Great Story. Check.
Solid Production Values. Check.
Time and time again I see this problem with low budget filmmaking.
And it’s a problem, that as an actor and a filmmaker, really annoys the shit out of me when it comes to indie film.
It is quite often that when watching a student short, or a low budget short or any type of film project made by an amateur filmmaker, that they forget one integral piece of the puzzle when it comes to telling their story.
And that my friends, is the actors.
Now I’m not saying this happens all the time, and I’m not going to spend the next little while ranting but I’d just like to point out a few reasons (with some very good examples) as to why casting is so important when making a film. ESPECIALLY if you don’t have the money to really have all the bells and whistles of a multi-million dollar, government backed film. And guess what?? It’s bloody easy!
For starters, films are made by memorable performances. When people walked away from Avatar they were blown away by the visuals, but disappointed by the story and performances (well…except for Chris, but he’s a Jim Cameron fan-boy). A similar case can be made for the always criticised Michael Bay. Sure he shoots action better than most, but you always walk away from his movies unfulfilled cause all you can think about is how cringe worthy the actors were (apologies Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, but you really are just awful).
New directors are often scared by actors.
I can totally understand why too as there is a minority of actors that gives us all a bad name. You know the ones I mean. They constantly name drop who they’ve worked with, what shows they’ve been on, that time that they were in that TV commercial for VB and were fourth in from the back next to the bar. Oh yeah and how they like to prepare on set by being “in character” the entire time the cameras arn’t rolling which means yelling abuse at crew, running off set and also throwing themselves into wardrobe vans because “their character” has ADD (true story).
Then when push comes to shove these so called professionals get on set and are about as interesting to watch as a piece of dried toast.
I think we’re all smart enough to be able to know a good performance from a bad one so I urge you, next time you are casting your short or looking for actors, take that little bit longer to look past the one that was on home and away or was in a toothpaste commercial or perhaps was in a “feature film” that you’ve never heard of but IMDB said it’s real so you just assumed you missed it.
Australia is CHOCK A BLOCK full of talented actors who are great to work with and all about the work rather than the fame. And guess what?? They are also quite lovely people whom you can talk to and work with rather than against to get the best for your film.
So where do you start to look???
There are plenty of wonderful institutions for actors in Melbourne including Melbourne Actors Lab, Tafta and The Rehearsal Room. You can even look online by signing up for an account with Showcast and potentially going through agents.
Our personal favourite, and number one recommendation though are our friends and sometimes collaborators at 16th Street Actors Studio.
The work that goes on in that place is truly sublime and the teachers are some of the best in the business including people like Pamela Rabe, Kerry Armstrong, Noni Hazlehurst (just to name a few). They have a view on acting that works along a similar path as it does in the states which is that actors, regardless of who they are, never stop training. And it’s about finding the truth in the performance. Not playing for laughs or squeezing out a tear cause the script asks you too, but investing time in finding the truth of each character. It’s the very thing that makes some performances so damn affecting.
They have even managed to bring out some of THE WORLDS BEST acting coaches in recent years like Ivana Chubbuck (Halle Berry, Charlize Theron) and Larry Moss (Leonardo DiCaprio, Hilary Swank) to take master classes here in Melbourne. Their tireless efforts to get the best out of actors is nothing short of inspiring.
So long story short (kinda) I urge you, next time you are looking to cast your short or your low budget feature or your TV pilot, take that little bit longer and a bit more care in casting your project. Don’t just settle for credits, or because people are willing to work for nothing or “just have the right look” for what you want.
Take the time to find the real actors. The ones that will give you truth and will give you their all and will fight for their character. Because that my friends, will be the difference between your film being Great or just kinda ok.
Think of films that have blown you away in recent times, and why you loved them. I can almost guarantee you that what you will remember is the performances – especially, if like me, you like walking away from a movie having been affected in some way shape or form.
Here is a bunch for me that really shook me to the core, made me laugh, made me cry or just plain fascinated me in the last little while: