Today we have a very exciting guest post from Victoria Negri, a New York and Connecticut based actor and filmmaker, who just recently wrapped principal photography on her first feature, GOLD STAR. I reached out to her to ask about her casting process, because I was thoroughly intrigued to hear how she landed such a great cast.
On Friday October 3rd I wrapped production on my directorial feature debut, Gold Star, which I also wrote, starred in and produced alongside a team of all women producers (Katie Maguire, Effie Fradelos and Ellyn Vander Wyden). Casting for this film was a challenge. I’m incredibly lucky to have worked with a talented team of actors. I’m still pinching myself with how lucky I am. Oscar nominated actor Robert Vaughn played my elderly father, Carmine, and Orange is the New Black’s Catherine Curtin played my mother, Deanne, and Anna Garduno as my half sister Maria. We also discovered some new, younger talent in Jacob Heimer as Chris, especially.
Casting for Gold Star began in early spring. We reached out to casting director Judy Bowman (who I’ve auditioned for and who was recommended over and over again) to bring in actors and make offers. I’ve never worked with a casting director to this extent before, and it was an eye opening experience and well worth it. The process began with Judy reading the script, obviously, and we bounced ideas back and forth about what kind of actors I was looking for, their “type,” everything from age range to facial hair. We knew we wanted to get some name talent on board, if possible, and I hoped the material was strong and interesting enough to draw some curiosity from people. This process was all about being smart, and say, not going after Robert De Niro to play the role of my father.
We had a list of about 20-30 actors for the role of Carmine and Deanne, a few we’d have to make flat offers to and others we could audition. I narrowed down each list to a top five along with Judy and my producers’ input, and we went down the list and made offers. Robert Vaughn immediately caught my eye. I remembered watching him in “The Magnificent Seven” with my father when I was a kid. What was so fascinating and refreshing about working with Judy was that she thought outside of the box for every role. Sometimes, I didn’t immediately understand her suggestions, not only because they weren’t the types I was necessarily looking for in look, but because Gold Star is such an incredibly personal film. Most of the roles are based on real people, especially my parents.
We made Robert Vaughn and offer and ultimately auditioned many actresses to play Deanne, my half sister Maria in the film, and the romantic lead, Chris, who we were seeing non-SAG actors for. This was very strategic on our part. We figured we could get great talent in the role of Chris for non-SAG actors because that was the youngest part in the film, and we did.
After a week of waiting, Robert read the screenplay, loved it, said yes and our conversations about the role and film began. I later asked him what made him say yes and he said something to the effect of, “It’s well written material and a part I’ve never played before.” The role was that of my elderly father, recovering post-stroke and unable to speak other than two lines at the beginning of the film. The performance is entirely physical, and Robert wanted that challenge. Before reaching out to actors I thought it would go either way. Either an actor would jump at the opportunity for such a challenging role, or they’d turn it down because of the lack of dialogue. Ultimately, the former won out, and Robert was our guy. He was lovely to work with.
During the audition process, we auditioned actors for the other roles and it was a blast being behind the table. I learned many things, but the cliché in the biz of it’s out of your control is completely true. Come in prepared. Bring a headshot if you’re told to – I can’t tell you how many people I judged based on lack of preparation. And do something interesting. Interpret. The people that did something different, were off book, and put thought into it were obvious. Feel the room out. It’s out of your control. There were many people who were fantastic, but just weren’t right because of subtle things like age or an inability to shut off a “maternal” quality. That doesn’t mean they weren’t fantastic.
After the auditions, we made a pile on the floor of all the headshots and made a preliminary, quick order of our favorites. Ahem, which is why bringing a headshot was important for our purposes! Over the course of the next week or two, my team and I discussed our options. Ultimately, we chose to go with Catherine Curtin of Orange is the New Black to play my mother, Deanne. While she looks nothing like my mom, she’s a natural on film and brought out the energy that was important to that character. Being an actor myself, I know how frustrating it is to be type cast, so I am proud of our team for thinking outside the box. Just because Cathy doesn’t look exactly like me or my mom doesn’t mean she can’t be my mom. Performance should always come first.
