Tag Archive | "Casting"

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Blog: An actor writes – How to make better films (and make actors happy too)

Posted on 08 April 2014 by Briony Rawle


Dear film folk,

I’ve never studied filmmaking. I barely know which end of a camera to do a selfie into. But being an actor who is in need of footage for a showreel, I read a lot of casting breakdowns online for short films, so I get a fairly good picture of the kinds of films that students and new directors are making at the moment – and a lot of it makes for a pretty depressing imaginary mid-film montage. If I were making it, I’d put the Benny Hill music over it. Or the Funeral March.

Of course, many students and filmmakers are doing brilliant, innovative and interesting work. But it seems to me that for every ingenious gem there’s a real clanger that lets the good ones down and gives short-filmmaking a bad rep. A lot of the time it’s not even down to incompetence or ignorance, it’s just things that people don’t think to consider when they’re not on the business end of the camera, so to speak, as we actors are. So here are a few ways in which you can make sure you write great films that don’t make actors want to tear, maim and damage things, and also help create a richer film industry that’s not saturated with damaging stereotypes and lazy clichés.

First, we need to talk about women. If I were a Martian whose sole means of understanding the human race was the ‘Opportunities’ section on Casting Call Pro (now THERE’S a great film idea), I would assume that women are a different race from men, that they don’t really matter, and that they are mostly either strippers, prostitutes, nymphomaniacs, girlfriends, broken-hearted victims, mothers or receptionists. They also only exist in relation to men.

Take a look at the last script you wrote, or film you directed. Do the women in it exist *fully* when the man isn’t in the picture? Are they just there to tell his story? Does it pass the Bechdel Test (two named female characters, who have a conversation at one point, that isn’t about a man)? I guarantee you that writing/directing properly rounded, complex, flawed female characters who aren’t entirely defined simply through love, sex or relationships, will immediately improve the quality of your films by a factor of Judi Dench.

In fact, why not consider writing a genderless script? That way, you avoid the unconscious draw of the gender clichés and focus instead on who that character really is. Then haul in a load of male and female actors for audition and just choose the one who fits the part best. Bosh.

Now let’s get into the nitty gritty.

1. Sex scenes. Your film is seven minutes long. Is it absolutely imperative to the story that one of those seven minutes is spent leering over two actors who met each other that morning, awkwardly pretending to bang with their pants on under the duvet? See also: nudity. There aren’t many actresses who want footage of their own boobs for their showreels, and your ‘tasteful and artistic’ might be someone else’s ‘plain nasty’.

2. Consider carefully before stipulating about the looks of your characters in the casting brief. Just because Jessica is thin and blonde in your head, and Michael is tall and willowy with round glasses and a rakish grin, do you really want to completely eliminate a brunette actress or a bulky actor who might totally own the role of Jessica or Michael if given the chance? Is Jessica’s hair colour imperative to the story? Does Michael need to be tall and willowy in order to fit through a small gap and then reach a high shelf in the closing scene? Do they need to be attractive? Do they need to be white? Don’t limit your film by limiting the types of actors who can apply. And while we’re on the subject, there are so many briefs I come across where the female character must be slim/attractive/curvaceous/sexy/young/ pretty/size 8-10/skinny/gorgeous/cute/good hair/good figure/great smile/pixie-like features/a sad, faraway look in her eyes, and yet no demands are made about the physical appearance of the dude character at all. Don’t be that guy.

3. If you are using professional actors, you should pay them wherever possible. You are paying for their time, their skills and their training, and if you want respect as a filmmaker, you should respect your actors equally. There are many ways to raise funds for films, so find a way. Student filmmakers will, however, still find professional, fully trained actors who will do films for nothing as long as their expenses are covered, if it promises good material for a showreel. Covering expenses is considered the bare minimum, so it’s as simple as don’t make a film until you can do this at the very least.

4. Wherever possible, avoid writing extras or incidental, one-line roles into your film if you can’t pay your actors. You will get very few applications, and the actor who is eventually cast as ‘Man In Cafe’ or ‘Passerby With Hat’ won’t get anything useful for their showreel, which is the only reason they’re doing the film for no pay. Not even an unemployed actor has time for that.

