Moving Into Films: Part 5


Casting the film

Forming a production company would deal with most of my behind-the-camera concerns once the right people were put in charge. I had no doubt that I put together a skilled, efficient and competent crew in Cleveland. The next item in the agenda was finding the talent in front of the camera. Yes, my friends, I was aware that casting a film at this early stage of a production plan seems naive and contrary to standard production practices. But my naivite is in character with my way of thinking, which, in case you have failed to notice, is not lineal. There is a thoughful logic in my decisions that serves my intentions well. Now, where was I, oh yes -casting.

Well, casting turned out to be the easiest problem to work out. Since the moment I turned Bad Blood into words, I was casting my characters. I modeled them after people I already knew. Each one of them talked, walked and smelled exactly as the actors that would inpersonate them. The dialogue, mannerisms and expressions recorded in the screenplay could very well had come from the real-life models in real-life situations. Based on my own experiences as an actor, I strongly believed that an performer can bring a convincing degree of reality to a role when they play a close aproximation of themselves. This was to be -and still remains- the cornerstone of my casting philosophy.

I'd never considered casting "name actors" for the movie (even if I could afford them). I wanted to hire unknowns in the same way that George Lucas had done when casting for Star Wars. From my point of view Bad Blood was the star. There was going to be no name actor to distract the audience from the reality created by the film. Everyone was going to be new faces to them (except for the familiar historical portrayals in the film). True, name actors help sell a film, but I figured that if the movie were to be a hit my unknowns would be well known within weeks of the movie's premiere.

Furthermore, not only was I going to cast unknowns but I was going to cast them along "European lines" -no pretty boys or Barbie faces (unless it was a story requirement). If you look closely at the characters in European films you will notice how each face is remarkably interesting. When I say “interesting” I am not talking about levels of prettiness; I’m talking about being completely in sync with reality. Every feature and every movement seems to convey “lifetime experience.” This makes the characters on screen look genuine, convincing, and so much more appealing to watch. When this level of artistry is achieve in casting, you forget the actor and believe the character. I too wanted to cast faces with “substance.” This dictated, due to the story demand in Bad Blood, a mature cast.

As I'd mentioned before, when I was writing the screenplay I already had some Cleveland actors in mind to play individual roles. I had worked with most of them and I knew them well. They were good actors with theatre backgrounds. And they were good people. Maintaining a high standard of professionalism and mutual respect in any work environment is a hallmark of good production.

For certain roles I wanted non-actors, interesting people who would basically -in accordance to my casting philosophy, play themselves. When an artist or a writer finds a unique individual that would add more value to the art, he or she would not hesitate to employ them. I am happy to say that I was surrounded by a horde of unique individuals. I would be a fool not to utilize anyone who could add sparkle and polish to my film. This would mean spending more time preparing them. But since I was the producer we could plan for longer rehearsals. And since I was also the writer I could always change lines to suite needs.

A final word about casting: It has always bothered me that many good actors are not appreciated in their own hometown. Many repertory theatres, like the ones in Cleveland -to use as an example, cast their shows with actors from New York, Chicago or L.A. and pass over the local ones for important roles. No one has ever taken the time to explain to me convincingly why this is so. With one or two notable exceptions, to my eyes and ears there is no discernible improvement in the quality of the shows, only an increase in costs because the practice bringing in outsiders is expensive. I think this is both a hypocritical and a snobbish attitude. It is pet-peeve made me more determined to make my production a hometown affair.


In addition to quality of acting, believable looks and emotional temperament when filling a role, I also like to give special attention to accents. Half of the characters in Bad Blood are from foreign countries. The dialogue is in English but many also had lines in their native tongues (Castilian, Italian, British and French). As a non-native American English speaker, I am very aware of accents –American regional accents included. By experience I know that American actors, with very few exceptions, give themselves away when trying to speak a language other than their own. You can spot them a mile away. So from the get go I wanted the ‘real thing’ for Bad Blood.

This stance led me to approach non-actors more often than not. One such example was the casting for an important character in Bad Blood is: Dr. Valiathan, a tall handsome Hindu. I approached an instructor at Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry, my own personal dentist, from whom I had stolen his cool sounding name for the character: Dr. (Manish) Valiathan. It took me a while to convince him to say yes, but after a year of persuasion he finally accepted to be in the film.

Think about it, who would be better at playing an Indian doctor than a real one –accent included (who also happens to be tall and handsome)? Of course, art was not my only casting motive. India is one the largest movie markets in the world. Having an Indian doctor as a lead was a marketable asset when selling Bad Blood to the foreign market or the large Indian community in the United States. This is one of the things you think about before writing the script.

As I mentioned before, half of the characters (and a few of the crew) in Bad Blood are European –with a few actors from Asian countries. The story has French, Italian, English, Spanish (Catalan, Basque), Puerto Rican, Korean, Chinese, Latin Americans and one Indian character. The other half of the cast is made up of a variety of American actors (white, black, Asian, and Hispanic).

As it may already be quite evident, my decision to write a story that involved an international cast was both an artistic and a business decision. The advantages of working in a city like Cleveland that has a community that includes people from over two-dozen cultural groups makes it easier to find the right cast for any type of film. And having individuals from a spectrum of national origins among my friends nicely rounded up my casting needs.

I should pause to comment on what seems to be a case of placing the wagon before the horses. Well, I didn’t have any horses! (in this analogy they represent the money to do a film). I was being practical. What I had plenty of was time. And since money was not needed to approach actors about being in the film, I began to make discreet inquiries early on. As unrealistic as this was at the time, I never doubted then not finding the money when it came time to crossing that bridge.

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