What’s the most indirect, intriguing way to present it?

For the past few years I have been influenced by Lubitsch, whose very special twist of mind fascinates me, the more so since he has been gradually forgotten after having exerted an enormous influence at the time… This consists in arriving at things roundabout, in asking oneself: “Given that you have a particular situation to get across to the public, what will be the most indirect, most intriguing way of presenting it?

Francois Truffaut (from Truffaut by Truffaut)

It was by thinking of Hitchcock that I could find solutions

Lets say that if one loves cinema as an escape mechanism, well, one escapes ten times more in a Hitchcock film because it’s better narrated. He tells modern stories, stories of ordinary people to whom extraordinary things happen. Don’t forget that I grew up in fear and that Hitchcock is the filmmaker of fear. You enter into his films as into a dream of great beauty of form, so harmonious, so natural… I admired Hitchcock very early and I got into the habit of seeing his films many times, and later, when I made films, I came to realize that, when I had difficulties in directing, it was by thinking of Hitchcock that I could find solutions.

— Francois Truffaut (from Truffaut by Truffaut).

The Eternal Casting of the Director’s Mind: Fishing, Hunting, and Foraging

There are three ways I think about casting: fishing, hunting, and foraging.

Fishing

With fishing, you hold an audition, post an audition notice around town and online and see what comes back to you. You throw out some lures and see who comes in.

Hunting

With hunting, you look for someone specific. Maybe a big name talent or a specific actor that you’ve seen somewhere. You know you want to work with them or they would be perfect for a role so find a way to connect with them and try to get them interested in the project.

You get an IMDbPro account and try to track down the contact info of an actor that you don’t have a relationship with and try to get them to read your script.

Foraging

With foraging, casting becomes an always process.

Every time you go to a play, you make a note of any actors you liked and jot their name down with some notes (“perfect for lead in ${filmName}” or “would make a great weird neighbor”).

This can happen when you see actors in shows, in local or even major films and TV, in classes, at meetups, through friends, whatever. I make a note of it in my phone or notebook and then when I get home I add it to a big Word doc I have with lists of actors that I liked or thought might be interesting to work with.

On The Deadline, we used a mix of foraging and hunting. There were a couple roles where I knew exactly who I wanted and made sure that they could come to the audition. Then we did a big audition and ended up with a mix of people that I had met before and those that were new to me, along with some real surprises.

For foraging to work, you have to get out a lot and see shows or watch a lot of short films.

But the truly awesome advantage of this is that you get to see actors working under good conditions — a role that that they’ve prepared for with a director.

To me, that’s much more informative than an audition — in an audition, there are nerves, they don’t know the material well, etc. Some actors are terrible at auditioning and some are great (and that doesn’t necessarily map to their actual acting ability).

 

So.

I like using a mix of all three.

When I started casting my last film, WHAM, I went through my lists of actors that I wanted to work with, cultivated over the past four years, and picked out names and put them in a spreadsheet next to the role. I made a column for first choice and backups.

Then I start reaching out to those actors and cross them off if they aren’t available, moving on to next choices.

My goal was to avoid holding an audition because auditions are a lot of work we and I only had about three weeks to cast it and I was working alone. Also, it was a 3-minute short — for a feature I would want to see them do a reading and meet them in person first.

That work got me about halfway there — out of six roles, one I knew professionally, one was a close personal friend, one I had seen at The Annoyance, and one I had seen in a Second City e.t.c. show.

 

Foraging online

For the last three roles, I did two things.

First, I contacted the agent of one of the actors that I knew I wanted to work with. Her agent asked me what else I was looking for and I sent her a breakdown of the available roles and she sent me about six headshots and resumes for the open roles.

I watched the reels of some of those actors and tried to find any short films that they had online.

I don’t really like reels because I’d rather see more than a clip. I’m usually looking for one solid performance where I can see that they can act well under good conditions.

If I don’t know them personally, I check Facebook to see if we have a mutual friend that could make an introduction. Or if they have an agent, I call the agent.

Pros, cons, etc

Sometimes an audition is necessary, but with foraging you get more control over who attends the audition and you get to write with certain people in mind.

If you don’t hold an audition, you cut yourself off to the upside of being truly surprised by someone.

An audition is also a great way to meet and see actors that might not work out for the current project but that would be great for something in the future.

If you want a ‘name’ actor, then you’re going to have to hunt.

 

 

 

 

How to make a microshort

It’s easy.

2 actors (optional)

Someone to hold the camera and press the record button.

Someone to hold a microphone (might be the same person that’s holding the camera and now pressing two record buttons).

A location that is free.

A 2-page script (optional).

Feed people when you’re done.

Physical comedy is hard

I was going through my Evernote to catch up on stuff I’ve saved but haven’t had time to digest and this Tony Zhou video came up. I realized that I already posted it but it’s worth posting (and watching) again, as are all of his video essays.

Having just directed a short film that relies mostly on physical comedy, and certainly using (or trying to use) it in The Deadline, I’ve really developed a profound appreciation for Keaton and the filmmakers he collaborated with. It’s insanely hard to pull of physical gags and requires a lot of good camera technique as well as performer technique. And rehearsal. And props. And special stages in Keaton’s case.

