Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
Welcome to Hollywood. You can't get work unless you have experience and you can't get experience unless you get work.
I guess my standards aren't as high as Mr. Spielberg's because I will actually hire actors for their first job. But only on a couple of conditions. One is that they really do their homework, meaning they need to know how to act. The other is that they don't lie about it.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. Insist on your actors submitting resumes. And read them. Even if your actor doesn't have a ton of experience, a resume can tell you a lot about how to work with him or her.
The bottom is where actors put special skills. Someone who has a black belt in taekwando is probably pretty dedicated, whereas listing "likes cats" might mean he or she doesn't really commit to much. If I see a special skill that I know something about, it gives me an opportunity feel them out, to see how much their resume might be padded.
Just above special skills, most actors put their training. There are a lot of acting schools, each of which has a slightly different take on both the business and the appropriate approach to acting. I like seeing actors who have attended a variety of schools because it means they're probably looking for what works best for them. Call me a cynic, but I think finding the perfect acting school right off the bat is about as likely has finding true love with your high school sweetheart.
Of course, once an actor has done enough work to fill out a resume, he or she has probably learned the rhythms of an actual set and the shorthand we use to communicate, so that stuff is a little less critical.
Right above training, actors put their experience. They usually break it up into film, television, stage, and commercial, with the more experienced actors (or the ones who want to appear more experienced –– remember what I said about using special skills to see how much they might be padding their resumes?) putting the line "conflicts available upon request," which means, "I've done too many to list here."
It also means, "I'll audition for your Burger King commercial even though I shot a McDonald's commercial last month and if you want me I'm going to hope that nobody notices." This, by the way, is a really bad move.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
Now that I've given an overview of the casting process () and told you how I write a casting breakdown (), let me give you a trick I use to help make casting go smoother: The first thing I do when I review my submissions is watch each actor slate and jot down my first impression of him or her.
This isn't stuff like "Yuck!" or "Hottie." It's the first thing that comes to mind about the person. On the job I just finished, some of my notes are "Irish cop," "1950s news anchor," and "Al's friend from that New Year's thing."
These aren't judgments. They're impressions. And it doesn't matter if anybody else can make sense of them.
So what's the point?
Most commercials have more than one role and your first submission can be as many as 300 people. So you have to be able to keep them straight, especially when you need to discuss actors with art directors, copywriters, creative directors, and producers. Jotting down a first impression is a way of crystalizing it for me, kind of like a mnemonic device that helps me recall which actor made which impression later.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Brian, how come you do this with the slate and not the head shot?"
Actors put a lot of effort into head shots, for the simple reason that it's the thing that makes the difference between being called in for an audition or not. That's good, at least in theory. The problem comes when the photograph goes beyond presenting an actor in a favorable light, which a lot of them do.
There's a talent agency in LA that requires its actors to use the same incredible photographer for their head shots. I love getting submissions from them because every single photo is beautiful. But I also hate getting submissions from them because a lot of the actors who come in only bear a passing resemblance to the person in the photo.
Besides, an impression isn’t necessarily based on how someone looks. It could be based on how they move, how they speak, or the way their clothes hang.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
I asked her why, but all she could tell me was that that was how her mother taught her to make it. One day, she asked her mother about cutting off the end. "I don't know. That's the way your grandmother taught me how to make it," her mother said.
Fortunately, her grandmother was still around. So I asked her mother to ask her grandmother. The answer came back eventually. "We had a small pot. It was the only way to get the roast to fit."
I know what you're thinking. You're wondering what cutting off the end of the pot roast has to do with casting. Well, I'll tell you.
Directing, like cooking, is 75% common sense. Even if you have no idea what you're doing, you (and by you I mean anybody who wants to) can direct something that's 75% good just by following the directions. Just as anybody can follow a recipe and turn out a perfectly good pot roast.
That's kind of reassuring, especially when you've just been handed $400,000 to make a commercial. Even more so when it's $40 million to make a movie.
But if you want to do something better than 75% good, you need two things. You need to practice. And you need to pay attention.
My girlfriend made lots of pot roasts, so she had plenty of practice. What she didn't do is pay attention. So her pot roast never got better. She never figured out what worked and why.
And that brings me to my casting tricks.
Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to be doling out techniques that I've come up with that help me find incredible casts. I didn't pick these up by watching somebody else work. I developed them on my own, over the years, through practice and paying attention. So before I tell them to you, I going to give you the following warning:
These tricks work for me. That doesn't mean they'll work for you. They probably will. But only only only if you understand why you're doing them.
Friday, September 4, 2009
A Pavoni, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is to espresso as a Lamborghini is to driving. They're stupidly expensive, temperamental as hell, and stubbornly unwilling to compensate for your shortcomings. They start at $800 new (the Pavoni, not the Lamborghini), and you would think that for that kind of money it would roast and grind your beans, deliver a steaming demitasse of espresso precisely at 7:15, and tell you how sexy and thin you look in that shirt. On the contrary, a Pavoni requires you to do incredible amounts of work before it will deign to deliver a one-ounce serving of liquid.
First, there's the grind. Your coffee has to be so specifically fine-but-not-too-fine that even after five trips to two different coffee roasters, I'm only in the ball park. Fortunately, I live in Portland, where coffee is taken as seriously as ballet, political philosophy, and basketball in other cities.
Then there's the tamping. Unlike a drip coffee maker, the Pavoni has a stainless steel filter that the coffee goes into. The grinds are tamped –– pressed into place –– with a little hand tool. Tamp too hard and the water takes too long to make it through the coffee; not hard enough and the water comes through too fast.
And then there's the pulling. The pulling is the part that looks theatrical. It's where you pull up a lever, hold it, and then pull it down, forcing the hot water through the coffee grounds. The amount of time that you hold it and the amount of time you take and the pressure you exert to pull the shot are absolutely critical as well.
Add to that the blend of the beans, the darkness of the roast, and their freshness, and you have so many variables that affect each other that you'd be lucky to pull a decent shot of espresso with a Pavoni after you worked at it for three weeks. With a year of constant practice, you might be able to serve good espresso fairly consistently. And if you dedicate yourself completely to your Pavoni, not just learning its quirks and eccentricities, but also studying the arcane minutia of coffee, in several years' time you will find yourself creating shots of espresso that are sublime.
So what, you might ask, does this have to do with directing?
Directing, like coffee, relies on a bunch of interrelated variables coming together. And there are two fundamentally different ways to combine those variables.
One approach is the equivalent of using a drip machine –– the actors, equipment, and crew are like the beans, coffee maker, and water. The more you spend, the more likely you are to end up with something pretty good, but not great, whether you know what you're doing or not. All you have to do is follow the instructions.
The other approach is the equivalent of the Pavoni. You must dedicate yourself to learning not just about the components, but how all those components interact. Eventually, after years of practice, you get to the point that you have little tolerance for inferior beans and you can tell that because it's a little more humid today, you're going to need to tamp a little harder and pull a little more slowly.
And with every single shot, you extract the absolute best that the combination of coffee, water, and heat can give you.
Until I got the Pavoni, I didn't realize just how important espresso could be to me. But I should have figured. Earlier this week, I shot a two-day job that was the equivalent of pulling a shot of espresso in a rainstorm while badgers gnawed on my ankles. In 16 years of directing, it was the most messed up, political, dysfunctional job I've ever experienced. And in spite of the circumstances, I extracted the absolute best that the actors, equipment, and crew could have given me.
I've been smiling ever since we wrapped.
Of course, it could be all the caffeine I've been drinking.