The past few days have been spent auditioning actors for all the remaining roles in the film. With the experience and guidance of our awesome casting director, Sabrina Hyman, the sessions were terrific. The actors who came in were incredibly talented and brought so many different colors to these characters. With no real decisions made yet, I thought I'd share some ruminations about the casting process.
I've been anxious and excited to watch people read scenes from the film and breathe some life into everything. While it's always a pleasure to hear someone reading something you wrote, I was surprised to find myself leaving my "writer hat" behind. In fact, I found myself listening to these auditions as though the scenes were written by someone else entirely. I had gone into the process very curious to hear how some of the auditions scenes worked or didn't work, and was actually prepared to revisit the writing based on what I might learn. This wasn't the case at all. In the audition room, it's the actor's job (and director's) to push the limits of how a given scene might work. As a writer, I have given them a certain amount of information in the scene and script with which they can interpret and ultimately articulate through performance (aka acting). Enter subjectivity.
After each actor finished their session and left the room, I would chat with Sabrina and my producers and tell them what I thought. I think I found a theme in my logic for how I decided whether or not someone was a contender for a role. That theme of consideration was "Good or Bad" and "Right or Wrong". Focusing the questions like this doesn't preclude subjective judgment, but then again who cares? I'm the writer/director, this whole movie is nothing but a product of my own subjective judgment. With that settled, let's look at "Good or Bad".
Most every actor that came in was good. Some were awesome, though. How does one rate "awesome"? I did it by watching what their initial instincts were, then observing their ability to make adjustments or take notes, and ultimately what personal nuance and surprises came up while they were working. When determining whether or not I think an actor is good, I also take their general personality and likability into account. After all, I have to work with them when they are out of character, too.
Just because an actor is good, does not mean they get the part. This is where "right or wrong" comes into play. It must be said there were some phenomenal actors and actresses that walked through the door that will not be cast in this film. In fact, they could have given the best performances of the day and they still wouldn't have a chance. They were just "wrong" the part (enter subjectivity again). Most of the time, what we all discuss in between sessions is whether or not someone is right or wrong. "Good or bad" usually end up being pretty obvious, but "right or wrong" always produces heated discussion. Everyone in the casting room has read the script and imagined how each character, looks, sounds, and generally behaves. When actors start coming through the door, they are being measured against our own preconceived notions of what the character looks and sounds like. This is now proving tricky for me, because now my preconceived notions are out the window, and I have concrete choices of which version of a character I want to see walking around on the screen in my film.
A director sits in a casting session looking for answers. Every time an actor sits down to audition, I'm hoping they are the answer to my problem, my solution. But that philosophy only gets me so far. After seeing a few auditions where more than one actor was both "good" and "right" how do you decide? They are all equally good but different solutions for me as the director. That's where I am now as I go through all these audition tapes. I have a few terrific answers and solutions for all of my characters. Surprisingly, I think the only way I can make any final decisions is to ask myself more questions based on the "answers" these actors have given me. As always, back to the script! Who are these characters? Does it help the story or hurt the story if the actress is more beautiful than another character? Will it be difficult to pair these two people as a couple if she is so much shorter than him? ......
On I go like this into the night. No matter what, I feel like I'm covered here. I'm lucky to be deciding between awesome and awesome. I hope to share the final decisions soon!