Typically, a producer attaches a director to a film project before commencing the casting process, as he or she has a creative say in the selection of actors. So, beginning in 2007, once the screenplay was fully developed and polished, I set out to find the right director. At first, I was singularly focused on finding a Latina director for the project. The search began with the usual suspects, and almost immediately I ran into a number of unexpected blocks. Some of the directors who I approached were unapproachable despite the lack of directing opportunities available to them. Getting responses to calls and emails from them directly or from their agents, proved frustratingly futile. I even had an agent ask me to hold on the line while in the background he hollered toward his assistant and inquired if the agency (a major one) represented any Latina female directors. The response was a resounding “no!” Simply out of curiosity, I inquired whether the agency represented any female directors at all, and after a brief pause, he responded, “Probably, but I can’t think of anyone at this time.” This is probably why the statistics show that women directors are being hired less and less every year—an alarming trend that I was keen on not compounding.
So, the months began to pass, as I continued my pursuit of a Latina director. I realized that it was time to start the casting process, so as not to delay moving forward with the project. I figured that I could attach a few name actors while I simultaneously continued to search for the director. At about the same time, a small budget, independently produced gem of a film, UNDER THE SAME MOON (La Misma Luna), experienced a spectacular premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, garnering awards and creating tremendous industry buzz. In fact, it sold for a significant advance to both Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company, which partnered together to distribute the film. While chatting with Rick Ramirez, a Fox executive, about FLIGHTS OF FANCY, he suggested that I contact casting director, Rosalinda Morales, who handled the U.S., casting for UNDER THE SAME MOON (http://www.foxsearchlight.com/underthesamemoon/). Rosalinda and I instantly hit it off, and I am happy to report that right after she read the script, she came onboard as the project’s casting director.
I gave Rosalinda my cast wish list, which she carefully reviewed and supplemented with additional recommendations. The benefit of bringing on a casting director to a film project is that she (casting directors are predominantly women) has an inside track on which talent is available, who is difficult on set, and who represents the actors. A casting director has spent her career building and nurturing relationships with the talent’s representatives. In fact, it is a mutually beneficial relationship, as both the talent reps and the casting directors depend on each other to do their jobs well.
Rosalinda began taking the script to agents and managers, who were, for the most part, incredibly receptive to the project. Within a few months, we had cast a considerable number of roles. The casting process went relatively smoothly, and we were very fortunate to have enlisted the help and support of many agents and managers. Really, I can recall having only one very negative experience with an agent at a top agency, who blocked our project from consideration for any of the agency’s clients until we could prove that we had all of our financing in place.
Producing independent cinema is a Catch-22 situation. In order to raise financing, producers must package their projects in order to attract distribution, which is the only form of collateral to offer potential investors. This is particularly true of independent filmmaking, so it becomes imperative to present a fully developed script to the talent’s reps in order to inspire them to consider passing the project on to their clients. So, I am incredibly grateful to all of the agents and managers who have believed in our project from the beginning, recognized its great potential, and generously lent their support.
It took us about a year (from the summer of 2007 to the summer of 2008), for us to complete the casting process. Serendipitously, we were able to attach most of our first choices for the various roles and to assemble a cast of formidable actors. Interestingly enough, the last role that we cast was, in fact, the lead role of “Lalo.”
We needed to cast a Latino actor who was completely fluent in Spanish (the actor could not have the slightest trace of a non-native Spanish speaker accent). We also needed the actor to be able to play a range of age from late teens to late twenties. So, given these specific requirements, we were limited in our choices.
However, we struck gold in August of 2008. We had a young man of Puerto Rican descent come in to audition for us. He was completely fluent in Spanish, spoke it as a native and with a neutral non-distinct accent, had read the script and told us how passionate he was about the lead role, and was incredibly talented. Our audition consisted of three scenes—one of which we call the “Obstacle Course” because it has so many beat changes in it that it requires the actor to think on his feet and be able to shift directions emotionally from one moment to the next. We asked the actor to perform the scene in different ways, and each time, he impressed us more and more. We called him back for a second audition later that same day and happily realized that we had, in fact, found our “Lalo.” The actor is Rey Valentin, a highly trained thespian with an impressive growing list of credits, who is a graduate of the prestigious acting program at SUNY Purchase.
More on the casting process, and as it relates to the selection of the director….