My advice to actors who are looking to make your own projects: hire a casting director if you have the budget, but do it strategically. Focus on which parts will be a challenge to cast and use your colleagues to fill the rest of the roles, if you can. It’s not a lie that name talent will bring attention to your project. It’s worth the investment. Media in Connecticut, where we mostly shot, scrambled to set a few days to capture Robert and Cathy filming on location. If we cast people with no credits in those main roles, we wouldn’t have received as much press. Also, stay open minded and trust your gut. Go into the room knowing what you want and you’ll come out getting that.
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experience, Victoria! To learn more about Victoria’s film, GOLD STAR, check out the film’s website, facebook, and twitter. And thank her for her insight by leaving her a comment below!
Recently, I attended a screening to see if I qualified for paid work doing surveys and group tests. A lot went into these screenings. There were several written tests, computer tests, and a separate test that involved shapes and sounds. It ended with a doctor taking my blood pressure and measurements. When all was said it done (two hours later), I learned that I did not qualify for any of their studies.
I was disappointed, to say the least. I had just wasted my afternoon taking tests only to learn I wasn’t “good enough” for them. As I walked back to the bus, I thought of all the reasons why I probably didn’t fit their qualifications.
And then it hit me: I had no idea what they were looking for.
Here’s what I did know: My diet is great. My workouts are consistent. My self-esteem has never been higher. I share this because all of these facts were related to the tests I took. For all I knew, I was “too good” for their study!
“Tony, I’m so glad you told me all about your day. But what does this have to do with my acting career?”
Is acting just a job?
A couple of years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea that working in theatre was anything less than a lifestyle, pretty much all-consuming, minus a few spare hours here and there for puppy cuddles, survival jobs, and crafting.
And there are some special sacrifices that an acting career asks of us — a flexible schedule, constant hair that matches our very expensive headshots, occasionally working on holidays, nighttime networking events, generally living in one of a couple of expensive cities…the list goes on.
But I recently got back from a killer trip to Peru that really put things in perspective for me.
I’m not generally a “giddy” person, but I found myself so thrilled to be abroad for the first time in five years that we raced around the country for ten days soaking up as much as we could while I grinned from ear-to-ear the whole damn time. Seeing new places in new countries makes me so very happy. And that’s something that I had given up in recent years, always spending extra money on my career and afraid to leave the country (because you know that’s when you’re going to get a call for that big audition!).
But forget that.
One year ago on October 10, 2013, the United Kingdom’s Stage Management Association began spreading the word to all the theatres across the country to show support and thanks to their Stage Managers. Some companies incorporated slips into their programs highlighting their stage management teams. Others invited their stage managers to partake in the curtain call. Cast members chose to follow their stage manager during the preshow prep to get an idea of what they did. The West End musical “Once” even serenaded their team. At the same time, others outside the UK picked up the celebration from Australia to here in the United States. Here’s a look back to how this day was celebrated last year: http://stagemanagementday.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/standby-please/
And here’s a link to another recently posted article from the U.K.: http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2014/10/stage-managers-honoured-part-international-celebrations/?utm_content=buffer8b53e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
So, for the one year anniversary of this special day, take a moment to continue to spread the word – thank your stage manager, assistant stage manager, production assistant, crew person, wardrobe, technician for their support, care, and attentiveness to your production. Treats and hugs and office supply gifts accepted!
Confession time: I graduated from college thinking I knew everything I needed to know about acting. What I didn’t realize was that you’re never done learning. There’s always room for improvement and toning your skills.
The same applies outside of acting. Many people (myself especially) get caught in the lie of “I’m __ years old. I have a good handle on the world at this point.” Maybe so, but we can always be learning more. Unfortunately, the easier choice is to ignore words of wisdom as a result of being stuck in our own ways and habits.
