoid seeing anything explicit, the more erotic it will be.

In my film CASSEROLE CLUB, the sex scenes are primarily raw and gritty, not really all that sexy, but rather, off putting.  The story is about the destruction of relationships, so the sex in the film needed to be treated in a gritty way that is more realistic than most slickly shot sex scenes.

Filming those scenes with actors can sometimes be difficult but they don’t have to be.  One of the tricks is to get the actors together and ask them what parts of their bodies are they comfortable with, and what parts of their bodies are they uncomfortable with.  Most people know their own bodies well enough to tell you from what angle certain shapes or features are accentuated, and which angles to avoid.

If you can bring your actors into the creation of the sex scene (or a graphically violent scene), they will be more comfortable in the process of filming it.  It’s also a good idea to keep them as relaxed as possible or else it will show on screen.  Unless the intent is to show nervousness, in which case, I might avoid getting them involved in order to accent their nervousness.

If you’re doing a sex scene with a woman who loves her breasts but hates the way her butt looks, or a guy who loves his ass but doesn’t think his abs are good enough, it can be really fun to use these obstacles as fuel.  Don’t think about them as obstacles, but rather, an exciting experiment in creation.  How can you storyboard a list of shots that gives the actors what they want, and also the audience what they want, without compromising either side?  I love challenges like those.

It’s also a good idea to have a closed set when doing any kind of graphic scene.  There’s no reason for every person to be present.  In reality, you only need the DP, the director and the sound guy.  Gaffers and grips, Assistants and the like, can easily step outside for the take and return immediately after the shot.  The less people present, the more comfortable the actors and the better the scene will be.

WRITE A MANIFESTO

When I’m casting and crewing a movie, before I take a look at anyone’s skill level or talent, or resume, I insist they read and sign a manifesto.  Only after I receive the signed manifesto will I consider working with them.

This manifesto is a brief history of who I am, what I’m about, and what it’s like to work with me.  About 75-80% of people who read the manifesto are moved by it, and are more excited than ever to climb aboard.  But, the others walk away offended and irate.  Some have even written threatening letters to me in response to reading the manifesto.

It doesn’t matter who likes it and who doesn’t.  But what matters is I’m weeding out the types of people who I don’t want to work with, and the personality traits that simply won’t get along with people on the set.

This is why I believe it’s a good idea for everyone to make a manifesto.  Tell everyone from the get-go what it’s going to be like.  Be honest and direct.  This will promote clarity and focus and you’ll avoid all the problems later on.  There will be no surprises, and everyone is on the same page.

In my case, unless it’s absolutely necessary visually to the film or character, I insist that all the actors do their own hair and make-up.  It omits the need for a make-up artist, saving money, and will save hours of time each day on your shoot.  I explain this in my manifesto and anyone who is incapable of doing their make-up, but agree with everything else, will sometimes write and ask if there’s someone else in the cast or crew who might help them.  Those cases have happened, and I just tell the actor it’s their responsibility.  If they want a friend to do it, or if they want to hire a make-up artist to come and work on them personally, that’s fine with me.  I’ll even give them a credit in the movie.  But they won’t be on the payroll, and they’ll likely need to feed themselves.

Let’s say you’re doing a movie like CASSEROLE CLUB where you’re going to rent a house that everyone will stay in together.  You’ll want to explain that in your manifesto so that everyone knows they’re going to have to share a bathroom (or will they have a private one), or whether or not they’ll be sharing a room with someone else, etcetera.  I’ve known filmmakers who fail to explain this until their actors show up on location, and each time they tell me, “I’m afraid they’ll quit if I tell them.”  Which always confuses me, so I reply with, “Yes, but if they’re going to quit, do you want them to quit now when you have time to recast, or would you rather wait for them to quit when they show up at the set and you have no time to recast?”

Always be honest, and let people know what they’re getting into.  If they don’t like you, and don’t like what you’re doing, that’s okay.  It’s better to find out before you’ve invested any time working with them or getting to know them.  There are millions of people out there who would be great on your crew or in your movie.  Find them instead.

I also like to incorporate a questionnaire with my manifesto.  Some of the questions are, “Would you share a room with someone” or “are you on any kind of medication which affects your ability to drive a vehicle” or “do you have any food allergies?”  This will help pair people up who are okay to share rooms, and select single rooms for people who don’t want to.  It also helps to know if someone has a food allergy so when you’re planning meals, you can make sure to have something for them.  On that note, I think that food allergies are meant to be taken seriously, but if someone says they just don’t like to eat meat, even though they do eat it from time to time, there’s no reason to mark them down as vegetarian.

My manifesto changes for each movie, so I’m not going to post it publicly.  But if you’re interested in reading it, shoot me an email and I’m happy to share it.

