1/13/10

MAKING CITY ISLAND: THE CASTING TRAP

castingcouch

The first casting meeting on any project is, by far, the most enjoyable, delusional experience of the entire movie. You sit around tossing out famous name after famous name, roundly rejecting many or pretending to take others under careful consideration ("DeNiro?" "Nah, too old!" "Pacino?" "Love him!" "Eric Roberts?" "What?" "Just Kidding..." etc.) The actual likelihood of getting one of the big names is not confronted at this early meeting--indeed, the sky's the limit in the first cast meeting, with only our imaginations to stilfle the proceedings.

In the case of "City Island" (or "Make Someone Happy" as it was then known), we brought on ace casting director Sheila Jaffe ("The Sopranos", "Entourage", dozens of movies etc) who I'd worked with on my previous films and we all went to Ca'Brea, a trendoid West Hollywood boite where we proceeded to loudly consider and discard names. But Sheila is a very good partner in terms of the reality check that is often necessary--she can tell you who is truly unlikely or uninterested in the kind of role you might be looking at them for. Or who takes forever to read, or wont read without an "offer", or who simply won't do anything unless its a mega-studio deal being dangled.

Indeed, this brings up the ticklish and largely unnavigatible process of offering a movie to a star. For the unspoken rule is that you don't offer a movie that isn't already fully financed. But how could this be, you ask, if it takes a stars participation to finance a movie? Well, the truth is everyone knows this is bullshit. But it depends on how you slant things with the agency. If you go with your hand out, needing a star and having nothing but a script, you're bound for nowheresville. If you go with a script that has some heat--i.e. it's received positive coverage and perhaps even has made the rounds of companies with some vaguely encouraging responses...you're still nowhere. But at least you don't look like a total naif. If you have a good script and a director attached (or a writer/director as in my case), things progress just ever so slightly up the pole. Still, you don't have financing and you need the star.

So what do you tell the agencies? A combination, I would say, of flat out lies and hopeful expectations delivered in a non binding, non blustery, non committal sort of way. We have some of the money. More is on the way. We can make a cash offer. But its subject to financing closing. The whole thing is subject to a creative meeting between the star and the director anyway, so what are we talking about really? Would the star like to be a producer as well? Why not? Plenty of room!

All of this still doesn't guarantee you a read. If you're a non-studio, non-financed, underbudgeted kind of animal--as "Make Someone Happy" was--you're in for a long sit, waiting for a star to read. And even then, you're hoping for a miracle: the star falls so in love with your script that they're willing to work for less than their usual fee. And talk it up to their fellow actors. And help you get the whole thing launched.

This never happens. Unless it does.

It did with me in 2007 when I met Andy Garcia. But that was faraway in the future back when Doug, Andy, Sheila and I first sat down at Ca'Brea to figure out who might be our best bet, for star power and for appropriateness for the role, to play Vince Rizzo. A working class man, not too old but old enough to be the father of two teenagers and an older son who he meets in the prison where he's a correctional officer. A man with a tough exterior and a big heart that's been frozen for too long. A man who secretly years to bring out his inner artist--his true ambition, which he's embarrasssed by, is to be an actor. Who could possibly convey all these qualities, be serious, funny and emotional at the same time and deliver enough "marquee value" to help get the movie financed?

Yes, yes, I know the answer: Andy Garcia! But for reasons that I'll never comprehend, his was not a name that we first considered. Why, I don't know. We got stuck thinking that Vince had to be an Italian actor--DeNiro, Paciono, John Turturro, Stanley Tucci, James Gandolfini. These were the names we were throwing around that day at Ca'Brea. And in the end, we decided on our first submission. We sent the script to one of everyone's favorite Italian-American actors.

Michael Chiklis?



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