Thursday, December 2, 2010

Step by Step: From the script to the auditions for a Micro-Budget Independent Feature Film

I'm so ridiculously excited to meet the actors coming to our auditions this weekend in Vancouver.  To help other indie-movie-filmmakers  and film-obsessed folks out there, I thought you might like to know more about the process.

1.  Jen, our writer-director and my sister, finished the first draft of the script, which was specifically written for our first film.  We wanted to follow our mentors' advice by filming a 90 minute movie in mostly one location. I say "mostly" because we do have some flashbacks that will show other areas of our city, Victoria BC, and the actors' histories within it, but otherwise the movie will take place entirely in a garage.

The script is by far the most important part in the movie and we're already working with professional readers to edit, advise & improve.  Jen writes in between taking care of her 3 kids (ages 8, 4 and 10 months) and 14 year old dog, Brian.  I'm amazed at how she manages to write anything at all, but this is how she completed her Masters Thesis (while her first baby was sleeping) so it's just her routine.

2.  Before leaving for Austin Film Festival, I met with a Director of Photography in Vancouver with a RED camera.  I saw his reel, had a glass of wine & a quick discussion/get to know you session and said yes right away. He's a really great guy, super quick to respond to my questions (which is really important to me.   I loathe waiting around for people to get back to me and we've hired most of our crew based on how they are as people, not just their talents/skills).

3.  After AFF (I wrote about the AFF experience in previous posts), Jen & I worked out a schedule based on our own limitations - our mother is coming to town for 2 weeks over Christmas so we had to decide to either get started before Christmas or start afterwards, which would put us back into January.  I'm on the road for most of January with my day-job, so the idea of pushing back our auditions until February wasn't really sitting well with either of us.   One thing Jen and I are particularly good as is just "getting it done!" so we opted for an earlier start.  Which meant that we scheduled our teaser/trailer shoot for Dec. 11th (3 days before mom's arrival), and auditions one week before - Dec 4th & 5th in Vancouver.   

We're shooting the feature film in April over 2 weeks, but we wanted to shoot a teaser/trailer first in order to get the experience we need, work with our cast/crew and see how we all get along, and also have something to show investors.  Since we're new, we know how important it is that we prove we're not morons - hence, a cool teaser/trailer that will hopefully be well received.

4.  We announced the Casting Call, including brief character breakdowns & a logline on various actor sites including: 
  • (both our ads were flagged & removed from Craigslist, which was weird but I hear from actors that ads looking for 18-20 year old actors are often fake and/or porn shoots - definitely not us!)
  • on twitter & facebook - which lead to Cinevic, Victoria Film Commission, CCPA (Canadian College of Performing Arts) and Victoria Film School all forwarding the Casting call to their contacts.  Very cool.
  • Jen contacted an actor she knew from her Praxis Screenwriting win last year, and asked his advice on securing a location to hold auditions in Vancouver.  This lead to his amazing advice & support, which brought us even more actors from his own coaching in Vancouver.  
  • Another actor that knows Jen from her Praxis win contacted her to ask about Casting Director opportunities which then lead to us hiring her.  She then spread the word with her own contacts in Vancouver, bringing us even more talented, experienced actors.
5.  With our Casting Director chosen, Jen & I could relax a bit and let Kristina take the reigns in who to short list for the auditions.  We're casting 6 lead characters: 3 girls & 3 guys.  Kristina's an experienced actor and wants to build her own Casting Director experience so she's at a perfect time in her life to work on a micro-budget with us, plus we just all get along so well.  We're paying her so little and yet she's already worked her butt off this past week!

6.  I contacted a couple of editors that I know and discussed the teaser/trailer that we're shooting, and whether they could help us out.  I met one of the editors at AFF, over wine (I sense a pattern here...), and we really hit if off so when I asked him about the teaser/trailer idea and if he's musically inclined and able to edit it over the Christmas holidays, he agreed.  He's planning to get the teaser/trailer "in the can" by Christmas - woohoo! Love that speed!  We are paying him but very little, and if it goes well then we'll hire him on for the feature film edit as well.

7.  I searched for audition spaces in Vancouver and finally had the brilliant idea to check my aeroplan points to see if I could book us a hotel on points.  A couple of phone calls later, I booked Jen & I a night at the Westin Grand in Vancouver on my points & managed to talk the meeting-rooms coordinator into letting us use a tiny board room for only $100 a day for our waiting room.  Phew!  Other places in Vancouver were as much as $2000/day for micro-budgets (what kind of micro are they talking about, eh?) so the savings for the auditions was a big deal to us.  Plus, we have to get from Victoria to Vancouver by ferry and buy food for our fabulous Casting Director and volunteer actor-reader.  

8.  Jen & Kristina got 250 actors down to 45 we would audition.  Jen worked on the "sides", which are the scenes that the actors audition with, and Kristina edited them to make for better opportunities for the actors to really show their stuff.  I love the way that Kristina literally edited the sides with a Sharpie marker and scanned them back to us, making the sides look kind of bad-ass old school.  

9.  In the meantime, Yukari, our script supervisor/line producer and I met to go over the audition schedules. She's a great organizer, and while she typed into the excel spreadsheet all the possible times for each actor's audition, I baked cookies for her time.  I make a mean oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.

10.  Jen emailed all the selected actors on Wednesday night and has been slotting them into their 8 minute time slots every time they write back to say "yes."   She loves getting emails from really excited actors, who says things like, "You bet!" and "WAHOO! I'll be there!" and "I love the concept, can't wait to audition for the role."  Very cool actors.

11.  Today we received an email from a photographer who wants to volunteer to shoot our stills during our teaser/trailer with a view to being hired on in April when we shoot the actual movie.  We've also received emails from make-up artists and hair stylists.  I heard that this would happen once we announced auditions, but I was still surprised to see how many people want to work for free just to gain experience & the movie credits. 

We're off to Vancouver on Saturday morning to start the auditions at 11am.  We would have started earlier in the day, but with the ferry schedule we won't make it to the hotel before 10:30am.  Ah, life on an island eh?

Watch this space for updates on how the auditions go & what happens next in shooting our teaser/trailer.  Please leave me a comment below or ask any questions you like. Thanks!

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