For the last short, I have people bumping heads on the sidewalk to pass out. Choreographing that was not easy, although it wasn’t impossible either. I’m still not 100% sure how it will turn out, but it looks good so far, at least in the long takes. I really didn’t want to use cheap tricks to get people to fall on the ground (hard pavement in this case), like cutting from the head bumps to the bodies on the ground. So we had to devise special padding that blends in with the sidewalk for the actors to fall on, which required the ingenuity of Jim Jarosz of Channel Awesome.

This was the third short I’ve directed and I would say 70% of my stress was around the physical humor — would it play well, would it look silly (in a not funny way), would anyone get hurt. 15% of my stress was the weather because we were outside and at the mercy of the rain, which fortunately the film Gods smiled upon us. The other 15% was the usual ever-present suspicion that everything would fall apart at any moment.

 

Pre-production stress

Last month I met with a DP to set a date for shooting a short film on June 10th. I wrote it and I’m going to direct it. And I’m producing it as I don’t have a go-to producer yet, a real partner to handle the big picture stuff of securing locations and finding talent and all that.

It’s not fun. I don’t hate it but it is not fun. What I don’t like about casting and hiring and finding locations and arranging all the resources to be on a certain day is this: it’s asynchronous. It’s a big spreadsheet with a lot of pending items. You can’t brute force it. You can’t spend 12 hours straight just knocking it out.

You have to wait for people to get back to you with someone’s email and then they do and you email that person and then you have to wait to hear back from them and they say “no, sorry, we don’t want you to film in our bar” and then you have to find another one.

It’s loose ends all over the place. Interlocking pieces that depend on other pieces, and endless if/else’s branching out in the rows and columns. It makes me slightly insane.

But there’s a date set, an immovable date slowly creeping toward you. Having gone through it a few times now, I know that on that date, everything will be there. Maybe not the way I hoped, but everything we need will be there.

The only thing that keeps me up at night is rain.

The possibility that it will rain on June 10 and that not everyone will be available for the rain date of June 11. Or that the Gods just decide that it will rain all that weekend and I have to decide if we’re going to make a mess in the mud and put everyone through a rainy production (if that’s even possible?) and scramble for tents at the last minute, or if we have to call the whole thing off and re-schedule.

On the bright side, it gets better. Going through this with The Deadline was crushing. There wasn’t a day from January 1 to March 22, 2016 when I didn’t feel like it was all going to fall apart at any moment. Now, it’s not so bad. It’s stressful, but I know that it will work out. If an actor drops out at the last minute, I’ll find another one. If the DP falls ill the morning of, I’ll figure something out.

You plan as best you can and then when shit goes sideways, you just take a deep breath and say “ok, what are our options?” It’s a kind of zen-like clarity that I actually enjoy in way. Once you’ve decided completely that you will make this thing happen, the setbacks don’t seem to matter. There’s no time to care or be angry.

The ship is moving and there’s no stopping it. When the ship springs a leak, do you jump overboard? No, you get a bucket and start bailing out the water. When your first mate mutinies, do you curse his lack of loyalty? No, you push him overboard and promote someone else. OK maybe this analogy is getting out of hand.

Anyway, it’s not life or death. It’s just comedy or art or whatever you want to call it. Once I’m done with this fucking spreadsheet, it will all be fun again.

More daring and more sincere

My taste, I mean if I had to pick one movie, which I would  never want to do, I keep thinking about “La Strada,” because there’s such a total commitment to those people and the movie never puts itself above any of the people in it. It’s a very Franciscan approach to the drama, and to me that’s very beautiful.

[Author] George Eliot said “the purpose of art is to extend our sympathies” which I think is very beautiful. Kubrick wished all movies were “more daring and more sincere.” A lot of directors today are focusing on what is daring, but are not really focused on what is sincere.

— James Gray via Heidi Saman

Nominated for best director at Portland Comedy Film Festival

This week I found out that I was nominated for best director (for Off Book) at the Portland Comedy Film Festival:

I would say it’s humbling but it’s not, it’s the opposite, and I hate when people say things are humbling when they are the opposite. Getting rejected over and over by festivals for The Deadline is humbling. Getting foreclosed on is humbling (which did happen to me as a result of my own hubris). Getting nominated for awards feels amazing.

Christopher Nolan on starting out as a filmmaker

I really enjoyed this. Lots of good stuff in here on working with low budgets and getting the most out a little money, production-wise.

A few takeaways:

  • He started with black and white to eliminate a lot of variables and work faster.
  • He started with a scene where he could control the camera tightly, so that the first scene would be high quality and later shots in uncontrolled environments would register as a choice and not an accident.
  • He did the same for sound, getting high quality sound in the first scene so that people weren’t immediately alienated by the quality of the sound.
  • By the time people realized how cheap the film was, they were already into the story.
  • Working in film noir or a crime film gives you a lot of creative freedom because the audience knows you’re going to get back to that main story, enabling you to take quite a few leaps and experiment without compromising the comprehensibility of the film.

Assorted Links

Going through stuff saved in Evernote.

1) Selling Out: An Artist’s Search for Money and Meaning

2) “Sound is also the only truly tactile dimension of the cinema. It is the only way in which the cinema physically touches the spectator.”

3) The Sex and Cash Theory.





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