5. Finally, for the love of Hitchcock, check your spelling on the casting brief. No actor fancies putting their celluloid image in the hands of a filmmaker who has managed to misspell the name of the actual film (yes I’ve seen it, so many more times that you’d even believe). Make sure you know your your from your you’re and have someone check it over before it goes out.

You are the future of the film industry, so, on behalf of all actors (and people who watch films), please stop and think before you write that next script. If it’s a no-pay film project about a man with a drug-addled, heart-broken, rape victim stripper girlfriend, who MUST have a shaved head, one leg and a sad, faraway look in her eyes, featuring an army of extras and five and a half minutes of shagging, go back and read this article again. And then maybe consider writing that one about the Martian instead.

Essential further reading for filmmakers: Casting Call Woe, or ‘how definitely not to write a film, ever’. 

Photo by Flickr user Max Chang under a Creative Commons licence.

Briony Rawle

Briony Rawle

Briony studied English Literature at Warwick University, then an MA in acting at Drama Centre London. She is an actor currently living just outside London, and is a founding member of Threepenny Theatre.

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Blog: Young directors – Casting a play

Posted on 03 February 2014 by Young Directors

Starting out as a director you probably dream about the perfect production, with a dream budget, West End actors who will take your direction as if being in the room with a guru and a residency at The National after opening night. In reality, panic starts to emerge as you realise how unsteady the ground really is, and that you have to take the leap and jump into a pair of shoes that seem way too big for you at this point.

What if you did something wrong in rehearsals and the actors decided never to work with you again? Being a young director you soon realise that actors actually audition you as much as you do them, so it’s really important to recognise early on that it’s a two-way street and that you have to be as professional and nice as you can.

Stonecrabs’ Young Directors have just cast their plays, and it’s been a fantastic experience but also slightly frightening planning the whole thing. The relationship with my computer has certainly reached a whole new level as I’ve spent most waking hours glued to the screen, gawking at how many talented and dedicated actors are out there, but also panicking about how to be fair with all of them and selecting those who will best serve the play and my vision as a director.

There have been many realisations along the way. Having to plan everything ourselves we’ve had to be extremely organised from the get-go. My advert was published on Spotlight and other websites, and I was overwhelmed by the number of applications which sent my email into a nervous breakdown. Which made me realise how important it is to have a casting director, and that if I can’t afford one, then I need to be very clear with my vision and which actors will help me get my play off the ground. Trying to get some sort of sense of what you are looking for is hard when you suddenly have access to thousands of amazing CVs, and you quickly realise you have to be specific but also flexible, know what you are looking for but be open to surprises. I had a very clear image in my mind of one of the characters, but when someone completely different applied it showed me a different perspective and then things suddenly fell into place.

I also realised I shouldn’t be scared of picking up the phone. My first call to an agent I sounded like a frightened squirrel, but the agents are lovely and keen for their artists to be seen, so just be friendly, professional and try not to linger on the phone too long – send a follow-up email and hopefully you would have made enough sense to get the actor to the audition.

Juggling a casting schedule around on my own seemed more daunting than filing my self-assessment, but people are busy and things come up, so even though it’s annoying when you suddenly have to change the time or date, they will really thank you for it if there’s a way to accommodate them. And I personally couldn’t help feeling slightly proud of myself making the whole puzzle come together after sweating for hours at my desk.

When all the computer work was done, we had to plan our auditions. And plan them well. We had to know what we wanted to see from the actors. Finding the best way of auditioning the actors with a very limited audition time seemed very confusing, but it’s amazing how things suddenly fall into place and then you are there, at the audition, seeing the characters come to life.

For me, sending the script at least a couple of days before so the actors had time to read the play turned out to be really valuable, as it gave them good time to prepare the scene and character. You feel so grateful when they’ve travelled to meet you and turn up extremely prepared, showing passion for your play and an interest in working with you.

In my auditions we started off with a chat. I think I was more nervous than the actors, but trying to make everyone feel at ease and just chatting about the play really calms the nerves. And as they will also judge whether or not they want to work with you, you have to make it as fun and pleasant as possible. Asking them what they thought of the play and character really opened up the wonderful world of the play, and when we then worked on the scene I had relaxed and felt I was there with them, exploring something special. After all, creating the world of the play with actors is what’s amazing about directing.

