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This Month at the Midwest Indy: "Casting About"

By Chris Karr in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 30, 2006 8:35PM

After a two month hiatus following the awards show, The Midwest Independent Film Festival is back.

On February 7, the festival will host the Chicago premiere of Casting About, a film documenting the casting process of selecting from a pool of aspiring actress auditioning for The Part. It's a meta-movie if we've ever seen such a beast.

After looking at an IMDB cast list longer than anything we've ever seen, we fired off a few questions to the filmmakers:

Chicagoist: Were the sessions recorded for "Casting About" typical of the casting process?

Lewis D. Wheeler, Producer: For our casting process, all of the casting sessions were recorded in the same way, as you see in the film.

In general, in terms of casting, our sessions were slightly different from the usual 'casting session.'

Most auditions are videotaped, so that the actors' work can be reviewed later - or shown to other people who are making casting decisions. Usually this is done with a stationary, small camera, and rudimentary sound. However, for our casting, since we knew we were possibly going to be using this footage in a film, we recorded the auditions on higher quality DVCAM (16:9), had a skilled documentary cinematographer behind the camera, and used high quality mics for good sound quality. Also, the usual audition camera is fairly static - maybe a zoom at most. We gave Allie Humenuk behind the camera free reign - sometimes she was on the tripod, other times handheld, and she really made the most of the visual possibilities in the fairly generic, confined space of a casting office.

(More after the jump.)

We also differed from most auditions in that we really spent time with the actresses, interviewing them. Some auditions are like that - or perhaps some 'callbacks' where they really want to get a sense of the person, so they spend an extended period of time with them. But the usual process in a wide casting call is very quick, sometimes with little or no 'chat' between filmmaker and actor - just a quick hello and they do their scene. It's a fairly cold, impersonal experience. We tried to engage the actresses, much more like a callback, to get a sense of their personalities and who they are, apart from their performance. We did this because again we knew we might be using this footage in a film - but also because you can learn a lot about an actor's potential from just talking to them - before they speak one word of their scene - about who they really are.

Also - it is fairly common to audition in LA and NY for a film project - scouring for the best actors. We never made it to NY, but we also auditioned in Boston (where we are based), Chicago (where we knew there were many talented actors and a strong theatre scene), Berlin (since one of the main roles is for a German woman), and London (again, with a very strong pool of actors - and on the way to Berlin!).

Chicagoist: How did making this film differ from making the original film, "Moving Still"? Is the process completely different, or is it similar in most significant respects?

Lewis D. Wheeler: This is a complicated answer, so I'll try to make it clear! The original film, MOVING STILL, is a fiction story about a photographer returning to NYC after a hellish experience as a combat photographer in WWII. He returns to his life in NY and has to re-connect with his artistic life now that the war is over - and also confront his demons from his horrific experience overseas. He hires an assistant - and searches for a model to photograph.

Within this story, we wanted to include footage from our casting sessions - which would be used in a creative, experimental way - as the dream imagery of our photographer character, searching for his model - or possibly as scenes that could be later re-shot, that would parallel the photographer's search for his model. This idea to include casting footage in a film was a notion that Barry first had when he was at film school, 20 years ago, when he was fascinated by the casting process - and thought the whole casting experience would make for an amazing film.

So we began casting for the women's roles in the film (for the lead, the photographer, we planned to have a more established, 'known' actor - at the level where you do not audition, you just 'interview' them - we in fact did have a couple 'interviews' in LA with men for this leading role). As we auditioned the women, we kept working on the script. We tried to incorporate the footage we were getting - we had an editor (Marc Grossman) who was starting to cut the casting footage together, to see what could be made of it, how it could fit into our fiction script. But gradually it became clear that this idea wasn't really going to work - the fiction story was dark and mysterious (I boldly like to call it PERSONA (Bergman) meets BLOW-UP (Antonioni), with a Kieslowski-like feel to it) - and the casting footage just didn't fit within the world of this story.

So we came up with the idea of creating a separate film out of the casting footage - we had all this great footage, and some of it was already being edited together. So MOVING STILL the fiction script went onto the shelf, and CASTING ABOUT was born (the original title was actually VERIDICAL DREAMS - no, not vertical!).

So CASTING ABOUT became the lyrical documentary that it is, consisting entirely of footage from the casting sessions for MOVING STILL.

Chicagoist: From your perspective behind the camera, will the audience see more of the actresses being themselves, actresses playing the roles of the characters they are auditioning for, or the actresses playing the role of a talented actress seeking work?

Lewis D. Wheeler: A good question. I think this varies with each actress - and is part of the fun of the film. Audiences who have seen the film at festivals have commented on this - they love watching how the actresses present themselves in any given scene or interview moment: are they being themselves? Or are they trying to get the job?

Of course, they are ALL looking for the job - they all want the role badly. But they can't let that be their focus. In many ways it's like any job interview - you want the job, but you can't seem desperate or too nervous - you just have to be yourself and trust that they will see you for you are, and want you for who you are.

Sometimes you can see - or sense - an actress altering how they present themselves to be closer to the character - for instance, the bubbly, vivacious model - or the quiet, shy, introspective German nun. But I think for the most part, watching the film, the audience will see the actresses being themselves. This is partly because no matter how hard you try, you can never get away from who you are - and the camera picks up every little detail and gesture so acutely. And also because the best actors use themselves, their own inner qualities, for the role they are playing. It's more about using themselves than it is about trying to become something else, something foreign.

Chicagoist: What prompted you to bring this film to Chicago?

Lewis D. Wheeler: We were excited about showing the film in Chicago since we held auditions there - and since there are 39 actresses we auditioned in Chicago who are included in the final film. It will be nice for the actresses, their agents, and our casting directors (TPR Casting) to have a chance to see the film screened. I think it's also a good film to screen in Chicago since there is this vibrant acting and theatre community - there are lots of people who might be interested in seeing the casting process explored as we do in CASTING ABOUT. And we're very fortunate to have a great venue like the Midwest Independent Film Festival hosting us for our Chicago premiere.

Chicagoist: What's the next step for a film like this? Are you seeking distributors for a wider theatrical release, a DVD release, or something else?

Lewis D. Wheeler: Distribution is such a huge hurdle for any film - it's tough because getting your film made is hard enough to begin with - and once it's finished, you start a whole new marathon of trying to get your film out to the world. We've been lucky to go to about 18 film festivals, from Australia to Ireland to throughout the US - while we've also been looking for a distributor to release the film. We have no deals in place yet. Ideally, this would be a small 'art-house' release in 5 to 10 cities, and following that a broadcast cable deal and also a DVD release. That's the ideal plan. We are also looking for foreign broadcast deals.

Chicagoist: What's been the fate of "Moving Still"?

After lying fallow for a couple years while we finished CASTING ABOUT, MOVING STILL is back off the shelf! Barry has been working on the project with a new writer over the past few months. So that film might still see the light of day - someday!


For more information about the Chicago premiere, check out the details at MWFF site.