KAREN BLACK

I first met the actress Karen Black in 2001 when I stopped by her house to try and persuade her to star in my film FIRECRACKER.  She knew I was coming, so she let me in.  I was instantly hooked on watching her body movements and facial expressions.  There was something about her entire being that reminded me of a wild cat… like a panther or a jaguar.

She seemed to float on the air, feet never touching the ground.  I would later remember this and encourage the Oscar-winning sound designer Paul N. J. Ottosson to remove Karen Black’s foley from one of her characters in FIRECRACKER so she would appear to subconsciously float, otherworldly through the film.

Karen eventually agreed to star in FIRECRACKER and we went about making the film.  She was an incredible trooper on set.  One of my favorite scenes is when her character Sandra leans out of her gypsy wagon to talk to the young boy.  During filming, when it was time to reverse the camera and get the kid’s shot, it was nearly 5 AM and we’d been filming since long before sunset.  Several people on the crew were worried about getting Karen back to her room so she could sleep but she stood firm, and refused to go.  She wanted to stay and be there to act with the kid who was being filmed.  She was a total pro.

In the years after FIRECRACKER came out, Karen and I remained good friends and I’d look her up every time I was in Los Angeles.  We always daydreamed of another project and when we would be able to work together again.

In 2008, Karen was being honored at the Macon Film Festival and they were to show my film FIRECRACKER, so I was flown in to present it with her.  It was such a lovely town, we decided to make a movie there.  Screenwriter Frankie Krainz had just finished his ode to film noir women in prison movies, and Karen said, “I’ve always wanted to be in a women’s prison movie and no one’s ever asked me to be in one.  Isn’t that peculiar?”  So we decided to make STUCK! together.

At first I’d thought of casting John Waters’ muse Mink Stole as the part of the Next Door Neighbor Lady, and Karen as the bible-beating shooter on death row for gunning down an entire fleet of tax collectors.  Karen really wanted the part I had in mind for Mink, and eventually I convinced Mink to take the part I’d originally had in mind for Karen.  It ended up being a great switch, and both women were perfect in their roles.

One of my favorite moments during the filming of STUCK! came when we were shooting a scene near the end of the film, where Karen’s character is riddled with guilt.  In that room, on the set, we turned to each other after a take and looked around.  It was just the three of us.  Karen, me, and my sound guy.  I made the comment about how amazing this was, this experience.  How intimate and real and honest.  She smiled and said, “THIS is filmmaking.”

I am so very lucky to have been able to work with her and to be her friend.

Last week Karen Black passed away after a long battle with ampullary cancer, a rare form similar to pancreatic cancer.

The days leading up to her death were filled with lovely texts and email exchanges.  One night, I sent her this text:

“I had a cry for you today.  In your honor.  I was sitting in my editing room, which is the same room you loved, on the second floor, with the North facing windows.  And I smiled.  And felt your love and support.  And I hope you can feel mine for you.  You are a treasure.  After work I like to go outside in my yard and look up at trees, see the leaves and the branches.  All those shapes and lines.  You once taught me its important to do that after sitting at a computer.  You also have taught me the gift of collaboration.  I shall never forget those incredible moments creating with you.  I love you with all my heart.  Now.  Next.  And then some.  Cheers, my dear.  To YOU!”

She replied with kisses and was eager to hear about what I was working on next.  It was such a blessing to have had the chance to say farewell to her personally.  And it was so lovely to just keep on going.

Please, everyone.  Take a moment and watch this clip of Karen’s most memorable films.

Our film FIRECRACKER is now streaming on demand.

Dear Karen:  Know that you are loved and will be missed.  Thank you for being one of my collaborators, one of my cohorts and my friend.

ACTORS BUYING ROLES

Lately there has become a huge controversy about actors buying roles, thanks to certain perks on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.  I understand the perspective of people who are against this sort of thing, but I can also understand the perspective of people who don’t think it’s a big deal.  Like me.

As an independent filmmaker (Happy INDEPENDENCE day, btw), I need funding in order to make a movie.  The amount of funding is irrelevant.  Even if you plan to shoot a movie for no money, or you aren’t paying anyone, you’ll still have to buy hard drives to store footage, and put gasoline in your car to move from one location to the next.  So when someone comes along and says, “hey, I can give you some money, but will you put me in the movie,” my response is, “Of course!”  If I said, “No, I’m morally against that sort of thing,” chances are I won’t be able to make my movie.  Or it’ll take longer to find the funding needed, and I’ll be wasting time.

I make sense of it by thinking about it as an investment.  Even if the person giving (ie. donating) money on a crowd funding website isn’t “investing” per se, they are investing in their careers.  How it is any different to spend $2,000 on headshots and acting classes when you can skip all that and just buy a role with it?

And in that same thinking, what’s the difference between that activity and someone like Jodie Foster creating a script for herself to star in?  I can’t think of one.