There are many different ways of casting – it really is about who you are as a director, what you want from the actors and how you want to work. All of us on the programme work in very different ways, so all I can say is try to be yourself at the audition. Casting is after all such an important process for actors and directors – it’s when we make new work relationships, some of which may last a lifetime. After this everything will hopefully fall into place.

Camilla Gurtler

Young Directors

Young Directors

StoneCrabs Theatre’s Young Directors’ Programme is a platform for young directors, centred around production, project management and theatre directing. The programme culminates in February 2014 when the young directors will put on the Play-ground Festival at the Albany. The 2013-14 Young Directors are: Eleanor Chadwick, Hattie Coupe, Emma Dennis-Edwards, Jude Evans, Camilla Gurtler, Lynette Linton, Antony Nyagah, Mariana Pereira and Katharina Reinthaller.

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Feature: Cuckoo at the Unicorn Theatre

Posted on 13 January 2014 by Laura Turner

suhalya el-bushraOpening this week at the Unicorn Theatre is a new play by Hollyoaks writer Suhayla El-Bushra, whose play Pigeons recently ran at the Royal Court Theatre. Cuckoo is, in her own words, “a play about an unlikely friendship between two teenage girls, Jenny and Nadine, and how this friendship is tested when Jenny becomes jealous of the relationship that develops between Nadine and Jenny’s mum, Erica. Although it’s about teenagers it also raises questions about parenting – how responsible should we be for children whose own parents have failed or are unable look after them?”

What inspired you to write this piece?

I was working in a Pupil Referral Unit with teenage girls who had been excluded from mainstream education. I had worked there for some time, mainly with boys, but I had come back from maternity leave and there were suddenly a lot more girls attending. I was intrigued by the way their behaviour was different from the boys. They were much more charming and sweet – but then would go out and get arrested for beating people up after school. I wanted to explore what it was that made girls go out and commit acts of violence; young women aren’t ‘supposed’ or expected to be aggressive, so I was interested in female anger – where it comes from and what happens when it’s suppressed. I had also recently become a mother, so I think I was subconsciously looking at that through Erica’s character – at the devotion and sacrifice involved in having a child, but also the resentment that can stem from that.

There must have been challenges in writing that story. 

I hadn’t written a play before – I’d only written feature film scripts – so I was getting my head around writing for a different medium. The first draft had loads of scenes, several locations and a cast of about 20, but it was also structured like a screenplay. It took me a while to work out what would and wouldn’t work on stage, but luckily I had the chance to work with some actors and a director on the characters and the story quite early on in the process, so I learnt a huge amount doing that.

I started Cuckoo a long time ago and kept coming back to it at various stages, with long gaps in between. I spent time developing it in Brighton, but after I’d written the second draft I had the chance to work on it some more with Nathan Curry (who’s directing it now) for a couple of days at the National Theatre Studio with some professional actors. So that really moved it on as well. And it’s great that Nathan has been on board since then, partly because he’s a brilliant director, but it also meant that when we started rehearsals I knew he already had a very strong understanding of what the play was about.

Having written for TV shows such as Hollyoaks, just how different is writing for the stage?

In terms of form, that’s a tough one to answer, because for every rule you can find about the difference between writing for stage and screen, you can also find an example that breaks that rule. For me, the main difference is about the process. There are usually a lot fewer people involved in putting on a play than there is in creating a TV series or a feature film, so it tends to be you, a director and some actors in a rehearsal room trying things out. It’s a very immediate and direct way of working. In TV you might work on a script with script editors and producers without meeting the actors and director, so you do miss out on that part of the process and you can feel a bit detached from the end product when you finally see it.

How do you balance the young girls’ stories with the role of the mother in the play?

I think it’s definitely more the girls’ story, although Erica is so important in terms of driving the plot. It’s her behaviour that influences the girls’ actions, but the focus is more on the effect that has on the girls than on her. There’s a slight imbalance in that there’s less explanation for Erica’s behaviour: it’s very clear what’s motivating the girls, whereas the actress playing Erica has to do a lot more digging, but it is in there.

