And so it begins. The casting notices for First Signal have been posted to Backstage and New England Film. Audition dates are scheduled for April 14 in Nashua, NH and April 15 in Natick, MA. So far the responses have been very encouraging. Although the cast for First Signal is substantially smaller than Justice Is Mind, that just raises the importance of casting the right actor for each part.
The characters listed on the casting notice are open, but three of the lead characters have already been cast (The President, Prime Minister and Major Sampson). The one thing I’ve learned about casting and directing is that once you work with a certain set of actors, you know what they can bring to the table. This is why you see so many directors working with the same actors from one film to another. It’s not that they aren’t interested in discovering new talent, it’s that they know the actor can breathe life into these characters and are easy to work with. But make no mistake about it, I love discovering new talent. Then there are the actors I’ve worked with in the past who are auditioning for the same part in First Signal. I promise you casting is not an easy process.
But the one thing I don’t believe in is the taped audition. Sure, all actors send in a reel of past work, but you can’t evaluate an actor properly unless they are standing in the same room with you. They may deliver a dynamic and exciting audition on tape, but how do they get along with others on set? Are they friendly or standoffish? Do they like the director? Sometimes it’s not about talent but about fit of personality.
As for fit, the April 15 auditions will take place at The Verve Crowne Plaza in the same conference room in which we produced Serpentine. Another part of the filmmaking process is about developing relationships with location and marketing partners. Thanks for having us back!
While the submissions continue to come in for the next class at the Naval Justice School, this past week took an interesting turn when I was cast as a policeman in an upcoming TV pilot. What was originally one day turned into three days on this production.
I always find these large scale productions interesting for a variety of reasons. Am I learning something new? Did I have a good time? And did I meet interesting people? I would say the answer was yes on all counts.
For me I always look at these “large-scale” productions with two different hats on – as an actor and filmmaker. As an actor I had to learn pretty quickly how this director worked. He gave me direction once and then returned on a couple of occasions to rehearse it without any verbal cues. He would appear, I would do what he directed and then he would leave. It must have been OK because after one rehearsal and two takes it was done. I guess we will see if that moment makes it in the final cut.
As a filmmaker, what I appreciated was the level of detail on the built sets. The desk I was sitting at was complete with period files, notes, etc. Even the wording on the files was specific to the era. As we live in an age where movies and TV shows are constantly screenshot, the last thing you want is something on camera that shouldn’t be there.
But this week it’s back to my own projects. In addition to the handful of actors to cast in the Naval Justice School (NJS) project, I start meetings on First Signal. This will be my fifth class with NJS and it’s great to see so many actors return from previous classes.
After my first meeting this week on First Signal, my plan is to post for actors in regard to a table read. The goal is to have a read sometime in late February or early March. From there I move on to locations and then crew.
And just when I think I’ve heard every excuse in the acting book, today there was a new one. I scheduled an interview with an actor days ago this morning in regard to the next NJS class. I couldn’t believe when I received an email this morning asking to push the interview back because, “I’m just trying to run some errands before the football games today and wasn’t sure if we could push back to 11:30.” Obviously I declined to do so. To every aspiring actor out there read these next words carefully – an actor declined to keep a scheduled interview for a paid gig because of football.
Here in Massachusetts (and New England in general) there is an obsession on football that borders on near hysteria. It’s all well and good that you have your passions, but when they interfere with work you have a problem. When you ask a producer/director to reschedule an interview because of your passion for a sport, I have two words of advice – don’t submit.
Can you even imagine for a minute if the day after I committed to this pilot that I emailed the casting director and said, “I can’t work tomorrow because I need to watch XX” I don’t even want to know the note that would go in my file. But I do know what that casting director would do after crossing my name off all their lists.
This past week served to be an interesting one not only working with a variety of actors on the set of a movie filming in Boston, but in the selection process for the third outing at the Naval Justice School in September.
When the inquiry came in from the casting company about background work, I was interested because they also wanted to use my car in the film. My first Pontiac Solstice appeared in Justice Is Mind. My second, if it makes the cut, will appear in I Feel Pretty. I particularly liked how they “dressed” my car with New York State tags.
But like the first time I did background work, it’s an opportunity for me to meet new actors and crew. I also wanted to see how they staged and used cars in a large scale production. With the camera setup, it didn’t take long to figure out why the cars were parked across the street.
As a director of course I take this all in on numerous levels. For me it’s like a vacation. I don’t have to worry about anything except showing up and doing what I’m told. Sure I felt a bit like Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations, but this wasn’t my ship I was just part of the crew. I will say this, the catering was excellent. Yes, I will judge your production, film or whatever by the type of food you serve. And if it ends with a great cup of coffee, that’s another star in my book.
But booking is where things turned for the next class at the Naval Justice School. As Site Supervisor, sort of like director, I don’t make the final casting decision but I do recommend. As I mentioned to an actor earlier this week, “Those decisions are made in Washington.” It wasn’t gravitas on my end, the agencies that book the actors are based in the D.C. area.
I am always happy to recommend talent for other productions. If I’ve worked with you and the relationship was a positive one, those recommendations come easy. But if someone I know recommends an actor I haven’t worked with, I’ll forward the information if I like what I see with the caveat that I’ve never worked with this person before. This entire industry is a network. You never know who knows who and it is a terribly small world. It is that small world of industry contacts that had me sign with a new talent agency in New York this week.
While I have representation in the Boston market, I’ve been looking for a national reach for a few months. Let’s just say that some of the conversations and meetings have been beyond interesting and make for great cocktail conversation. But in the case of this new agency, we knew the same talent from a show I worked on over ten years ago, FOX’s Skating with Celebrities.
My point is this. It’s important to be nice whenever you can. Yes, there are sometimes difficult if not impossible people in this industry, but no gig lasts forever. This is an industry of moments and you only get one chance to make a first impression.
In this industry it’s all about building a brand. It’s when to say yes to a project and when to say no. And while we all like to get paid for our services, there are some things that transcend remuneration and that’s awareness. When I’m approached about a project my first consideration isn’t money it’s about building my brand. I always ask myself if this project is going to help build towards something bigger down the road.
Yes, there are plenty of “exposure only” opportunities. There are many times I’ve said yes to these types of projects because I knew it was going to be another building block on my brand. I knew by doing it, I was either going to get some great exposure, tape for my reel or some other solid representation of my work that I would be proud to promote. But of course not all these projects are the same. Like those with a narcissist director who is only interested in promoting their own agenda while ignoring those that helped along the way (they’re called actors and crew).
When I set out to produce a project I’ll be the first to say that sometimes they don’t pay much, but what the actors and crew get in return is sizable promotion in addition to a copy. From traditional to social media, if someone is going to throw their hat in my ring, it’s important that I bring them as much promotion as possible. Everyone knows the deal from the start and you are either on the same page or you aren’t.
As some have noticed, I tend to work with the same people. We see this all the time in the industry. A producer or director that has their reliable stable of actors and crew they can count on. Of course, we always expand our network with each project. There were some outstanding actors I worked with last month at the Naval Justice School that I hope to work with in another project.
I believe this is why when some projects are announced (particularly independent films) most of the key parts are already taken. It’s not because a director isn’t interested in new talent, it’s because limited resources means they need to be able to count on tried and true talent on both sides of the camera. This is where building a reputation is just as important as awareness. Some years ago it was a culmination of awareness and reputation of national TV appearances that eventually led to a starring role on a network TV show.
If you’re going to choose one of the hardest industries to break into, I think it’s important to build your brand to be known for something. Because once you are known for one thing, you can build it into another.
A visit to an estate. Military trials at a naval base. A meeting with the Prime Minister. No, this isn’t the plot for a new screenplay (although I have some ideas), but what my last couple of weeks have been like in Newport, RI.
I discovered Newport back in the early 1980s when my mother first brought me down to the seaside city. Touring the mansions and learning about the Gilded Age was something to see for someone who grew up on a farm. It was two decades plus later when I struck a deal with The Preservation Society of Newport County to photograph Nancy Kerrigan at Rosecliff. It’s hard not be awe struck at the majesty of these great “cottages” and imaging the grand parties of days long past.
Although I’ve toured all the mansions, I haven’t visited The Elms since those early days. The self-guided tour is a nice improvement from the live tour guides. It lets you go at your own pace and learn about additional details that time doesn’t permit with a guide. It seemed fitting to my Newport visit that The Elms was built for coal baron Edward Julius Berwind who supplied coal to the Navy. Because back to the Navy it was for the last few weeks.
Last Thursday I finished working at the Naval Justice School as an actor in their mock trial program. This was my “second tour” at the school. While I’ve been fortunate to have a variety of interesting opportunities in the industry, this by far offers not only the ability to act but to learn something in the process.
First, there are generally no set lines per se rather a scenario for your character with action points that must be adhered to. In my view it takes role playing to a whole new level. While there’s a highway and destination for each character, it’s the exits along the way that give the character and the entire scenario depth.
But for me it’s the atmosphere and the importance of the assignment. Yes, I’m working with other actors, but our primary interaction is with the officers, students and staff at the school. In other words this is real life. The students that attend the school are generally all lawyers and graduate from this program for military postings all over the world. Suffice to say we take it seriously. You can learn more about the Naval Justice School at this link.
What was nice about this “tour” was not only working with some of the same actors from the first assignment but meeting some new talent as well. The actors I’m pictured with here at the school are extremely talented. I had the opportunity to see some of them perform their character and they had me believing they were living that person.
Of course I was watching with my director hat on. Because who knows what project I may be working on next or have the opportunity to recommend an actor that is both talented and professional. Just as when I produce my projects, I want to work with actors that understand the word “team” without striving to become the center of attention off stage.
