CASTING: JUST LIKE COOKING

Casting and crewing a movie is the most challenging aspect of making a movie, and one that many directors and producers should reevaluate.  By casting and crewing your movie correctly, you can avoid having conflicts on the set, maintain a healthy atmosphere, and construct a positive environment in which everyone can thrive.

When I’m casting or crewing a movie, I think of it like cooking.  The movie is the dish we’re about to make, and each element that goes into making that dish becomes an ingredient.  Different locations, props, costumes, and people, each have their own unique color, flavor, energy, and thus each has a unique ingredient.  Like saffron, ginger, or cucumber.

I think it’s very important to make sure that all the ingredients work well together, both on screen and off.  If everyone enjoys being around each other, the atmosphere will be free of conflict.  And if any conflict arises, people who enjoy each other tend to handle conflict in a healthy, mature way.

So, think of people like food.  Try it.  Go on.

Pick someone you know and imagine what kind of ingredient would they be.  Are they volatile, or spicy, like, say, cayenne?  Are they sweet and rounded, and ordinary, like, say, a Granny Smith apple?  Would you pair them up together in the same recipe?  And if so, how would you do it?  Or, what other ingredients would be needed in order for the right balance to happen?  Or, if you picked the Granny Smith apple person, is there another contender who embodies an ingredient that might work better?

Sometimes this is very difficult to explain to other producers, actors, and directors.  Especially those who have been programmed into doing it the traditional way.  But, I’m telling you, this works.  It’s about understanding chemistry and really understanding a person.  It’s possible even to understand it, and use this information, without ever being in the same room with the person.  It’s also very handy tool to use when casting people together that need certain chemistry.

Some people use astrology in a similar way.  I understand that for the most part, people might not like this because it’s stereotyping.  Fitting everyone else into a box.  But, so long as it keeps working, I don’t care.  The goal is to cast and crew a movie, and to end up with a group of people who get along and shine on screen.

Even if a person is the best in their field, or the greatest performer, they might not be right for the particular dish we’re assembling.  It’s incredibly important to select the right combination of people to create the ideal environment off screen as much as on screen.  When people are living together in such close proximity to each other, and work and play morph together, it is imperative that each personality work well together—like creating the perfect recipe—each ingredient matters or could throw off the whole thing.

Would you rather be working for three weeks with a bunch of talented people who hate each other, or a bunch of talented people who enjoy each other?

In addition to taking a look at someone’s skills and talent, it’s also a good idea to look at how they see the world; interact with others, and how their unique ingredient might give flavor to the ultimate dish.

Ponder your own combinations.

Figs go well on their own, with fresh crisp foods, and even meat but I wouldn’t eat a bulb of garlic at the same time.  Some might, though.  That’s fine.

Got a fresh peach, or a plum, and a bossy steak?  Try them together, the fruit works surprisingly well on top of the steak.

Roasted beets taste like sweet corn, which is also great with arugula.  But I’d avoid pairing them up with gummy worms.

LESSON IN ETIQUETTE (Part 1 of 2)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 16 years in this industry that has helped me more than others, it’s this: when you see someone you know at a film festival or premiere, reach out to shake their hand and before saying anything, tell them your name.  Even if you know they know you.  Even if you just saw them last week.  Especially do it if you haven’t seen them in a while.  Why?

People who work in the entertainment world meet more people in one year than most the general public meet in their entire lives.  And unless you’re a political wizard (Bill Clinton is rumored to remember every single name/face he’s ever met), there is no way to remember everybody.  Trust me.

I was naïve once, many moons ago, when vacationing at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, I met the director Joel Schumacher, who was also staying there.  We had dinner, hours of great conversation (him giving me advice mainly), and then kept in touch after we left.  The next time I visited Canyon Ranch, he was there again.  What a coincidence!  We had dinner again, more advice, more great conversation, and it was awesome.  Then, the next time I went to Canyon Ranch, would you believe it, Joel was there again!  This was beyond bizarre and such a weird coincidence that when I walked past him the first time I said something funny, like, “God, Joel, are you moving in?”  Of course, he didn’t think it was funny and attacked me for saying it.  When I reminded him of our history together, he apologized but then explained to me that although I remembered our last meeting as if it were yesterday, he had no idea who I was at first.  It was only after I reminded him that he remembered.  Then, he explained to me the advice I’m writing about today.

Now, over a decade later, I know exactly what he meant.  In any given year, I travel to film festivals, premiere films in various cities, give workshops, meet old friends, new friends, I’ve worked with hundreds of actors and crew people in my own films, and I can tell you that it is impossible to remember everyone at any given moment.

Have you ever had that feeling, walking through the grocery store, and running into someone you knew years before and you can’t quite place them?  Maybe you went to school with them, elementary or college, or, maybe they worked tables at your favorite restaurant, or maybe they were friends with one of your siblings and you saw them around from time to time.  But, because it’s been long enough, you have absolutely no idea how to place them, and how you know them?  Do you know that feeling?  Well, in the entertainment world this is ten-fold.

When I’m at an event for one of my films and a thousand people are there, I am overjoyed when someone tells me their name upon first seeing them.  I really love it when they follow up their name with how we know each other.

I was speaking for a university class recently and stuck my hand out to meet the professor and said, “It’s nice to meet you,” at the exact same time he said, “Good to see you again.”  Then I asked how we met, and he replied, “I was in one of your films.”  I was shocked and embarrassingly asked, “Oh?  Which one?”  I mean, you’d think I would know if I was talking to an actor I’d previously worked with.  He explained that he was an Extra in FIRECRACKER, which was shot 10 years prior, and I was relieved that he was just an Extra and my embarrassment vanished.  It’s hard to keep track of Extras.