But there’s good news! We don’t need to change our beliefs and habits overnight. What we do need to do is keep an open mind when listening to others. “But Tony, there’s a lot of stupid people who try to tell me things. Am I supposed to just listen to everything they say?” Not necessarily. Use your best judgment when listening to “difficult” people. And if there really are a lot of stupid people in your life, it might be time to reevaluate your friends ;)
Let’s look at some more specific examples:
-Acting classes: Once upon a time, I was very eager to shut down anything that contradicted what I previously learned. I can’t imagine how much information I missed from being stubborn. You can always decide later you don’t want to apply what you learned. First, be 110% positive that what you learned isn’t for you. In other words, keep an open mind until class is over. Read more…
As a young Stage Manager in a new country I find myself saying yes a lot. Yes, I will work two jobs. Yes, I will do that gig for free. Yes, I will spend 48 hours straight in tech. Yes, I will carry all of the laundry after a show from Downtown to Astoria every night for four weeks… I don’t believe this is necessarily a bad thing. I’m not here to tell you the power of using “No” or anything preachy like that. I am instead going to share my tale of woe from when I took on a great deal of work and ended up lying side ways in a bush throwing up whilst a small boy dressed as Pinocchio held my hair.
This summer I was hired for three months to work as both a Stage Manager and a Director for a children’s summer camp. I would stage-manage three shows every three weeks, one of which being my own that I would Direct. Putting up these shows in a barn on a mountain in upstate New York was some of the best fun I have ever had as a theatre maker.
But Viki, you say, two jobs. Two jobs!? The work required from SMing children’s theatre (meaning theatre made by children) is vastly different to other kinds of shows. You become a chaperone, a guidance counselor, make-up artist, dresser and so much more than what is usually expected from a Stage Manager. When I also began Directing my first show, My Son Pinocchio, I struggled to find a balance. I eventually got the hang of things by doing paperwork at night and utilizing the help of an excellent assistant director. Everything was going very smoothly.
Until I started projectile vomiting on the day of my dress rehearsal.
After yet another summer filled with lots of theatrical adventures, I start the fall not only to begin my 2nd year as an in-school teaching artist, but also thinking about why I love theatre. What makes the theatre excite us as artists? What draws us into its seductive charm? What kind of theatre do we like to do to and why? Are we more of a Shakespearean artist or a musical theatre one? Or both? Or neither?
As theatre artists, especially emerging theatre artists, these are things we need to think about to take the plight of building our careers. The past 6 months (or so) in particular I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what that means for me as an artist. I’ve had a strong resume, cover letter, and bio for quite some time, but to figure out what kind of theatre work I want to search for, that was my challenge. So I wrote a new revised version of my artistic statement.
I first wrote an artistic statement when I was finishing grad school (which feels like so long now). That’s when this concept was first introduced to me. I think the one I wrote then was good for the first time out, but within the past year particularly I felt that it was more of a good starting point, but that it didn’t have everything that I’m interested in- just one thing. So I started my journey in thinking: what do I do, want to do, how I work, and why?
My summer has been a little bit insane so now I’m back down south it’s finally time to process what has happened and tell all of you wonderful readers.
Some of you may know that the largest arts festival in Europe happens in Edinburgh every August, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I had wanted to go for a very long time and was very close to working at it last year for a large company but unfortunately had to turn the job down. Therefore I was ecstatic when my boss said he wanted to take some shows up this year and wanted me to come up with him.
We took three shows up; 2 for the whole festival and the other just for a week. They were all very different; one was a two man straight play with two iconic British TV stars, one was a musical based on an album by Jaymay and the third was a children’s show. I was Stage Manager for all three, in hindsight I should have realised this was a challenge that I was not prepared for at the time considering the struggles I’ve had this year, however I ran into it with open arms. Read more…