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Casting Director Takes Off the Artifice
by Don Schwartz
Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, and Sam Worthington, all not "A" list actors, were cast as three of the principals in “Avatar.” Although it was a foregone conclusion that the film would do well at the box office, by virtue of James Cameron’s track record, few predicted it would break the record of “Titanic” to become the most commercially successful film in history.
I attribute this trajectory into interstellar financial space directly to Cameron’s casting. Like any other filmmaker, Cameron had to struggle—in this case, with the studio—to get just the right actors to tell his story, to portray the human drama and character arcs. No amount of technical wizardry and stunning visual beauty could replace that all too human foundation.
The principle is universal: How a story of any scale is cast can and does make the difference between success and failure (both artistic and commercial).
Actress, casting director and now author Hester Schell. photo: O. Carey, Portland, Or
How to get the right actors for the job is the topic tackled by Hester Schell, a renown San Francisco casting director, in her just off-the-presses “Casting Revealed: A Guide for Film Directors.”
And, indeed, it does reveal. It benefits from Ms. Schell’s lifetime of experience in an impressive variety of jobs across the worlds of both theatrical and on-camera production: acting, directing, producing, writing, teaching, coaching, and, of course, casting.
“Casting Revealed” provides crucial, must-have information for producers, directors and casting directors on the process of casting for on-camera productions—with a focus on feature films. By walking you through each and every step, Schell provides a cornucopia of tips and tricks to support the reader in doing a thoroughly professional job as efficiently as possible.
In the book’s introductory pages, Schell makes an incontrovertible case for the vital role casting plays in the production of an excellent film. Media production is intrinsically multi-dimensional and every facet must be approached with total commitment. Drop one piece of the puzzle—equipment, poor logistics, unqualified crew, etc., etc., etc.—and what could be a winning work of art fails to live up to its potential, or even fails to live.
Cover of Hester Schell's new book 'Casting Revealed.' photo: H. Schell
Writing for both the experienced and novice filmmaker, Schell flashes a bright yellow warning light at those who might be cavalier about their casting. Even if you have no real set, modest lighting, a tied-off camera, if there is a well-cast, quality actor, the script can still be well served.
Conversely, if we maintain a tight, laser-beam-like focus on our casting, our story will be done justice by our actors. While Hitchcock derided actors as "meat," it is that very meat/metaphor mix that provides the massive stretch of film, when that initial vision goes all the way thorugh story and production into the actions and words of the actor back into the camera and out of the projecting mechanism as light, once again.
“Great acting is transformative,” Schell writes, “it is the action, guts, and backbone of your story. When you have the right actor in the right role, your entire film will take off.”
When asked why she wrote “Casting Revealed: A Guide for Film Directors,” Hester spoke with great passion, “I wrote this book because directors really need help, they need guidance. Casting is a skill set that hasn’t been put out there to the directing public because we [directors] put so much trust in casting directors for making decisions. Over the decades, as an actor, I know that I have been denied the opportunity to audition for a role that I thought I was right for because my agent didn’t submit me because she or he didn’t think I was right for the role; or, the casting director didn’t pass me on to the call-back process."
"So, the middle-men and women in the industry are eliminating choices from the directors. I want to empower directors to really get in there, work with the actors, understand how the acting process works so that THEY can make better choices, and make sure that everybody in every role is 110% exactly what they want in every role.”
By virtue of her experience and accomplishments, Hester Schell simply cannot write a book about casting without including fundamental information about many other aspects of production—especially pre-production. Readers, therefore, benefit greatly from not only her highly detailed, comprehensive information about the casting process, but also critical information about other aspects of production. “Casting Revealed” contains a few "special features"—a Glossary of Common Film Terms, a humorous “The Parts of Speech”, and a Bibliography and Resources section.
Not only has San Francisco Bay Area’s own Hester Schell had her book published, it has been published by
Michael Wiese Books
the number one publisher of books about filmmaking and screenwriting in the world. I enthusiastically add my voice to the chorus of industry professionals who have already proclaimed it a must-read.
Don Schwartz is an actor/writer from Larkspur, California. He has a blog space in CineSource magazine’s website, and is keenly interested in working to bring production back to Northern California.
Posted on Jan 16, 2011 - 03:20 AM