Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blog 15: Casting (or how do we get actor interest for free)

The first question most people ask me when I say I'm trying to make a movie is "Who's in it?"  And I know what they want to hear; Julia Roberts? George Clooney, Brad, Matt etc.  So who are we going to get?  It's not an easy answer.  

I was lucky to meet Sally Kirkland at a gathering a few years ago, I told her about my script and she asked to read it.  Sally was nominated for an Academy Award for ANNA, in which she starred.  Sally liked the script and said she'd be interested in the lead role of Katherine, a movie star now getting a little past her youth. 

A year later my friend Ira Besserman tried unsuccessfully to get Travel Day going, and got the interest of acclaimed actress Liv Ullmann, twice nominated.  Sounds easy so far, right?  Well, no. Sally and Liv were lucky connections we had through mutual friends.  Now we are considering other cast members, some with more recognizable names which distributors always ask for.  

Recognizable names are always preferred for the simple reason that audiences prefer going to movies to see people they know.  There are exceptions all the time, but generally the name on the video box sells the movie. Travel Day's lead role is for an older woman, an aging actress and we both knew that this would be a prized role for actresses in their late 50's or early 60's.  

Unlike male actors, women seem to have wrapped up their lead role careers by the mid 40's.  Is it fair, no, but it is reality. So we felt that there are a lot of women out there who would love the part as opposed to playing mothers and grandmothers.  And everything we heard and read confirmed this.  Our list of potential actors, even though many of them were out of our league, were people like Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Sally Field, Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep,  Glen Close,  Catherine Deneuve and many others.  And the reality of getting them isn't all that impossible.  

In the last several years many older actresses including some of the above have made lower budget films, even at our level. The reason - a really well written part in a movie with some challenges for them.  And of course, a better chance at an Academy nomination. 

Shirley suggested Faye Dunaway but we couldn't find a connection to her.  The usual approach is to call the actor's agent, but that's not all that simple either.  An agent is there to make money, not friends.  If you make a "cold call" the agent will most likely ask if the movie is fully funded, and if this is an offer.   Meaning that you have to be able to pay at least a deposit or more if you even want the actor to just read the script.  In effect you are hiring them without even talking to them. 

You may ask; what if that actor isn't right for the part after you hear them read it?  Well, you forfeit the advance you paid and sometimes, if the actor is hot, the entire fee. 

They walk away with the full fee and you start looking for someone else.  

So we tried everyone that we knew that might get us a way to get Faye to read the script.  We didn't try the agent because I knew that they would probably want the demands above.  Truth is I really wasn't sure but wanted to find another way.  Like the way it worked for Sally and Liv.  We contacted casting directors,  but while some liked our screenplay, they only look for actors when they are being paid to do that.  Since we're a low budget independent film, we simply couldn't afford it.  

Finally Ira suggested someone named Cassandra, who it turned out had been in Arnold's first big movie, Conan the Barbarian.  Cassandra is one of those Hollywood people whose jobs are hard to describe, one of the things she does, I was told, was find celebrities for functions.  You need a famous actor or two for a charity lunch, or a film festival? Cassandra and others like her find one.

I called Cassandra and she called back, wanted to read the script first. We talked for a week or so and she seemed enthusiastic, even suggesting some other actors she knew. Then suddenly, Cassandra was gone. I tried contacting her again, she emailed that she was working out of town.  And that was the end of Cassandra, never heard from her again. 

What happened?  I don't know, maybe she didn't like our screenplay, maybe she didn't like us.  We'll never know. We were back to square one.  In the meantime, Shirley said she could probably get a famous actor who she had met several times to play a "cameo" role, a part that usually is only one scene, but helpful to a low budget movie as the name can attract a distributor and later, an audience of dvd purchaser.  I realized I knew a few smaller recognizable names, but who would add to our package as well.

So where are we now? We're not closer to getting scripts to Faye but we are slowly gaining ground in our money-raising which I will explain in the next blog. Things are happening, as they say in Hollywood.

(Next:  An angel appears and we're lifted up)