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.

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