Wednesday, May 18, 2011

FEAR, LOATHING, AND PRODUCTION NOTES: A Savage Journey Into The Heart of Indie Filmmaking (Part 2, Callbacks)

I'd been pacing for precisely twenty three minutes when the phone first rang. Stopping immediately, I answered. The caller spoke quickly, and I listened, offering no response. When she had finished, I replaced the phone and resumed pacing.

"That was one Audrey Valentine. She'll be thirty minutes late."

"She's already fifteen minutes late."

It was Sandy who spoke, and she was right, but I still felt it was imprudent of her to say it aloud. We were talking about a lady. And not just any lady. Our leading lady. A business acquaintance had that very morning stressed to me the importance of having a really top-notch leading lady. Someone with class, he'd said, someone who'll really light up that screen. And by God, that's who I'd found.

"If there's one thing I hate more than auditions, it's callbacks!" I waved my wine glass to add an air of dignity to the statement, noting with annoyance it was already empty. "Where the hell is that girl?"

"You just said she-"

"Don't start putting words in my mouth now," I extended my glass, "here, fill this."

The downtown loft was the perfect venue for phase two of an audition process. It was unlikely that our alcohol stores could be depleted in a single night, and, even if such an event transpired, two bars and liquor store operated out of the adjacent building. If our leading lady was an alcoholic (and I heavily suspected her to be), we'd be well provided for. I'd selected her personally out of a list of dozens, dozens, wading tirelessly through a pile of applicants who actually had no desire to partake in the film. It struck me as unusual that anyone would go to casting call when they had no wish to be a performer, but actors are a mysterious lot. Who knows what dark and perverse engine drove those minds of theirs?

My aim tonight was discovering any cracks in the otherwise pristine surface of my players. They had impressed in auditions, but I'd been burned in the past by those who put out during initial casting, and petered out when it came to actual filming. If I'd been honest with these people over the phone, I'd have told them they already had the parts. There was no one else of note, and if things fell apart during the callbacks, say, for example, if Audrey revealed herself to be nothing short of a holy terror on set, I'd be hard-pressed to find a replacement. The entire casting process would have to begin again from scratch, and that was one experience I hoped to not revisit anytime soon.

"Where the hell is that girl?"

The other players had already arrived. The younger two members of the group, a Mr. Thomas Ripley and Mr. Fred Lansing, had been selected for their fine stock. Sturdy bones are a must for an action-heavy film like this. I wasn't concerned with lawsuits. Anyone dragging me into court for money was sure to end up with a miserable surprise. No, my thoughts were of fractures, lost shooting days, and the great, fiery failure this movie could turn into at a moments notice. Yes. Sturdy bones were of utmost importance.

"Ten minutes,"Sandy made note.

As for the remaining three, one (alias: Uwe Von Cleaver) had attacked me at random during a horrifying camping expedition several months ago. In light of his aptitude for hunting men like animals, I waived all criminal charges and cast him as the primary villain.

The second, one Ian Kingsley, had studied theatre at Oxford and recently fallen unto hard times. I first encountered him while panhandling young students for change at the university downtown. He'd given me some helpful tips at the time, and I felt nothing said thank you like a potentially dangerous role in an obscure film.

The last was a man who went by the stage name "Chunky". He attended my second casting call, and, as my instincts had warned me would happen, he had presented me with Osama Bin Laden's disembodied head at the conclusion of the event. After fighting down the reflexive nausea, my heart had swelled with nationalistic pride, and I offered him the part of a crazy woodsman right there and then.

"Her thirty minutes are up," Sandy reminded, tapping her watch.

A madness seized me, and I came at the cast with a broom, as one might the errant family dog.

"Son of bitch. Out! All of you out! Don't let me see your faces around here again."

They scattered in my path, and I could hear the thudding footsteps as retreat was made down the back stairwell. Sandy threw her arms up in frustration.

"Now you've done it. We're starting from scratch."

I snarled at the the thought. Like hell. Leaning from the window, I shouted down to street level, letting everyone know they had the parts. It would have been my preference to discuss salary, but they were running by then and nearly out of earshot. There would be time for negotiations later. I shut the window, and set my mind to screenwriting.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

FEAR, LOATHING, AND PRODUCTION NOTES: A Savage Journey Into The Heart of Indie Filmmaking (Part 1, Casting Calls)

It was midway through our sixth line reading for the night when the wine ran out. Each successive sip had left me with less and less weight in hand along with a rising sense of dread. Even with Dionysus on standby to smooth the road, a raw anxiety had taken hold of my skin during this audition process. I could feel it moving beneath the surface, needle-sharp, like the claws of a million tiny kittens. Good lord, if this is what it's like under the influence, what will happen when the well runs dry? The thought had scarcely coalesced in my mind when another swig drained the container entirely. Until that point, I'd staved off the fear of sobriety by chalking up a lack of heft to my SIGG bottle's light-weight aluminum design. Now, it was time to face the harsh reality.

The next contestant chose to enter the room in character, cracking a beer in preparation for his monologue (not unlike a young Billy Dee Williams). The fizzy sounding pop was sweet music. My attention snapped forward.

"I hope you brought enough for everyone."

My strategy was to break the ice with a joke and segue into asking this stranger for booze, but there was a desperate tinge to my voice, and I could see the sound had unsettled him. I tried then laughing it off, but it came out too shrill, evoking more the whinny of a horse than human gaiety. To hell with it.

"Just start," I snapped at him "The camera's already rolling."

The botched social encounter had shaken my self-confidence, yet I knew I couldn't afford to lose it over something so trivial. There had been a man in the hallway waiting to see me for the better part of an hour. He had arrived with a box gripped tightly in both hands, and I knew, deep some primordial part of my brain tasked with self-preservation, that this box contained a severed human head. If the silence following an awkward joke was enough to give me the shakes, what would stave off a complete psychotic break once I was presented with some grisly trophy of intestine and polished bone?

I must have developed a bad case of the sweats then, because Sandy, to whom I'd recently been wed, jabbed me in the ribs and shouted, "Relax!" She then pointed out the entire affair was my fault.

"I know. That's the worst part, don't you see? I did this to myself."

I'd placed an ad on the New Haven Craigslist earlier that week encouraging men, women, and those of less clearly defined gender to come and audition for our new independent film project, Vampires Don't Sparkle. Experience not required! Come one come all! Why, you'd have to be a damned fool not to take an hour out of your weekend to come try out.

"You need to understand," I spoke to distract, rummaging through her purse for muscle relaxants. "This is a micro-budget endeavor. It's important to our work, it's vital, that we don't leave anyone out."

The practice seemed foolish to her because she'd never had to attempt it before. I'd done it only once and then for a short. The experience had been a harrowing one. There was a fear present, a gnawing beast. The fear was made manifest as actor after actor gave line readings and I was no closer to finding someone for the crucial role. At this level of the game, you end up casting people in roles they don't have to act for, typecasting. An accomplished talent like Charlize Theron in Monster can transform herself, making you believe the person on screen is a killer. You could get lucky. Maybe you'll find some fantastically talented down-on-their-luck thesbian willing to star in your production for rock bottom prices, but it isn't likely, so, when the script calls for a crazy man, you take the second option. You go out and you find a genuine, honest-to-god lunatic to play him. That madness the audience sees in his eye is genuine, that fear we see in the victim's face? Also genuine. This technique requires sifting through a fair share of the wrong kind of lunatic. An easy thing. If only I hadn't run out of booze so quickly.

"Why is he licking her like that?"

The question sprung from my lips like a muscle spasm, involuntary, without consent of my higher brain functions. This man before me had begun dragging his tongue across a female companion's cheek, once, twice, three times over. Like a cat. When did these people get here? I must have blacked out, been carrying on the audition process as a brain-dead zombie and no one was the wiser.

"I don't know why they're here!" Sandy shouted at me, once more failing to grasp the danger we were in by drawing attention to ourselves, "They aren't part of the audition. That's Hugo. The woman is his sister."

Easy now. This is no time to panic. It was day two of a grueling three-day run. I set my mouth in a stoic line, and called for our next participant.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New Haven Register

We had a pretty cool write up in the New Haven Register. You can read the article online here.