What do you draw on as a writer?

Anything and everything. Books, articles, things I overhear on the bus. I think you can’t help but put some of your own personal experience into whatever you write though, even if you try really hard to avoid it.

Why is the Unicorn the right home for this play?

I think the fact that, as well as staging work for young audiences, they’re also keen to put on plays that explore our relationship with young people, as Cuckoo does, makes it the right home. I’m very proud that it’s being staged at The Unicorn as I’ve seen some brilliant work there recently.

I’ve been involved with both [rehearsals and casting]. I think it’s vital for writers to sit in on rehearsals and understand that process. I don’t ever feel like I have a huge amount to offer by that stage of the proceedings, but it’s interesting to see how it takes shape. I think you learn a lot and that it definitely informs the next thing you write.

Cuckoo plays at the Unicorn Theatre from 14 to 25 January. For tickets and more information, visit the Unicorn Theatre website.

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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Blog: An actor writes – Happy January

Posted on 07 January 2014 by Briony Rawle


Actors are very backward things in many ways. Not only do they spend their lives pretending to be people they aren’t in front of an audience of people who know full well that they aren’t, but will applaud louder the better at lying the actor is – they also, if they’re anything like me, LOVE Mondays.

This is the real reason why no-one trusts an actor. How can a person be so disgustingly perverse and still expect to be treated normally by the rest of society? If anyone ever needed proof that actors are dangerous, irrational deviants (does anyone?), this is it. It flies in the face of all that is sacred to the modern age. It won’t be long before the Daily Mail gets wind of it and starts a witch hunt. Especially seeing as I’m told its editors are avid fans of this blog.

If I may tentatively raise my voice above the growing clang of pitchforks, I’d like to explain. You could take this time to spell-check your home-made banners if you’d rather not listen (‘freaks’ has an ‘A’ in it). We love Mondays because we hate weekends. Wait, OK I know that’s worse, just hear me out!

The only reason why we stay in this godawful industry is because we are hooked on the unpredictability of success. Whereas in a normal job, you can usually expect to do well if you work efficiently and manage not to set fire to the photocopier, such predictable career progression is denied to actors. For us, success dangles, totally out of reach but in full view, from a high branch that occasionally bends low enough to grab onto whenever there happens to be a strong breeze. It’s painful, exciting and addictive.

Thus, actors despise weekends because it means guaranteed radio silence. No surprise phonecalls from the director of that fringe show you auditioned for months ago and deliberately erased from your memory because you forgot the word ‘characterisation’ in the interview and had to say “characterful…ness” instead. No emails out of the blue from casting directors, no letters from agents, not even a Snapchat selfie from your headshot photographer. Of course, radio silence is what we get all week too most of the time, but weekends are the only time when we know the wind won’t blow, and it is an absolute crushing certainty that the dangling branch will evade our grasp for two whole days.

Now, imagine that once a year, the weekend lasts for a month. You may remember me whinging about December being the theatre industry’s nap time, when it’s so exhausted by 11 months of mwah-mwahing that all it can muster for a month is panto. Well, imagine the extra joy heaped onto the New Year’s Eve countdown for every actor as they tick away the bleak midwinter of December and watch the beautiful Monday-flavoured dawn of January rise over the horizon. The wind picks up and the branch begins to sway again. We emerge from our darkened bedrooms, wearing the disintegrated rags of our old costumes now withered with age. Our makeup-caked faces crack into a weak, wet smile as we tear open an envelope and pull out our shining 2014 Equity diary, smelling new hope on every page. We may be denied the gratifying pleasure of weekends that other people enjoy, but when being an actor means being able to find joy in the cold, bleak, fat, poor, post-Christmas, ages-til-spring month of January, I wouldn’t change it in a month of Sundays.

Photo by Flickr user Dan Moyle under a Creative Commons licence.

Briony Rawle

Briony Rawle

Briony studied English Literature at Warwick University, then an MA in acting at Drama Centre London. She is an actor currently living just outside London, and is a founding member of Threepenny Theatre.

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