I know that if Stanley Kubrick was still alive and running an Indiegogo campaign, and for a $10,000 donation, I could go and be his script supervisor for two months on his latest movie, without being paid, fed, or housed, I’d jump at the chance.  And if I couldn’t afford it, I’d encourage any other filmmaker who could, to do it.  One would learn more than the best film schools combined, and it would cost a lot less.

If that scenario were true, some would say it’s unfair because all the script supervisors are out of work because I bought the job away from them.  I don’t feel badly about it.  After all, only one of them would’ve been hired to begin with.  A production doesn’t need to hire ALL of them.  So what difference does it make?

Likewise, when an actor buys a role, all the other actors out there who could’ve auditioned are now out an opportunity for work because somebody else bought their part.

I think it was the magnificent Rosanne who said, “Success isn’t something you’re given, it’s something you take.”

Going back to the Jodie Foster scenario.  Same thing.  Was she waiting around for someone else to develop and produce, and then cast herself as, NELL?  Nope.  She took the initiative and did it herself.  There are people out there who blame her because she has “privilege” because she’s a superstar, and all that.  How is her kind of privilege any different than someone who could afford to buy a job as script supervisor, or an actor who can afford to buy a role?  None so far as I can see.  Yet, why is it okay for celebrities to develop and cast themselves in parts, and it’s not okay for an unknown person to buy one as a perk?

Is the backlash directed towards the moral integrity of the person making these crowd funded movies?  Take me, for instance.  If I did a Kickstarter campaign, and offered a perk that for $2,000 you could be my script supervisor, would you call me a villain?  Would you say I’m out to take advantage of people?  I understand I’m not Kubrick, which is why my perk would cost a donation considerably less than his.  But I can assure you that the person who bought that perk would learn more on my set than spending $2,000 on seminars, books, classes, or anything else.  So isn’t that actually fair?  They’re helping me, and I’m helping them.  It’s a mutual arrangement, and one that I think is just fine.

GIVE THEM A NAME

When you’re writing a screenplay, it’s a good idea to name each character who has a line of dialogue.  Even if it’s just the “Workman” or the “Church Lady.”  I think every role deserves a personality even if their characters names aren’t ever spoken.  It’s a good habit to build.  Why?

Actors like to have names.  It’s much more fun to be in a movie when you’re playing “Cheryl” instead of “Woman #3.”  Furthermore, it looks better on the actor’s resume if they played a person who is named, instead of playing a mere number.  Think about it from the standpoint of a director or producer.  When you’re trying to find the best actor to play the “Bartender,” do you pay more attention to actors who have played “Man 2” or those who have a part called “Carl” on their resume?

Which resume below suggests a better actor?

FILM                                ROLE
Night of the Bees . . . . . . Jackie
Hungry In Love . . . . . . . Rose
Tomorrow, My Sweet . . Kathy

Versus:

FILM                                ROLE
Night of the Bees . . . . . . Woman in Alley
Hungry In Love . . . . . . . Flower Shop Employee #2
Tomorrow, My Sweet . . Travel Agent

Unless the actor is playing “Man 2” in the latest Spiderman movie, chances are the movie titles on people’s resumes won’t mean much.  For a big budget studio action movie, they probably see thousands of men for “Man 2,” so if this guy got picked, he must be great!  Whereas, say the actor played “Man 2” in a no-budget indie that you’ve never heard of… what message does that send?  Did they use him because they couldn’t get anyone else, or is he a decent actor?  Now, if he’d played “Roger” in that same indie movie, I’d be more apt to consider him.

When I’m casting a new movie, budget or no-budget, I always make sure to go through the script and give every character a name whenever possible.  I understand when there’s a scene, say, involving a drug bust, it would become problematic to name every single policeman in the scene.  So in that case, it’s okay to refer to the group as “Policemen.”  But, if there are a couple cops that have a line or two, why not give them names?  Officer Thad, or Officer Dave looks a lot better during your end credits, and also on their resumes, than Officer 1 and Officer 2.

Can’t think of a name?  No need.  Sometimes, I’m fresh out of names in my imagination database, too.  When that happens, I grab the nearest phone book, look up at the ceiling, flip through pages and stick my finger in.  I’ll rest it firmly on a page, then open the page and see what name I pointed to.  Usually, I’ll use whatever name I’ve picked.  I’ll try it now.

Let’s say I need a name for a waitress.  Okay, I’m opening the phone book, and… POINT.

Ronda.  What a great waitress name.  I think I’ll just use that.

I also need a name for the short order cook in the back.  Okay, I’ll open the phone book, and…  POINT.

Thomas.  Okay, that’s fine.  I could use “Thomas,” but I was hoping for a name with a little more feeling.  I’ll try again… and… POINT.

Delbert.  TOTALLY sounds like the cook in the back of the diner.

See, not hard at all?  It helps when you use a phone book from a big city so there will be many cultural names.  Telephone books are nearly extinct now, so anytime I’m in a big city hotel room and see a phone book, I make sure I accidentally drop it into my suitcase before checking out.