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GUEST POST BY VICTORIA NEGRI: Casting Your Indie Film

October 30, 2014

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.

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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.

Cathy and Robert

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.

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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.

Cast & Crew Photo

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!

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