As for talent, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with Lindy Nettleton who invited me to her play reading group. Lindy, as some of you may remember, played the Prime Minister in First World. I’ll still never forget her audition. She arrived with the actor who was auditioning to the play the President. We couldn’t find a quiet place for their audition, so what did these two professionals do? They got into character outside an elevator bank and read their lines…brilliantly!
Finally, for those of you that are car enthusiasts, I highly recommend the Audrain Auto Museum. A must see!
Picking up where I left off last week, having been given a trial subscription to Variety Insight and Vscore, I highly recommend it. It’s a wonderfully comprehensive service and does, as the name suggests, offer a wealth of insight. Like IMDB, Vscore rates popularity of actors across a “variety” of sources. From TV, film, awards and social media, an actor’s entire career is given a score.
This weekend I started to write the business plan for In Mind We Trust. While I’m modeling it after my plan for SOS United States, I did take a review of my original business plan for Justice Is Mind that I wrote in 2011. Needless to say some updates are in order.
When I wrote the plan for Justice Is Mind, it called for no theatrical release and signing with one distributor for VOD. So what changed? Theatres are embracing independent film (thus our theatrical release) and that distributor I was going to sign with changed its revenue model so now the payout to filmmakers is literal pennies based on minutes viewed. Terrible for the filmmaker but gangbusters for the distributor. Needless to say, they aren’t distributing Justice Is Mind.
Putting aside the story itself for a moment, In Mind We Trust is a unique film from the point of view of the characters. In addition to bringing back the majority of the stars, co-stars and some featured characters from Justice Is Mind, new starring, co-starring and featured roles now exist in In Mind We Trust. The goal is to attract some “named” talent to these parts for marketability.
While the industry has changed from a distribution point of view, and while you can get distribution with talented although largely “unknown” actors, the fact does remain that named talent does bring sales and marketing cache to a project. In addition, it also opens up additional distribution opportunities. However, as we have all seen, there is simply no guarantee of success one way or another. That being said, it’s about complimenting these roles with actors that would bring some gravitas to the characters without taking away from the overall story. In other words, not just putting in “so and so” to say we have “so and so”.
From the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Senator Caraway, General Blair and Hilma Miller, there are some great opportunities for named talent to be part of In Mind We Trust working alongside some of the actors that brought Justice Is Mind to life. Indeed, I can just imagine the marketing and public relations possibilities of such a pairing!
The goal, of course, is to put together a plan that’s not only attractive to financiers but making sure it reaches the right parties. This is the process that can take some time. Indeed, it took over a year to find the investors that saw my vision for Justice Is Mind. The great thing about In Mind We Trust is that Justice Is Mind has done well in the marketplace. It proves that there’s an interest in the original story that I’m looking to expand upon with the sequel.
With our first poster currently in the design phase and having written the trailer this week, there is one group that needs to be thanked for their participation in Justice Is Mind—the over 50+ extras. Without their support, Justice would have resulted in a much “smaller” look for it was the extras that gave the film the scope it needed in the areas of the story that called for it most.
For actors working as an extra it can be both a rewarding and daunting experience. There can be a lot of waiting around and in some cases (especially the studio level films) you may never actually be seen on camera. Sure, on the studio films you are getting a day rate, but it’s not about the money it’s about the craft. On Justice I wanted the actors participating as extras to know that I endeavored to not only make sure they were seen on camera, but that their very participation was vital to the film.
Case in point the Board of Directors of Reincar Scientific. When I was updating the script, I added a few scenes that were intercut over the testimony of Dr. Eve Pullman, the inventor of the FVMRI procedure. Logically, the company that funded this process would be following the story intently. After posting for executive “extras” on New England Film and with the assistance of Carlyne Fournier who played Dr. Even Pullman, not only did we have enough members for the board—but it was standing room only!
Another example of actors coming together was in the courtroom scenes for both the jury and the audience. After another round of promotion to constitute a full jury, Mary Wexler, who plays Judge Wagner in Justice Is Mind, was just terrific. We were in the enviable position of having more actors than we needed for the jury. From the bench, Mary took the reins as a judge would to ask prospective jurors questions—in this case their availability for the days needed on set. For those extras that didn’t make it on the jury, their participation as extras in the courtroom audience was just as vital.
I would also like to take this occasion to mention Sheila Mandeville Grant who played the jury forewoman. Sheila and I went to school together in Spencer, MA and graduated the same year. She has been such a wonderful supporter of my projects over the years. In the case of Justice her daughter Kelly Grant and Kelly’s boyfriend Nicholas Boyle participated as jurors. The David Prouty High School (alright I’ll just age myself) class of 1983 was a big part of Justice Is Mind—Mary Wenninger (our financial backer with her husband Stefan) also graduated the same year.
From the wedding of Margaret Carpenter to Henri Miller, to the FVMRI Operations Center, the actors that participated in Justice Is Mind as extras brought an enthusiasm to their roles that increased the dimension of the story on a variety of levels.
This director sends you an “extra” thank you and for bringing “justice” to your part.