How Not To Make a Film (Part Two)

By Matthew Hammett Knott | The Lost Boys December 2, 2011 at 8:38AM

Casting has begun. This is a pivotal moment, as it is the point at which people other than myself can begin to envisage what the finished film will look like. And that is generally the point at which they start - if they are ever going to - to get excited.
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Casting has begun. This is a pivotal moment, as it is the point at which people other than myself can begin to envisage what the finished film will look like. And that is generally the point at which they start - if they are ever going to - to get excited.

(This is a continuation of this post from a week or so back).

If I wanted, I could describe our first confirmed cast member James Norton as The Stage recently did, as "joining the big league" by starring in the West End with Joanna Lumley, and our second, Simon Chandler, as a veteran of stage and screen, from Brideshead Revisted and The Singing Detective to Perfume and The King’s Speech. All this is true, and certainly sounds impressive.

But I pledged to write this blog honestly, in an attempt to demystify the process. So it would be remiss not to also mention that James is a friend from university and Simon is my landlord.

These are not facts that I would try to conceal or deny, because I don’t feel that it is in any way “cheating”. Making a short film, one is constantly having to ask favours, since there is never enough time or money for anything. But if I had considered approaching either of these actors as a favour, I would have been doomed. One thing I have learnt as a filmmaker and scriptwriter is that you have to see yourself as a resource, rather than a drain on resources. If you offer cast and crew - even investors! - a brilliant script and vision in which they can play an integral part, they will drop their forks and wipe bottoms for you. I do not claim to have offered that, but it is what I am attempting. (Getting an investor to wipe bottoms for me, I mean. Admit it - it's the dream).

Therefore I have faith - because I must - that Simon and James have said yes because they have a similar faith in the script and the vision. Besides, there is every pleasure in working with actors where a pre-existing relationship exists - just ask Tim Burton (I would do myself, but the one time I met him I told him a mediocre anecdote about a snowman instead). I have in fact directed both Simon and James before - James in a university play, Simon in my previous short film, so that relationship is professional as well as personal. Furthermore, because of the personal relationship, I have seen much more of their acting work than I would have done otherwise, and am confident placing my script in their hands.

By contrast, I knew almost nothing about the lead actress in my last film, Anamaria Marinca, other than her brilliant body of work - and she knew fuck all about me. I did have the chance to spend a few days with her on a social basis before working with her, but I think it’s fair to say that this experience left her convinced by me as a human being, but not necessarily as a director. (In retrospect I think it was me, rather than her, who wasn’t sure how good a film director I was at that stage). This inevitably made the prospect of directing her more intimidating - though perhaps ultimately allowed me to raise my game.

The simple fact is, when it comes to short films, anything you don't make easy for yourself is going to be hard. Which is why I am so pleased to have two cast members that are such known quantities professionally and personally.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to call Simon about the central heating…
 

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