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Creating The Third Age: Casting

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Last time, I discussed the process that led me to begin The Third Age project. By October, we had a couple of episodes scripted, the whole story mapped out, but no one to play the roles. It was time to cast.

Casting in the pre-Internet days for a project like this would have been a major issue; you could either take out an ad in a trade magazine, or just use your friends. A word of advice — don’t use your friends for major roles unless they’re actually actors. Even if they’re “just like” the character, it’s hard to bring that energy on camera.

Luckily, the whole casting process has changed with the Internet. I was working on a shoot a few years ago and one of the actors told me about the site New York Castings. It’s a free site, where you can post ads for actors. I posted an ad for my film, The Perfect Dose, and was shocked when I got a deluge of responses. Considering this was a no-pay thing, I was hoping just to get enough people to fill out the cast, but I got over one hundred responses.

I did the same for this project, and got a similarly huge number of responses. From here, my co-director Jordan and I combed through the listings to figure out who we wanted to have audition. I’m not proud to say that this selection is based primarily on looks. As an actor, your head shot is gold; that’s changing a bit with online reels, but a good headshot gets you in the door. I’ve had a bunch of cases where someone comes in and looks nothing like the headshot. Maybe that’s disingenuous, but the goal is to get in the door; your talent will get you cast, your headshot will get you to the people you need to see.

We sent out e-mails to about fifty people, and saw about thirty people on a Saturday afternoon. My friend Alex, an actor, came in to read opposite the actors. Previously, either Jordan or I had read opposite the actor, and that doesn’t work so well. You become more focused on your own performance than observing the actor. But, having the same consistent read for everyone gives you an idea of what they can do. Alex is in the film as well, playing Mark, so it was a nice chance to see what he could do.

It was pretty crazy to have all these people show up to read for our film, to hear the words I’d written spoken by so many people. I love to talk with the actors after, get an idea about the person as well as the performance. We’re going to be spending a lot of time with these people, so it’s good to be compatible with them. But, just because you like the person doesn’t mean they should get the role. There was one guy, he had an amazing head shot and was practically cast before he came in the door. We talked for five minutes before the audition, about Deadwood, about his headshot, all kinds of stuff. I loved the guy, but then he read and just didn’t do it at all. So, we couldn’t cast him.

Most of the people were good, not great. It’s definitely tough to read for an audition, I’m sure there’s some great actors who don’t do cold reads well, but seeing so many people reading the parts make you notice more when someone jumps out. All the people we cast, with one exception, were easy, no-question choices. And, they’ve all been working out really well so far, which is lucky. On the aforementioned Perfect Dose, there was the combination of actors who weren’t quite on the wavelength we needed and some poor direction/writing from myself hurting the film. It was pretty intimidating to work with pro actors for the first time, but now I’m much more on top of it and did a better job of picking the right people.

Here’s who we chose for the various roles.

Chris Zinone is the closest thing the story has to a main character, a ‘white collar’ drug dealer who’s none too happy with the direction of his life. In the writing, we called him the ‘Han Solo’ character, and in casting, we wanted someone who could match that sort of energy.

We ended up casting Brian Townes, who nailed the audition and had a lot of smooth charm that matched the character. As shooting has gone on, the character’s changed a bit. Originally, he was going to be a low level chaos magician, but we dropped that part of the character.

Morning is a damaged woman with great power. She’s an otherworldly character, and that proved a challenge for many of the people auditioning. We got a lot of robotic delivery, and a few William Shatners when people read for her. Admittedly, it was really tough to make right, and I was starting to get a bit down on the script. Then, Misti Garritano walked in and totally killed it; she made me believe the character, and that’s essential for a sci-fi piece like this. If we hadn’t found her, I don’t know if the piece would hang together like it’s been doing.

Jerrod is the head of Wolf Pharmecutical, the research organization that’s also involved in some decidedly otherworldly things. For this role, we got a wide variety of reads. There were some really intense people, some very laid back. The scene he was reading was an interview, and one guy – who we dubbed “crazy guy” – was barely reading the lines, he was just grilling the interviewee like a mad man. I’m hoping to get him in there at some point, but he was not cast. Another guy read the role in what was pretty much a Jack Nicholson impression; he didn’t get it either. We went with Ted Spencer, who brought a mix of sinister and fatherly charm to the character.

The final character we cast that day was Sophie, the interviewee in the aforementioned scene. We came up with a monologue for this audition, and it seemed to be the piece that the actors most took to. I think it’s tough sometimes to relate to genre material, particularly when you’re sitting in an office, far away from the context of the film. So, we had a lot of great reads on this, in a variety of styles. A lot of the people felt a bit too actor-y; it was more a performance of the lines than in an immersion in the character. But Dina Cataldi did a great job and scored the role.

One of the things I really like about doing the webseries, as opposed to a single film, is the ability to tailor the character to the actor in the writing. I know what these people bring to their characters, and a lot of the time on set, they’ll talk about motivations that fit perfectly, but I wasn’t even considering. It’s more of a split custody thing than a simple ownership by the writer. I like that, I like letting actors do their own thing with a role because it makes them feel more like individuals, not products of the same mind.

The tough thing about auditions is we saw a lot of great people who didn’t do anything wrong, who would be good at the role, but wouldn’t be the best. I’m more used to being on the other side of the desk, interviewing for something and not getting it. And, I probably didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just when there’s thirty people reading for four roles, you’ve got to be better than good, you have to be the best.

It always makes me feel like a real director when I do the casting. It’s tough in the indie world to keep going, uncertain of whether anyone will ever see this film that you’re sinking so much time into. But, the fact that so many people came out to audition for the project is vindication.

Next time, I’ll discuss the first few days of filming, some lessons learned and some strange things that happened. In the meantime, check out this second trailer for the series, this time, focusing on Morning.

Visit the official Third Age website.

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