After my 360MC CW2 presentation had been handed in, I was quick to send out the casting calls within the week. I’ve done this before, most notably in ‘The Job Interview’ – my short film from my second year at university. I wanted an attractive young female for the fallen angel, and a depressed – but handsome – young man for the undergraduate. The casting calls went out primarily on Mandy.com (which I’ve used before) and StarNow (recommended by a friend). The call was live for two weeks:
Male, aged 18 – 25 years
Peter Hopsworth is a final year university student who is suffering from the academic pressure that graduation brings. He has been unlucky in love, his parents are bickering over money, and the recession is crushing his hopes and dreams. His middle-class background makes overall a rather unremarkable character, and his casual dress wear emphasizes this.
Female, aged 18-25 years
Amy Carter died at the age of nineteen at the hands of a serial killer. Although she lived an innocent and virgin life, the way she departed to the afterlife stained her mind in Heaven, making her lustful and primal in a place where sin was unforgivable. Cast down back to Earth as a fallen angel, she now wanders a forest alone, looking for one chance to prove that her spirit really does belong in the light rather than in darkness.
Much like last time, I was inundated with applicants after the opening twenty four hours. I was surprised to see several familiar applicants from last year’s recruitment as well – including an actress from Poland! The pay was the same as last year – £6 an hour. I tried to check whether this was still the ‘student film’ equity rate, but the Equity site didn’t explain this area of the industry any more. I stuck to £6 an hour, as this sounded okay to me (leap of faith moment, though I figured if any actor wanted to be paid more, they’d simply speak up – money speaks many languages!).
After the calls went live, there was two weeks of sifting through the various applicants from all over England. I vowed – just as last time – to get every single applicant responded to by myself personally, and every application I got was met by either:
Hi (insert name here)
Thank you for showing an interest in ‘Peter Has An Angel’. We viewed your resume, and after some debate, we decided that unfortunately you’re not quite what we’re looking for to play this role. We’d like to keep your contact details, as there is a high probability that we will be making other films in the future that may be more suitable.
All the best
Hi (insert name here)
We’ve looked through your resume and we’re delighted to offer you a chance to audition for ‘Peter Has An Angel’ on 6th February in Coventry. It is important to note that the days for filming will be March 17th and March 18th (the following weekend to posted) as there was some confusion with equipment bookings.
This will be a short student film based on a chance encounter between a depressed student and a supernatural entity. It is to be screened at the Coventry Degree Show in May, and has a chance to win a place in the top six Coventry University films to be screened at BAFTA HQ on June 7th (which you will be invited to if we are successful!) We will be shooting on Canon 5D Mk2 cameras.
The wages, in accordance with the Equity guidelines, will be £6 an hour. Travel expenses will also be paid for, but only after you have successfully been cast in the role. The shoot will be nine hours minimum, and if the shoot goes into the following day, overnight accommodation expenses will also be paid for.
Let us know if you are interested in the audition, it will take place on Monday 6th February in a TV studio inside Coventry University, between 10:00am and 12:00pm. I can meet you in the reception area of the Ellen Terry campus, or if you’re unfamiliar with Coventry, other meeting arrangements can be made. The audition will involve going through a short extract of the script, which will be posted electronically to you upon confirmation of audition.
We look forward to hearing from you soon!
I was harsh to start with, but once I realised the choice was opening up, I had to get through applicants more quickly, so I started viewing resumes and showreels faster, and becoming less strict on entry requirements. One actress had starred in a vampire-based web mini series and had a passion for gothic media. One actress had entered the finals of the World Wide Top Model Search, and was willing to travel from Manchester to audition.
There was also some local talent from Coventry on the cards too – A-Level students answered the application, though only one got called to audition. For the auditions, I did what I did last time – booked the TV studio out in my university campus, and told actors I’d meet them in reception. Each audition lasted ten to fifteen minutes, and took the format not dissimilar from a job interview (as indeed it is).
My DoP was slightly critical of this approach – she warned me that it was better to conduct workshops to see how actors interacted with each other. This would have taken more time, but may have given better results. Truth be told, I believe that my films are based on fantasy (this one certainly is), and thus all an actor need show me is an ability to fulfill a fictitious role to the best of their ability. How they work with others is inconsequential – how their character acts with others is more important; but workshops or none, you would likely only find this out on the day of shoot regardless (when scripts have been rehearsed and the actors are dressed and on-location). Due to other commitments, my DoP missed the auditions, but my friend Abu (who had helped with my previous film) was on-hand to help. He had conducted many interviews as his job before university, and had an ability to accurately assess people’s ability to fulfill the roles they were applying for. I valued his advice before, so I asked him to help me on this project also.
It is important to note that my previous film suffered from lack of theatrics, so I was much more open to ‘theatrical’ interpretation this time around, as I was aware this could add to the script rather than detract from it. I was keen to communicate more subtle details later on into the production – for the audition, I just wanted to see how the actors created their own version of the character they were auditioning for.
Sadly, come the day of the auditions, heavy snow hit right across the UK. The men were separated from the boys before the auditions properly began – a female actress from London who’d I’d met a while ago through a friend simply dropped communications. The woman from the mini series couldn’t get out her drive, and also didn’t send a video audition either because she ‘couldn’t operate a camera’ (true story). The woman from Manchester also had a change of heart – in fact, roughly 30% of the called applicants cancelled or simply did not turn up, leading to a rather reduced casting call, from twelve shortlisted applicants to about eight.
True to my predictions, the A-Level student was not confident or developed enough to fill the shoes of this script and acting-dependent film. The auditions for Peter were rather low – aside from the A-Level student, it was a two-horse race between a man named Will and another man named Nick. The latter couldn’t make the audition because London Euston delayed all trains on the day, but showed initiative in handing in five video audition only a few hours later. Nick had a type-cast approach to characterization – that of a weary, depressed, slow and slightly disturbed menace. His version of Peter was quintessentially gothic – he looked like death. Threatening, imposing – he would have added a lot to the role. Will, on the other hand, was very warm, happy and approachable (much more stereotypical of a university undergraduate, but not really depressed enough to accurately portray the role).
Ultimately Will showed more variation in acting style. I believed I had a better chance of making Will act sad than of making Nick act happy. Nick was a genuinely good actor for his psychotic role-playing, but in my film, the angel is the one with the surreal edge to her. If the angel is bitter and twisted, and Peter is depressed and mentally unstable as Nick would portray, the audience would have no one to relate to or care about, and thus the film would not work.
For Amy Carter, the competition was heavy. Every applicant seemed to love the script – it was met with high applause (questionably it was a method of flattering me). One woman was from Birmingham and had a tattoo all down one arm – after getting lost around the university, I called her into the studio, only to find that she was extremely shy. Another applicant arrived late (though to her credit she came from London), and I did an audition without Abu. She was a really sweet person and gave a very solid audition – also parred with an actress who did a simple video audition using her iPhone from her London bed sit.
Another strong applicant got her video in only a few days into the casting call – aged only seventeen, but a solid talent and engagement with the script. I was amazed at how many female actors had managed to understand the role so well. However, there was one that, to me, stood out. She turned up the audition, and despite being shorter than Will (something I would have to work around in the mise-en-scene), managed to bring something new to the role I had not foreseen. Catherine attacked the role with vigor, and turned Amy Carter from the sweet and embittered character I had asked for into a sharp and rather angry character. I liked this rendition a lot.
It took a long while for me to make the decision – I promised all auditionees that the roles would be decided within 24 hours of the auditions (as I hate keeping people waiting). Ultimately I saw Will and Catherine’s renditions working well together – both had friendly personalities in reality, and Will’s warm and gentle ‘Peter Hopsworth’ would be a perfect contrast to Catherine’s sharp and jagged ‘Amy Carter’.
Just like last time, this was the worst part – telling those who had made the effort to travel from afar to the audition (often having paid £10 or £20) that they were not successful in their application:
Hi (name of actor here)
Thank you for auditioning this morning. Unfortunately, after some debate we have decided that your application has been unsuccessful. We would like to keep your resume for reference with future projects that may be more suitable. Thanks again for showing an interest in the project, and we wish you all the best for the future.
To counter this, though, was the happy moment when these two got sent out:
Thank you for auditioning today. After some debate, we have decided that out of the applicants, you are the best candidate to play ‘Peter Hopsworth’ in our film. Congratulations! We really liked the warm feel you brought to the part, and we think it will work in perfect contrast with the cold gothic nature of your counterpart.
There will be two shoots – Saturday March 17th for 9 hours (with breaks), and Sunday March 18th for 1 hour (for the flashback sequence). These hours are variable if we need you for longer (on the Sunday), but the minimum to be paid will be £60 at £6 an hour, plus economy travel expenses.
For this role, casual dress wear will be required – a grey hooded top would be ideal (such as the one you wore to the audition!). Other than that, jeans and trainers are fine (but be aware the Saturday shoot will take place in a forest, so it may get muddy around the feet). The exact location of the forest is Wainbody Wood just outside Coventry City Centre. In case of delayed shooting due to weather, I was wondering if you were free around the days of filming? (In case we postpone the shoot for a sunnier day etc.)
Any questions about the film, do not hesitate to ask. We look forward to working with you on this project!
(this one was what I sent to Will – Catherine’s differed only in that she is not in the flashback, and thus only required on Saturday, and I also needed her sizes for her costume fitting).
I sent out the successful ones first, as if I left these until last, only to find my first choices didn’t want the role anymore, I would have subsequently invalidated the entire two-week casting call. Luckily both first choices were overjoyed, meaning I could get the relevant mail out and respond to every applicant within 24 hours as promised.
As all auditions were recorded on a Canon 5D on the day, you can see first hand the two auditionees back to back below – I am starting to get high hopes for both the script and the acting quality: