It’s not personal… is it?

With just over a week to go before filming I remember things looking quite good despite still not having cast a few people yet, which was driving the costume department a little crazy. Casting has been an interesting experience… Having only made short films I’m more used to casting friends and family or the first person to say yes! But this time it was a real process. I had a few negative experiences for sure because it’s a tricky business, undeniably shallow in areas and full of awkward moments. Without naming names I’ll talk about one of a few incidents.

Setting up for auditions at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School (July 2021)

Firstly I made a point to everyone that we would try wherever possible to give South West and Bristol based actors priority. So with that in mind I had told an actor who had appeared in the original short film that I would be checking out some more local options before I came to them to reprise the part.

After a few auditions I wasn’t set on anyone from the area so decided to open up the discussion with the original actor. Things however got off to a bad start as they immediately expressed their annoyance that I hadn’t hired them in the first place. Sort of an “I told you so” attitude. Their annoyance only grew worse when the casting team asked them to submit a self-tape. Now, hear me out… Yes, they did play the original character, but that was now over four years ago! The feature script would be a totally new challenge, with the character going through a much wider range of emotions across a longer period of time. Again, they made it very clear how unhappy they were and this was starting to grind on me. On one hand I could see why they were frustrated, but at the same time I was trying my best to offer them a key part in a feature film and they were rolling their eyes at me!

So the tape was reluctantly submitted and it was quite good. This brightened things up a little and I was feeling better about offering them the part. However, the casting team asked me to hold off for just a few more days as they were expecting a response from a potential ‘named actor’. So I did, and soon the actor was chasing me up – “So do I have the part? What’s with the delay?” I apologised for the delay and said I would be getting back to them after we had gone over the remaining tapes. The response was something along the lines of “I don’t appreciate being messed-about.” Which again irritated me as I knew they weren’t exactly in high demand and this situation is very common/normal in the acting/filmmaking world.

Finally I had all the candidates in place and there was one in particular that stood out to me. I just had to have them for the part and this meant letting the original actor know they wouldn’t be reprising. I was met with a very blunt “I knew I didn’t have it. I wasn’t even expecting to hear from you again anyway.” They also added that they felt I had acted very unprofessionally and that the only reason they were being ‘polite’ was because they knew me personally. I was honestly down about not giving them the part, but I had to serve the film. I must admit that I found their relentless complaining a problem. Whether it was just mind-games or they genuinely felt that way, It irritated me, and for what it’s worth it certainly didn’t help their case. 

To say “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is probably a bit too arrogant for this particular incident; but I think the point is that you really shouldn’t be pushing people who are ultimately in a position to help you. I didn’t have to approach them at all, but I did. It felt like I was the one bothering them and when I look back, they never really seemed grateful or truly interested in the opportunity. Knowing how hard it is for actors, that just seems crazy to me. You have to serve the film. Always.

I’d like to just say a special thank you to Frazer Meakin and Matthew Bailey for doing an incredible job of casting the film and making my life a lot easier.

Will, Adam & casting director Frazer Meakin discussing performances

How far will it stretch? 

The schedule is basically your production bible. It is the basis on (or from) which most, if not all, further decisions are made. Our schedule was a little crazy and it had some people quite concerned. Even long before the shoot, the temporary schedule me and Adam had created was giving experienced heads ‘the willies’

When preparing for the film we tried our best to meet up with some experienced producers in the hopes they would either join the production (dreaming) or at least offer us some priceless words of wisdom. Something that kept cropping up was that our schedule was apparently, too long. We had imagined five – six weeks of filming with the last week being a very reduced cast and crew. Almost everyone we spoke to said “Five weeks! No way, do it in two or three max.” To which I responded “You haven’t read this script.” And that was the problem, the script was a story on the move and featured a lot of locations. On paper we would be doing one or sometimes two location moves per-day and they can eat up a lot of time. Given the current script, there was literally no way of physically fitting it into three weeks of filming.

The reason you want to keep your shoot short is not necessarily to save money, but to concentrate it. You can spend the same amount in more or less time; for example, do you want to pay more experienced crew members £500 per day for three weeks, or employ a less experienced crew at £250 per-day for six? Every single crew member affects the outcome of the film in one way or another, so who you employ is critical. Apart from dropping two very small scenes I wasn’t willing to hack the script apart, meaning we would have no choice but to stretch ourselves thin across five weeks and go against most of the advise we’d been given.

It’s usually part of the first assistant director’s (1st AD) job to schedule the film. However, as ours would be flying in from Switzerland (due to covid: see previous blog!) closer to filming and didn’t have a totally firm idea of the locations; Adam and I took it upon ourselves to create the first schedule. We were able to arrange and group things according to locations, the distance between locations, character involvement and also a sense of difficulty.

The 1st AD then took this draft and ran it through his planning software which pumped out a fancy colour-coded version. We then printed this out, cut it up into strips and went to work rearranging it according to the latest developments with the script, locations and cast. It felt like a really old-school approach and was a lot of fun. We eventually stuck this schedule up in the office so at any given moment a HOD (Head Of Department) could question it and move things around. After a few weeks it was looking very haggard! All crooked and loose from daily handling. Next time we’ll have the budget for laminated strips… I can dream.

The schedule MKI – Unlike anything we’d ever done before

There was only one real issue by the end of scheduling, the final piece of the puzzle came down to two scenes that were both very important, quite difficult to shoot and couldn’t be filmed on the same day. One of them would have to be filmed on day one and they were not the kind of scenes you want to start on. They both featured stunt riding, several groups of people in conversation, child actors and a large outdoor space to control. Flip a coin maybe? Ouch.

I can’t quite remember how we chose, but I know the decision was partly because Dave (Lead actor) would need to ride a short distance on a motorbike, and he hadn’t been properly trained up yet. The decision made Adam (cinematographer) quite uneasy because almost all of this scene was to be shot on a steady-cam, meaning that on day one of his first feature film shoot, he would almost never be operating the camera. 

You won’t be able to please everyone with the schedule and It’ll be chopping and changing right up to the eleventh hour (and beyond!).

Thanks for reading! 

I thought covering part of the casting process and scheduling would be a good way of getting back into the story behind the film. Part IV on the horizon and I really aim to release these blogs on a much more regular basis now that the film is finally complete. 

Don’t forget to share the film and spread the good word! Raising awareness for a low budget indie film like ours is extremely hard-work and your word of mouth is #1. You can now watch the film online with plenty of popular streamers. See links here.

Till next time!